Paper Art Isn't Dead: 2D Animation And Movie Magic Can (And Will) Return
The 2D art form is still gorgeous, alive and kicking, and I'd say hand-drawn films are actually pretty primed to make a U.S. comeback.
By now, you've probably heard the oft-repeated lament that traditional animation is dead. But the reality is that traditional #animation is just as amazing now as it was in #Disney's Golden Age and Renaissance - and it deserves to live again. Actually, It's not dead at all.
Last time I featured an outstanding storyboard of the climactic song "Defying Gravity," from the Broadway musical Wicked. This Disney and DreamWorks animator's amazing vision of how it might look fully animated got the internet's collective heart racing for a couple reasons. The song and story lend themselves perfectly to the classic Disney style, the storyboarding itself is amazing... but more than that, the American public is ready for a change. Or rather, a return to the traditional art style of the Disney classics we grew up with and still love today.
We haven't seen a major 2D American animated movie in a while, not since the Winnie the Pooh featurette in 2011, and there are a lot of good reasons for that (it's cheap, it's easy, and it's faster to do it digitally) - but everything comes full circle after a while, and it's looking like movie art styles are no different. The 2D art form is still gorgeous, alive and kicking, and I'd say hand-drawn films are actually pretty primed to make a U.S. comeback. As well they should. It's just... the circle of life.
Ask anybody for the biggest reason for the major shift from 2- to 3D movies, and they'll probably say "they make more money, obviously." Second reason: they're easier and faster to make. So it's easy to get a little cynical about seeing anything else in theaters when you compare the low cost and ease of 3D rendering with the time, energy and money spent hand-drawing five seconds of Mickey in motion. And since the mouse-eared supergiant is the one calling the vast majority of shots on feature-length animated films, Disney can pretty much determine whether the movies we see in theaters are 2- or 3D.
But that doesn't mean we don't still want to see them. And when major movie studios don't provide what the people want, we tend to pick up the slack.
Take crowdfunded steampunk movie Hullabaloo, for example. This indie short film by veteran Disney artists and animators - which looks absolutely wicked awesome, first of all - asked for $80,000 to get their movie made. The crew not only reached their goal, but surpassed it. The count as it stands is $470,726: an outstanding 588% of what they hoped for. That's enough for three bonus shorts and a treasure trove of extra rewards. Awesome to see for this project, and any more like it that come later, no matter the size.
Why save 2D animation?
It's exactly as the artists behind Hullabaloo say on the indiegogo page:
2D animation is the heart and soul of all animation. 2D created the animation industry, and without it modern computer-generated animation simply would not exist. And 2D animation is a truly American art form. 2D animation is capable of conveying a truly incredible level of emotion and feeling. It is beautiful and and it is important.
And they are absolutely right. There is an artistry and warmth to hand-drawn animation that the cookie-cutter look of 3D animation can't quite capture. It's very much worth preserving, even if the film industry doesn't agree at the moment.
Just looking at this project's success, I'd say it's a good sign indeed. Hopefully bigger moviemakers pay attention too!
Traditional animation is still around, just not on the big screen.
Even if it's been several years since Disney's last animated feature film, you can still find 2D cartoons one place: TV. Long-running classic The Simpsons is about as omnipresent and American as apple pie, and new animated shows like Steven Universe enjoy great popularity. However, even if the Pixar-esque 3D style isn't immediately obvious, western animated TV is pretty overwhelmingly computer-generated, mostly in Flash.
Weekly shows heading this cheap, quick-production direction just makes sense - although a big exception here would be the critically acclaimed and popular Avatar: The Last Airbender and its successor The Legend of Korra (and the studio's newest venture, Voltron: Legendary Defender). Sure, they're kind of a blend of western animation and anime aesthetic stylings, but they prove American audiences haven't gotten tired of the medium itself.
But there's another screen in our lives today. I'm looking at it right now, and so are you. (Hooray for the information superhighway!) Some of today's best animated awesomeness comes to you directly from the internet, through indie webseries or YouTube-only music videos. And just because they're not in theaters or backed by the biggest of names doesn't mean they don't kick butt, or rack up views in the millions. Check out one of my personal faves below:
Cool, right? (Like it? Don't you like it? Okay, okay, I'll calm down) Juanjo Guarnido's video is kind of like if legendary Disney character animator Glen Keane and brutal-tacular TV show Metalocalypse had a baby, and that baby rocked your face off...
Then there's the Disney short Paperman, a fond homage to old-school style that so well captured the look and feel of pencil and (of course) paper, that at first, it might fool you into thinking no computers were even involved...
But they were. This beautiful short's distinctive look is thanks to an innovative technique (that was invented completely by accident) using a program called Meander, which allowed artists to recreate the light, shadow and texture of pencil and paper pretty much unlike anything digital we've seen so far.
Critics raved, fans loved it, and Disney scored an Annie award for the first time in over 50 years, not to mention an Oscar for Best Animated Short Film. Paperman's success proved that the traditional-animation style hasn't fallen too far out of vogue to make a comeback. Feature-length films could easily happen - or at the very least, more films in this style of CGI that captures the look and feel of Disney classics. In any case, the aesthetic isn't dead.
It's alive and well on big screens outside the US.
If you're in the United States, it's understandable that you'd think that hand-drawn movies just aren't around anymore - but that's not entirely true. Studio Ghibli, legendary animation house best-known for producing Miyazaki's acclaimed feature films (you probably know them, even if you don't know you know: Kiki's Delivery Service, My Neighbor Totoro, Spirited Away, and tons more) is still hard at work - and so is he, despite the regular long-running statements that this really is his final film. La Tortue Rouge - The Red Turtle - is set to release this year.
The Red Turtle's blend of 2D (for the character art) and 3D (for backgrounds and major effects) promises to be just as exquisite as their previous works, if a little more subdued. A castaway/survival story, there's not much spoken dialogue, and it seems to be more pensive and geared toward adults, i.e. a generational story rather than their usual 'made-for-children-but-enjoyable-for-everyone' standard. If it really is Miyazaki's final film, at least it's a beautiful work for him to finish on. And just because he's passing the torch doesn't mean the work is over. I'm sure we'll see more from the famed studio for years to come.
Although everybody who's seen a trailer for Disney's upcoming #Moana can tell you it's largely the now-standard 3D (and yeah, looks visually spectacular), what you might not know is that it will also include one pretty unique 2D element: Maui's tattoos. One in particular comes to life - the Jiminy Cricket-like "Mini Maui," a tiny, animated version of Maui himself, acting as a conscience, commentator, and probably comic-relief to the movie's main adventures.
So is this a sign of more hand-drawn characters and stories to come? Will we see more - or at least more Mini Maui - in Disney's future, on the big or small screens? Only time will tell, but at least in a small way - so to speak - it's a change in the winds.
The answer might be blending both forms.
Like I said before (of that outstanding Wicked storyboard that started all this), I don't think 2- or 3D is better than the other, but there's no reason to totally kill the former in preference of the latter. We as a public aren't sick of the hand-drawn art form. And people have shown time and again that they tend to give money to things they like (like Hullabaloo), and we've established that we still love the movies we grew up with, and want to see more like them... I'd certainly fork over some cash monies for another Disney Renaissance. I know I'm not alone.
And I hope to in the near future, because there's simply no real reason 3D and traditional animation can't just get along. It just seems weird and a tad extreme to transition completely to 3D at the total expense of anything else, forever - both for audiences and for the animators who have spent their lives drawing the characters we love by hand. Just one flavor gets bland, no matter how pretty. American audiences are starting to realize and demonstrate that - with money, which talks very loudly.
So the writing is on the wall (in pencil?), and I don't think we'll have to wait all that much longer to see the big picture begin to change. Obviously, CGI is here to stay, but...
Yeah, like these guys said (in The Road to El Dorado, the DreamWorks movie that blends both traditional and computer animation): Both? Both. Both is good. And like I said, culture (pop- and otherwise) is cyclical. Life, circle of. It's looking more and more like we're going to see both again in the not-so-far-off future. No worries.