December 4, 2005

Don't you love hand drawn animation?

I do. Have you seen the new music video drawn by Bill Plympton? (You can see it, in low resolution and after a few minutes of interview in a link found here.) I've loved Plympton ever since I saw "How to Kiss" in an animation festival maybe about 15 years ago. (You can watch "How to Kiss" here.)

ADDED: I don't know if I've ever mentioned it, but computer animation makes me ill. Years ago, I walked out on "Antz," and I've never gone back. I've seen parts of computer animation films on TV, and I can see that the technology has become fairly good, but there is something wrong with it, something crucial missing -- emotion, humanity... something.

32 comments:

John Thacker said...

When you say you dislike computer animation, do you mean all computer animation, or just 3D computer animation? 2D animation can be done using a computer (whether just for inbetweening or ink and paint, or more) and it looks much like traditional hand-drawn cels. (For example, often one draws the cels using a tablet or else scans them into a computer; then the computer program fills in the colors.)

For example, Beauty and the Beast had quite a lot of computer animation, especially in the ballroom scene.

John Thacker said...

The Little Mermaid used digital ink and paint, as well. In fact, I don't think that any major animated movie in the last ten years has actually used hand-painted cels. Rather, the artists' drawings are scanned in and painted using a computer.

Ann Althouse said...

John: I meant the 3D-looking stuff. (For real 3D animation, there's that Imax version of "Polar Express," which I'm sure would nauseate me.) I know "Beauty and the Beast" used computer assistance, and I think it's not that obtrusive, so I don't hate it. But I prefer the hand-drawn work.

AMB said...

Ann: I agree and just commented to my wife the same thing Thursday when my two year old was watching Bambi. To my eyes, the new 3D stuff just does not hold up to the hand drawn animation of the past. I actually liked B&tB, had no problems, but I detest the feel of the 3D...it lacks, oh, a soul.

Joe said...

Perhaps you're just stuck in uncanny alley

amba said...

We discussed this before, and talked about how besides lacking soul or warmth or humanity -- it has that shiny featureless machine-made look -- it also lacks gravity. The characters appear weirdly weightless, as if they lived on a spaceship and had to wear Velcro-soled shoes to stick to the jogging track. That alone can induce nausea. The strange thing is that the old great hand animators at Disney and Warner Bros. somehow put that kinesthetic fact of life, the omnipresence of gravity, into their drawings. In fact it was one of their favorite things to play games with -- cartoon characters are forever walking off cliffs and not falling till they realize where they are.

paulfrommpls said...

This is related to another topic, I think: how computers have subtracted from rather than added to the fascination of special effects.

There used to be a fun question: "How did they do that?" The answer now, in 99% of cases: with computers. E.g, who cares?

I'm more amazed by the original King Kong - the creature himself - than I am by the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park. (Which, by the way, is a terrible movie, and convinces me Laura Dern has/had a career for one reason only.)

amba said...

Oh -- one of my favorite things in the world is claymation, which is incredibly painstaking to do. Some of the Academy Award-winning shorts made this way -- kind of rough, not slick -- were breathtaking. I remember one that sort of recapped the process of evolution. I wish I could remember the name of it.

Ann Althouse said...

Laura Dern is great in "Citizen Ruth."

paulfrommpls said...

Never saw it, but I'll take your word for it. The way she acted in JP, it was hard to believe this person could ever accomplish more than being a random woman talking. Maybe it was the script and the direction.

Dave said...

I hate hand-drawn animation. Give me Mr. Incredible over Ben & Jerry any day of the week.

Like comparing Euripides to Shakespeare.

Balfegor said...

I was all ginned up to respond to John Thacker by pointing out that Ghibli didn't switch over to digital painting until Mononoke Hime . . and then I checked IMDB, only to discover it came out in 1997. Ghibli's previous film (Pompoko) seems to have been 1994, I have no idea whether Pompoko was hand painted or not.

Ah well.

I think hand-drawn animation is nice myself, and at its best, is far better than 3D animation. The problem, though, is that most hand-drawn animation is not much good. The oldest Disney stuff is okay, even if the timing tends to seem a bit unnatural (e.g. Snow White, Pinnochio), but I think they hit their peak around the time of Sleeping Beauty or so. From the later 60s on (e.g. The Jungle Book) their animation has great timing, and an excellent sense of weight, but it doesn't go anywhere. The most recent Disney animation (from The Black Cauldron on, I'd say) has a certain sameness to it. Their character animation feels like it's settled down into a kind of pantomime. They flounce, distractingly, in a way that no-one does in real life. I mean, I like all the movies from Little Mermaid on just fine -- those I've seen at least -- but it's missing a certain je ne sais quoi. Or rather, I think it's that they aren't capturing human motion as well as they used to.

The Japanese (well, Ghibli) have some great animators, but elements of their design (e.g. the dragon, in Sen to Chihiro, the giant wolves in Mononoke Hime) just don't seem well-designed to me -- their style seems about 40 years old, and comes off as dated, rather than classic. Ghibli's character animation is all very Miyazaki too, so the "house style," so to speak predominates almost as much as in with Disney. It was weaker in Umi ga Kikoeru, Mimi-wo Sumaseba, and Neko no Ongaeshi, none of which were directed by Miyazaki, and I think those animations are better for it.

The animators at the other Japanese studios -- like Production IG -- are often really good at conveying weight (e.g. Ghost in the Shell), but their animation sometimes suffers from the flatness that you see in the Korean animation Wonderful Days, or in Dreamworks' Prince of Egypt. I think it comes from bad tweening. Speaking of Production IG, though, they were behind an TV series (Kaze-monogatari / "Wind Story") which was done in a rather unusual style (i.e. not the usual anime-style), and that was fun to watch, as a work of animation. But the major animated feature films for the past while have not really appealed to me as animation.

Ann Althouse said...

Ben and Jerry??

Balfegor said...

"The answer now, in 99% of cases: with computers. E.g, who cares?"

Well, I do. I love reading about how people solved the kinds of problems that come up whenever 3D has to be integrated with real world video.

Ann Althouse said...

Balfegor: You have very high standards. Why don't you give us a list of things you do approve of?

Balfegor said...

It's not that my standards are high so much as that my tastes are pronounced. Bambi, Alice in Wonderland, Sleeping Beauty, and 101 Dalmations are the Disney movies I think best for animation alone. 101 Dalmations is the first one, I think, to use rotoscoping to lift the animators' sketches directly onto the cels, which was neat in a number of scenes in subsequent films (e.g. the dancing scene in The Aristocats) in that it gave the lines more life and variety, but the subsequent films just don't really do anything with it. For more recent Disney films, I think Hercules was the most interesting as animation, since it represented a marked (and successful!) departure from the traditional Disney style.

For Ghibli, Totoro and Grave of the Fireflies are probably the best samples of the Ghibli style -- they're recent enough that they don't suffer from the static backgrounds and held frames of Nausicaa, and their style is less rigid than in the more recent Miyazaki / Takahata films (excluding one mentioned below). As mentioned before, Umi-ga Kikoeru has a pleasant style, and has character designs that push closer to real-life, with more life-like character animation too. On the other hand, it's basically an Asian Drama, though (albeit compressed to about 1 hour, rather than the usual 10hrs+), so it may not be for everyone. There's fun (silly) character animation in Neko no Ongaeshi, particularly for the Cat-King's procession and the Baron. Very sharp. And Ghibli's most experimental work -- My neighbours the Yamadas -- is worth watching too. Entirely computer coloured, except it's coloured to resemble watercolours (and the style is much more distinctive than the usual Ghibli style). There's a brief animation of a baseball game, shown on the television in one scene, that I thought was especially worthwhile.

On the other hand, some people I've shown Yamadas to have thought it looks awfully primitive, so your mileage may vary, as they say. De gustibus and all that.

Balfegor said...

Oh, and how could I forget? I thought The Iron Giant was the best animated movie out of the US in years, when I saw it. I had to persuade a cousin to come with me as camouflage, though.

Balfegor said...

Oh, heck -- and Perfect Blue, Tokyo Godfathers, and Jin-Roh are all excellent animations, better than the usual anime stuff. But they're all targeted towards older viewers (teens and up).

Palladian said...

Human vision (and visual interpretation) is very, very sensitive to things like shape variance and color variance. We unconsciously store so much visual information that we are quite aware of when things don't move in the right way or are not illuminated correctly. The problem with digital animation (and especially CG when mixed with live action) is that it doesn't even begin to approach the complexity of the physical world: the randomness and complexity of patterns, the way light plays across surfaces, the way detail becomes less discernible as distance increases, all these things are quite far beyond our current processing power and so much more complex than even the better algorithms are capable of generating. For all the things that hand drawn animation "can't do", what it does have is the complex randomness of nature by virtue of it coming from the hand rather than from math. The coloring of animation cells is also quite different from digital color because the color of hand painted animation cells is the color of the pigments and dyes in the inks and paints as represented by photography. We are seeing color based on the actual physical refraction of light through the crystal structures and surfaces of particles of pigment and dye rather than a phosphor-generated field of hexadecimal color we get in digital animation. We may be looking at anthropomorphic mice running around lollipop land, but it still has weight and subtlety and complexity because however fantastical, we are essentially looking at photographs of things, of physical objects, of drawings. For all the amazing advances in computer technology and graphics, we're (at this point) still far, far more sensitive instruments.

It's the same reason the old Star Wars movies look so good: we're looking at actual physical models. Even bad models (I'm thinking Gamera Vs. Guiron) are less boring and fatiguing to watch because they're still more complicated and "right" than a totally computer generated scene.

Dave said...

Ben & Jerry, Tom & Jerry...it's all the same trite crap, IMHO...

Rick Lee said...

Let's see... Antz was a Dreamworks production, right? Ann, does this mean you've never seen the Pixar classics? Toy Story... Monsters Inc... Finding Nemo... The Incredibles... I think you've really missed out because of a bad experience. Toy Story's technology is probably dated now, but that doesn't take away from the STORY. I'll rush out to see a Pixar release any day.

Ann Althouse said...

I've seen the first "Toy Story." I also saw a Pixar short with a baby and some toys, back in an animation festival, quite possibly the same one with "How to Kiss." I've seen bits of Monsters, Incredibles, Shrek, etc., on TV. I find these things more tolerable on TV. I really hate the enlarged images in the theater. Just thinking about the close-ups of the ant faces in Antz makes me ill. I'd rather stare into the Void.

Joan said...

As I'm reading/writing here, my kids are watching Toy Story for probably the billionth time. It's a brilliant film, in nearly all respects, including the animation, which 10 years later holds up just fine. Pixar has never made a bad anything, IMO -- even their shorts are brilliant, full of heart and skill, populated by characters that resonate.

The Iron Giant is a movie that could've been by Pixar, but by happenstance, wasn't -- Brad Bird went on to make The Incredibles, a typically Pixar-perfect movie.

As my oldest has been home sick for a few days, I've been subjected to a lot of animation recently. I'm struck by how ugly nearly all TV animation is these days. Of course it's all crap, but do they have to make everyone so ugly on purpose? I guess it's how they distinguish themselves from each other -- in this show, everyone has huge feet, whereas in this other show, everyone has huge heads and tiny bodies. All I can say is: ewwww.

We rented Polar Express for the kids over Thanksgiving weekend; they loved it. It totally creeped me out, and I wasn't even paying attention -- I caught bits here and there from the kitchen while I was baking.

I guess my bottom line is that there's a lot of hideous stuff out there, and most of it is computer-generated. Pixar stands as the last bastion of quality, easily beating out Disney and Dreamworks. If you've been avoiding Pixar films because you don't like computer animation, you're in for a real treat.

merkley??? said...

"something crucial missing -- emotion, humanity... something."

dude, talk about point one finger and you got three pointing back ---- none of those things are missing from ANY pixar production.

to each their own i suppose, but it sounds more like you're one of those weird nostalgic types who feels obligated to snark on new stuff.

OddD said...

I largely agree with Ann; Pixar succeeds in spite of the animation not because of it.

For me, the nausea-inducing movie, though, was Mars Attacks. It was the most computer animation I'd ever seen, and it was fatiguing. Now, I rather like the movie in spite of that, and I've gotten to where the computer animation just looks dated, rather than horrible. (For dated but still wonderful in aesthetics, give me a good ol' matte, like in Wizard of Oz or When Worlds Collide.)

I think this is the other reason why Pixar succeeds: aesthetics seem to trump all else, and they dial back only to the degree that technology (and content) demands.

However, I think the negative reaction to computer animation is definitely an old brain thing. Someone born in 1995 both can spot computer animation more easily than older folks can, and isn't bothered by it. (When I went to see Spiderman, the five-year-old in the chair next to me, said loudly, and somewhat ironically(!), "Oooh! CGI!"

So much for suspension of disbelief.

amba said...

Did anybody love "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" as much as I did? Not only was the interaction of live and animated "actors" brilliantly done, but a sly philosophical point about cultural differences was made by it. The Toons lived in a ghetto called Toontown. Their nature and worldview was so different from humans' that they actually had a different physics. I loved that both as a source of two-way comedy (toons in the human world, Bob Hoskins in the toon world) and as a metaphor.

paulfrommpls said...

Balfegor:

I was talking off-topic about special effects, although you probably feel the same about that. But I suspect you're in a minority, always will be, referring to people actually interested in how digital problems are solved. Whereas almost everyone going to movies would be interested in details like how they made the tornado in Wizard of Oz. or how they made King Kong. I'm still interested in that and it's 70 years later. And even though you are interested in digitial stuff I'm sure that's not all you're interested in.

I maintain that for the great majority, digital details constitute one vast area called "snore." There's nothing to be done about it, is isn't like the movie industry will go back to spend the fortunes it would take to actually assemble cities and so on merely to appease me. But in a way I wish they would.

Madfish Willie said...

The best animation I've ever seen was on a 1996 - 1998ish morning cartoon called Beat Wars: Transformers... the 3D effects were simply phenomenal... I've wondered why animated movies after that were not done to that particular standard.

paulfrommpls said...

Actually, now that I stop to consider, I don't really have the same grief about computer animation that I do about special effects. There was really no mystery in the old method: it was a whole lot of people drawing a whole lot of pictures. I accept it's possible to be genuinely creative in the digital world, in a way not unrelated to people drawing by hand.

It would be possible I guess to feel grief at losing the sheer skill of people drawing by hand. But a lot of people could do it, so maybe it's not inherently more difficult or more mysterious than being able to produce an image digitally.

Digitally touched-up singing: that's a different issue entirely. I want no part of it. Part of the amazingness of Sinatra or whoever was he didn't have that. It's not just the idea, it's the execution by an amazing individual. The two are connected in fact, the idea and the execution.

(Maybe that's why typos are so embarrassing. If you can't even place your fingers correctly, what does that say about your thought processes?)

Balfegor said...

I think the fellow at Seward Street (http://jrhull.typepad.com/seward_street/) works in the computer animation industry, but he's posted before on the importance of preserving good draftsmanship skills (http://jrhull.typepad.com/seward_street/2004/11/drawing_still_m.html#more). And I think he's right. Elsewhere, I think he links to a description of the animation process for the Incredibles, in which animators would just draw on top of shots or animatics to explain how they should be corrected.

katiebakes said...

Oh, you're missing out. Finding Nemo is a truly delightful movie.

The only time I think the computer animation looks creepy is when it depicts "real" as opposed to caricature-looking humans.

View from the Mountain said...

Note to John Thacker: The Little Mermaid was hand-painted. In fact, it was the last full-length Disney Feature Animation film that was painted on cells. I should know: I have 3 of them. The Prince and the Pauper, which followed Mermaid, was also hand-painted, but it was not full-length. The first Disney Animated movie that was painted on the computer was The Rescuers Down Under.