Pencils down everyone!
August 20, 2003 2:33 PM   Subscribe

Suspended Animation. With its recent batch of new layoffs, Disney's animation department has just about completely abandonded production on any and all traditional 2D animated features in favour of flashier money-making 3D computer-animated fare. Is an artform dying?
posted by Robot Johnny (26 comments total)
Also worthy of note are the rumours that Michael Eisner wants to reanimate Pinocchio in CGI so it can find a new audience who apparently can't appreciate the beauty of the original.
posted by Robot Johnny at 2:37 PM on August 20, 2003

> Is an artform dying?

Right now? Not while Miyazaki is still alive and working. In the long run? I doubt it will die completely. I mean, even copperplate etching isn't completely dead. But like carving on cave-bear bone and reindeer antler, 2D may have most of its day of dominance behind it.
posted by jfuller at 2:39 PM on August 20, 2003

Has Disney even produced a 3D animated movie yet? Pixar doesn't count, of course, since those animators don't actually work for Disney.
posted by smackfu at 2:39 PM on August 20, 2003

Finding Nemo is a great movie for all ages which happens to be computer-animated. Many found Monsters Inc and the Toy Story movies to be similarly entertaining.

Treasure Planet, the recent Sinbad unpleasantness, Titan AE (a 2d/3d hybrd), and all the Disney straight-to-video sequels of their classics are not Oscar-worthy and happen to be traditional 2d fare.

It's not the medium, it's the message.

(also, look at the success of The Animatrix, using many forms of animation to tell its stories. And any time there's anything remotely Cowboy Bebop-is on TV or the big screen I'm so there)
posted by WolfDaddy at 2:41 PM on August 20, 2003

On the decline, perhaps. It is the quality of the writing that has gone down. Pixar writes good stories. Pixar's stories would work well in 2-D.

Then again, before The Little Mermaid, animated movies were left for dead as well.
posted by Badgermann at 2:45 PM on August 20, 2003

I don't think it's dead, it's just not cost effective in Disney's opinion. Any exceptional 2D animation coming from Disney, in my opinion, was done decades ago. Fantasia, Sleeping Beauty and so on. There more modern animations were more about selling a franchise than about quality animation.

In the close to 70 years since Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was released a lot has changed. The roomful of sweatshop workers that went into producing it can be replaced with a smaller roomful of artists who are versed in how to do animation via a computer. There's still quality 2D animation done, i.e., jfuller's reference to Miyazaki. What I find somewhat disappointing is that there doesn't seem to be much in the way of talented hobbyists producing quality animation. I'm not just talking about visually appealing 2D animation. I'm talking about the entire package: the look, the story, the music.
posted by substrate at 2:50 PM on August 20, 2003

Has Disney even produced a 3D animated movie yet?

It wasn't very good.
posted by highindustrial at 3:31 PM on August 20, 2003

Pencils down everyone!

Nice tagline, Robot Johnny. I don't think traditional animation will ever die, but it's a sad thought.
posted by Shane at 3:45 PM on August 20, 2003

Substrate: Check out Hoshi no Koe (Voice of a Distant Star). It's a mix of 2D and 3D animation, done entirely by one guy, his wife, and their Mac. While it's still done by computer, it's got an interesting premise, great sound, and a pretty distinctive look. The lighting effects are especially beautiful. You can check out some trailers here (sorry about the Japanese, I couldn't find any trailers for the English dub. Scroll about halfway down for the trailers - the second trailer link is for Voice of a Distant Star. It's labeled in English.)

It's out on American DVD, and not too hard to find - I bought my copy at Best Buy. If you buy or rent the DVD, be sure to check out the short film, "She and Her Cat". Strangely enough, I liked it even more than the feature. The trailer for "She and Her Cat" is two below the one for Voices... on the site I linked above. It's the one with the black-and-white image, just above the ad for the DVD.
posted by vorfeed at 3:48 PM on August 20, 2003

Lelo and Stich was mostly 2D wasn't it? It's a great little movie, though I think it pretty well bombed at the box office.
posted by Windopaene at 4:21 PM on August 20, 2003

Frankly, I have yet to watch any recent Disney cel animation, not due to any technical complaints, but due their blatant revisionism of classic story lines. As an example, I doubt Hugo ever intended that there be flatulent gargoyles...
posted by Samizdata at 4:28 PM on August 20, 2003

Schumacher? evil evil evil evil. Balloons after a layoff, classy touch.

Oh, and Voices of a Distant Star made me cry.
posted by marzenie99 at 4:53 PM on August 20, 2003

Since when does one corporation control the fate of an artform?

I can't wait for Pixar to do a 180° and produce a 2D animated film that grosses more than any of Disney's recents.

I think they should do it just to give em the big fat finger.

Or maybe they'll just continue to support Miyasaki's finger.
(well, if not Pixar - Lasseter at least)

Eisner needs to be fired. Or at least let someone else oversee their animation studio.
posted by cinderful at 4:54 PM on August 20, 2003

Oh boy, where to start...

Voices of a Distant Star was amazing. It's the best example yet of how computers are allowing amateurs to put together professional looking animation on a low budget. Forget that Machinima crap.

I don't buy this 2d is dead stuff. Would Treasure Planet had made hundreds of millions of dollars if it was done entirely in CG? I hope Disney doesn't make the mistake thinking if they do everything in 3d it's guaranteed to make money (Final Fantasy the Movie lost tons of money).

Though I do think things are moving towards hybrid cell/computer animation, the trailer for the sequel Ghost in the Shell: Innocence looks amazing.

Oh and Lilo and Stitch was a big hit, not a Pixar level hit but it did pretty well.
posted by bobo123 at 5:29 PM on August 20, 2003

Lilo and Stich did okay, much MUCH better than Treasure Planet.

The irony of this is that Pixar is seperating from Disney depriving the Mouse of a significant claim to quality 3D... which means the main success with a closed movie department will be in Disney's direct-to-video releases and Saturday animation programs... you know, all those 2-D cartoons they still outsource for.

Eisner is using the guise of modernization to cover his careless idea that canning 2-D films will stabilize profit for a studio he's proven to run inefficiently... Disney needed a better writing team and a marketing staff that cared more about quality than quantity.

As for 2-D, a great film in the traditional format came out only a few years ago. It was made by Warner Bros., it was called The Iron Giant, and likewise if WB had a marketing department with even a fraction of a brain cell they could have had voice talent Jennifer Aniston mention the film for fifteen seconds on Letterman and made it the top-grossing family film of the year.

I spoke with people who worked on the film when I was at NYU animation; this was the greatest example of a studio having no faith in their own product whatsoever. WB was practically striking the studio during post-production.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 5:36 PM on August 20, 2003

Thanks vorfeed, I am checking out the trailer now. I suppose I should have said that I know that there is something out there, but why not more? Whether Voice of a Distant star was done using computers is of no consequence I think, there's no program that does the creative process for you. There are computer tools that assist you, much like a paint brush assisted the artists who did the cels for Snow White.
posted by substrate at 5:37 PM on August 20, 2003

Though I do think things are moving towards hybrid cell/computer animation, the trailer for the sequel Ghost in the Shell: Innocence looks amazing.

Agreed, the hybrid stuff seems to be the best of both worlds (looks great like traditional animation, but is easier to produce). Even Studio Ghibli has used computers for some scenes. I'm sure they'll become more important as animation tools, as time goes by.

Plus, computers can do some truly neat stuff that traditional animation can't. The Patlabor parody, Minipato, was made by motion-capturing cardboard characters on sticks, then animating them. The finished product looks like nothing else on Earth - kind of an initially unsettling blend of the natural and the synthetic, which quickly begins to seem much less synthetic and much more natural. And it's absolutely hysterical, even more so if you've seen any Patlabor before. Pioneer bundled Minipato in with the Patlabor 3 DVD box set, so you get one hell of a traditional anime movie, and some innovative CG stuff as well.

Anyway, sorry for the plug, but I'm way too much of an anime geek to pass up an opportunity to pimp Patlabor. Just five more recruits, and I get the Hello Kitty toaster! ^___^
posted by vorfeed at 6:12 PM on August 20, 2003

one of the the bonus features on the DVD of Miyazaki's Spirited Away is a 30 min japanese TV special about the making of the movie in the studio. Its amazing to me that a movie that spectacular was drawn by hand (well, hundreds of hands) , and I dont think Miyazaki is about to stop ;-)
posted by outsider at 6:25 PM on August 20, 2003

it was called The Iron Giant

Y'know, that was that last movie that made me, like, cry, like buckets and oceans and rivers of tears. Terrific stuff.

"I'm Superman!"
posted by WolfDaddy at 7:18 PM on August 20, 2003

It's astounding that Disney executives actually think that their soulless, poorly designed, truly lame recent movies did so poorly because they're 2-D.

Substrate, the reason that there aren't more hobbyists producing full-on animated features is that it takes a shocking number of person-hours to pull together even a short film. I live with an's one of the slowest processes imaginable.
posted by blissbat at 8:40 PM on August 20, 2003

I'm with Wolfdaddy on Iron Giant. I was in a bar when I first saw it (said bar has no antenna, and shows movies nonstop), and even on only two beers, I had to duck into the men's room a couple times to regain my composure. Something about the storyline, the art-deco-ish setting, and the artwork just dug into me.
posted by notsnot at 8:59 PM on August 20, 2003

"She and her cat" – really beautiful. Could anyone explain what it's about? I think I recognized the word "boku", but apart from that I don't know much Japanese...
posted by Termite at 11:45 PM on August 20, 2003

Could this be an excuse for Disney to outsource it's animation needs overseas to a cheaper studio (for example, one of the Korean studios)?
posted by Rattmouth at 12:30 AM on August 21, 2003

"She and her cat" – really beautiful. Could anyone explain what it's about?

It's mostly a slice-of-life thing. It's narrated by the cat - it starts out, "That day, She picked me up. So, I am Her cat." The cat goes on to talk a bit about their life together, and about his cat girlfriend (but of course he likes "kind, beautiful Her" much better). This middle part goes way too fast for me to quite understand all of it, sorry. -_-;;

There are only two really important bits of dialogue, other than the one above. Over the shot of the bit of paper, the dialogue (and overlaid text) is, "Sad things happen, too." Then it's, "I can hear Her voice." "Somebody...somebody... help me." (The full version on the DVD makes it clear why she's upset.) The last dialogue/text starts over the image of Her hand, on the train. "I, and probably Her, too... I think we like this world."

It's a very sweet little film, and the full version is terribly beautiful. To be honest, seeing it was worth the entire cost of the Hoshi no Koe DVD, all by itself.

I'm really looking forward to seeing Shinkai's new work, "The Place Promised In Our Early Days". You can catch the trailer for that one at that same trailer site, too. It looks sweet.
posted by vorfeed at 12:43 AM on August 21, 2003

Dying or evolving? The tools have just changed, that's all.
posted by bondcliff at 6:51 AM on August 21, 2003

If you're a fan of animation festivals, you know that stop-motion model animation (claymation-type things) experienced a renaissance after it had been rendered essentially commercially unviable because of computer animation with it's ability to render 3D so well.

Cel animation won't die. It will continue to astound, just perhaps not in vehicles produced by Massive Media Conglomerates.
posted by peterme at 1:03 PM on August 21, 2003

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