From $130,000 a Year to McDonalds Manager
CGI's Impact on the Traditional Animator
Joe Tracy, Publisher of Digital Media FX Magazine
It's a sad
and exciting new age in the world of animation as studios continue
to downsize traditional animation facilities in favor of computer
animation. Leading the way in this effort is Disney Feature Animation,
which continues to lay off hundreds of traditional animators with
a "promise" that hundreds more will be let go by the
end of 2003. Long time traditional animators are suddenly finding
themselves without employment.
The LA Times
recently cited one example - a Disney traditional animator veteran
named Steve Starr who had made up to $130,000 a year. Now he's
out of a job and selling his house.
The mass layoffs
are resulting in many traditional animators looking for new work
or heading back to college to take courses in computer animation.
However, that has created a new problem - there's not enough room
in the schools.
to the LA Times: "Eric Huelsman, who teaches computer animation
classes at the Los Angeles Unified School District's Abram Friedman
Occupational Center to displaced and employed studio artists,
said: 'I have a waiting list longer than my arm.'"
All three animated movies nominated for the first ever "Best
Animated Feature" Academy Award are computer animated
(Shrek, Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius, Monsters, Inc.).
The highest grossing movies of the past several years have
all been computer animated (Shrek, Toy Story 2, Monsters,
In general, computer animated movies are easier to make and
allow more immediate control over all aspects of the production.
Making changes to a scene is much easier when the scene is
animation isn't dead yet, of course. There's all the upcoming
direct to video sequels in the works using traditional
animation and studios (including Disney and DreamWorks) still
have traditional animated features in production.
But new studios
being built (like the $100 million one by a Shrek producer,
John H. Williams) are all CGI based. Studios like Universal have
given the green light to new animated projects - all CGI.
animation is now headed down a path that could make it a lost
art. However, it could also make it a unique experience. How?
Well, CGI animated films will soon be headed to theaters in droves
(yes, including the Big Idea Jonah Veggie Tales movie).
It used to be that CGI movies gave a "new look" to animation.
Yet when the CGI movies hit in mass it will suddenly be the traditional
animated movies - the rare ones - that stand out as "different".
or not, studios must remember that it isn't the type of animation
that makes or breaks a movie. It is the story, originality,
creativity, imagination, and character development. Just because
a studio makes a CGI feature doesn't mean it will have Shrek returns.
Does anyone remember Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within?
last summer's CGI animated movie that flopped so
bad that Square Pictures was forced to close down. Studios are
about to learn a very hard lesson when it comes to animation:
just because it is CGI doesn't mean it will be a success.
Run was stop motion based animation and it was a huge hit.
Imagine if Aardman's next several productions are equal hits.
Soon other studios will be announcing "New Stop Motion"
facilities to take advantage of this "new hot medium."
To repeat: "just because it is [enter animation form here]
doesn't mean it will be a success."
It's a shame
that so many traditional animators are being put out of jobs.
How quickly studios have forgotten that the number one grossing
animated movie of all time is still The Lion King. Yes
a traditional animated movie!
I would love
to see a new $100 million studio built that focuses solely on
strong traditional animated stories. Could you imagine if there
was a "Pixar" for traditional animated movies? Suddenly
all the "follow the leader" studios would be putting
a focus back on traditional animation. Imagine Glen Keane, Don
Hahn, and Brad Bird becoming partners in a new traditional animation
studio called "AnimWorks KHB". Yes, it is far
fetched, but one can still dream.
So let's cut
to the chase. The next great "John Lasseter" won't be
the one that duplicates the success of Pixar via the CGI medium.
The next great "John Lasseter" will be the one that
puts the focus - no matter what the medium - on great entertainment
with original stories. The person will have the ability to capture
the imagination of kids and adults alike. This next great visionary
won't be one that "follows the fad" but rather one that
reinvigorates the story telling process; and if it happens to
be in traditional animation form then a lot of unemployed animators
will be very happy... and employed.
here to discuss this story in the Digital
Media FX Forums.
Tracy is the publisher of Digital
Media FX, author of four books and former editor of
the visual effects print magazine, NewTekniques. He is
also a visual effects columnist for The Hollywood Forum.
columns, including this one, that appear in Digital Media FX are
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