Friday, April 4, 2014

Animation: Past, Present, and Future

This semester I am taking New Telecommunication Technology. It is a course that looks at how technology is influencing our lives today, and where it may be leading us in the future. The exponential growth we have seen, even in our basic everyday lives (i.e. phones, stoves, music, feature films, just to name a few), is overwhelming. I think back to when I was six until I was about thirteen, (I chose six, because that is the age I still have real memories from), when I didn't have a computer, a phone, or an iPod. I played outside until the sun set in the summers, and built snowmen and played "school" in my room in the winter. It wasn't even until I was ten or eleven that I was given a transportable CD player, and it was the coolest thing I ever had. I would carry around my massive case of CDs and the player everywhere. That was ten years ago. Look where we are now, and even where we are going with technology. The speed with which our world is changing due to new inventions is incredible. So, it would be naive of us to not acknowledge the impressive change technology has made in the animation world.

Looking back, my favorite movie was Disney's Beauty and the Beast. I would literally watch it five times in a row over the course of three days. Beauty and the Beast came out in 1991, and was a HUGE hit for it's time, and a real turning point for animation. Considering they had been trying to create this story for decades, the accomplishment was very exciting. It is not an easy fairytale to transform into a cohesive storyline, let alone a motion picture. The first published version was released in 1740, but the most well-known version was written and published in 1756 by Jeanne-Marie Le Prince de Beaumont of France. What draws me into this story, whether it is the written fairytale or Disney's animation, is the dedication, passion, and determination of the character of Belle (or Beauty, as she is also known). Now that I'm older, there is truly something different in the animation of Belle that her predecessors did not have (i.e. Snow White, Ariel from The Little Mermaid). It is an emotion in the eyes, a real connection between the character and the world around her. This is even emphasized in the development of motion capture. The power of being able to use an actor's eyes, brings a whole new life to the performance of a digital character. Eye's are the window to the soul, and the success with this in 2D animation in Beauty and the Beast makes it even more incredible. Here is a video on the creation of Beauty and the Beast:

Look closely at this animation process. It is all drawn by hand, with pencil and paper. The speed at which these animators can produce completed drawings blows me away. My brother used to make 2D flip books when we were growing up, but it would take him 2 or 3 weeks to finish one. I'm sure the amount of time spent on the drawings for this film was enormous, but just watching them in this clip we can see how fast they really are moving. And can we notice for a minute that there is no "Undo" button?? They can probably erase any mistakes, but it all takes TIME. That was the beauty of that era. Every product produced was something to be proud of because of the amount of time and effort spent on each and every detail to bring this character to life was immense. 

Now a look at Disney's newest hit, Frozen:

First thing I noticed was that there was an entire team of people sitting in a room watching the animation process, whereas in the previous video it was a single person working on the project. The second thing I noticed was the fact that the animator could make immediate changes and then everyone could watch it again in under three minutes. If that is not wild enough, notice that there are no pencils and paper here. It is all being done on the computer or tablet with a stylus. Right down to the facial expressions on the characters. Little adjustments and tweaks can be made along the way, without having to start from the beginning again. Animators can even move through 3D space in the world they have created in realtime. The characters now are much clearer than they ever were or could be in Beauty and the Beast. Not that creating Frozen was easy by any means. I'm positive it took a lot of time and dedication to create it. The point is the leaps and bounds animation has made over the last 25 years or so because of technology. It will be interesting to see what animation looks like in another 25 years, but I would encourage you not to forget the beauty, inspiration, and talent of those animators of the beginning. Soon, animation will really be a "tale as old as time," and people may start to forget the incredible talent, skill, and life that went into animation before technology influenced the art form. 

by Amber Capogrossi  

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