Disney Princesses: Why They’re So Dang Skinny

One of the most common complaints that I hear regarding many Disney films is the size of the princesses waists, or lack thereof. Many mothers and feminists alike are up in arms about their designs, saying it presents young girls with the wrong ideas about body image. Despite the fact that to me their argument has no real merit, (last time I checked the parents had to be involved somewhere in raising a child) it’s not just the princesses who receive this anorexic-esque looking treatment. The only real reason why the princesses are singled out is because they are the most popular among children, especially girls. Other characters within the animation world are given rather unrealistic proportions. What bothers me the most is that these “haters” never stop to realize that, it’s a trait among all characters and not just the females.

So why are the princesses so skinny? Or why do some characters appear ridiculously huge? The intention of character designers is never to typecast a specific physical trait to be associated with one thing or another believe it or not. When designing characters artists will take one physical aspect of a character they wish to create and put it to the extreme. It’s all about reading well on screen. When creating characters you have to think about your audience, who mainly is going to be watching these animated features? Why children of course! Characters are designed specifically to be read and understood easily by anyone at any age. And a character is most easily read when their traits are simplified and exaggerated, which is why it is rare to see a character with average proportions.

But what does easy reading entail exactly? I often break it down into two main categories, aesthetics and silhouettes. For the first, animated characters look the most dynamic and intriguing when put to extremities. It’s really one of the few times that a character’s physical traits do not have to be constrained by reality. This freedom leads to various kinds of styles and designs that show just how much animation brings to the art world. Why be stuck in this reality when you can make your own? It also helps the audience believe that many ridiculous and insane scenarios that animated characters often find themselves in are believable. If you see a wacky looking character doing wacky things it’s going to make more sense than if you see a normal character doing wacky things. That image in itself is kind of horrifying, just think of a normal human being acting like the wolf in Red Hot Riding Hood. But I suppose the more important reason brings us to the latter category, the silhouette.

Freedom with style also allows iconic characters to be created, I bet you can tell who most if not all of these characters are

When I say the silhouette of a particular character I’m talking about the poses they go into and how understandable they are. A character with over exaggerated proportions will have actions that are more easily understood by the viewer. If you have a character with “normal” proportions the actions and extremes they go into can be understood, but it won’t give the same power and emotion that a cartoonized character brings. And I guess that’s what it boils down to, the energy given off by the characters. An average looking character just won’t give you as much passion and excitement as a “proportionally challenged” character will. It’s all about the performance in animation, and having extremely large or small sizes is going to help in selling that performance.

See how much easier this is to read

Than this?

So we artists do not intentionally give female characters these ridiculous proportions to influence the minds of impressionable children. But when one isn’t studying this kind of thing it’s an easy mistake to make. It’s not something that I knew, but learned in my studies, and having learning all that I have it does certainly make a whole lot of sense.

December 2, 2011. Uncategorized. 2 comments.

Stereoscopy and its Place in Films

Now that I’ve been studying animation in school for a while I find most conversations about the field often get a little confusing. The terminology I use now is a lot different than before and problems typically occur when I start talking about 3D. For me, 3D means computer generated films, stuff you generally see from Dreamworks or Blue Sky nowadays. 3D for the average person however is when films are given the illusion of depth through offset images. This latter definition no longer describes the term 3D for me, and has since been changed to define stereoscopy (stereo).

Now I know why movie companies and such opt to say 3D instead of stereo (can you imagine the marketing for films?), minor hiccups in conversations like that doesn’t bother me, I just have to remind myself who I’m talking to. What does bother me, however, is exactly how much it has taken over in Hollywood. I get that this complaint is an old one too, but with the amount of people I know who are still all for it makes me feel that this discussion is still relevant.

So by now I’m sure it’s blatantly obvious that I am not a fan of stereo. To me, it ceases to make films films and turns them into attractions. People will show up for the gimmick and forget about the story. And because of this, most films that are shot in stereo lack severely in the storytelling department, relying heavily on its gimmicky-ness and higher ticket prices for profits.

The problem with this type of viewing experience is that it is often incorrectly and over-used. Audiences are typically forced into seeing the film in stereoscopic raising prices up to ridiculous amounts. And more commonly than not the quality of the stereo is hardly worth the price because instead of being shot in stereo, it was converted in post production. These films are the most pathetic excuse for stereo movies I have ever seen. When filming a movie in stereo the camera used is significantly heavier because two cameras must be used instead of one. This makes work longer and more tiring, which is why many companies opt to shoot normally and edit in post. When a film is converted to stereo after filming, all sense of depth is lost in the final product. Which, to me, renders the whole point in seeing a flick in stereoscopic pointless.

Shot in stereo so kudos for that

But what I hate the most? Is hearing the comment, “You have to see it in 3D, there’s no point if you don’t”. This statement really makes my blood boil. Oh I don’t know, maybe I’d like to see the movie for the movie part. I don’t know what you’re going for, but that’s what I’m going for. A movie shouldn’t have to only be seen for its stereoscopic aspect, it should be viewed because it is work of art, a source of entertainment, an escape from reality. Movies should be more than something sheerly to marvel at. If it isn’t, it makes me feel like the filmmakers are treating me like a child, desperately dangling keys in front of my face trying to get some type of positive reaction.

The issues really start to arise for me when things start flying toward the screen at me. When this happens it forces me to believe that the filmmakers put in that particular moment so that I, the audience member, would be satisfied with my purchase of ticket. There is no other reason for this moment to be in this film if only to get me in the seat. This is where the movie enters attraction territory. I’m basically told that any type of serious storytelling is out the window and that’s why I don’t like seeing these parts in stereo movies. Then again or most people, myself included, believe there is no point in seeing a stereoscopic movie if these sequences aren’t in the film. So either way I’m screwed and it’s best if I just don’t see movies in stereo altogether.

This little moment from "Up" stood out to me in stereo

Despite my dislike for the way stereoscopy is currently being used, I’m not completely opposed to the idea of it, if done correctly. The only time I have ever seen it be successfully used is in 3D animated films. Since the environment is based in the computer there will always be a sense of depth and nothing will be lost or blurry. The amount of depth given and felt is astounding with CG, it’s almost like I can step into the movie while I’m watching it. It’s so brilliant and captivating that most times I completely forget my own world and enter the movie’s. To me, the whole point of stereo currently is to have things coming at you, essentially the movie breaking into this world. I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather leave this one and join the movie’s. There’s also something about their bright colors that look even more crisp and amazing when viewed in stereo.

Mind you, I won’t go out of my way to see a 3D film in stereo, only when I’m forced into it for whatever reason. It still doesn’t add anything to the movie or up its quality, it just makes me more immersed into the film, so I still can’t justify its high ticket prices. I do think however that stereoscopic will become relevant in movies once Hollywood realizes the proper way it should be used along with making it more affordable for the average moviegoer.

What are your thoughts on stereoscopy in movies? When should it be used or not used?

November 18, 2011. Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

Animation Isn’t Just For Children

It’s interesting this culture we currently live in, I sometimes hear from friends how their other friends wouldn’t be caught dead at a children’s film, specifically animated films. Yet all of my friends and relatives enjoy going to these “kids’ films”, so I’m curious to know if this is still an issue. Maybe it’s just because people tend to surround themselves with people like them, and inso I’ve yet to actually face someone who would never want to see a children’s film in theaters.

When thinking about this I am also faced with another problem, the label of “children’s film”. It was brought to my attention that there is a difference between kids’ films and family films. The prior being a movie that only serves to satiate a small child’s short attention span, with no intense thought or consideration of the story or characters. This is most common amongst television movies, specials, and whatnot. The latter, a family film, having the same amount of care given to the plot and characters as any other film, if not more. This would be due to a family movie needing to satisfy multiple demographics instead of just one.

With the latter in mind it seems a valid argument to make that these types of films aren’t just for children. The filmmaker’s are conscious of the fact that they must make a movie which spreads over a vast amount of generations and many are successful, creating content that satisfies all. These types naturally come from bigger animation studios, however are not restricted to them. Some good examples of animated films that can be enjoyed by people at any age include Tangled, How to Train Your Dragon, The Lion King, Shrek, the list goes on and on. And while these films prove they can entertain almost anyone, they’re still labeled as “family films”. Certainly these family movies can have dark themes, I mean just look at Hunchback (I remember the exact moment when I was 13 when I realized what Hellfire was really about), but animation can be used for so much more.

Animation isn’t just restricted to these “safe” genres. The art can be quite beautiful when more adult themes are applied. I only know of a couple examples which I will share with you. I’m sure you probably know them already, but it’s good to recognize them and talk about their importance. The first is a feature film called Persepolis. It came out in 2007 and is based off a graphic novel of the same name. It discusses the tale of a girl growing up in Iran during the Islamic revolution. I had the great pleasure of viewing this last year and I must say I was heavily impacted by it. Up until then I had never seen an animated movie deal with adult content. It opened my eyes to all of the possibilities that animation has, and that it can be used with successful storytelling for adults.

Another great piece is Father and Daughter. It’s a Dutch short film and was released in 2000. Having a close relationship with my father I find it very touching and with each viewing I always cry at the end. The animation and style is simply gorgeous, and I’m a huge fan of works with little to no dialogue. This one is a little lengthy, but definitely worth a view even if it’s just the first few minutes to get a feel for the film. One of the beautiful things behind these two is that they’re not meant for children, in no way were they specifically designed to fit the needs of kids. To understand their full power one must have had childhood experiences, but then grown on into adulthood. They both feature girls growing into women, and as adults we all feel the same on some level of growth and its impact.

Given the chance animation has proven it can successfully convey a story geared towards adults just as it does for kids. I know I only gave a couple examples and I’m certain there are plenty more out there. Can you think of any animated films that are more focused on an adult audience, or perhaps one that has darker themes?

November 11, 2011. Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

Good vs. Bad Animation

Today I want to discuss the difference between good and bad animation. When I say this I mainly mean the quality of the animation, and by labeling something as “good” or “bad” I mean it for purely categorical purposes. Just because a work has “bad” animation doesn’t mean it isn’t effective, the same as how a piece with “good” animation isn’t automatically considered great. That’s a very roundabout way of saying “Let me show you the differences of quality in animation”.

The reason why I want to bring this up is because I feel that today’s general public doesn’t know the difference, or even aware of a difference in the quality. Even if people do notice a difference, they might not necessarily know why there is one. The problem I think is that most people only have a very broad view of what animation is. Now, to be honest I was never aware of this distinction up until a couple years ago. I didn’t pay much attention to differences in animation quality and it wasn’t until the summer before senior year that I realized there was one. I took an animation class at an art college where I went from knowing absolutely nothing about the art to being well versed in the basics of animation. Mind you I didn’t come out an expert, but I learned an immense amount in the span of one month.

Anyways, on the first day of class my professor essentially told us that we were, in this class, to learn the art of animation, that it would form the basis of the rest we would learn, and that we would create it and do it well. It wasn’t going to be easy and the hours would be long, but if we were dedicated enough we could do it. I remember him specifically saying that if we wanted to have instant gratification instead, we could do sloppy animation like South Park and have a whole short shot in a day. He said it such a way that he was just begging for one of us to ask him, just so he could shoot us down. After he said this I thought to myself “Yeah, you’re right, South Park does have some crappy animation”. That was my first epiphany that bad animation does indeed exist. While that was a rather obvious point, it was still necessary in discovering the difference.

A few days later another eye opening occurrence happened. I overheard some of the students talking about films they thought had great animation, and one of the guys said he thought Mulan was one of them. I apparently wasn’t the only one who overheard him say this and the professor walked over and told him “I wonder if you’ll still think that after this class is over”. Things got a little awkward after that. Regardless, it forced me to think why my professor would say this. It made me realize that there are in fact varying degrees in the quality of animation. Nothing is flat out good or bad (like so many things) when it comes to animation, and the main goal for anyone just starting to learn about it must realize this.

So, now that I have you tired of reading, let’s look at some examples. First is a clip from the show Total Drama Island airing on Cartoon Network in the U.S.

This second clip is from Batman: The Animated Series, originally shown on Fox in the ’90s.

While I do find that both of these clips accomplish their intention in terms of content, there is still a notable difference in quality. It’s all in the characters movements, do they seem stiff or fluid? Do they give good arcs in their paths of action or stick to straight lines?I find the more a movement mimics real life, the better. Although this is not always true, (especially in motion capture) I suppose exaggerated actions would better suit what I mean, with a few extreme poses to spice things up. Characters will also tend be constantly moving in more convincing animation. They never stay in the same pose for too long. That’s not to say their actions are huge and are all over the place. They’re actually quite subtle, making the same motions we humans particularly make. If you notice these examples are neither inexplicably great or terrible either. They’re simply on different ends of the animation spectrum.

I think once you start animating the distinction will become a lot more clear. As for myself I never picked up on these distinctions until I started animating, rather poorly mind you. But you have to start somewhere, and starting out badly is a great place to begin. It gives you a better sense of what is good and a goal to achieve that. And having achieved poor animation it helps to point out others’ use of limited animation.

November 4, 2011. Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

Traditional vs. Computer Animation (the tired old debate)

Being an animation student who is in love with traditional animation there is a reality I have to face. Today’s industry isn’t making 2D films, it’s all 3D. You may argue that independent companies are still making these films, and you’d be right. The thing is that general audiences will never see these works of art. Now I know the whole argument of 2-D vs. 3-D is an old one, one that most people are tired of hearing. Truth be told I don’t think there will ever be an end to the argument and the score will never be put to rest until we live through it and see what happens. It still makes me uneasy however, because I am one of those few who want to see 2D come back, who would love to work with it in a major film studio, and the whole wait-and-see thing doesn’t answer whether or not I’ll ever be able to. A big chunk of me knows that I’ll (hopefully) work as a 3D animator, and by all means that would be lovely. Yet part of me still holds out that I will still be able to work on a 2D film.

I recently came across this article The Animated Scene: Where is Animation Headed? by Joseph Gilland, and even though it was written in 2006, I still find relevant today. In it he covers the debate of 2D over 3D and a little of his experiences with both forms. One argument he mentions is a common one: it doesn’t matter if a movie is traditional or CG, as long as the story is solid it will be successful and people will flock to it. I will always be a firm believer in this argument. However, is this really true? Joseph mentions that if this was true, then why are big studios still making nearly exclusively CG animated films? For me there are two simple explanations for this, either studios think that all that audiences want to see are 3D animated films, or studios know that all that audiences want to see are 3D animated films. This raises an interesting point that audiences are in control of what types of animated films are being made. Let’s put aside the point of cost, because let’s face it, if the public demands it, the public receives it, no matter what the cost.

Now, I have had the opportunity to hear briefly both sides of the argument, well, sort of. A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to hear Tim Johnson (director/exec. producer) of Dreamworks give a lecture at my school. He was asked the question “Isn’t story what counts and not the medium?”. His short answer simply was no. He said that according to numbers, the general populace would rather see a CG film over 2D. His reasoning was that the average moviegoer will ask themselves “I’m going to spend $10 to see a film, do I spend it on 2D or 3D?”. They’ll be more lenient to picking 3D because they believe it to be more involved and have more work and effort put into it simply because a computer was used to create it. The general populace knows there is a significant amount of effort placed into these films and inso reasons the effort is greater in CG. This is a very valid point to make. To someone who has no interest in animation beyond seeing it in theaters I can easily understand how a moviegoer would think this, wrongly so mind you, but it’s definitely possible and most likely true. For a few weeks this thought upset me deeply. With no counter argument to lift my spirits I couldn’t help but feel that all hope was lost for me.

Then this past week I had the wonderful chance to hear Don Hahn (producer) of Disney give a lecture at my school. After his lecture all who attended were given the opportunity to have a few words with him (mostly to get his autograph). When it was my turn to speak with him I told him how much of an inspiration he was to me, especially as someone who wanted to get into traditional animation (He was producer of The Lion King). I had expressed a bit of my distress in a lack of 2D animation, and he told me simply “It’s all in fashion”. He stated that sure CG was big now, but that would change given time. He went on to tell me that if you had wanted to make a stop motion movie three years ago it wouldn’t have been possible, but now there are currently four in production. Upon hearing this my hopes were once again restored and I left chipper as ever.

The ending note on Don’s lecture was basically this: we artists have paved the way for the new, we’ve given it our all and it’s your turn to be even better. Joesph Gilland said that new students of animation still have great interest in 2D animation. So maybe there is still hope yet for traditional animation. I understand that animators aren’t exactly the ones choosing whether or not a film is 2D or 3D, but I can’t help but feel the mere interest in it will make an impact. Coming out of this argument I still have absolutely no idea of whether or not 2D will ever come back. But, playing the optimist I am, the argument is still there, and that’s a start.

October 28, 2011. Uncategorized. 1 comment.

Nine Old Men Final

Now we have come to the last, but certainly not least, of the group.

Eric Larson

Eric Larson was a skilled animator, able to successfully execute the actions of both animals and humans alike. His strong suit was in believability and sincerity, the latter linked with his personality. Eric was known for being a warm and kind man, his attributes often showing up in his animation. He seemed to very much become his characters, and by giving them so much attention he made them feel very real and well rounded. Besides his animation, one of his major contributions to the industry was his training program. In the early 1970’s Larson began a program to train the incoming artists at the Disney Animation Studios. It was through this program that we were given many of the great artists we have working today.

One of Larson’s characters was Figaro in Pinocchio.

John Lounsbery

Like so many of these great artists were, John Lounsbery was a brilliant draftsman. He specialized in creating the feeling of very cartoony action and characters in his animation. The movements and gestures of his characters were very broad and stylized. Lounsbery was also known for his great versatility in his various animations. He had the wonderful talent of being able to animate in the different styles of other artists at the studios. John’s characters were also genuine and believable despite their cartoony feeling.

Wolfgang Reitherman

Wolfgang Reitherman had a very broad style of animating. He had much diversity in the ability to animate larger and wide scenes, in terms of the actions. He was particularly good when it came to staging, and was careful to take apart the actions he was working on. By breaking the actions down he could put a lot of emphasis into each key pose. Unlike other artists he opted to animate straight ahead in his key poses. Reitherman was a hard worker and extremely dedicated to his craft.

Reitheman animated Maleficent in her dragon form. If you are impacient you can skip ahead to 1:40 where she takes on her new form.

Thus ends our discussion on Walt’s Nine Old Men. I hope that you understand that with these few posts I’ve only barely scratched the surface on who these great men were. They certainly contributed immensely to the art of animation and how it stands today. These men and so many others continually inspire current and aspiring animators. They certainly have inspired me as I work my way towards what I hope is a successful career. Yet that seems so artificial, these men have done more than inspire me to work towards a good career. They’ve driven me to search my very soul. As I learn more about them and their techniques, I feel as if I’m learning more about myself. But enough on tangents. It was my intention to peak your interest in them and encourage you to start looking into the old style of animation. I also encourage you to actively seek out the differences in animated characters and the styles in which they were animated in. I’m just starting to notice the differences in style and am curious to know if you’ve noticed them as well. If you haven’t been actively looking for them why not go back through a couple pencil tests in these posts and see if you can notice them.

October 21, 2011. Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

Nine Old Men Continued

Let’s jump right in and continue more with important and influential artists in the early days of Disney

Ward Kimball

Kimball much preferred to make his characters more comical than realistic. This definitely matched his personality for he was known for being a fun and hilarious man. One of his most prominent characters was his work on Jiminy Cricket in Pinocchio. This is regarded as his most sincere character compared to his other works. But this wasn’t really Ward’s style. He was moreso a caricature artist and this is reflected in his animations. The majority of his characters’ movements are very stylized, this is especially noted in the crows scene in Dumbo, sequences with Lucifer (the cat) in Cinderella, and the Chesire Cat in Alice in Wonderland. His art seemed to stress a bigger emphasis on humor in animation versus capturing realism.

As you can see the crows’ movements have more comical and stylized movements as opposed to more realistic ones.

Les Clark

He was the first of the Nine Old Men and the only one to have worked on Mickey Mouse since his creation. Clark was a hard worker and always strove to do his best. Having never attended art school he put in twice as much effort to keep up with artists who had. His efforts were not in vain for his draftsmanship and animation greatly progressed the harder he worked. His style is viewed as more simple and low-key. He wasn’t known as a wild animator whose characters had big and complex motions, as so many of these animators were. His characters were very sincere and the quiet moments really showed off his talents, giving them great believability and compassion. One of his more notable animations was Mickey Mouse in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.

If you haven’t watched The Sorcerer’s Apprentice I highly suggest you do. For those who have and would like to see another viewing, focus on the characterization of Mickey. Try to gauge his movements and motivations.

Marc Davis

Having taken only a few art classes Davis was more of a self-taught artist. While studying art he would make trips to the library and the zoo, his favorite places to learn anatomy. It was here that he realized the importance of anatomy and his art reflects his strong understanding of it. He had the ability to add this realness and believability to his animation and was successful in combining this great realism to a very cartoon like character. Marc was also concerned with consistency in his characters. Each animal and person kept in character according to their situation and their motivations and actions were added upon this. He greatly understood story and was brilliant at staging as well. All in all a well rounded and diverse artist.

Video Courtesy by Andreas Deja of Deja View

Thus ends our fix for the day. My next post will conclude the focus on the Nine Old Men, although I will continue on to cover other important artists.

October 14, 2011. Uncategorized. 1 comment.

The Nine Old Men, and other important artists

If it hasn’t become apparent by now, I’d like to inform you that I am in love with traditional animation. When I was growing up there were no CG animated films, well, not nearly as much as there are now. The animated films I grew up watching were all hand drawn, and because they were such a big part of my life I’ve grown to really love and be passionate about 2D animation. That’s not to say that there isn’t any room in my heart for 3D, I mean all of Pixar, and films like How to Train Your Dragon, and Tangled, (to name a few) are all wonderful and are so powerful. But it’s not where my true love lies, with traditional there’s this raw and carnal passion that I feel whenever I even begin to think about it. Maybe that’s too much information, but heaven help you if you were to ever meet me and bring up animation. Start talking about one minute detail about animation and I’ll be off on a tangent. Like I am right now.

I guess what I’ve been trying to explain in these past couple posts essentially is that traditional animation wasn’t created or perfected overnight. What I love so much about it, the principles and mechanics didn’t just appear miraculously out of thin air. The craft had to be molded and worked into what it is today by people. Some of the people who gave much to the industry, I believe, came from the Walt Disney Studios. Now, there are numerous people who contributed to the shaping of animation, but today I’m going to be covering the ones I know now. As a student I am still unaware of all the influential and important artists, and I am constantly learning. It seems like everyday I am learning about someone new and all their contributions. So the ones I don’t cover now will eventually be discussed as I learn enough about them to post. And I don’t claim to know everything about the artists I’m familiar with currently. It would also probably be best to break up the Nine Old Men into a few different posts, since there are nine of them. So, onto the artists:

(A few of) The Nine Old Men

Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas

Frank and Ollie

The two were inseparable, and as a duo contributed much to animation. One of their most prominent works was the book they wrote, The Illusion of Life, which contains the 12 principles of animation. They put in a major emphasis on believability, because they didn’t want the audience to just see a cartoon character on the screen. They wanted anyone who watched to fully believe that character on screen was alive and had a soul. I feel like one of the reasons why they worked so well together was because they complimented each other. They both put so much emotion and love into the characters they animated, but I suppose all great animators do this. I don’t know, there’s a certain something in the way they animated that gives me chills. A couple examples of each of their work:

Ollie- 

Frank- 

Milt Kahl

Milt Kahl

Was arguably one of the greatest influences on the industry. It is often said the Walt would look to Milt for the final look of the characters in his films. This meant he would take the drawings of the different characters and refined them, giving them that perfect Disney style. This role was accounted to the amount of believability he added to the characters. He certainly was a brilliant draughtsman and was constantly seeking perfection.

A favorite Milt animation of mine- 

I think that’s a decent amount for today. Hopefully this has sparked your interest in the animators of old. These men, and the rest to come, are definitely great inspirations for me. Who serve as your inspirations? Perhaps some people outside of the Walt Disney Company? Or inside? Let me know who they are, I’d love to know more about what gets you ready and fired up.

October 7, 2011. Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

Walt Disney- He contributed more than most people know

The Nine Old Men

To me it seems that the average person is aware that Walt Disney made a huge impact in animation. Well, at least most people know he made some sort of impact. What set him aside from most of the other companies of the time was his feature films. While this prominent feature surely is ground breaking, his contributions certainly run a lot deeper.

What most people don’t understand is the state that animation was in at the time. It was still a new art form and as such was not yet perfected. Nobody at the time followed one way of animating, and because of this most of the animation came off as cartoony and unreal. This is where Walt comes in. When he started his work in the industry he began analyzing and perfecting the art. If you look at Snow White and compare it to say, Betty Boop you notice there really is no comparison. Walt Disney strongly believed that live references should be used in order to best capture the feel of real life. However he was opposed to rotoscoping.

In case you are unfamiliar with rotoscoping, here’s a quick definition of what it is. Rotoscoping is tracing (or copying) footage frame by frame. It’s kind of cheating in animation in a way. The difference between rotoscoping and using reference is how the reference footage is used. The job of the animator is to take the concepts of the movements, translate it to the page, and then embellish upon those movements making it a completely new character.

By taking this angle he helped to improve and formulate the basic mechanics and principles of animation. It was Walt Disney and his artists who truly shaped the art of animation into what it is today. Among these great artists were Freddie Moore, Bill Tytla, and the Nine Old Men. I’ll cover these great men in my next post, for their stories merit an individual post. Until then here’s a mini “assignment”. Okay, maybe assignment is a bad word. Activity, that’s a better word. To be a good animator, or at least to start thinking like one, you have to start looking at some of the traditionally drawn animations and analyze them, figuring out exactly how and why the work. Below is a clip from Snow White and a Betty Boop cartoon, both came out in the same year. Try comparing the two different styles of animation used, why does or does it not work?

September 30, 2011. Uncategorized. 1 comment.

A Brief Early History

In my senior year of high school I decided to take an animation class with my friend. This was not my first animation class, it was however for my friend. The first day of class was spent going over a quick history of animation, and we looked at the techniques used to create it. The teacher discussed traditional animation, and how the artists would draw the scenes frame by frame. He continued by saying that they were then transferred to cels, then were painted and so on and so forth. When we got out of the class my friend told me, “I never knew it was all hand drawn and painted, I thought it was all digital”.

When I heard this, my heart dropped. How in the world could someone not know how traditional animation is accomplished? I had to stop myself from overreacting because I had to remind myself not everyone was as big as an animation enthusiast as I was. It’s understandable that someone wouldn’t know how 2-D animation is put together, but what baffled me was that she seriously thought that early animation was all done digitally. For me its basic knowledge that the earliest computers in no way could accomplish digital animation, but I’ll stop before I go on a tangent. So, let’s get down to what this post is really about. A brief early history of animation, to educate those who are a little rusty on the topic and to explain that traditional animation was not done digitally.

I’m going to be covering what I think is essential to know about animation, I won’t be covering every little detail so I apologize to those who are more seasoned than I if I glaze over a few things.

A still from Humorous Phases of Funny Faces

  • 1906- Humorous Phases of Funny Faces: this is widely considered the first frame by frame animated film. It depicts an artist drawing faces with changing expression on a chalk board.
  • 1914- Gertie the Dinosaur: is often mistaken as the first animated film. It is however the first live action/animation combo and is the first interactive animated cartoon. Winsor McKay created Gertie to be used in his performances. He would get up on stage while the animation was projected behind him and “interact” with Gertie, telling her to do different tricks and such.
  • 1919- Felix the Cat: was the first animated character that drew people to the theater.
  • 1927- Oswald the Lucky Rabbit: was the creation of Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks while at Universal Studios. After a dispute over budget with Universal, Disney left the studio without the rights to Oswald. After he left he and Iwerks created their own (similar) character.
  • 1928- Mickey Mouse: was originally named Mortimer (Walt’s wife wisely told him to change it). Walt went on to create two shorts with Mickey- Plane Crazy and The Gallopin Gaucho. The prior flopped, and the latter failed to see distribution. Disney and Iwerks then finally got it right with Steamboat Willie.
  • 1932- Betty Boop: was the first truly feminine animated character.
  • 1932- Flowers and Trees: this Disney Silly Symphony won the first Oscar for an animated short. It was also the first to utilize color and cel painting. I added the video below, truly a spectacle to be seen. Just try to imagine what seeing an animated film in color for the first time would have been like.

I think that’s a good stopping point for very early animation. We discussed a lot of “firsts” today in animated history. It kind of reminds me of the first animated film I ever saw. It was Disney’s Snow White my mom tells me, it’s rather fitting since it was the first feature length animated film. What was your first animated movie you ever saw? If you can’t remember or don’t know, what was a favorite of yours?

September 22, 2011. Uncategorized. 1 comment.

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