Monday, April 13, 2009

Does dialogue-driven TV animation need animators?

This is the question posed over at Cartoon Brew by Amid Amidi in his latest post Xtranormal: A Glimpse Into the Future of TV Animation Production. The animation below was created using free web software available at (honestly, you can try it out right now), where their slogan is:

“If you can type, you can make movies.”

This isn't meant to be a fire-starter (or maybe it is) (edit: a heated debate has indeed sparked). Amid raises several points:

"I’ve long felt that the amount of effort invested into TV animation is disproportionate to the quality of work that appears on the finished screen. Too many production dollars are wasted on menial artistic tasks that could more efficiently be handled by a computer."


"Dialogue-driven shows that are visually formulaic (i.e. Fairly Oddparents, The Simpsons, Family Guy, most pre-school and “Adult Swim” series) could easily be replaced with automated production systems. Crazy talk? Consider South Park, a half-hour show that uses automated systems to deliver finished episodes in as little as two weeks and doesn’t suffer with audiences one bit."

So really, what he's getting at is that so much of the animation on TV amounts to talking characters with repetitive movements (or no movement at all) that could be handled by trained technicians (not necessarily requiring a trained animator's touch). Amid posits that animators would be freed up to create truly unique material that requires an artist's hand, instead of tediously moving arms, choosing from a series of mouth shapes, canned expressions, etc...tasks that could in many ways be orchestrated by an editor/technician trained in the software. I don't believe any of this discussion is meant to slight the animators currently working on the shows (edit: it has). He simply puts the question out there: what is stopping this from coming to fruition?

I encourage everyone to chime in on this. Admit it, we're looking into auto-lipsync apps to handle the brunt of our educational games that feature talking heads because it is tedious and time-consuming to have to do something by hand that is so repetitive. We're always looking to optimize our processes by building organized libraries of characters and their parts. The philosophy built into Flash is all about cutting corners and creating efficiencies, so at what point do you need one artist to get the ball rolling, and then hand over the brunt of the work to smaller teams that know how to work the software?

This doesn't need to be the case. But it goes to show that certain forms of entertainment don't require the unique talents of individual animators. I would argue that there is a growing market for storytelling and animation where the hand-made (human) element is more evident. Both visually, and in the writing. I would argue that we offer it up at FableVision all the time, and it's why people flock to us. It's also what makes Animation-ish what it is—compare our version of the "anyone can animate" mission to that of Xtranormal and the differences are plain to see.

That's where I've landed. Discuss, or just think about it :)

EDIT: So, after an mere afternoon, Amid is definitely drawing criticism and protest from many an animator over at Cartoon Brew. Many of them working on shows targeted in his post, defending that they've been unfairly labeled as technicians when they are in fact animators. Definitely worth checking out the comments in the post. It's also important to note that some of his comments on shows have been labeled inaccurate or over-generalized (South Park is actually made by a small army of animators who work incredibly hard and fast for 2 weeks).

Some have asked if he purposely baited everyone (if he's half joking). I don't think so; this isn't the first time Amid has taken a point of view that has riled people up. But I still think it's a debate happening in the animation field worth highlighting over here at Creative Juices. For me personally, I think the more you give over to the computer, the more likely that processes can and will be automated. I also agree that the technology to do what he suggests is definitely coming, especially in the realm of CG.


Allie said...

Urgh. <--- part 1 of my post. Stayed tuned for more.

Allie said...

Ok Now I'm sitting.

The concept of the automated animation makes me angry/sad/(__fillintheblanks__).
Though I do think Amid was just spouting a non popular opinion (and as stupid to me as it is, it's his opinion and everyone is allowed to have one).

Let's just get this out of the way first- even if it was a great idea for studios to use robots to animate- just because something is fiscally a great idea, doesn't mean it's truly a 'great' idea. Going with a soulless automated process would be doing more of a disservice to artists and animators than Amid is taking into mind. They'd all be too busy (working 3 jobs at burger joints to pay for their college degrees and medical bills,) to make the art he thinks they'd have time to be making if they weren't working on shows. Ok? Ok.

As far as implying those shows aren't employing actual animators who are using actual skills, what a slap in the face. I remember using toon boom and doing that animation test for Wonderpets- that sure as heck is animating, you're taking assets and making them move. If you had robots doing it, it's going to LOOK robotic. Which even though that seems to be what he's implying they do look like, I think he's completely wrong- when you take out the actual people, there's no chance there can ever be that spark of life in something. As someone who likes the show fairly odd parents, calling that automated animation was off call too. In quoting the storyboard artist, I think Amid spun it in a negative light. I doubt he didn't enjoy being employed and getting paid. Regardless of how tedious redrawing a room might seem. What happens when Timmy Turner has a new poster that needs to go on his wall or things in that episode alter the state of the room. Plus, I never noticed the room looking exactly alike- even if it was redrawn. I like the art in the show, he's not just insulting the artists who work on the show- but the viewers too.

"Now is the time for animators to step up to the plate and create the kinds of inspiring artwork again that can’t be emulated by a ten-year-old sitting in his bedroom."
- It's not the animators that are the problem bucko. It's the clients and the animators bosses who aren't alloting for proper beautiful animation. Family guy doesn't use a Miyazaki-esque animation style because their target audience doesn't give a crap about the animation doesn't look like a dream. It doesn't mean there aren't animators working on the job doing something at the least, paying their bills, and going home and making that beautiful animation work they learned in school but no one wants to pay them for- because it takes TIME.

I think it's clear he has his information off, especially after reading the comments by the person who works on south park. Does Amid really think you just turn a computer on and animations make themselves? He can't be that ignorant, I've read other posts of his before- and he didn't seem as such. He's forgetting that the type of animation he obviously prefers may not be making money currently- and without funding, what project can be made without taking a load of time; which who has that- especially if they aren't hermits and have hobbies and families they like seeing.
Maybe he needs a tour of some animation studios to clear things up. Also maybe to meet the people that are trying to make their way in the animation world who would be all living in the same apartment if they were unemployed.

I like robots and all. But if it came down to me or a robot animating - I'd kick its butt. They can beat us in chess for sure, but there's no hope they could ever have spirit. And if in some Twilight Zone-ish turn of events they did have spirits... I'd cry on it and make it rust.
Take that robot.