Fighting the Good Fight

The artwork seemed to explode off the screen as I sat in my home town theater enjoying a new animated cartoon. It was the fifties and a bold new studio called, UPA was almost singlehandedly pushing the boundries of animation production design. I was getting my first look at, cartoon modern and a new design sensibility that had been brought to the production of animated cartoons. While the marvelous movies of MGM, Warners and Disney continued to shine, this relatively new animation studio showcased bold, new production design and the idea that a new animated cartoon need not be encumbered by a “house style.” Films could look different depending on the story, tone and design sensibility. I remembered the fifties, and the amazing movies that influenced me as a kid. And, I began to once again miss the amazing medium of hand drawn traditional animated films.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not here to bash our new medium of CGI animated filmmaking because the recent work I’ve seen has been spectacular. However, I still cannot get pass the idea that I’m watching digital images onscreen. While there’s nothing wrong with the “cyber puppets” that entertain us today, the fact remains that the images we see onscreen are not drawings. Of course, these marvelous digital images began as a drawing. Brilliant character designers more than likely began the design process on paper. However, the end result is not an amazing drawing, rather, an image constructed inside a computer and brought to life by the performance skills of the animator. However, even that is somewhat disheartening. While watching the promotional ads for a new animated motion picture, you can guess who was being given the spotlight. It was the voice talent, of course. While there is nothing wrong with the talented actors being given their due for their terriffic performance, you can probably guess who won’t be given a mention. That’s correct. You’ll never see the animators being singled out for “star billing.” That’s because animator are, for all intents and purposes, totally invisible. And, that’s not because they are new or unknown. The truth is, they’ll never be known by the public. It continues a profound regret that we’ll never have another “Nine Old Men” in the cartoon business. Let’s face it, kids. Do you know who animated that amazing scene in your new animated film? Worse, do you care? I assure you, the public doesn’t… and the studios will make sure it stays that way. God forbid we have a repeat of the nineties where a talented animator can command a million dollars or more.

I recently sat in a meeting with a client as we pondered how two projects might be produced. Would we be taking a traditional approach to the animation or going CGI. My heart sank as I opted for a digital production model. Would I have rather gone with traditional hand drawn animation? You bet I would. I would have prefererred hand drawn for a number of reasons. However, animation is a business, not a hobby. Decisions have to be made for sound business reasons not for ones personal preference. I knew that going the traditional hand drawn route would have been difficult because studio production pipelines today are almost totally CGI. To suddenly introduce hand drawn animation would be artistically brilliant, yet financially foolhardy. So, I passed on the medium I profoundly love and elected to go with the medium that is today’s default production model.

To all you traditional animation diehards out there I say, God bless. Thanks for keeping the medium and the dream alive. Hopefully, one day I can join you and we can continue fighting the good fight.

The artist and his drawing board at the Walt Disney Studios. This is traditional hand drawn animation, kids. Boy! I sure the hell do miss it.

The artist and his drawing board at the Walt Disney Studios. This is traditional hand drawn animation, kids. Boy! I sure the hell do miss it.