Cartoons are about ideas, not tools

February 1, 2010 in Comment

Traditional animation: Disney’s The Princess and the Frog

You may have read about the new Disney film The Princess and the Frog, which is out this week. What you may also have read is that it is “a return to hand-drawn animation”.

Bloghorn would like to dispute this by pointing out a simple fact: cartoons drawn digitally are still hand drawn.

The tools may have changed, but it takes as much creativity and drawing skill to create a cartoon digitally as it does using pen and paper. Pixar Animation Studios did not create such awe-inspiring digital films as Toy Story and Up by hitting a key or clicking a mouse.

The Princess and the Frog is, rather, a return to traditional methods of animation, and it’s good too see that these can co-exist alongside digital.

What’s notable is that Disney’s first 2D animated film in five years appears now that Walt Disney Animation Studios is being run by John Lasseter, the creative force behind Pixar and a man who knows that it’s not the tools you use that matter, it’s the ideas and creativity.

Or, as Bob Mankoff, Cartoon Editor of the New Yorker, once put it: “It’s not the ink, it’s the think.”

7 responses to Cartoons are about ideas, not tools

  1. Which is what makes “Up!” a better film than “Avatar”

  2. Bloghorn, I think you’re arguing semantics here. I assume the “hand-drawn animation” that Disney refers to is the old painstaking process of each individual cell being drawn and painted by hand, as opposed to the cgi that eliminates the vast majority of the human effort which that process entails. It does not, in my opinion, suggest that there is no human involvement at all, and anyone who knows anything about animation (and I don’t profess to know very much) should recognise that the creative process is still an essential requirement to convey any story, as well as the artistic endeavour required to create the characters, motion and scenes.

    The “hand-drawn” elements that had been eliminated had little to do with artistic or creative ability, and much more to do with a steady hand and great patience, working on the hundreds of thousands of ‘paint and trace’ cells required to make up an animated movie.

    What would be interesting to find out is just how much of that human effort has been reinstated in order to produce this latest movie. It would seem like economic madness to turn back the clock fully to the way things were, much as it would be welcome employment for a heck of a lot of people. But I have a sneaky feeling that although this new movie has the appearance of old 2D effort, that the truth of the matter may be less “hand-drawn” than they’d like to make out.

  3. Steve, it is semantics in a way, Lasseter himself has used the phrase “return to hand drawn” and obviously he knows the score. But I think that some of general public, casual readers as opposed to cartoonists, may look at the term and think that therefore digital cartoons are not hand drawn in the same way.

    And you’re right, the traditional animators on the film pointed out on the recent South Bank Show about Lasseter that their paper drawings are still scanned and animated on computers. I haven’t seen this film, but if you look at a fairly recent 2D film like The Iron Giant you can tell that a lot of the movement of the robot character is similar to CGI, it just has the appearance of “hand drawn”.

    Actually, the term CGI, computer-generated imagery, is equally misleading. Surely artist generates it, not the computer?

  4. I like to refer to my cartoons as Pencil Generated Imagery. Modest like that, I am.

  5. I think there is a prevalent public perception that computers do the drawing. People are often amazed when I tell them I draw my comic on paper, and don’t use a computer until the colouring stage.

    You can see it in quotes like this:

    “Yoga Monkey, a character whose role in the magazine is to provide the young readers with colouring opportunities, is created by Paul Noble, best known as a “Young British Artist” – quite something when you consider that most comic characters for children are drawn by computers.”

    That’s from The Guardian of Oct 2003 about children’s magazine, Okido.

    There’s also this article – ‘Computers draw a new chapter in comics”; if you were to just read the title, it would reinforce the belief, but the article is better, of course.

  6. Interesting stuff, Garen. “Drawn by computers” sends a shiver down the spine! Thanks for commenting.

  7. Incidentally, I took my daughter to see the film at the weekend. Very enjoyable. There’s plenty of ink and think but, tellingly, there’s definitely some computer-assisted stuff in there too!

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