Commentary 25 Jun 2008 08:00 am

A Future

- Lately I’ve been quite bothered by animation, as it currently exists. I’m talking, specifically, about hand-drawn animation. Frame-to-frame drawing.
I don’t include cgi in this, just as I wouldn’t include 3D puppet animation. They’re both different media, to me.
I don’t include Flash films, which to me is a form of cut-out animation. Characters aren’t drawn frame-to-frame, they’re manipulated. (I know, I know, you can use this program to draw frame to frame, but that’s not how it’s used by 99.7 % of those using it.)

I’m talking about drawn animation, frame-to-frame. All of the frames are drawn (not inbetweened by a computer), all of the movement is out of the animator’s hand and head. This is practiced by fewer and fewer artists, and I really worry about the future and trained animators.

Recently, I received an email from a Scottish student who’d visited my studio back in January ’07. Laura Whyte and Mike Dziennik were in NY and had arranged to meet with me, see the studio and show me their work. Yesterday, she’d sent me a link to the graduation films that the two had done, and I was able to look at other work from the school, Duncan of Jordanstone, the University of Dundee.

I have to admit, I was pleasantly surprised. These were students of real animation and real storytelling. Most of the student films from this school were capable and energetic pieces done with some panache. Animation seemed alive.

I suggest you look at the two films of these fine graduate students:

    Chasin’ Tail by L. Whyte, Mairi Steele, Arthur Crook & Shaun Gordon.
    Here are Laura’s comments about the film:
    Chasin’ Tail was traditionally animated, but we cleaned up in ink and then
    vectorised it in Adobe Illustrator.. the backgrounds were designed by a traditional painter and then because there were so many of them, most are digital mockups of her style done in Photoshop. The spinning door is After Effects 3D and the envelopes were done in Maya… and there’s a couple of bits of After Effects animation on the cars and the butterfly in places.

    Apple For Sir by Mike Dziennik & Grant Crawford
    Laura writes about this film:
    Apple for Sir was a much more technical process than Chasin’ Tail… they did all their animation using cut outs in Adobe After Effects, and their backgrounds were 3D environments built in After Effects — they had some epic rendering times, that’s for sure…

A still from “Catchin’ Tail”

A still from “Apples for Sir”

another still from “Apples for Sir”

If you want to see other films from this school go here.

Right after seeing these, I saw the link on Cartoon Brew to the Gobelins Animation Gallery. There were Festival openings these students did for Annecy. Here was feature animation quality films done in this extraordinary school. If you haven’t seen them already, go.

I have to say after watching these student films from Scotland and France, I realized that
there was hope for hand-drawn animated films. The problem is that I just need to be reminded every so often. I’m sure there are others being done in the US; I just haven’t seen them. There were a couple at the NYU showcase I’d seen that were very promising. (One, Chicken Cowboy by Stephen Neary looked as though it were ready to go ________________Stephen Neary’s “Chicken Cowboy.”
as the pilot for an excellent tv series.)
Then there’s the Rauch brothers’ work, Tim & Mike Rauch; Germans In The Woods was certainly the right track. There is some hope.

I’m looking forward to the Ottawa Festival to get a better gauge on the professional films.

6 Responses to “A Future”

  1. on 25 Jun 2008 at 8:39 am 1.Dave Levy said …

    Hi Michael,

    Great post. My feeling is that, at least in NYC, most animators aren’t developing their drawn animation because they are working exclusively in puppeted animation in flash or after effects. The best of these artists bring a traditional know-how to their work, but others succumb to the worst attributes of these programs and the animation suffers.

    Whether drawn in flash, on paper, or on a wacom (as my new film is), I think hand-drawn animation is the most expressive form of animation around. Although its an indangered species, it won’t become extinct. Besides, look how excited everybody gets when Dick Williams releases his dvd set or Eric Goldberg releases his book. There’s a hunger out there for sure.

  2. on 25 Jun 2008 at 9:15 am 2.Tim Rauch said …

    Hi Michael! An interesting post (and of course, my ego loves being mentioned).

    I think you are correct to separate hand drawn animation out from other forms. There are many films in every technique which I love and have great respect for anyone who can use other media to great effect. Still, my first love was and always will be hand drawn animation.

    When I worked on Wonder Pets (AfterEffects puppetry), there were animators who juiced the rigs for way more than I ever could have (Andy Kennedy, Chris Conforti). As for stop-motion, that seems like the most agonizing approach. And CG? I can’t imagine wrangling all that technology. But I grew up drawing and have tried hard to fully explore the relationships between straight lines and curved lives, flat lines and textured lines, open spaces and closed spaces. While there are incredible complexities possible in any technique, forming the full figure again and again on paper throughout a sequence while trying to balance performance, composition, beauty of line and form throughout seems to me the most challenging and rewarding work for an individual animator. Clearly, I’m biased and possibly ignorant but I’m also quite happy that way.

  3. on 25 Jun 2008 at 12:24 pm 3.Laura said …

    Hi Michael,

    Glad you enjoyed the films — and thanks for posting this :)

    I think traditional animation is due for another comeback, personally — so long as people are going to make quality films with it, and not knock-off sequels that is…

  4. on 25 Jun 2008 at 12:56 pm 4.stephen said …

    thanks for the kind words, Michael.

    There are so many options out there for student animators these days–what programs to use, what craft to specialize in. We’ve reached an age where we can make an entire film on a laptop, which is awesome. But all those tools added to the constraints of time easily distract from what matters to me: the idea and how the animation and design serve the idea.

    I pared down a lot of the technology in Chicken Cowboy, stuck to my boards, got out my paints, and had probably the most fun I’ll ever have working on something in my life. I think the key is considering what technology can bring to your film, and why it needs to be used.

  5. on 25 Jun 2008 at 1:49 pm 5.Tim Rauch said …

    Stephen speaks truth. And makes beautiful films.

    On the subject of technique, I met Mike Sullivan, NYC stop-motion animator last night (very cool guy) and discovered this little documentary on his work today. When I refer to stop-motion as “agonizing”, this is what I mean. In the film, they show Mike squeezing himself into tight spots to make hundreds of delicate manipulations of his carefully crafted figures, hoping to avoid budging anything or knocking a light bulb out of place, thus ruining hours of work in single moment. My hat is always off to stop-motion filmmakers.

  6. on 26 Jun 2008 at 3:55 pm 6.Ken Priebe said …

    Thanks Michael for this post and bringing this to attention. I too have a passion for the ‘old school’ methods of animated films, i.e. hand-drawn and stop-motion. With my own independent film, ‘Storytime with Nigel’, I’m currently struggling with how to put it together in the computer while still maintaining as much of a hand-crafted look as I possibly can.

    A big part of me is aching to get this story in the can so I can move on to make an even more personal film.

    Looking at the Rauch Brothers’ website, I am extremely moved by the concept behind it, and will eagerly anticipate these projects. I love the idea of using traditional animation to illustrate living history. I was very moved by John Canemaker’s ‘Moon and the Son’ and how brave he was to put his life story out there with such an artistic touch. I love ‘Creature Comforts’ for the same reasons…it’s raw uncensored human thoughts and emotions in a similarly raw medium such as clay animation. ‘The Chestnut Tree’ is another beautiful work completely hand-drawn in loving memory to the filmmakers’ mother.

    That is the kind of stuff that I love to see at festivals. It keeps me excited about animation’s potential.

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