Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Oncoming Cavalcade of Cartoons

Sitting in a movie theater watching the usual half hour of trailers, you get the idea that there are a poopload of animated features coming soon to your local AMC, because there are a whole lot of animated trailers touting them.

Ten years back, the Mainstream Media got it into its large, dim head that the Second Golden Age of animated features happened during the decade that straddled the late 1980s through the bulk of the 1990s. Disney, Bluth, DreamWorks Animation, Turner, Warner Bros., all of them were turning out bright, hand-drawn cartoons of the ninety minute variety.

But as impressive as it all seemed at the time, the numerical output and quality is but small potatoes compared to the animated features coming at us in the soon-to-be future ...

Let's do a little inventorying, shall we? First, the olden days, and the tally of animated feature created in the U.S. of A. when Franklin Roosevelt ruled with a benevolent hand.

The first "Golden Age of Animation," -- 1937-1942 --saw exactly six full-length animated features made. (I'm not counting the two Fleischer P0peye featurettes, nor Fanatasia or The Reluctant Dragon, since those were compilation features.) Here's the list:

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Gulliver's Travels

Pinocchio

Dumbo

Mr. Bug Goes to Town

Bambi

And that's it. A paltry half-dozen, after which the production of same stopped dead for twelve-plus years, until Cinderella rolled into neighborhood Bijous during the age of Milton Berle. Thereafter, Uncle Walt pretty much had the feature playground to himself for the next few decades because nobody else was making them. (Oh sure, there were occasional pretenders to the throne like Yellow Submarine and the Magoo Arabian Nights feature, but by and large it was Disney, Disney, Disney.)

Then in the 1980s, Don Bluth decamped from the House of Mouse and began producing a long string of animated features on his own, and Katzenberg/Eisner arrived at Disney where they ended up revitalizing the basic hand-drawn program. After that, of course, there was the frenetic nineties where huge grosses for the newer Disney product had everyone and his Aunt Tilly opening animation studios in their own quest for big pots of gold.

Which brings us to the 21st century ... and now. And take a look at the animated extravaganzas that are in theaters as I write ... or will be over the next thirty-three months:

Coraline

Monsters Vs, Aliens

The Battle for Terra

Up

Astro Boy*

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs

The Princess and the Frog

How to Train Your Dragon

Despicable Me*

Shrek Goes Fourth

Ice Age 3

Toy Story 3

Master Mind

Kung Fu Panda 2

Cars 2

Rapunzel

Crood Awakening

Green Eggs and Ham

The Bear and the Bow

If I'm adding correctly, that's nineteen features over thirty-three months, the seventeen without asterisks produced wholly in Aux Etats Unis. (No doubt I've left a few specimens out, but this is a damn blog post, not an article for the Atlantic Monthly.)

And if you include the features in release between January 1, 2009, and December 31, 2011, the total bumps up to include Bolt and the French feature The Tale of Despereaux. A grand total of twenty-one.

Now. Compare that number to the first dozen years of cartoon features, when a big six got made. Another wrinkle to that first Golden Era? Way more live-action features were being ground out by Hollywood then than get made today. Way more.

Which makes the current rate of output even more amazing, at least to me.

So if you want to talk about Golden Ages for longish cartoons, in a commercial sense there is one that towers over the rest, and we happen to be living in it.

Add On: Then there's Christmas Carol from Disney/ Image Movers Digital at Christmas.

40 comments:

Anonymous said...

And this with FEWER live action films now than before the great depression. MGM alone put out a film and a half a week for 10 years from 1923 to 1933, and a film a year for 10 year after that. Many of those were standard filler, but what a training ground! Today, a major studio is lucky to put out 10 films a year of ANY kind.

It's amazing, really.

Anonymous said...

I love it.

If this keeps up, we might actually have people acknowledge that animation is not a "kids-only" genre that should follow a template, but a medium to tell any story.

And eventually, maybe animators will get recognized for being great actors themselves instead of giving the lion's share of the credit to the celebrity voices.... Or am I dreaming here?

Anonymous said...

Yes, you are indeed dreaming.

Anonymous said...

"Yes, you are indeed dreaming"

I agree. I think long gone are the days when animators were considered "super stars" or even "actors". With schools pumping out animators at a record pace...animators are becoming acknowledged as little more than button-pushers by the big studios.

The only way for an animator to become a star these days is when he/she takes the leap from animator to director.

Directors and Producers are the only people I see who have super star status in today's animation industry.

As for the rest of us...we are simply "Anonymous". :)

Anonymous said...

Sylvain Chomet's "The Illusionist" is listed as a 2009 film on IMDB.

Anonymous said...

How many of those movies are photo realistic CGI? Thirty three months with that many movies in that style...

...think of that when the bottom falls out. Don't think so?

Everything that goes up, also comes down.

EVERYTHING.

Anonymous said...

cgi eliminating the need for being talented (being able to actually DRAW) is what has made animators anonymous.

Ryan Summers said...

"cgi eliminating the need for being talented (being able to actually DRAW) is what has made animators anonymous."

Wow, that's a bitter statement. Do you feel the same about stop-motion animators? Try the fact that studios wanting to keep salaries down from the late 80s/early 90s "rock star" levels as a factor in keeping animators anonymous. Or the fact that animators are one equal part of a larger team that allows CG characters to get onscreen.

If you've ever sat down and looked at some f-curves in Maya you'd realize that there's an incredible amount of skill to turn that spaghetti of splines into a living, breathing character that people empathize with.

Mark Mayerson said...

The animators we know about are mostly known due to their parent studios using them in publicity. I'd be curious to know if there's anything in an animator's employment agreement that prevents an animator from publicly stating what shots he or she did on a feature.

If not, the fault lies with animators who are not savvy enough to publicize themselves.

Anonymous said...

I am confused. If we are in fact in a "Golden Age" and films are making incredible profits during these depressed economic times... Why are some studios downsizing and freezing salaries?

Anonymous said...

...perhaps because we are currently skidding off the cliff of a very large Made-In-America financial collapse?

Steve Hulett said...

If we are in fact in a "Golden Age" and films are making incredible profits during these depressed economic times... Why are some studios downsizing and freezing salaries?

Because they can.

Unlike the mid-nineties, demand has not outstripped supply.

Anonymous said...

I agree about CG animators being mostly button-pushers compared to the artistry of 2D animators like the Nine Old Men. IMO, THAT'S the reason there is so much animated product by so many studios. Animation is not an art anymore. It's a craft based mostly on machinery.

Take a look at Pinocchio. THAT is art. Monsters vs. Aliens? Computerized cookie-cutter. And that's the way it goes...

Anonymous said...

"I'd be curious to know if there's anything in an animator's employment agreement that prevents an animator from publicly stating what shots he or she did on a feature."

I know in the animators' commentary on Incredibles they would sometimes identify a particular shot as by a certain animator and I know I've seen certain Pixar animators put reels on their own sites of their shots from a movie. After the DVD had come out, of course.

And an ILM animator I had as a teacher didn't seem worried about identifying shots he had done for various movies.

At the same animation school there were several lecturers who identified and talked about specific shots they or named co-workers had done.

But I've never seen their contracts.

r said...

Ryan hit the nail in the head with the studios keeping animators names in obscutrity these days.

If an animator becomes famous, he can ask for a higher salary. Period.

And yes, in these days of blogs and internets, it may be easier for animators to promtote ourselves.

The comment that it takes less talent to do cg is ridiculous. 2d is way more forguiving than cg. But, with cg, you are limited with the rigs you're given. I'll agree there's some poor cg animation coming out these days, and perhaps with the number of inexperienced animators out there in the big studios, is the answer to the lacking of quality in the movies (the animation I mean). They cost less, and that's what matter to these conveyor belt factories.

I do have to mention that there's some good animation out there though, in general. "Coraline", Thai Lung on "Kung Fu Panda" was great...

r.

Anonymous said...

"The comment that it takes less talent to do cg is ridiculous. 2d is way more forguiving than cg. But, with cg, you are limited with the rigs you're given."

And in that statement, you are bolstering the claim you are trying to disprove.

CGI drowns out the singular voice because it is a conveyer belt of hackneyed computer processes. And in doing that, there is less artistry and less emotion to the art form.

salaries are down because a studio can hire people to do simple parts of production that all add up to the whole. anyone can be replaced and the final work won't suffer at all.

2D had many artists who produced the girth of the animation with their single hand. they got higher salaries because they could not be so easily replaced.

CGI? With the production line the way it is for those films, any button pusher can be let go and fifteen people are waiting to take their place.

thats WHY studios have fallen in love with CGI. The production is done by a labor bank of kids. It'll always be like that. There is no commitment to any artist at all.

Hell, they can go back and change the camera placement for scenes. (try doing that with stop motion)....

Anonymous said...

With 'cutting edge' technology, execs/producers not only have final cut, but they have cut one, two, three, four, five, and six through one thousand.

"Let's see it again, except this time with Tom Green instead of Tom Hanks, give the character a third arm, less of an explosion, and shoot it from the right. And we need it by Tuesday.

Anonymous said...

The people have spoken. CG is here to stay. Just like rock n' roll, cell phones and reality TV.

Anonymous said...

Ummm...'Rock' died at Altamont. Just cell,reality, and director-less feature animation.

Ryan Summers said...

"2D had many artists who produced the girth of the animation with their single hand. they got higher salaries because they could not be so easily replaced."

And are you taking into account the "assembly-line" of faceless inbetweeners, clean-up, blue-liners, and ink-n-paint artists that contributed to the success of the majority of traditionally animated features over the years?

I don't know how many Disney films you've seen released in black and white graphite, but let me know, because I'd be first in line with cash in hand to watch that projected in IMAX. I'd buy the Glen Keane-only cut of Beauty & The Beast in a heartbeat, but I don't know many families who would.

Toss aside your romantic notions of animation production and have some respect for ALL of the talented people it takes to make an animated film, traditional or CG.

Anonymous said...

"And are you taking into account the "assembly-line" of faceless inbetweeners, clean-up, blue-liners, and ink-n-paint artists that contributed to the success of the majority of traditionally animated features over the years?"


You are stating that after the first process of traditional animating a character its watchable. Yes. I agree. Now lets watch the first process of rigging. Not so impressive huh?

Thanks for proving my point(and the post above also bring a valuable perspective on the malleability of all artists work now that its digital where revision after revision after revision are possible to drown out the voice of the artist. Glen Keane's work endures through the production line - a CGI artist's does not. Thats a bum deal. Add it to the salary gripes.

Face it: The dynamic is different with CGI and it directly benefits the studio execs. Exponentially.

Chris Battle said...

The animators we know about are mostly known due to their parent studios using them in publicity. I'd be curious to know if there's anything in an animator's employment agreement that prevents an animator from publicly stating what shots he or she did on a feature.

If not, the fault lies with animators who are not savvy enough to publicize themselves.


There's nothing against an animator publicizing their work on a film once it's released, but it is hard to compete against the studio's chosen methods of promotion. Case in point: The official "Art of CORALINE" book attributes the design of the film to the well-established artist Tadahiro Uesegi. In reality, his work was only early pre-vis, with the final designs being done by Shane Prigmore, Shannon Tindle, and Dan Krall, all of whom have heavily promoted their work on their own blogs. While their blogs are well-read in the animation/art community, their contributions probably go unknown to the rest of the world, who have only the book to go by.

Anonymous said...

"cgi eliminating the need for being talented (being able to actually DRAW) is what has made animators anonymous."

You are an idiot.

Anonymous said...

"Face it: The dynamic is different with CGI and it directly benefits the studio execs. Exponentially."

Horse shyte. There were plenty of bad hand drawn animated films in the last 50 years. And just as many faceless animators ready to fill in the ranks. Nothing's changed except that the BEST animators realize it's not about the PENCIL or PIXEL, but about STORYTELLING and ACTING. That's where the true challange is. It does not take more talent to animate traditionally as it does on the computer. It takes more talent to animate and act WELL in either medium.

Let's face it, the reason hand drawn feature animation has taken a downturn is that the FILMS were bad.

So turn down the paranoid, ignorant rhetoric and make a good movie.

Anonymous said...

Yes, that's idiotic.

Even back in the heyday of 2D, only a handful of animators were ever on camera. No one cared then & frankly they don't now, except for other pros and fans. And from all I've seen the CG animators at Disney, Pixar and Dreamworks are every bit as talented as they ever were(amny DID start as 2D artists-that's how they learned to bring things to life).

And as far as I know NO studio gives a damn who promotes what scenes they've done! Why would anyone think that? Every commentary on DVD has directors mentioning certain animators, from Flushed Away to Brad Bird's films etc. etc...there's nothing that keeps an animator from citing them. Again, only fans and pros care. And we do.

g said...

Its a shame that TAG blog has been bombarded with these posts lately, picking a fight with CG artists. Let me at least give you my perspective, and draw your own conclusions:

First off, Im a CG feature animator. I draw well, I animate in CG well, I get paid well, and Im pretty happy with my career.

My only gripe is with the massive overtime required, due to the speed in which films are being made these days.

But to me the artistry isnt any less with CG, it's just different. I still need the same eyes I needed in 2D, but instead of my pencil, I use controllers, deformers, and all sorts of shaping tools to get the silhouettes, poses, and attitudes I need to get the job done. There is no "assembly line" of animation where things are done "for you." I wish that was the case. In each film Ive worked on, and each shot Ive done, each frame was meticulously crafted and scrutinized, taking a very unappealing model and turning it into a believable, performing, living being. Not a task for a cookie-cutter, rest assured. Anyone who thinks otherwise is woefully ignorant.

Anonymous said...

Oh, g, it's hopeless for the ignorant to get it. Those who know better, know better. the rest...?

Listen: loving the art of drawn animation is one thing. But it isn't the only form of animation. The act of animating is to utilize tools to get a performance, to get some excitement, believability, entertainment-all of the above. Those who put down CG as worthy of an artists' efforts are only in love with graphics, not with story or performance. There's a difference. That's fine, to love drawing-who doesn't? But it's not what the films are supposed to be about, any of them.

Anonymous said...

And this is precisely what brought Disney down after Walt died. The animators ruled the roost, and their scenes became more important than the story. They had weak directors and weak stories. The animators got bored and it showed.

Anonymous said...

Ever notice that it's always the 2D animation acolytes going out of their way to denigrate their 3D brethren in a conversation like this? It's never the other way around, at least as far as I've seen. You never see a 3D artist running down 2D animators. It's a shame 2D animators can't show their 3D counterparts the same kind of respect.

Anonymous said...

That's because 2D animators who do such are afraid they aren't as talented as they believe they are, and that they'd rather rely on technique than true acting/storytelling.

And they're lazy.

Anonymous said...

i've been following these threads and as an observer i would like to disagree saying that most(if not all) of the cruel personal attacks(as opposed to honest observations of the art and it's process)have come from the cg side. what a double insult to the great disney 2d animators to be replaced by such cruel people.
funny how they keep bringing up acting and story... as if any of them actually are a part of this- they are usually directed by ex-2d animators who have moved to story or direction(to keep working). to get any good results at all they need someone who can draw to tell them how to pose their digital dolls.

Anonymous said...

there will always be some discord between those that draw and those that don't. The good hand drawn artists will always be needed for any production to get off the ground and the digital artists will be needed of course to execute the CG films. they really do work hand in hand but from different skill sets.

Cassidy said...

"there will always be some discord between those that draw and those that don't."

Sounds like a self-fulfilling prophecy to me. I don't see any such discord in my workplace, and I work alongside some incredibly talented people of both stripes: 2D veterans born with pencil in hand, and young CG punks with mad acting chops. Plus dilettantes like myself who have a little bit of both skill sets, and somehow manage to muddle along and do decent work anyway.

Discord is where you look for it. I prefer to look at other people's special talents as a source of inspiration, rather than an excuse to put them down.

Anonymous said...

"i've been following these threads and as an observer i would like to disagree saying that most(if not all) of the cruel personal attacks(as opposed to honest observations of the art and it's process)have come from the cg side..."

When I saw this post, at first I thought "did this guy not read all the posts prior to his?" Then I saw his parting shot about "posting their digital dolls" and realized it's just another disgruntled 2D artist, therefore proving the point he was trying to disprove.

Anonymous said...

i've been following these threads and as an observer i would like to disagree saying that most(if not all) of the cruel personal attacks(as opposed to honest observations of the art and it's process)have come from the cg side. what a double insult to the great disney 2d animators to be replaced by such cruel people.
funny how they keep bringing up acting and story... as if any of them actually are a part of this- they are usually directed by ex-2d animators who have moved to story or direction(to keep working). to get any good results at all they need someone who can draw to tell them how to pose their digital dolls.


Far from being just "an observer," it is you who has been WRITING all these childish, bitter rants. If only you had a better vocabulary, and a more expansive writing style--it wouldn't be so easy to detect that you're the only one writing all these stupid diatribes.

Anonymous said...

Calling 3D animators "less talented" is absolutely a personal insult. In fact, it's probably the worst kind of insult a person could make on a site dedicated to professional union animators. And it is not one borne out from any objective, observable fact.

Of course, you know all this. You are only here to throw bombs around, like you've been doing for a while here on this website.

Anonymous said...

I know of at least 6 CG animators who are FAR better animators than most traditional/hand drawn animators that I know (and that's a lot)

Anonymous said...

And I know of at least 6 carpenters with nail guns that are waaaay more skilled than the carpenters I know who use a hammer.

Thats quite a line you're feeding yourself.

Anonymous said...

you make no sense, my faithful Indian companion.

As I See It said...

Why does this discussion always degenerate from subjects like salary and box office to talent and personal insults? Talent, in and of itself, only has a marginal relationship with salary

If your name has no impact on the success of a film, no matter how many insiders know who you are, you are, for all intents and purposes, unknown.

Live stars command huge salaries because there is a direct correlation between their popularity and box office profits, the same as star athletes.

I challenge anyone to cite one single example of a film who's box office was influenced or enhanced as the result of the participation in the film of a famous animator, (not Director).

The "Nine Old Men?" Knock on your neighbor's door and ask him to name one of the Nine Old Men.

That's our problem.

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