Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Genius! (explained)

The problem with modern animation is that it looks too real.

All too often the creator(s) of modern animation focus on producing slick graphics that imitate the smooth texture of a photograph, rather than unashamedly displaying the artistic processes that went into creating the image. The final result is eye-catching and commercially appealing, but lacks the magical quality inherent in traditional techniques, and therefore the lack of magic makes the slick graphics of modern animation become stale quickly.

Traditional methods of animation are usually associated with a rough and clunky texture in their aesthetics, which (especially in today's market where slickness is expected), makes it look quite tacky. However it is this "tackiness" that is the defining feature of visually appealing animation.
This clunkiness proudly displays how the animated image was created, and makes no attempt to hide the nature of the work, therefore making it feel like a piece of art that can simply be admired or (if one wishes) to be deeply analyzed in order to get a greater understanding of the making of the work. Modern animation on the other hand is constantly striving to increase the slickness of its graphics, and to hide the personal touches of the artist or to hide the pixels that built up the image. By doing this the modern work attempts to trick the audience into believing it is a living object and not an artwork: we are then obliged to accept that it is a living object and to ignore the artistic processes that created the image.
The other problem with modern animation is that their slickness tries to aesthetically imitate reality rather than display a new and exciting technological interpretation of reality. No matter how realistic the image looks, there are always subtle differences between it and reality - the texture, shading, atmosphere - so it always looks slightly plastic and wrong. Undoubtedly there are fantastic looking CGI animations and computer games being released today, but when they portray a subject from reality it never looks completely perfect, and is therefore not as satisfying. The plastic appearance of CGI is the reason why no CGI character has looked as good as the toy characters in Toy Story (1995): the toy characters from reality that the film characters are based upon were made from plastic, which the CGI in the film reflects perfectly - therefore the aesthetics of the plastic protagonists looks fantastic, whereas the natural elements of the film - the people, tress, food - looks very plastic, yet even in later films like Wall-E still looks slightly wrong...

Traditional animation processes may not be as popular as CGI in the commercial animation market today due to time constraints, budgets and whatever other limitations, but the artistic nature of traditional animation means it will always look more interesting. For instance,
- The CGI King Kong (2005) moves realistically and has fantastic detail, but it does not seem to be a real living gorilla (or giant gorilla, or whatever Kong may be). He moves like a real living character and in the film appears to be made from the same material [CGI] as the environments that he both comes from and terrorizes - therefore it looks like he belongs in both those environments and makes his terrorism feel less threatening. Compare this to the 3D stopmotion King Kong (1933) where he moves in a clunky manner and looks obviously like an animated puppet, and it becomes obvious how traditional animation is better. The 1933 Kong looked terrifying, but not because he looks realistic. His clunkiness makes him look unreal (reflecting how King King was not real in the myth that existed about him before his capture), and because he is not made from the same material as the environments that he inhabits within the film he looks like an alien and therefore poses a much greater aesthetic danger to the people in the film.
Despite which ever animation process you may prefer, which one is going to capture your interest when channel hoping on the TV? Is it the slick and hyper-real CGI Kong or the clunky stopmotion puppet? I'd bet you will be more beguiled by the obvious crudeness of the puppet rather than the subtle crudeness of the CGI.
- Computer games look more stunning than ever before, but their slickness does not look as magical as previous graphics. Which graphics most stimulate you? Is it the simple 2D pixels of early arcade games, or the hyper-real slickness of 21st Century games? Perhaps it is the modern games, but will you spend more time talking about the graphics that look real than the graphics that have artistic designs, colours, and unusual features?
- What kind of paintings are more interesting to admire over many years? Realist paintings have a stunning quality because we cannot imagine how to create such an image, but as soon as we uncover a subtle brushmark we quickly realise how the entire image was painted, and therefore lose interest in the realism... On the other hand, Impressionism and such painting styles make no attempt to hide their construction, therefore we examine the technique as well as how it works to create the fuller image. This artistry is what makes art stimulating.

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