The role of the individual, and: can we stop hating CG now?

Jerry Beck and Amid Amidi at Cartoon Brew are rightly sad about the demise of the big-budget 2D feature. But to me, they seem to be taking it a little too far. It seems like for every bit of news that comes out, they must somehow find a way to use it to denigrate CG animation. When CG films get shut out of the Oscars, it puts a big smile on their faces. Because, you see, CG animation lacks the animator’s individualistic (sic) personality.

Kevan Shorey rightly points out that this just isn’t true. Any halfway-decent animator puts a lot of himself into his shots. When (very occasionally) people tell me they see my body language reflected in the way my characters move, I’m thrilled–nothing could make me happier. And a great animator, well… I can tell a Dan Wagner shot from looking at a single frame, his faces are so memorable and unique!

Everything you make bears the mark of your individual hand. That’s why, even in CG, directors and animation leads still hand-pick certain animators to handle certain shots: they can sense each animator’s affinity for one character, or one kind of acting, over another. What differs between 2D and CG is that in CG, the animator is only responsible for the movement of the character, not the design of the model. But there’s still plenty of room for individuality in the way a character moves.

The question is, is this prized “individualism” really what’s best for the film as a whole? Michael Barrier doesn’t think so. The model of casting-by-shot, he worries, is to blame for the lack of consistency in a character’s performance over a whole film:

…if a half dozen different people animate what is supposed to be the same character, in the same film, then at some level, in some sense, that film is going to contain not six slightly different versions of the same character, but six different characters who look and sound a lot alike. Such variations undermine an audience’s acceptance of the reality of a film’s characters

San Francisco in Jell-O

Goddess of Fog

Originally uploaded by otherthings.

Seen at the Exploratorium: a scale model of a chunk of San Francisco landscape made entirely of Jell-O. Not visible here is how it shakes and jiggles, but you can imagine. More surprising to me was the delicious fruity aroma! The piece was created by Liz Hickok, who keeps it in sections in her fridge when it’s not on display. Shown here is the artist’s mother, who spent the evening pouring dry ice fog over the cityscape for a proper San Francisco ambiance.

animated Oscar nominations

Just read the news about the Oscar nominations for Best Animated Feature. I pretty much agree with their choices this time. Wallace and Gromit is the clear favorite, and deserves to win. I loved Howl’s Moving Castle– it wasn’t as amazing as Spirited Away, but that still puts it way ahead of most American animated fare. The only one I disagree with is Corpse Bride, whose story I really hated, though the animation was undeniably good.

I did think it was interesting, if not too surprising, that none of the nominees were CG. These things seem to be cyclical, and it’s only natural that the winds turn in favor of different styles of animation from year to year. It all depends on the story, ultimately. And at least two of the three nominees are clearly the leaders on that count.

But some people seem to be taking way too much delight in what they perceive to be some kind of anti-CG backlash. What’s up with that? How can you hate an entire medium of animation? Do watercolorists have this kind of hatred for oil painters? Not last time I checked. So what’s really going on here?

I guess some people actually blame CG for the death of 2D. I don’t like getting involved in religious feuds, but this is so wrong that I feel obliged to address it. Here’s why it’s wrong. (1) It distracts us from the real villains: short-sighted, small-minded studio execs who can’t think beyond next quarter’s bottom line. (2) 2D animation is not actually dead! Yes lots of people lost their jobs, but believe me, 2D animation is going to come back. This lull is temporary. (3) It’s all about the story, stupid.

I don’t say this as a defender of CG animation against stop motion and 2D. I’m not taking sides. I’m saying that the feud itself is deeply, deeply stupid. I love all forms of animation, each for its own special qualities, and I believe they all have incredible unexplored artistic potential. We shouldn’t elevate one over all others just for nostalgia’s sake, or out of some kind of prejudice. Let’s just work together to make better movies in every medium! Okay?

Head-mounted telestereoscope!


For the past few months I’ve been corresponding with Melinda Green about a project of hers, to build a portable stereo-enhancing device: essentially, a head-mounted version of the Telestereoscope. Her goal? Aerial combat with radio-controlled gliders! She just finished her first prototype, and it looks amazingly lightweight, and I dare say almost comfortable. I can’t wait to hear her first battle stories. Also be sure to check out the cool applet she wrote to visualize all the angles and proportions. Rock on, Melinda!

Time is an illusion, and now there’s proof!

As upstanding American citizens have known for years, time is an illusion created by the Flying Spaghetti Monster to keep our minds from getting tied in starchy, noodly knots. It’s not real. And yet, our insitutions, our government, even our children’s schools insist on perpetuating this heretical fallacy that time exists!

But even the so-called “experts” can’t agree on how to measure the passing of this fictional abstraction. Is it caused by the wiggling of some speck of fairy dust called an “atom”, or the revolution of the sun around the flat, solid Earth? They just can’t make up their minds. The Week has an interesting article about this controversy, which has divided the scientific community, threatening to bring down the very edifice of science itself. And not a moment too soon!

School boards across the nation should take note. Why, in this great democracy, do we still have a clock in every classroom? When will this madness stop?

(via BoingBoing.)

Animation Mentor!

Animation Mentor

This week I start my first term mentoring students for Animation Mentor. I’ve spent a few days browsing around the site, checking out the work of the students and the critiques of the other mentors, and I am deeply impressed. It’s so well organized, and so much thought has gone into everything, and there’s such a great sense of community among the students and mentors! These guys have really put together something special and new, and I hope it’s a big success for everyone involved.

So, I’m really looking forward to this experience, and I expect to learn as much from the process as the students will. (As a friend of mine put it: a teacher who’s not always learning is not a very good teacher!)

Madagascar DVD comes out today

The Madagascar DVD comes out today. Finally, a chance to geek out and frame-by-frame your way through some of that crazy, snappy animation! They also added the Penguins Christmas Caper short that opened for the Wallace and Gromit movie last month. I’m so glad to have been part of these projects. Both the movie and the short were stupendous fun to work on.

Animated News has a sneak preview of some of the features, including a still frame of one of my shots! Check it out:

Cassidy Curtis's splendid display of colorful things.