Since the infamous Blue Submarine No. 6, the discussion about computer animation has somewhat abated or at least is no longer as heated as I remember it from the beginning of the decade. The broad use of 3D animation in many anime productions, but also the upgrading of the technology itself, has certainly contributed to this – driven mainly by the success of Pixar. But the technology still has to struggle with image problems – are these even justified?
Computer animation has come a long way
Starting with the first experiments in the eighties, the technology has prevailed in expensive Hollywood productions also in the Animation studio in Singapore, where the use of computer-generated backgrounds with bluescreen offers a more powerful alternative to classic special effects.
Disney started using computers for their animated films back in 1985. At first, however, this only served as an aid for the animators and the computer animation is difficult to recognize in the finished product. In 1986, for example, Basil, the big butcher detective, had gears animated on his computer, printed and painted over.
Disney has constantly developed the technology further, but has never displayed it visibly in her films. The big turning point came only in 1995 with Toy Story, which was by far not the first film with computer animations, but which was the first film to exhibit them as such and admitted to be a big production for its fully computerized way of making.
While Western animated films try to take a side, i.e. to appear either as traditional or as computer-generated animated films, in Japan the combination of techniques is much more obviously approached. Blue Submarine No. 6 is a good example of this, in which elements clearly visible as computer animation are combined with traditionally animated characters.
By comparison, a year later Disney’s Tarzan was released in America, also using elaborate computer-generated 3D backgrounds. But they were painted over to look like traditional animated backgrounds. But the budgets of the two productions certainly played their part as well. Blue Submarine No. 6 could hardly have afforded the costly overpainting of the backgrounds as it was used in Tarzan.
Computer animation has established itself in the mainstream, but it still lacks acceptance.
It is significant that the technique first prevailed for lifeless backgrounds and that the first complete 3D animation films are comedies. But is it only prejudice that diminishes acceptance, or is it an inherent deficit of technology?
Surely computer animation is first suitable for inanimate objects. Until a few years ago, everything computer-generated looked very monotonous and lifeless. Only new programs made it possible to simulate more complex organic surfaces such as fabric, fur or plants.In my opinion the most missing part of the technique is the animation. I see two reasons for that:
Firstly, the technology in this area is not yet mature enough
Developing a computer interface that lets you rotate a static object is not too difficult. An interface for complex, nuanced animations, on the other hand, is extremely difficult to create.
Secondly, there is a lack of experienced animators
Some of the know-how should be taken from classical animation, for example how to observe something closely in order to animate it well. However, the tools that have to be used for the animation (pencil / graphics tablet vs. animation program) are fundamentally different.
To become a good classic animator you need talent and years of experience. The same applies to the computer animator and the technology is simply too young to have trained enough experienced animators.
A good example is the Anime True Tears, which was launched on Japanese television this month. Remarkable is the use of computer-generated characters, but only in mass scenes where they can only be seen from a certain distance. These scenes don’t only look bad, because the characters are recognizable as computer animation, but also because they are simply badly animated.
It’s worth noting that for the extras in the background there is hardly any effort like for the protagonists in the foreground. In other anime, the characters in the background would either be still images or simply not present.
In comparison, it’s immediately noticeable that the CG-animations seem much more lifeless. This is partly due to the fact that the drawn line is more irregular than a rendered 3D model. But it is also due to the fact that in the traditional animation the clothes are taken into account, while in the CG animations the clothes form a single static model with the body and this was animated as a whole. This is simply a question of effort and technique.
The movement of the legs is particularly disturbing in the computer animations. It seems to me as if the upper body was simply shifted in running direction at the same height and the legs were then animated according to the movement. Any dynamic of the movement falls victim to this. While in the traditional animations the body seems to have a weight that is carried and pushed by the legs, the CG figures seem to be suspended from threads. This shows that not much attention has been paid to the figures in the background or perhaps even the know-how has been missing.