Put on any movie that relied heavily on special effects, even from within the last decade, and I guarantee at least one person in the room will comment on how cheesy and fake it looks. While I’m sure we’ve all committed a crime of this caliber before, or at least any one from my generation certainly has, it’s simply just a sign of the times. We as a society are so invested in technological advancements that there’s no way we’ll settle for anything less than the best. Due to industrial achievements such as the release of Avatar in 2009, or more recently Pacific Rim earlier this year, we’ve been convinced that anything in this realm is possible, so why should we stray from the path and backtrack? This realization has marked the unfortunate death of traditional two-dimensional animation, not only on the big screen but in other major outlets of the craft as well. Considering that working in two-dimensional animation has been a dream of mine in recent years, it forces me to question if it even still stands as a possibility. There are a limited number of in-house studios that produce for television, and the bigger name corporations outsource the majority of the work to foreign countries. So where exactly would I fit in amongst the shambles? Well, thanks to the powers of the internet and the rise of smart devices, I’ve been given an opportunity to delve right into the type of work I love.
In a way everything is animated, even an inanimate object. Take a look at the nearest one then tilt your head and alter the angle; for me, it’s a pair of headphones. Pick it up and examine it in whole. This allows you to get a sense of the object’s dimension and weight. You should be able to understand how the object would move in a three-dimensional environment without having to chuck it at the nearest wall and have it shatter on the floor. Now, imagine the same object’s movement again, except this time it’s being mimicked in two-dimensional space. Not only is it tough to visualize, it’s nearly impossible to master. This is the wonder of traditional two-dimensional animation, skills and practices honed by the employees of companies such as Disney and Warner Bros. Cartoons.
Growing up, similar to most others in my situation, cartoons were a staple of my childhood. When Toy Story 2 was released in 1999, I wasn’t old enough to understand the strides Disney and Pixar had taken in order to accomplish such a feat. At the time (in not so many words), I was convinced that three-dimensional and two-dimensional animation could coexist together, as they were both their own respective form of art and entertainment. Little did I know they were enemies from the start, as 3D had sought to kill the all-too- familiar art of 2D and eventually reign as king. It almost sounds like a generically whacky cartoon plot, doesn’t it? Unfortunately for me and my future, the side I’m rooting for doesn’t seem like it will come out the winner.
What convinces the majority that 3D is more entertaining is its undeniable realism. As I said before, in three-dimensional space it’s easier to give life to an object no matter its simplicity. Add on top of that the ability to blend 3D imaging with live action in this day and age has become almost seamless. While I’m not knocking its capabilities or functionality, the entire process is just far too technical for me to appreciate it as an art form. It simply strips the craft of the classic ‘Disney magic,’ also known as the ability to convince the audience that the characters felt real even in a 2D medium. These techniques were incorporated by the legendary Milt Kahl and Ollie Johnston, who worked on films such as Pinocchio, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, and Bambi. But the majority of the world doesn’t necessarily see it this way, as films in the same vein of Monsters Inc., Finding Nemo, and Up have garnered more attention these past years than say The Princess and the Frog was ever capable of doing.
Considering cinema is out of the question, naturally I turn to the next largest outlet of motion pictures: television. Channels such as FOX, ABC, PIX11, Disney Channel, Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central, IFC and the HUB all host original programs in the nature of 2D animation, with them all being entirely composed digitally. However, FOX ABC and PIX11 only air cartoons on Saturday morning for two to three hours, with the majority of them being dubbed series imported from Japan. IFC and the HUB are not available to all cable packages, and the aforementioned bigger name channels outsource the bulk of the work (in-betweens, coloring, compositing, etc.) to Asia for a quarter of the price. The available positions outside of actual animation I’d be interested in are higher level positions that mostly require a degree in character animation, and are most certainly not entry-level jobs (ie. storyboarding, concept artist, making the animatic, drawing key frames, etc.). Taking into account my current situation, being employed by a company of this caliber is simply a pipe dream. This leaves me to turn to the next biggest supplier of entertainment: the internet.
Everything traditional has been upgraded to digital. I understand that and have always been ready to adapt. Light boxes and tracing paper have evolved into onion-skinning and pressure sensitivity tablets. Programs such as Macromedia/Adobe Flash, Toon Boom Studio, and TVPaint have become the industry standard for 2D character animation over the years. Even freeware programs and apps such as Pencil, Flip Boom Doodle, and Animation Desk are decent alternatives for beginners in the field of animation. The software skill and learning curve aren’t what’s deterring me from following this path, but instead it’s the lack of experience and understanding of what goes into a good animation. Considering I can’t learn from the best in the business (a la the path Richard Williams took, author of The Animator’s Survival Kit) for reasons stated above, I’m given the opportunity to release independent works on my own accord and designate where it will stream. Thanks to the power of YouTube, based on a channel’s subscribers/views count, one is allowed to partner with a larger channel for more exposure and wider distribution. Cartoon Hangover (a branch of FREDERATOR! which works with Nickelodeon) and Mondo Media (distributes series that are featured on Netflix and XBOX Live) both partner with aspiring animators and produce their works entirely in-house, despite academic or professional backgrounds as they are always accepting pitch ideas for new series.
Knowing that this sort of possibility is there is always up-lifting as it gives me hope I can actually work in the field I desire on a project that is my own. I also can’t forget the rise of independent game studios and certain recent collaborations with established animators (ie. Scott Benson, A Night in the Woods). Animation is huge and it’s everywhere. Despite 3D’s attempts to drown the traditional, it has somehow found a way to mesh its simple brilliance with the rapidly advancing times, and hopefully I’ll be able to experience it first-hand someday.