Friday, February 02, 2007


Drawing for Fantasia by James Algal, director of sequencing (1940)

Last week I had a good chat with Dave Bossert who is Disney's Creative Director of Animation for Special Projects. In addition to creating art with computers, Bossert works with pencil and brush. At home he is a sculptor. He talks with great fondness about other animators at Disney who work in their spare time with traditional media (including one who has an easel in his office for oil painting during his lunch break).

Bossert played a major role in animated films such as Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, The Nightmare Before Christmas, The Lion King and Fantasia 2000. But he is also a restoration animator who digitally restores, frame by frame, classic old Disney animated films such as Bambi.

So I thought Bossert was a good person to ask how computers had made things better and how they had made things worse. He turned out to be a cheerleader for computers:

I look at the computer as just another tool, like a neat new pencil or a really cool brush.

Things are terrific today. Animators have enormous new tools at their disposal. Digital technology helps us to make films without the inherent flaws of hand painting, such as dust, scratches and cell shadows. The clarity and consistency are much closer to the original intent of the artist.

But the art has to lead the technology. The technology shouldn't lead the art.
The thing that impressed me most about Bossert's position was that computers achieve a result closer to the original intent of the animator. As he lovingly restored Bambi, he came across numerous instances where paint had "crept" or colors had varied from what the original animators wanted, just because of the limits of the medium in an era before digital paint.

I love the personal touch in the drawing from Fantasia above, but you can tell from the reference numbers that it is being adapted for a purpose unnatural to traditional drawing. Disney used to make epic animation masterpieces using the same labor contract that the pharoahs used when building the pyramids, but even under those conditions there were limits to what the human hand could achieve.

Computers in other art forms often take us further away from the intimacy and immediacy of the individual artist. But in animation, computers seem to bring us closer to an individual artistic vision.

Animation drawn by hand is inevitably a corporate product-- requiring the infrastructure of large numbers of artists and support staff, large amounts of equipment and large amounts of capital to pay for it all. However, computers today reduce the number of steps between the individual artist and the fully realized artistic vision. New software enables individual artists to achieve results that the largest studio could not achieve animating with more traditional media.

Bossert recognizes that the potential for computers in animation is not fully realized. A self-confessed "sponge" for new information, Bossert is constantly exploring Youtube and other internet phenomena, trying out technologies such as blu-ray, and reading all he can. But animation is already one of the best possible applications for computers in art.


John said...

Animation drawn by hand is inevitably a corporate product-- requiring the infrastructure of large numbers of artists and support staff, large amounts of equipment and large amounts of capital to pay for it all. However, computers today reduce the number of steps between the individual artist and the fully realized artistic vision. New software enables individual artists to achieve results that the largest studio could not achieved animating with more traditional media.

Yes. Technology is increasingly liberating and individualizing. Just blogging alone is a demonstration of a medium (publishing) that once required a huge corporate infrustructre, but is now reduced to the power of an individual.

Anonymous said...

Who don't you know?

I love Bossert's take on the role of the computer in the process of creating - a new, fun, tool!

Thank you for sharing that bit of "behind the scenes." Watch out or you may end up with a career as a journalist.

Benjamin De Schrijver said...

I wouldn't quite say that in animation, computers reduce that number of steps all that much. For color, there is now need for texture artists, shader TD's (technical directors) and lighters and art directors, where there previously was need for colorists/painters, background painters, effects artists and art directors. And for the animation itself, the animator has less control than in handdrawn in some ways, and more in other ways. The computer gives you the chance to work everything down to the detail. But animators also often have to work with lowres or even proxy models of the characters, much more primitive than what will end up on screen. On top of that, what you can do is restrained by what the rigging TD's did with the character models. In handdrawn, you are limited only by your draftsmanship, yet (to save time) you don't control every frame (inbetweeners), and your drawings won't appear on screen (clean-up artists).

I think the computer does give a more "perfect" image, gives you more control and detail, gives more control to the director(s), but I wouldn't quite say that there are less steps required. It's shifted, but not exactly reduced... or at least not much. If you demand quality.

David Apatoff said...

Benjamin, it sounds like you have real experience in this area.

I have seen individuals use $200 software to create fairly sophisticated animated shorts for Youtube. Dave Bossert's view is that the smaller, more personal efforts lose out on the benefits of collaboration but the economics of animation have definitely changed to allow for a much more diverse range of films.

I understand that the new cast of characters you mention is important for full blown feature animation on a big screen, but do you think technology empowers individual animators to do animation on a smaller scale?

Benjamin said...

Oh yes, definitly. I'm a student of animation, spent my teenage years wanting to do CG animation, and recently have changed that ambition towards handdrawn feature animation. I guess that ambition for feature films, combined with the mention of Disney, made me think only in feature terms.

But yeah, computers have definitly opened up animation to a much larger group of people. It's much easier to get into now. Because of that, it's also opened up a lot of experimentation. Bad side of that is, of course, that even though the tools might be more plenty and easier, many of the skills required to do good animation are still the same. As a result, there's not only much animation out there, but also much thoughtless, senseless, unentertaining, uhm... crap. Fortunately, computers have also made this artform more approachable to people who actually care about it, are passionate about it and want to do something worthwile.

Heck, if it wasn't for computers, I wouldn't have found my passion for animation. Got into it through games, found my current online school through internet forums, have been able to learn a ton through documentaries and lectures put on youtube, blogs and elsewhere, have found out about books and films that have taught me all over the internet, and through that online school, I've had the opportunities to meet tons of people, both professional and amateur, both online and offline (by trips to the US and UK), that are just as passionate about it as I am. I think that's what has been even more important about the computer. It's not just brought us art tools, it's brought us learning resources. There's so much information about art history, artists, artworks and techniques available, and you can talk to so many likeminded people, that millions of people have been able to learn, who wouldn't have ever had that chance otherwise.

(sorry for late reply, only recalled this when my rss feed showed me the new post)

Anonymous said...

im doing a paper on what i would like to be when i grow up and one of the requirements is to see how much they make in a year? please dont be affended.....but how much do you make in a year?

Anonymous said...

Will Eisner is a mediocre artist?
What is this site, Bizaerro World?

-- J. Carey

Anonymous said...

Wood was no great draughtsman! Ha.
You are obviously joking -- or you
and your seeing eye pooch are BOTH snockered!
Are you trying to seem ABOVE the talent you deem merely adequate?
Wood and Eisner are light years beyond your comprehension, my friend.
You are to creativity what the eunich is to the harem.

Anonymous said...

Had to see this site to believe it!

From Atlas TOP 100 Artists:

One of comicdom's greatest successes, Wally Wood is also among its most terrible tragedies. For over 20 years Woody was among comics' most versatile and sought after artists. Science-fiction, war, romance, superheroes, comedy: Wood did everything with total command and total class. He produced some of comics' all-time greatest work at EC and Warren, helped re-launch Marvel, and created the THUNDER Agents, but his vision of "real" success eluded him. Disillusioned, bitter, and in ill health he eventually committed suicide rather than face his final days. If only he could have let people closer and allowed them to help, or if he could have taken to heart what generations of fans have always known: he was truly one of the greats.

Will Eisner is simply the most mature, thoughtful, and articulate creator that American comics have yet produced. With a career begun at the advent of comics and continuing with vibrant, fascinating work still being done today, Eisner is a wishful example for future comic creators to follow. After an early career employing future greats (Jack Kirby, Lou Fine, Reed Crandall) with Eisner / Iger studio and creating some of comics' greatest strips (Blackhawk, The Spirit) Will retired from commercial comics for over 20 years. When he returned he expanded and enriched his ouvre with a series of personal, heartfelt graphic novels about subjects as varied as religion, tenement life, the comics industry and the politics of life on other worlds. If even a handful of well rounded, accomplished creators would put away the trappings of adolescence and follow his lead toward serious minded treatment of a variety of subjects, comics could begin the long march to acceptance as...

Anonymous said...

Wow. You better rethink your vision of worth and learn about dawing.

Anonymous said...

Your egregiously erroneous comments regarding Wally Wood's work not only exposes your subjective deficits but also a basic ignorance of fine art parameters and say his "perspective was off" or "his figures were stiff" is tantamount to saying Itzak Perlman's violin technique is flawed and sloppy or Albretch Durer had poor brush blending technique, or flawed hatching strokes...huh? Its OK to have a subjective reaction, i.e., you like it or hate it but to make denigrating remarks about Woods technique, to cast doubt about his astoundingly great COMIC craftsmanship, among the best of all comic artists, is to unfairly sink his name into ignominy by somebody who likely couldn't attempt one of his creations under the deadline pressures Wood was under in two centuries much less the creativity, and quality of execution in several mediums.....try it buddy...lets see how well you do:-) Wood probably had more talent in one cellular organelle than you have in your entire cerebral cortex. Nothing personal.

David Apatoff said...

Anonymous-- always good to hear from a fellow fan of Wood.

The fact that I love Wood's work does not make him a good draftsman, let alone another Durer. Even if we overlook the periods such as Gang Bang where everyone recognizes that his drawing was affirmatively bad (possibly as a result of health issues and alcoholism) there were also stretches of work such as Total War where his drawing was pretty mediocre (for example, "stiff"). I didn't think that was a very controversial judgment; there were artists such as Frazetta and Raymond who had a knack for drawing flexible figures that were comfortable in their own skin, and then on the other hand there were other artists such as Krenkel, Hogarth and even Wood who never really mastered that knack. That doesn't mean Wood didn't do some beautiful work. I love Wood's EC work and I love his wild imagination and his irreverence.