Wednesday, 15 December 2010


This week we looked at animation - a subject which I am fascinated by but know very little about. As much as I enjoy seeing the latest animated film, I have no idea about how they are made or any kind of historical background, something which is probably quite important when my ultimate dream would be to work for Pixar (not in the animation department, obviously). Bill began with the quote

Animation is not the art of drawings that move, but rather the art of movements-that-are-drawn. What happens between each frame is more important than what happens on each frame      - Norman McLaren
This is a good starting point with this subject, because as enjoyable as it is to sit back watch even the shortest of all animations, it is easy to forget how much time, effort and technology has been put into it. I remember going to see Toy Story 3 and being completely blown away (and almost in tears) by the short animation Night & Day before the film began. As the huge list of credits went up when it finished, including names of animators controlling 'shading' and 'vegetation' my friend turned to me and said "I thought that would have just been one person's project". I think that this quite nicely demonstrates my point. We are so used to these incredible animations that we forget the huge amount of processes involved in their making.

Day & Night (2010) - Pixar

The making of Day & Night 

It is easy to forget that animation is still a medium which is very much in its infancy. It has only been around for about 100 years, making the developments which have been made during that time even more phenomenal. 
We were shown a few examples of early animation, including the 1933 version of Snow White, which was then remade 5 years later by Disney. It becomes very clear when discussing animation that there is a big divide between Disney and, well, pretty much everyone else. Bill explained that Walt Disney ran a very tight ship in order to make Disney Studios take first place in 'The Golden Age of American Animation'. Disney studios were often the first to use new animation techniques such as multi-plane camera shots which can be seen in The Old Mill (1937). The main difference between Disney animations and what I have seen of other early short films is that they tend to have much more of an engaging narrative, something which children in particular could really be taken in by. As technically impressive as other narrations such as the original Snow White may have been for its time, I found it difficult to keep focused on what was actually happening in the story (maybe this is just me?)

Snow White 1933
 Today, animation has progressed to the point where it is not just being used for entertainment purposes. It is being used more and more frequently to realistically demonstrate things that have cannot been seen in our lifetime, making it useful to historians or scientists. For example, the documentary Attenborough's First Life uses animation to demonstrate how the first ever sea creatures would have looked and moved. The animation is so realistic that I found it difficult to believe that it wasn't actual footage. 

Stills from Attenborough's First Life (2010)
For programmes like these, along with documentaries such as Walking with Dinosaurs the use  of animation has really helped to illustrate the point that they are trying to get across. However, when used for entertainment instead of educational purposes, using the latest technology does not always automatically lead to better results. From the perspective of a physical modeller, I think that CGI can sometimes take the believability out of human characters. During the seminar, Ivan pointed out that when characters are stylised and draw attention to themselves - like those in Toy Story it works extremely well, however when characters masquerade as human they can become corpse-like and frightening. This is something which John Lasseter discovered after making the short animation Tin Toy in 1988, where they tried to make a human baby as realistic and 'cute' as possible.

I think that it is pretty safe to say that this didn't go exactly according to plan. If we skip forwards a few years, we can see that Pixar have recognised that their strengths lie in making their own versions of reality, instead of trying to make an exact replica of what already exists. 

Good old Pixar

No comments:

Post a Comment