As we sat around a dining table at a local valley restaurant, an old animation veteran reached into his grab bag and pulled out a series of lost treasures. We immediately recognized the stacks of drawings and the punched animation paper. These were animation scenes created by the animation masters we had worked with decades ago. I doubt you’d even know their names, but anyone well schooled in the art of animation would immediately recognized the work of the brilliant artists who brought characters to life using only drawing skills and a rich imagination. The animated scenes were passed around the table for each artist to study. Holding the scene in our right hand, we “rolled” the drawings to study the animation. This was the real deal. This was animation decades before the digital revolution.
Naturally, the subject of traditional hand drawn animation became the center of our conversation. We spoke of the talented animators who have been lecturing in an attempt to bring a hand drawn sensibility to the CGI animated motion pictures now in production. We spoke of the simple charm of a hand drawn sketch and the wonder of seeing a drawing come to life. We believe that audiences still marvel at the magic of a moving sketch even though producers would have us believe that nothing less than a photo real digital animated movie can make money today. And, don’t even get me started on the old canard that hand drawn motion pictures are inherently more expensive than CGI with its massive infrastructure and the considerable expense that comes with it. Were I ever to be blessed with sufficient funds to make an animated film I could have a studio up and running in a matter of weeks. The facility would be as simple as a rented warehouse with rows of drawing tables loaded with pencils and paper. Start up costs would be next to nothing and what little computer equipment needed would be used for post production which is mainly a mechanical process anyway. Plus, I doubt dedicated staffers would be difficult to find. Eager young students ready to bring back a lost art along with a host of marginalized veteran animation professionals who have been waiting on the sidelines for something great to come along.
While it’s true I’ve often been accused of bashing CGI filmmaking, the charge is hardly legitimate. I’ve always been on the cutting edge of technology and I’ve owned more computers and drawing tablets than most people would ever have a need for. However, I will confess that I’m growing weary of digital films even though the images sent to the screen are often impressive. However, this animation veteran is getting a little tired of being dazzled and would like the joy of seeing a simple drawing spring to animated life on the big screen again. A simple, inspired drawing sketched into brilliant life by a unique artist we once called, an animator. Gifted women and men who create magic using nothing less than pencil and paper. They would carry on in the tradition of Art Babbitt, Milt Kahl and Freddy Moore. And, the new generation of masters including, Glen Keane, Andreas Deja and Eric Goldberg. Some of you may disagree with my assessment of animation in 2016. After all, aren’t today’s animated films better than ever? Don’t audiences turn out in droves for each new animated movie? Well, you’d be correct on every count. Today’s films are surely dazzling and the digitally generated images are jaw dropping. Could things be better?
As we passed the time worn scene pages around the lunch table there was not one of us who didn’t feel a tinge of nostalgia for our animation days long past. Back then the job categories consisted of, story, layout, animation and background. Add, ink&paint, camera and you’re done. At times the work seemed clunky and crude and the production process was often messy and difficult to control. Yet, out of that chaos came stories and images that would remain with audiences for decades. Films were created back then. Today, I’m afraid they’re simply manufactured.