Pencil, Paper and Not a Darn Thing More

Han Solo felt comfortable with his trusty blaster at his side. Obi Wan Kenobi however, preferred his light saber. “A elegant weapon for a more civilized time,” were the words of the Jedi Master. As an old traditional animator I fall into Obi Wan’s camp. As awesome as today’s CGI tools have become (and no doubt, they are awesome) there’s nothing more elegant than a simple pencil in the hand of a gifted artist and animator.

This thought occured to me while speaking with a young animator not long ago. The former traditional animator was currently doing battle with his CGI tools. “I know what I want,” said the distressed animator. “If only I could simply draw the darn thing.” You see, today’s digital animators work with something called a “rig.” And, amazing as these digital tools can be, artists have to learn to work with the apparatus and not the other way around. It takes some time getting used to the beast and it’s why some traditional animators have opted out of today’s animation systems. And it’s understandable, after all. Some artists simply prefer to draw.

Some years ago, I was handed a last minute animation assignment. It was late Friday afternoon and the television commercial had to be delivered (rough animation, that is) next Monday morning. It was a daunting task and I pondered my fate should I not be able to deliver the goods. All I had going for me was pencil, paper and a rich imagination. That’s it. Nothing else. It was a long weekend and I couldn’t even locate an assistant to help me complete the grunt work so I inbetweened all the stuff myself. By early Monday morning, I delivered the completed scene to the producer and felt (perhaps for the first time) like a real animator. It’s a pretty heady feeling and I’m not sure if young animators truly feel that today. You see, back in the old days an animator faced a blank sheet of paper. That means what eventually ends on that paper and ultimately on screen depends entirely on you. The only limits in place are your drawing skills and your imagination. Other than that, it’s entirely up to you. There’s something very cool about that. No digital assist of any kind. No rig or rotoscopes to lean on. It’s all you and you’re well aware of that. If you fall on your face in front of your peers everybody knows. However should you succeed, there’s no better feeling in the world.

Clearly, the amazing work we’re seeing today with CGI animation is truly remarkable. Years ago, It would have been difficult to imagined the kind of work being done today. Having said that, I wonder if our young animators will ever know the feeling of completing a scene and knowing that the scene is totally yours? It’s a feeling that every traditional animator has probably experienced - and maybe fears he or she may never feel again.

Sure, we had tools in the old days. Pencils, paper, paint and brushes. Hardly as flashy as our new digital tools but somehow, a good deal more elegant, wouldn't you say?

Sure, we had tools in the old days. Pencils, paper, paint and brushes. Hardly as flashy as our new digital tools but somehow, a good deal more elegant, wouldn't you say?