Blue Sky‘s new movie Robots is quite an artistic accomplishment. Sure, the plot’s a bit predictable and some of the jokes fall flat. But in terms of animation, this movie is stunningly, wonderfully original. My hat is off to directors Chris Wedge and Carlos Saldanha: they have raised the bar with this picture, and we should all take note! These guys set a really tough challenge for themselves, and they consistently lived up to it.

What was the challenge? How to take a ridiculous design like this:

and animate it in a way that’s both believable and appealing. Let’s analyze for a moment just how hard this is. These characters are made of rigid metal parts, so you can’t let the audience see them bending and squishing around, or they’ll start to look like rubber. And yet, if you limit yourself to rigid transformations, you won’t be able to hit those really strong expressive poses that make the character come alive.

What was Blue Sky’s solution to all this? Extremely snappy animation. Hit a pose, stick it, hit another pose, follow through, and so on. If your transitions are fast enough, you can get away with all kinds of non-rigid contortions, as long as you stick to rigid joint movements once you hit that pose. Of course, I’ve only seen the movie once, so I may be misreading it, but I suspect that that was how they made this work so well. Stage magic, folks!

Blue Sky is like the dolphin cousin of the rest of us primates in the animation world. They branched off from our common ancestors lo some twenty years ago (an eternity in CG years), and started doing things their own way. Now they’ve evolved into something sleek and elegant. They make this monkey want to go surfing.