Tuesday, May 25, 2004

You're not home on the range

Much as I enjoy Pixar's films, and admire and appreciate their success, I don't like the consequences of it. Disney Feature Animation, spurred by what they think is the only possible path to the future, has given up entirely on traditional cel animation, and I think that's a damned shame. There's really something to be said for 2-D animation, I think; it has to be simplified, and therefore can't be as detailed a representation of real things in an unreal world as CGI, but in being simplified it can be very interestingly stylized. In recent examples, I loved the chunky Mike Mignola-inspired comic book-like look of Atlantis, the angular and earthy Incans of The Emperor's New Groove, the godawfully grotesque-yet-compelling comix-inspired characters of Teacher's Pet (One of these days, I'm going to have to get around to writing something on the very slightly creepy subtext in the narrative thereof; I keep promising myself that) and the gorgeous palettes and line-art realism of Brother Bear and Home on the Range. If animation becomes too realistic, what's the point? You may as well take the hyperrealism ethos of CGI to extremes, and get things like Attack of the Clones, where two-thirds of the movie is composited against green-screened actors. There's something magical and beautiful about traditional animation, especially in the lines. I get a veritable chill looking at lines in a large-screen theatre; they're blown up so huge that it's possible to see, depending on the precise production process, either minute imperfections in a hand-drawn line, or the sinuous smoothness of crisp and perfectly sharp computer-aided inking. Either way, there's a real sense of the human effort that goes into the process; it's not just a series of algorithms manipulated into certain actions in a way that appears like a virtual puppet, but something made. I'm no Luddite. I enjoy 3-D processes aiding the traditional ones, in ways that enhance the finished product, like the eponymous Iron Giant's mechanical detail compared to the more organic nature of the human characters, or even the "Deep Canvas" technique of Tarzan that allowed for oil-paint-rich backgrounds with incredible depth. But to abandon even the facade of cel animation (what's sometimes called 2 1/2-D, colouring 3-D sprites as if they were hand-drawn), to leap wildly into the sometimes cold and sterile unloveliness of CGI, is a loss for the art form. (I saw the lame-beyond-words Dinosaur in a theatre. Pixar has nothing to fear from Disney, not in the slightest.) Because acrylic paints are cheaper, available in more colours, and easier to use, have painters given up on oils? Of course not. Yet that's much the same as what Disney has done, abandoning the company's founding techniques, only to join a race too late to seriously compete.

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