Making Animation Old-School Again, Part 1/2

Any animator who’s been in the business for a while has heard rumors proclaiming “Traditional 2D animation is dead!”

The rumors of my death, as they say, have been greatly exaggerated.

Truth is, it’s not dead.  Might not be kicking as hard as it once was, but it’s certainly not dead.

Many current animated films lend themselves well to the classic style.  Imagine if a fan remade “Moana” in 2D animation!  I’d pay to see that.  The songs, the stories could be even more intense and meaningful if done in this fashion.

After all, that’s why filmmakers such as Steven Spielberg and Woody Allen use black and white cinematography in some movies:  When you narrow the bandwidth, you focus the message.

 

hullabaloo

The State of 2D Animation
It is true that it’s been a long time since there’s been any major 2D movies released in America.  There have been some smaller releases, and there have been some foreign releases as well.  Perhaps some of the best recent 2D movies have come from Studio Ghibli (“Ponyo,” “The Wind Rises,” “The Secret World of Arrietty”).

There are a lot of good reasons to do animation on computers – it’s easier, it’s cheaper, not to mention faster.  Still, everything comes in cycles, and I’d lay money that art styles found in movies are no different.
Change in Your Pocket
Even given that, the major reason for the shift from 2D to 3D movies is going to be the Quest for the Almighty Dollar.  3D movies are indeed faster to make, and easier too.  So I wouldn’t blame you for waxing cynical when you weigh this against the effort required to put a few seconds of the Lion King in motion.  And although there are plenty of other quality studios out there, the Mouse Eared One is pretty much calling the shots on what kinds of animated features we see in theatres.  In short, they have the power to determine if those films are 2D or 3D.

Still, that doesn’t mean we don’t want to see them.  And especially today, if major movie studios don’t give folks what they want, people pick up the slack themselves.  Do a Google search for “crowdfunded 2d animated movies” and you get “Hullabaloo,” “Drukten,” “World Destroyer,” and “The Ape Man” — and that’s only on the first page!

Examining “Hullaballoo” shows that the film, created by veteran animators and artists from Disney, has far surpassed their monetary goals.  They asked for $80,000 to get it done.  And incredibly, as of this writing they have $470,726 pledged.  Backers will get to see not only the movie, but three bonus shorts as well.

 

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So yeah, people are putting their money where their mouth is.
But Is 2D Animation Worth Saving?
All animation has a soul.  And that soul is 2D – it blooms in every kid who ever made a stick-figure flipbook in grade school.  This kind of animation created the entire industry; without it, modern CG animation would not exist.  Also, in many ways 2D animation is able to convey amazing detail when it comes to feeling and emotion.  In a word, 2D animation is beautiful (still).

Indeed, there is a certain warmth, a certain artistry that hand-drawn animation captures.  Mathematically precise 3D characters generated by computer can’t quite match this.  Therefore it is an art worth preserving, despite the film industry not agreeing at the moment.
So Where is 2D Animation Now?
Sure, it’s been a long time since any major animated feature film, much less from Disney, or even in America.  Still, it’s actually pretty easy to find 2D cartoons in another medium:  On television.  You might have heard of “The Simpsons.”  It’s been on TV since 1990 — that’s 27 years, as of this writing.  Other shows are almost as popular, such as “South Park,” “King of the Hill,” and “Archer.”  It’s being shown to younger audiences too, by shows such as “Avatar: The Last Airbender” and “Steven Universe.”

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Even if it’s not Pixar-style animation, though, these shows are generated by computer.  Most cartoons are made on computers, using Flash and other tools.

Granted, it’s not two dimensional animation, strictly speaking.  There is often shading and other effects not easily achievable with cel-style techniques.  Even though it’s a blend of traditional animation and some aesthetic anime stylings, it does prove that audiences still love the medium.

Stay tuned for some more notes and musings in our next feature, Making Animation Old-School Again, Part 2.
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Classic Animation versus Live-Action Remakes

by John Onorato
There have been a lot of “live action” remakes over the last few years.  2015 saw Kenneth Branagh’s sumptuous period remake of the classic Cinderella tale.  “The Jungle Book” was remade in 2016 with lavish special effects, and we got “Beauty and the Beast” in 2017.  The latter is a bona-fide hit, with box-office receipts grossing over $1 billion.  There have been more in the past, and those will certainly not be the last.  There are many more remakes to come.
tintin myanimelist.net
¶ Of course, many people (like myself) remain fond of the originals.  Even 25 year old films like The Lion King are still quite good.  The movie looks as good as it did when it was first released in 1994, and it’ll likely look as good in another 25 years.  Its remake is slated for 2019.  The films will be similar, but it won’t matter how good the remake looks.  They are totally different films.
¶ In other words, the market has plenty of room for new material.

Animation Today

CG animation is ascendant in the industry, however.  Yet traditional animation still survives, despite not having many recent major releases.  It was used, for example, in 2016’s Pacific Island epic “Moana,” to animate the tattoos on the character Maui.
¶ Still, it is accurate to say that hand-drawn animation is being deprecated in today’s workplace.
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At the same time, though, traditional drawing skills are still in demand.  They’re especially useful when planning an animation.  Even if the final product will be digital, it’s incredibly useful for an animator to create a thumbnail with clear facial expressions and body poses.
¶ Audiences, too, seem to be favoring CG animation.  Whether the CG manifests photorealistically (as it did in Beauty and the Beast) or as “Pixar style animation” (think “Toy Story,” “Cars” and “Wall-E”), producers are responding to this trend.  Producers make their business decisions based on market data, so the trend is likely here to stay.

On The Making of Films

Making films remains an astonishingly risky business.  Especially since viewers are drawn by over-the-top special effects (which cost a lot of money), the movies with the most spectacle and heft are the ones that draw the biggest crowds.  In 2012, Disney released “John Carter,” which seemed destined to be a big thing.  It had the glitz, it had the glamor, and it had excellent effects work, but it never pulled in audiences.
¶ A much safer proposition is to go through the vault of films that already achieved “hit” status, and remake them using live action.  And why shouldn’t they?  They’ve been tried, and they seem to be true.  People are likely to be more interested, as they’re already familiar with the characters.  Most of the hard concept work has been done already.  If it was a hit before, it can be a hit again, right?

¶ Still, it’s too soon to say if these live action remakes will ever be considered “classics.”

Either-Or

jungle book 2016 ign.com
Though they have been mixed together since the 1900s, the line that separates animation and live action has become blurred even more since 1988’s “Who Framed Roger Rabbit.”  That’s the first movie this writer can remember which did this.  Since then, some movies are nearly all CGI, with only a smattering of live action.  One example is 2016’s “The Jungle Book.”  In that movie, nearly everything was CG, aside from Neel Sethi who played the boy.  Other movies blend CG and live action even more seamlessly.  Only those with the keenest of eyes would know that the James Bond movie “Spectre,” which came out in 2015 was mostly CG … even the parts that looked “normal,” as if they were shot on location or on a set.
¶ Today’s directors have many more choices open to them, creatively speaking.  They only have to decide how they want their film to look, then gather the right team to realize that vision.  So the question is not about what’s better – it’s more about what’s more true to the director’s vision.