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.

2 thoughts on “My All-Time Biggest Animation Rant

  1. Linsel says:

    I don’t know if you’re a fan of it or not, but I think that The Emperor’s New Groove really tackled this line between computer and traditional animation well.
    On the DVD they specify a couple of points in the movie which are done with computers, and until I’d seen the “making-of” documentary I hadn’t noticed most of them. Now that I’ve seen it, I can (of course) spot them easily, but I think that the line between has been handled well.
    It’s also a frickin funny movie 🙂
    – Linsel

  2. David says:

    I totally agree. Emperor’s New Groove is a great movie, and the bits that use computers were integrated very well. I only recall bein pulled out of the moment because of notice computer stuff once, and that was a relatively insignificant moment, plot-wise. Even then, the integration was actually quite good, and if the story had been at a more critical point I might not have even noticed.

    And yeah, it’s frickin’ funny.

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