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Douglas Lee – Final Paper

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.

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Douglas Lee – Printing Press vs. Internet

                Imagine bodies of text with thousands of words at a time being rewritten by hand over and over again. The intensity of the labor that scribes went through in order to produce a piece worthy of presenting, and then inevitably having to rinse and repeat the same grueling task for future copies.  This was life before any sort of printing machine was invented. Whether it be the development of movable type by the Chinese, or the more notable birth of the printing press in Germany some 400 years later, life was changed for the better with this innovation and opened up a path for future improvements upon the system. Having the impact it did in its respective era and the following centuries, it was only right for the idea to be expanded upon eventually. And half a millennium later, the internet was created. Used every single second of every day by people of all ages and backgrounds, the world wide web has fathered a generation. Its impact on the world is basically immeasurable, but in comparison to that of the printing press, the competition between the two arises. Which had a larger impact on society?

                The printing press was invented in Germany by Johannes Gutenberg in the year 1450. For the first time ever, mass publication of texts, mainly the bible, allowed for information to be spread throughout far and wide. While groundbreaking, it took a while for the world to become accustomed to the soon-to-be new norm. A good number of people didn’t know how to read, and the publications weren’t fully distributed all throughout the world. But as it slowly caught on, tweaks and improvements were made to the press and its existence spawned the invention of similar but more effective machines over the next five hundred years.

                The impact of the printing press on society was undeniably huge. One can even say that without the printing press, we’d never know the luxury of the internet. While I have no qualms about this, I’m just not convinced Gutenberg’s invention was more impactful than the birth of the internet age. In the year 2013, life without the internet is simply unimaginable. The possibilities it provides have become essential to our daily lives. No longer serving as just a perk, it has grown into a necessity. In our hands, we possess an immeasurable amount of knowledge that is readily available whenever we wish. Learn, teach, create, interact, communicate, etc. the possibilities are seemingly endless, more so than that of the printing press. While virtually the same idea at its core, the internet has elaborated on the concept exponentially. Billions of people are able to log on and link in, whenever they want and wherever they want.

                As I said before, those born in the age of the internet couldn’t possibly imagine a world without it. No matter where you go, chances are you’ll find someone zoned in on their smart device of choice, whether it be a tablet, phone or computer.  For reasons stated above, this is why I believe the internet had a greater impact on society than the printing press.

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Douglas Lee – Book of Kells

            Despite the setting or conditions, the thought behind the action is often contemplated. Wondering how it led to what is has and what exactly the true intention was, the creation of the Book of Kells exemplifies this statement well. Mainly, was it made in the name of art or design? In a piece such as this, what exactly is the difference between the two, and how does the answer affect its impact? In this paper, I will determine the answer to the main question above, and conclude which of the two forms would define it best.

            The Book of Kells was born circa 800 A.D. at the hands of Celtic monks.  Containing the four gospels of the New Testament, decorated with illustrations and extraordinary type, its main purpose was to further spread the word of God to the masses. Almost instantly, the arrow points towards design. Why? Because it fulfills the necessary criteria: a distinct purpose of accomplishing a task while being conceptually crafted. The combination of type and image, or morals and illustrations in this case, are meant to engage and influence the reader. Just like any other book in existence, it follows a certain method which helps maximize the level of interest. Now as soon as this sort of ‘formula’ is introduced, the possibility of it being considered strictly a piece of art is no longer, right? Perhaps.

            The end goal of the project is clear and each of the steps that underwent the procedure contributed to the task. However, certain elements of the Book of Kells seem to have gone beyond what was necessary to get the job done. The majority of the illustrations, despite not being realistic, are incredibly intricate and stylistic. The range of colors and complex compositions emit a kind of fine art aura, but not so much to the point where the viewer is ever confused as to what he/she is seeing. Plus, the repetition of patterns and well-structured text throughout the book only further cement the decision of labeling it as design. While it’s beautifully rendered, it’s more importantly aesthetically pleasing.

            At the end of the day, everything handmade becomes art as it ages. Whether or not that was its original intention, the consensus can’t be swayed. And while I stand firm in my belief that the Book of Kells was made in the name of design, I too can’t help but marvel at the contents within and the history it holds.  Therefore, it’s entirely understandable why the conflict exists, as it has every right to.