Monday, October 13, 2008
Gains and Losses
On a floor at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts sits an Oxberry Camera. The camera is now out of use and serves as a marker of a change in the animation industry. A card explains the camera’s function to passers by, boasting that Mo Willems, Jennifer Oxley, and Michael Dougherty (among others) shot films on this Oxberry.
Back in the day, shooting animation was one of the most expensive parts of the traditional animation process. Artwork would have to be carefully organized and all timing and camera needs had to be clearly marked on exposure sheets for camera men who would toil away into the night. Most animation studios did not own their own Oxberry cameras. The machines were heavy, expensive, and required towering ceilings wherever they might be installed. Still, these devices were essential to the animation process for almost a century. Yet, at the end of their run, schools couldn’t give them away.
We all know that the computer age changed the systems by which traditional animation is produced. Now, making an animated film is cheaper and easier than ever before. Working on a Mac or a PC in Flash or After Effects, one animates and exposes and shoots animation all at the same time. The "camera" (in a virtual sense) is now a part of the animation process and is in the animator’s hands.
The questions are “What was gained?” and “What was lost?” The gain is that one person can create a full-service animation studio with a computer tucked in their living room. I just upgraded to the most powerful Mac pro tower and Wacom Cintiq with enough power and hard drive space to make an entire animated feature in HD. At the very least, it will allow me to fly through freelance work and my short personal films.
The loss has been the decline/shift in the old disciplines of animation craft. Animators used to have work in a more organized and careful manner, diligently prefiguring out camera moves and instructions on exposure sheets. A single mistake could blow a whole shoot, resulting in major losses in time and money. Now, animators work in more freewheelin’ manner, perhaps with nothing more than a rough idea of how a scene may work before animating it and compositing it together in After Effects. Working in this manner, the animator can retime animation, camera moves, and etc in an infinite amount of ways––each just a mouse click and a ram preview away.
At best, this loss is also a gain. My new personal film seeks to make this working method into strength. By using such a freewheelin’ approach to production, I’m hoping this spontaneity will help give my animation added life and interest. By drawing directly onto my Wacom, the roughnesses of my drawings are preserved as they are. I don’t time out the animation in advance. I only draw the drawings I think I’ll need and then allow new accidents and discoveries to happen when timing them out in After Effects. I seldom need to go back to Photoshop to add new drawings. Once I’m happy with the scene’s timing, I return to Photoshop to color the drawings in an imitation crayon style. Again, the looseness and human touch comes into play in the production process.
For me, this age of animation production means neither gains nor loss––it means so much more than that. It means freedom.