CGI merges with traditional animation
Published: Friday, March 1, 2013
Updated: Friday, March 1, 2013 00:03
Walt Disney Animation Studios’ John Kahrs proudly took home the Academy Award for “Best Animated Short Film” at the Oscar ceremony this past Sunday for “Paperman.” The first win in the category for Disney Studios since 1969’s “It’s Tough to Be a Bird,” Paperman’s victory was easily predicted; after all, its not every day a lone short single handedly invents a new visual medium.
“Paperman” is a first of its kind animated film. Using the latest technologies and techniques developed at the Disney Studios, “Paperman” combines CGI (computer generated imagery, a.k.a. “3D”) animation with traditionally hand drawn “2D” animation to create an incredibly detailed and expressive visual style the likes of which have never been seen before.
Released in theaters before screenings of “Wreck it Ralph”, the film’s breathtaking visuals combined with its charming love story made it an easy favorite for an eventual Oscar win. “Paperman” is the culmination of decades of experimentation with CGI, during which time we’ve seen the format compliment, enhance and now seamlessly meld with traditional animation.
One of the most famous uses of CGI came in the 1982 film “Tron” which marked the first extensive use of the medium in a commercial feature length film. Following the technique’s successful application in “Tron,” CGI slowly but surely began to be utilized both by animated films and special effects artists.
For years, CGI has been used in traditionally animated films. The Disney Studio’s earliest implementation is seen in 1985’s “The Black Cauldron.” Notable examples of CG Imagery in traditionally animated “2D” films include the famous ballroom featured in “Beauty and the Beast,” the Cave of Wonders featured in “Aladdin,” and the title character of “The Iron Giant.”
Pixar’s 1995 blockbuster “Toy Story” was, of course, the very first feature length film created entirely with CGI. Following its success, Disney Studios, as well as competitors including DreamWorks, Blu Sky Studios, began to produce CGI films of their own.
Following the box office disappointments of numerous big budget traditionally animated releases, “Atlantis: The Lost Empire” and “Treasure Planet,” then Disney CEO Michael Eisner and other executives decided to discontinue production of all non CGI animated films. Dreamworks followed suit as did animation legend Don Bluth who has not produced a film since the failure of his 2000 effort “Titan A.E.”
What was incomprehensible to those executives at the time was the notion that these films were not failures due to their style of animation, but rather because despite their spectacular visuals, they simply contained sub par storytelling.
From 2004’s “Home on the Range” until 2009’s “The Princess and the Frog,” not a single traditionally animated film was produced by the Disney Animation Studios.
Following Disney’s purchase of “Pixar Animation Studios” in 2006, Pixar chiefs John Lasseter and Ed Catmull restarted traditionally animated film production at the Walt Disney Animation Studios.
A few years after the merger, we finally see a new light shine on the animation medium. Fittingly as a project from the studio that nearly single handedly invented the animation art form. “Paperman” represents the first project to combine both CGI and traditionally animated techniques seamlessly. Through the help of computers “Paperman” has helped to re introduce the world to the beauty of traditional animation in a manner that has never been seen before.