|Again, drawing by Landon Kemp (me) and Fly Me To The Moon belongs to whoever gives a crap about this stupid-ass movie they made.|
-Rendering Other Mediums "Obsolete"
One of the things I hate the most about this influx of CGI is that people get the idea that it'll render other mediums of animation, most notably hand-drawn and stop-motion, obsolete. As a die-hard supporter of both hand-drawn and stop-motion animation, I don't take kindly to this. This has been a mindset for years, hitting the strongest in the 2000s, and if the 1988 short "Technological Threat" is anything to go off of, it's been going on since the 1980s. I should also bring up that Hollywood has exploited CGI like mad in live-action features, especially in the late 90s, with disaster porn like Independence Day and Armageddon. That trend has sort of died down by this point, but while CG effects are still prominent and heavily exploited in modern blockbuster flicks, it feels like filmmakers have been utilizing the technology a little better, usually knowing when and how to use it most of the time. I still think live-action should rely on a combination of CG and practical effects or even just do all practical effects to create a more convincing illusion, but that’s beside the point at the moment.
Disney has been doing short films combining CGI with hand-drawn elements, like "Paperman" and "Feast", and while they do look nice, it leads me to ask, "Why not just do a hand-drawn film? Do you really need to create some superfluous tech just to give something a hand-drawn look and feel?" I felt The Peanuts Movie did this sort of combination to far better effect, since while it was still largely CGI, it retained some hand-drawn elements, like for imagination sequences, visual effects, and occasionally the eyes on characters like Snoopy, making for a unique combination of styles. It didn't try to mask the CGI with traditional art to give off the illusion of hand-drawn animation, either. The influence of the original Melendez specials came through in how the characters were animated and how they were staged. It managed to translate into a more modern sensibility while still doing its own thing and paying homage to its roots.
Still, the idea that computer animation will render the other mediums “obsolete” is a constant problem in this industry. Not even other countries are safe from this mindset. In a 2014 interview, Hideaki Anno, creator of the popular anime "Neon Genesis Evangelion", stated that he can see Japan, the anime capital of the world, going more towards 3D CG in the future, even saying, "To work with the rest of the world, we have to move on to 3D". Like Hell you have to! A lot of what makes Japanese animation so notable is that it DOESN'T follow what the rest of the world does. It has its own unique voice. Even when CG was worked into the actual animation in the past, whether it fit or not, it still felt like Japanese animation. By following what Hollywood and "the rest of the world" does, it's basically giving that identity up just to become another part of the machine. I'm not discouraging the Japanese from working with 3D CGI since, if the video games they make are of any indication, they know how to work with it, but for God's sake, I'm hoping they're a lot smarter with the tool than we were and not letting it go out of control. The same applies for other countries that use it.
As you can see, this is a major concern. But I think I know what the problem with this whole deal is: it's the greedy executives running the whole show. They see how much money 3D animated movies make at the box office and are under the aforementioned thought process that Andrew Stanton described, that "Computer Animation = $$$ LOTSA MONEY $$$". To them, it's become a safe bet. They are resistant to trying anything new or anything to shake up the norm. And with how outdated a lot of Hollywood standards in general are, that’s a big problem. It really frustrates me that people can’t just put their foot down and stand up to these talentless execs to make their voices heard when it comes to issues like this.
The way I see it, 3D CGI is like a drug. Sometimes it has benefits, but it’s easy to get addicted to it, and can often lead to harmful effects if you abuse or overdose on it. And by harmful, I mean harmful for the industry, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it wound up being harmful in other ways. I heard on one of the Bancroft Bros. podcasts that despite John Lasseter’s claims that they’re trying to find the right story for hand-drawn animation, all of the new films at Disney are given the 3D treatment because some higher-up, possibly Lasseter himself, takes a look at it and says that it would be “better suited for 3D”. And I hear they’ve sold off the animation drawing desks. Again. So much for your big claims of reviving hand-drawn animation, Lasseter! Working with the CGI medium for years has only left him and a lot of these other animators addicted to this “drug”. And when they become addicted, they start turning out products of increased quantity… but not always at increased quality, which again, is a danger tied to churning out films at the rate they’ve been doing.
That is why I think we need more variety in this industry. I feel we need to acknowledge the strengths and weaknesses of each medium and come up with a better system than what we have now. I’m very certain a lot of artists don’t want to do things the “mainstream” way, they want to be able to create what they want the way they want it. I’m certain that hand-drawn animation is and can still be profitable at the box office. It just needs the right promotion and the right story. Same thing for stop-motion. I'm certain that, if Kubo And The Two Strings had been given better promotion and a better release date, it would have been a box office hit.
|Seriously, why did this beautiful and creative stop motion movie not do well?|
Now, my point here, as well as with this whole article, is that I want computer animation to be able to evolve as a medium of animation, but not at the cost of the more traditional mediums that also deserve a chance to evolve and grow.
-Modern CGI Gets All The Love When It Comes To International Distribution
We've been getting a lot of foreign imports in recent years. Animation is becoming big in not only the US, but in other countries as well. Many countries either have their own animation industry with its own rich history or are just starting up their own. Opportunities have arisen for exporting animated shorts, shows, and features of all kinds to showcase how other cultures create entertaining and artistic animated films around the world.
The only problem? IT'S ALWAYS THE CGI FILMS OF TODAY THAT GET THE BIGGEST DISTRIBUTION AND THE MOST ATTENTION!!!
Seriously, all the big studios flaunt the flashy CGI features of today in movie houses across the world, while indie titles, smaller imports and the features of yesteryear have limited releases in select theaters or even on DVD with little to no promotion. These people seem to be under the delusion that it has to be CGI to be successful in the international market or to American audiences.
This really pisses me off, because hand-drawn foreign films like Ernest And Celestine, Song Of The Sea, and The Tale Of The Princess Kaguya, all distributed by the seriously underappreciated GKids, have only been able to get limited releases. I've seen all three of these movies in a local theater during my stay in Austin, and they are way too good to only be released in select theaters on select dates. And by good, I don't mean that because they're hand-drawn, but because they have a lot of effort put into them in general. And back in 2015, I saw the wonderful Aardman stop motion feature The Shaun The Sheep Movie, only to find it didn’t even make the Top 10 at the box office, because the idiots at Lionsgate didn’t market it properly. From what I heard, it also came from Aardman’s supposedly diminished presence in the US, but I think a quick reminder that Aardman was the same studio that gave us stuff like Wallace And Gromit and Chicken Run will immediately make people go, “Oh yeah, THAT’S what else they’ve done.” It’s not that hard, folks. A simple reminder of what else is in their filmography can definitely go a long way in raising interest.
And even then, there’s not a steady guarantee that foreign animation will even see release in American theaters. The Weinstein Company managed to gain the rights to premiere an English dub of the Argentinean CG flick Metegol (or Underdogs, as it has come to be known,) in the US, only to delay it again and again until it was pulled a week before its planned release, and then casually dumped onto DVD shelves without any promotion. Then again, the Weinsteins don’t have the best history with animation, so it probably shouldn’t come as much of a surprise.
|Coming Soon To A Theater Near You... NOT!|
Another issue is that some countries don’t have the know-how to do proper CGI animation. As mentioned before, it takes a lot of time, effort, money, and the proper tech to make CGI that is of a good quality, and most of the time, they’re used to make those terrible knock-off movies with CGI that looks dated and awful. And even if that’s not the case, they still don’t always know how to make the rendered computer animation appealing to look at. There have been examples that managed to avoid that, sure, but it’s still something of an issue that needs to be worked with before they truly utilize such a method.
|And yes, this IS an animated feature film. This isn't just a series of episodes from an obscure childrens' anime show based on a series of books that we just cobbled together and redubbed to sell to kids that don't know any bet-D'OH!|
You may be wondering why I’m bringing imports into this all this. During the big VHS boom in the 80s and 90s, there was a ton of imported animation and anime that was translated and sent to video store shelves, at first mainly for kids and their families by companies like Celebrity’s Just For Kids, but once anime and adult animation started gaining an audience, other video companies started releasing animation videos for mature audiences as well. There’s a ton of animation that hasn’t seen release outside of its own country, though, and as a huge advocate for international animation, cartoons and other creative entertainment, I think a lot of those properties deserve a chance to shine outside their own country, be they old or new, for kids or adults.
Again, I'm not saying it's not possible for foreign nations to try to create good CGI animation, but not only do they need to learn to use the tool properly, but also not to let it go to their heads, and to give their older hand-drawn/stop-motion features some love as well.
As sick and tired as I am of CGI and as much as I rag on it, I don't think it should be completely abandoned. It's proven that it can be a major force in the animation industry, and with each major innovation, it manages to evolve and grow. However, I say something has to be done about it to keep it under control. A good majority of the human race is tired of this kind of CG excess, and furthermore, many of them don’t even KNOW that they’re tired of it. We need to back down and give the other mediums some more exposure. Hopefully, bring some more balance into the industry by allowing hand-drawn, stop motion, and more experimental types of animation to thrive, because in the end, it's not the medium that's the problem, it's the people that exploit it and the worst cliches and notions that are tied to it. The computer is a wonderful tool, but again, it's just that: a tool. It's not the end-all, be-all "future of animation", it's just as much a method of creating animation as drawing on paper/tablet or working with clay and puppetry is.
I may be bitter about the whole situation, especially since I think the current highest-grossing animated film and one that further cemented CGI’s long lasting place in the industry, Frozen, is a mediocre piece of crap, regardless of medium, but what I ultimately want is for there to be an animation industry where people are allowed to work in the medium of their choice and not what the execs or the charts want. It should come down to personal preference. If someone wants to do a hand-drawn film, they can do a hand-drawn film. If someone wants to do a CGI film, they can do a CGI film. If a movie wants more practical effects with a little CG thrown in, it can have more practical effects with a little CG thrown in. It's this sort of freedom to do want you want and, hopefully, break some new ground and innovate by combining different methods to create a unique film or a unique approach to making film that I wish would exist. My belief is that if we make the animation industry a more stable and versatile place, for all mediums to thrive and grow, we can really take animation, in the immortal words of Buzz Lightyear, to infinity and beyond.