Animation cannot live by CGI alone

In the world of animation, the rise of CGI is cause for some to celebrate, and for others to rend their clothing in despair. The argument that technology sometimes outruns craft isn’t a new one; heck, I have writer friends who swear that they can only do their best work with pen to paper, rather than at a keyboard. (Not me. While my best work might be handwritten, the fact that no one—including me—can actually read it is incentive enough for me to stay at the computer.)

Via Cartoon Brew comes a fabulous editorial in this month’s Create Magazine; written by animator J.J. Sedelmaier, it makes a compelling case for a return to the stories told in animation trumping the nifty technology that may, in fact, stunt those stories:

It’s my opinion that animation thrives in an environment that creates an alternate reality, instead of trying to simply re-create it.

Further along, Sedelmaier gives a great case in point:

CGI was running a strong risk of becoming a fad. It was being chosen as a production technique because of box office results instead of its strengths as an effective means of relaying fantasy. It was also becoming an exercise in replicating realtiy, and we were losing an artist’s vision or point of view. For example, as popular as the “Shrek” films have been, I still squirm whenever the “humanoid” characters come into play. All successful films are a balance of story/concept and technique.

(You can read the entire article from a scan Cartoon Brew was kind enough to provide here.)

I happen to love the Shrek movies, so you won’t find me complaining, there. But I think Sedelmaier just put his finger on why I can’t stand The Polar Express. CGI humans are often weird, and not in a way that supports the story.

In contrast, I used the Spy vs. Spy graphic above as an example of animation firmly rooted in plot, enhanced by deceptively simply drawing. Would it be the same in CGI? Certainly not. And in all the 40+ years the cartoon has been around, I’ve never heard anyone say they wish it was a little slicker, a little more technology-driven.

Okay; maybe you don’t find that a pertinent example, because Spy vs. Spy is hardly a major motion picture. Fine. How about The Simpsons? Can you even begin to imagine that in a “realistic” animation style? I can’t.

I like CGI. But Sedelmaier is absolutely on the money here: Using technology just because it’s “cool” or “the in thing” is only going to make for a compromised story. The best animation tells a great tale, period. (And also doesn’t cause me to have nightmares about an evil, large-headed Tom Hanks. Just sayin’.)

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One thought on “Animation cannot live by CGI alone

  1. The more of us that join in this discussion the better! I’m over the hill and have clients that are totally immune to motion capture, but thousands of animators around the world have to make a living and make beautiful living things….. but we’ve got to do what the digital reality guys can’t do. Our search for reality is in ideas and not in photographic imagry..