Category Archives: Props

My All-Time Biggest Animation Rant

So that binocular prop? It looks really good animated. Like, maybe too good. Watching the animation I just did on it, if I didn’t know better I’d say it was done in a 3D animation program.

Which brings me to one of my all-time animation rants: Films should be internally consistent. The reason this is an animation rant and not a film rant in general is that it’s much more a problem in animation. For the prototypical example, watch Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. In the scene where they’re dancing in the ballroom there’s this shot where the camera circles down from the chandelier, where the chandelier is rendered in glaring 3D glory. Most people, when they watch this scene, say “ooh, look at that! Computery! Pretty!” Not me, though. I say “Augh! Computery! Internally inconsistent!”

The problem is that the moment that chandelier comes onscreen the audience is jerked out of the story and what should be a touching, romantic moment. Instead of being happy that Belle and the Beast are falling in love, the viewer is distracted by the computery imagery. It just doesn’t fit with the hand-drawn look of the rest of the film.

That’s not the only part of the movie that used computers to help out on complex animation, but it’s the only part I notice. That’s where the key factor lies: if I don’t notice then that means they did it well. I have no objection at all to using 3d software in animation if it fits in with the overall look and doesn’t distract the viewer. It’s a fact of filmmaking — and animation in particular — that much of what we do as creators is to keep from reminding the viewer that they’re watching a film. If they suddenly remember that they’re watching a film then they separate themselves from the story and it ceases to do its job of envelopment and engrossment.

Consider this: when you’re watching a live-action movie and a special effect comes on that’s obviously computer generated, do you go “ooh ahh oh!” or do you say “jeez, that’s cheesy”? For example, take the original Star Wars Special Edition re-release (please!). George Lucas was kind enough to put in several new shots that used computers to render Mos Eisley and Jabba the Hutt. Did you really believe that Jabba was there in the room with Han? To me he looked like he was slapped in with masking tape and elementary school paste. The moment that scene started, I was like “oh, they did a computer generated Jabba this time. That looks pretty bad.”

Now think back to the first time you saw Return of the Jedi. Did you think “oh, Jabba’s a big puppet”? No! He looked freakin’ real! He was big and fat and slimy and disgusting. He was a villain you could be scared of.

Again, this isn’t to say I’m against computer effects in live action movies, either. A perfect example of how to do it right is also one of the first movies to use computer effects extensively: Jurassic Park. Those dinosaurs were totally believable. In fact, the computer-generated ones were probably more believable than the animatronic ones. That’s how to use computer animation in live action movies.

So back to my original point: maybe the binoculars look too 3D. The characters are relatively flat, with no shading or anything, so it might be one of those things that’ll pop the viewer out of the moment. That would be Bad.

P.S. I assert that no matter that Merriam-Webster and the OED assert, “computery” is a word.


I just wanted to share a little drawing I made tonight. This is the first prop I’ve created for Don’t Fear the Sitter. I think it turned out really nice, though I worry that it looks a little too 3D. Does it fit with the design of the characters? Probably a lot depends on what the backgrounds end up looking like. I still haven’t figured out the final look of the film. I suppose I should mock up a “visual style” prototype one of these days.