Computers Can't Draw

According to the Canadian Broadcast Corporation's website, the Walt Disney Company has announced the closing of its last "hand-drawn animation studio": DisneyToon Studio in Sydney, Australia. All animated features will now be "computer animated." The clear implication, deliberate or not, is that the human hand (and mind and imagination) is getting squeezed out of an increasingly automated industry.

Not so. Computers can't draw. Nor can they design characters. And if I'm not mistaken, neither can they map out the broad gestures and movements that carry animated action. These tasks have always been done by artists, and (until computers get as creative as people) they always will be.

For a fascinating glimpse into the process, rent the DVD of The Incredibles and watch the interviews and production features that accompany the film. Or try Prince of Egypt, the Dreamworks version of Exodus that, despite major liberties (the correct word is really idiocies) regarding the substance, is technically one of the most brilliant animated features ever made, combining hand-drawn and computer techniques.

Computers are not the enemy. What they can do, very efficiently, is the laborious work of "in-betweening": that is, filling in all the small incremental movements between Nemo hearing a scary noise and Nemo turning around to swim the other way. This work has been outsourced to other countries for years; and it is true, the better in-betweeners sometimes rise to the top and become master animators and character designers. So in that respect the closing of DisneyToon is a loss.

But in-betweening is not the only way, or even the best way, to learn how to draw. Training the eye and hand is basically the same process it always was, so my best advice to the aspiring animator is take a good drawing class!

Of course, this is all coming from a frustrated animator who confesses to hoping that a billioniare will give her the budget to hire the best classical draftsmen and women and make glorious grownup animated features of the Iliad, the Odyssey, and the Aeneid, followed by the Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso.

P.S. After posting this entry, I caught up with the article in the Chicago Sun Times about the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, currently in the headlines as the designer of the Fordham Spire. After watching Calatrava sketch a tree then a figure, Sun Times architecture critic Kevin Nance is so impressed he exclaims, "What a Disney animator he would have been!" Guess I'm not alone in my grownup animation fantasy...

July 29, 2005 10:18 AM |



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This page contains a single entry by Martha Bayles published on July 29, 2005 10:18 AM.

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