Visit any one of your favourite animation sites at any time, and you will doubtless encounter some sort of aesthetic debacle unfolding, Drawn vs CG. CG vs mocap. Indie vs commercial. Old vs new. East vs west. Cobra vs mongoose. All these debates are really about the same thing – trying to draw a line in the sand and say “good animation is about this, so that must be bad animation”.
Try to define what constitutes ‘good’ animation and you are always going to end up stepping on too many toes, there are just too many factors to consider. Defining the rules for what constitutes ‘rubbish’ animation, however, is much easier – and I have reduced this process to the consideration of just two factors. Observe:
When creating animation, for one to produce work which can be defined as ‘not rubbish’, one must observe both of the following two rules. Failure to observe either one will result in animation which can be rightly identified as ‘rubbish’.
Firstly, one must be in the same room as the animation for which one is responsible during production. Being in the same building is not sufficient, and being in a different postal district or hemisphere is right out.
Secondly, one must recognise that animation in all its forms concerns the creation of sequential imagery, and therefore consideration and attention must be paid to every frame! This does not mean that one must animate consistently on 1’s – rather, it means that supervision be given to each frame, and that the amount of movement and nature of movement therein, be personally observed and considered. Attention to only key frames, or to key poses, shall equally result in ‘rubbish’ animation.
The first of those guidelines is self explanatory. Its a seemingly innocuous statement until you realise that it automatically discounts most TV animation and most commercial animated features, as having rubbish animation. And rightly so.
Certainly you can make an entertaining show using outsourced animation, but you’re simply not going to produce something that contributes anything dramatic to the animation lexicon. The entertainment value is going to derive from elsewhere, from the script or the direction. The animation is inherently going to be functional at best.
The second dictate however, is the more incendiary, as when applied to certain popular ongoing debates, can be used to burn a number of sacred cows.
For example, consider this. Katsuhiro Otomo’s new cel-render project, Freedom. It looks like Akira, it smells like Akira, it apparently has all the same scenes and characters and locations as Akira – but something is missing. Something essential. For, while the hand crafted intricacies of Akira will fascinate mortal animators for centuries, sending them slowly insane as they try to fathom the implications of drawing all those damned buildings – well, this new film just isn’t going to have the same effect. But why? From across the room it looks almost exactly the same as the most technically accomplished hand animation ever achieved – and yet up close, you gradually realise, there’s just nothing there. The character animation in Akira is hardly the most emotive in the world, it represents a total stylistic rejection of much cartoon practice. But Freedom, even by contrast, just seems to offer us puppets, drifting from one pose to the next. So if you were wondering what Akira would look like if it had been made by something other than human beings, it looks pretty much like this. Exactly the same, but dead. Identical, but souless.
Now don’t get me wrong, in certain respects its as beautiful as any other Otomo movie. It has nice backgrounds, good prop models and okay puppets – and sure, with a little more time and money you could tweak the physics, add more variety to the facial animation, put in more subtle moment-specific movements and it would be almost truly indistinguishable from a drawn animation. But in so doing, you would be taking the process so close to actual frame-by-frame animation, as to negate any economy generated from rendering it with puppets in the first place. In short, there are no effective shortcuts around that second golden rule!
Its clear that after spending a billion years making Steam Boy, that this is an experiment in economy film making for Otomo – which is fine. But is the soul behind the eyes of the characters really a fair or economic exchange for all those detailed costumes?
So there it is. Now in conclusion, lets see what it looks like when both rules are lovingly observed.