Thursday, August 21, 2008

Artistic Graphic Shading in Cartoons VS Cold CG

Isn't this painting beautiful?Eddie has been doing some posts about 2d vs 3d graphics, so I thought I'd jump on the bandwagon.

In old style cartoon paintings, none of the lighting attempts to be "realistic", which to me is the appropriate way to render a cartoon.

Most CG movies I've seen try to light everything sensibly, which translates to without imagination or an artist's touch to me. Certainly without fun or cartooniness.
Even when they attempt to be less realistic, it just looks like blurry Photoshop to me.The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.

CG also has a way of really looking fake.I actually like the colors in this, but they aren't helping the characters come alive or anything

Feet don't stick to the ground. All the separate parts are floating on top of each other. It looks like a collage to me, rather than a whole artistic image and statement. It sure doesn't look like real characters.

Compare it to the beautiful, clear and natural painting of Lady and the Tramp above. With much less work, but a lot more skill and confidence, it achieves more depth ...or "reality".

Characters can't even make eye contact in CG, let alone ground contact.

It seems the more real the execs try to make this medium, the more unreal, floaty and cheesy it looks. And it costs a zillion times more than actual entertainment made by real entertainers and cartoonists.
what are we looking at here? is this an accountant creating a comedy expression?

CG studios have an unnatural obsession with spending a fortune trying to outdo each other making realistic water. Can someone explain this fetish to me?
I mean, I can turn on the tap anytime I want for free and the water looks even more realistic.
They also seem obsessed with seeing who can make the ugliest plastic humans. I'm not sure who the winner is in this contest. There is a ton of competition.

Humans are hard enough to do in 2d, but in 3d they are guaranteed to look like rubber cadavers. But they refuse to give up.

It seems like a medium that fights everything that comes natural to cartoons and animation. - and for that matter-live action, which it thinks it is emulating.

Unlike this old time illustration/cartooning combination style which is full of life and appeal.
Anyway, I have nothing against the idea of rendering or shading in cartoons. I loved these old cartoon paintings from Golden Books when I was a kid. Still do. They don't look fake at all. They look fun, perfectly natural and have the joy of an artist's hand caressing our CG-wounded eyeballs.

This kind of rendering is not photographically real but it has a much more artistically controlled kind of depth than a camera can give you. The effect and appeal depends completely upon the skill, talent and personality of the artist. It's also way more natural, in effect more "realistic".
What I find unappealing about most CG is how unimaginative and soulless it looks. It looks like a machine made it, instead of an artist. We have all talked about why this is so. Is it the inherent handicap of the technology? Is CG like photoshop? Like, no matter how good a traditional painter or artist you are, you simply can't get Photoshop to look as good as your real paintings. Is that the problem with CG?

Or is the problem that the people in charge of billion dollar studios just choose to be machine like and unartistic? It's very hard to say. I know many artists who have great skill and talent who work at these studios, who in private tell me they hate the limitations (both of the medium and the executives), but I also read on blogs that CG is limitless in its creative scope. That's what I would imagine - if I hadn't already seen a dozen CG movies that all look equally mechanical, bland and like not a living soul ever touched them.

Also interesting to me is how good these low tech old viewmasters from the 60s look and they are just photographs of sculptures . The "realistic" lighting doesn't hurt these.
These Flintstones Viewmaster sets are beautiful. Why doesn't someone make a cg movie with this much design and appeal? Surely it would cost a fraction of the outrageous budgets of the average movie today and look 20 times better. How much can a good designer cost?

These suggest that CG could actually make fun looking more natural and artistic movies.
Someone on Eddie's blog said that CG is still in its infancy and that's the reason it's still so primitive compared to 2d. I don't know about that. It's at least 20 years old and characters still can't talk naturally, walk on the ground, have weight or be actual characters.

2d developed at an incredible pace. From Steamboat Willie to Snow White in 9 years. CG, to me anyway, is still crawling its way towards Steamboat Willie. At least Ub Iwerks' first films were able to have characters look at each other....and they were actually imaginative and fun on top of that.

..and CG animators have the advantage of 30 years of golden age cartoons on video that they can freeze frame and study, whereas the people who made the great more natural cartoons had to create all the techniques from scratch.

Bugs Bunny in The Chiseler 1 (1959 Warner Bros., Inc.) by Gray Redfox.

Well I still believe, against all the evidence, that it is possible to find a way to use cg artistically, abstractly and even in fun cartoony ways.

I just wonder how long it's going to take, and in the meantime ... why will no one make some 2d for a fraction of the cost that is much easier to make natural and fun?

A much lessy risky enterprise.

The most creative animation I ever saw in CG was something Chris Wedge made in the late 80s for a Nickelodeon logo. I forget what it was called. It was a funny little character made up of disconnected tuber like blobs. It was funny, imaginative, appealing and magical. It was using the medium to do what you couldn't do in any other medium.

someone help me out and send me link to an image or clip of it!


SoleilSmile said...

Good post. I'll try to keep your words in mind when I light my current film in progress. I'm going for Jungian surrealism for Detour Thru Your Mind, so I'll link this post to my blog as a reminder to not get to obsessive with Mental Ray.
However the tricky part will be how to tell Maya not to light evenly.

Brandon Zuckerman said...

I'm fairly certain the 'Kung Fu Panda' image you wrote as looking really fake is from a licensed video game based on the film.

Chris said...

Hey John,

I'm not sure but I think this might be the bumper you're thinking of:


Nate said...

I was kinda hoping for something like a revolution in five or ten years when people would finally get fed up with soulless computer rendered art and turn once more to the basic crafts of graphite on paper and pigment on canvass with renewed lust.

Or am I an idiot?

gabriel said...

is this?

that CG is technically more complex to do than actual method.

a realistic shadow/material like the viewmasters photos is very difficult/expensive too

the 3D is stuck in a lot of technical issues.

sorry for my english.

PD what you think about this and about the kung fu panda intro

gabriel said...

ah, and i hate all the 3D eyes. they looks so boring

Pseudonym said...

CG studios have an unnatural obsession with spending a fortune trying to outdo each other making realistic water. Can someone explain this fetish to me?

Sure, let me help you out there.

First off, over half of the so-called "animation studios" doing feature films are actually repurposed visual effects houses. Water is one of the things they've wanted for decades. (Because of dispersion and surface tension, shooting miniatures in wave tanks has never quite looked right.)

Secondly, it's a hard mathematical problem. So hard, in fact that there's a million bucks in it for you if you can solve some of the basic properties of the underlying equations. It's only in the last few years that computers have become powerful enough to approximate the maths well enough to simulate and render convincing water, while still maintaining some degree of control. So there's a definite "we know how to do this now" factor.

Thirdly, writing scientific papers increases the value of your company regardless of the business that you're really supposed to be in. Fluid simulation is an active research area, so if you can churn out a SIGGRAPH paper on some new way to model water, you win, even if you're actually supposed to be entertaining people for a living.

Incidentally, before it was water, it was smoke. Look back on some of the older CGI films, and you'll find a lot more smoke than there really needed to be. It's just that water is slightly more obvious.

Pseudonym said...

One more thing.

Thirdly, writing scientific papers increases the value of your company regardless of the business that you're really supposed to be in.

It's even better for you if you can get a patent. Pixar, for example, has over 50 patents.

Could you imagine if someone tried to patent some way to hold a pencil?

Caleb Bowen said...

I agree that it's not the medium that seems to be limited, it's the process. They focus on realism over fun and fall short on the realism. I heard someone describe a CG movie once as: "Those penguins were dancing." Cartoons have done that from the beginning!

We only see the picture in 2d anyways, why the extra d? Would you let a carpenter charge you for this invisible dimension?
CG characters are like glowing puppets. If you spent so much time making the puppet, why would you want to spend time distorting it in funny ways?

My last gripe is the glowing. Why do CG characters have a strange iridescence about them, especially when next to live action actors. They talk about how real the fabric looks and all I see is a neon pattern.

Dave B said...

John, I've got a 2D image from the Art of Kung Fu Panda book, and maybe I can shed some light on why that image wasn't quite up to standards: it is photoshopped, the intention could've been to compare the 2D designs with the final 3D renders and in the book they claim it was hard to notice the difference, but fankly I do notice quite a difference, as for the other one, yeah you're right, posing could of gone better.In regards to CG lighting, yeah, it's very difficult and I don't quite grasp the how to do it correctly yet. I personally am studying animation in the CG field and any advice of how to steer clear from the cold CG into more of a warm artistic attempt is appreciated.

Ryan G. said...

Lighting in 3D programs is based on real lighting physics, so I think that in itself pushes renders to be as realistic as possible. If a model is flat shaded (no textures) then it looks lazy and incomplete. They always try and push textures and surface materials. The thing about 3D from my experience is that harder things like water or cloth simulation or fur is becoming much easier and seemingly simpler things are still causing problems.

Jessen said...


everyone complains about the state of animation [especially animators] and no one is doing anything about it.

its not that nobody wants to see traditional animation. the problem is nobody wants to make it.

Gabriele_Gabba said...

I gotta say, in CG I really struggle with posing.

Somehow, not having a fixed camera/plane when working makes you question your weight and pose OVER and OVER.

I feel like animating in 3D is harsher because there just isn't that same sense of 'i'm so happy with this pose and expression and layout, i can move on now' most of the time i feel 'yeah that'll do i suppose, i wish i could just have that extra UMPH!'.

I appreciate the fact that you took a different approach to Eddie and tackled the lighting and rendering of 3D vs. 2D.

In general i see a massive trend forming to bring the 3D glasses back to the movie houses. The big boys in hollywood reckon its gonna bring people back to the movies instead of slacking with early DVD releases on our 42' screens.

I mention this because it seems this is the direction 3D animation is going too! Perhaps that extra 'd' will finally be utilised?

Chris said...

I'd also like to say a bit about CG being in it's infancy. In one sense, you're right, CG animation has been around for 20 years. But as an artistic medium it's still in it's infancy for a few reasons.

First, actual usable CG with real tools that people and not just expert CG coders could use has only been around for the last 10-15 years, making engineers the only people doing any CG animation for some time. These forefathers of CG animation also set many precedents, some good many bad, that many execs and studios alike have latched onto. And we all know tradition and precedence are some of the hardest things to overcome.

This large initial concentration of engineers and computer scientists just compounds all the problem we have with CG animation today, the obsession with hyper-realistic water being one of them. So unlike traditional cartoons, which started with real cartoonists learning to animate their work, we have engineers learning to caricature and animate, which is a doubly hard task let me tell you coming from an engineering school.

Even after all these years, CG is still dominated by the technically savvy because it's a very technical medium. So until we get enough technically savvy traditional cartoonists together in one studio calling the shots and thinking beyond the old school engineering approach to animation, we're going to be stuck with soulless CG animation. Anyways, that's just my musings on CG's current predicament.


I.D.R.C. said...

Maybe one problem is that nobody involved shares your concerns or values. I wish they did. They seem absorbed with other things, like perfect fur. They probably know that in aspects other than fur their films are lacking, but since the marketplace is rewarding them, why would they care?

The history of CGI hasn't been at all like the history of cartoons. It came about entirely differently and was initially developed by engineers and programmers to illustrate and simulate scientific and industrial processes. Cartoons were developed from the ground up for fun by degenerates with pencils.

If engineers and programmers aren't drab enough, the artists who get involved with CGI for entertainment usually make up for it. You may not be able to get CGI to do exactly what you want even if you have taste and real cartoon sensibilities, but who has those?

Nobody cares about an outstanding character performance nearly as much as they care about making sure that the characters' parts all stay together through the render.

Nobody cares about a story we haven't already seen.

Nobody cares about what might make a 3D character genuinely funny, as long as they think he is sufficiently funny-looking.

Nobody cares about great dialog.

Nobody is stressing funny action.

Nobody cares about great voices.

Nobody cares about good cartoon layout that does stuff like frame the characters or emphasize a point graphically.

Nobody has much of a point to emphasize, anyway.

It would take a director who hates most of what's been done to date to make something I might really like.

---SKEWED HUES--- said...

However the tricky part will be how to tell Maya not to light evenly.

Why not treat the renders as traditional animation layers?

Render the background with one lighting schema. Then import that as a flat image/video BG and render any characters/objects with a different rig.

Ryan said...

0:22-0:24? =p

Michael said...

John, there still might be HOPE for CG yet. It's just a matter of getting MORE directors who come from traditional animation to maybe show the CG guys a thing or two.
Take the time to read what Glen Keane has in mind for Rapunzel. Please you and Eddie keep this in mind. Cause other than THE SIMPSONS, no one wants to make 2d theatrical films anymore. I'm an animator, trying to be a director. But I have to do as the ROMANS do, if that's the NORM right now. To get my movies made one day. And right now anyway 3D is ROME.

James said...

Cg is going to mix more with a 2-d technique very soon. I remember reading somewhere that there will be a movie releasing sometime in 2010 with a mixed media and feel of cg and 2-d. sorry i forget the name, I'll post it if it comes to mind.

Ryan said...

0:22-0:24? =p

James said...


Brendan Body said...

Hello John,

You've obviously got some strong ideas on how these films could be better. Why not try and do something about it? You are, after all, a very successful animation director.

Start the revolution!

BTW, if someone was to make a 3D Flintstones, I'd be there in a flash.

Michael said...

I mean, notice John, how Glen is still is having traditional methods incorporated with CGI. But Glen couldn't do a TOTALLY traditional movie, cause like I said CGI is ROME right now. Meaning, it's the norm right now. It's the POPULAR TREND.
But believe me, I love your work, and Bakshi's. So I'm NOT a total 3D guy.
But I Glen Keane is going to show you, me, Eddie, the whole industry. That, lets NOT make this old vs. new. Traditional vs. CG. 2D vs. 3D. Not a grudge match.
I think Glen will show us all, that what needs to be done is HARMONIZING past with the present.

I mean, reading what Glen is doing with this movie, and where he's drawing his inspiration. It's going to turn your post arguement, with all do respect. INSIDE OUT, upside down.
Because 2D and 3D, traditional and CG, is about to HARMONIZE. Which is LESS negative sounding to me, than this vs thing, this vs this.

So way to go Glen, I'll be one of the first in line. I hope you and Eddie will be also.
And I know it will influence me as a director in bringing WARMTH in my CG. Seeing Glen perfect the techniques of how to do that.
This movie will turn pros into students again. Like learning how to fly all over again.

Bitter Animator said...

I think a lot of it come down to fighting with technology. As Pseudonym mentions, everyone is trying to improve the technology and it really is a science but, once that's done, you have to get people who can tame that technology and actually fight it to get to a point where they can use it well.

When you go the old-fashioned route, it's you and a pencil. That's it. If you can think it, you can draw it. Direct brain to paper communication and, so, direct brain to screen communication.

Depends on the brain of course so it's not always positive or appealling if coming from the wrong person.

There is no direct communication with 3D. 3D programmes have multitudes of defaults to fight against. You have to work things out step by step through many menus and options. No longer does creativity hit screen. Creativity hits menus, problems, vectors, polygons, lights and more and, if you have someone talented at it, they can avoid mess hitting screen.

That direct communication is completely gone.

And the programmes try to do things for you. Can you imagine trying to draw while the pencil is moving on its own and you have to wrsetle the pencil to get it to do what you want?

3D is like that. It does it's own interpolation. Badly. It does it's own motion blur. Badly.

Now talented people can and do win fights against these things but it is a fight.

I remember reading some people saying that motion blur in 3D is no different to smear drawings in 2D. That's bullshit, plain and simple. Smear drawings are carefully and sparingly chosen by the animator, and drawn exactly as he wants them to look. 3D motion blur is all over and totally out of control most of the time. Control needs to be wrestled away from the programme and, often, that's more trouble than it's worth.

Good 3D animators are like rodeo riders. And they do exist.

But I think it's about that communication. Creativity, brain, to screen versus brain to menus, numbers, options, control wars and so on.

Sew said...

You can find a lot of lively 3d characters and animations in video games,

but not so much movies.

Mitch L said...

Hee John, argh I really misunderstood the feedback you gave. Stupid of me...

I made the changes on the eyes like you asked before.

Great post btw. Very interesting to read.

Bubs said...

You know, I'm very disgusted with the rest of the worlds lust for CGI films. CG has done more than steal jobs from 2D animators and ruined traditionally animated features forever, it is trying to bring down another medium of art. The medium I'm talking about is model animation a.k.a. claymation or stop-motion animation. Now instead of actually using stop motion animation and keeping true to the medium, they try to copy stop motion with computers in hopes to get the same effect and it always turns out horrible. You usually can't even tell they were in efforts to make it look like claymation. They do this because CG is "easier", really it's because they're lazy. I'm a huge fan of stop motion and I just can't see why they try to copy what they already have to work with.

Anonymous said...

I completely agree with this post. I would like to add that I prefer the old techniques of makeup, puppetry, and stop-motion for creating special effects in live action films. These mediums have the ability to blend seamlessly with the actors. No matter how good cg is, it ALWAYS looks like cg! I think a big part of its appeal is that it's still SOMETHING NEW made by COMPUTERS and the public is still dazzled by it.

Chris Rank said...

"Humans are hard enough to do in 2d, but in 3d they are guaranteed to look like rubber cadavers. But they refuse to give up."

the image you posted from WallE relates to the above comment i'm guessing.

Ironically, that was the point of rendering the humans the way they did, though that doesn't cover the other movies...

Allan said...

Heh, water and people, the current bane of 3D CGI, I agree 100% with Brendan Body, if no one steps in and shows these animation directors what they're doing wrong and ways around it, using traditional means unconventionally, then no one will ever be able to see what "You" would do with such technology.

In an ever evolving world we must adapt or die off, would you have told people "colored ink, that looks so fake" had it been a recent improvement? Obviously I'm over simplifying but the gist is the same, unless people of your caliber take the reins, we'll be stuck with the Polar Express zombie eyes and what not for another 50 years.

SGP said...

cg sucks, and it only makes real cartoons and paintings even more special.

juvenile_cyle said...

Just wondering what you thought of the new Pixar short Presto. I thought it was a little better than any of the previous pixar shorts. Great post!

JohnK said...

The rabbit was cute- like a Cal Arts student film only in CG.

Benjamin Schroeder said...

You might be thinking of "Tuber's Two-Step", starting around 5:44 of

(Be sure to watch it with the sound!)

Rudy Tenebre said...

As regards floating feet, one thing I always loved about Bakshi were instances where a figure's relationship to his ground plane was totally fractured. The figure seemed fully rooted to some invisible surface and the background abided by it's own sense of things, (not just in instances where animation appeared over a vapourous live-action effect shot).

The originary relationship between the often graphic and simplified nature of a luminous character who happens to inhabit a field with all the textured and tonal potential of easel painting. It's an almost metaphysical allegory of the self differentiated and alienated from the world in which s/he is thrown. Total CG imagery is too holistic, too complete, too integrated!

As much as I have distaste for the majority of the animation coming from the Pacific Rim, there have been some films which employ a very classic 2-d character model, and the wealth of a painted background, and will only resort to 3-d environments for long tracking shots, and it looks as though they scan the paintings and reproduce their surfaces over their 3-d constructions. Perhaps this kind of economy of technique is a swell way to go.

(Though perhaps not in the vocabulary of a Spumco cartoon.)

bluesmokebloke said...

Very interesting post!

You raise a good comparison to the 3D View-Master scenes. When you compare CGI crap to those effective little tableaus, the over-rendered backgrounds and cluttered compositions really jump out at you.

I think it comes down to poor design choices. They figure, if it's as realistic as possible everything will fall into place. For whatever reason, it doesn't work.

Also, I think you're thinking of "Tuber's Two Step," which was pretty hilarious. I used to love the early "Mind's Eye" trippy abstract CGI.

Mellanumi said...

John, Wunder if you kin post mahr of those wunderbar veee-eww master images?

mongo said...

Hey John,
Although I do enjoy a lot of the Pixar flix, I agree that most CG=cartoon garbage. CG is here to stay however. I watched this show last night called Oswald on Noggin. Is not CG, just really crappy flash...i think. I know its geared for Preskool, but I remember waking up at 6 wen I was in preskool to watch Wiley Coyote and other LT classics. I was watching Oswald and visualizing ren taking an axe to the head of the stupid ass octopus and his even dumber Moose A. Moose counterpart on Noggn. Moose is kinda cute, i guess, f that...moose can burn too...

wow, that was violent..totally off topic...2d is God "Thats all Folks"

Spencer Cook said...

Although I have a profound respect for your artistic ability, this post comes off a bit stodgy to me. There are a tone of shit 3d movies out there, just as there are a lot of horrible, 80s, "lumpypants" cartoons. I believe, however, that the artistry of the good ones (ratatouille, toy story) is undeniable. New is not automatically wrong. The challenges of 3d animation are different than those of hand drawn cartooning. This can be seen in toy story for instance, where they choose to show real people only from the knee down or for a split second. Pixar knew their people looked plastic and so made a story about toys. Now that the technology had improved, the people of Ratatouille appear just as expressive as any drawn cartoon. As mediums, I don't think either is superior, though we do seem to be going through a bit of a fad right now.

Acetate said...

I agree completely in regards to the cg people continually trying to have things look "real" and yet be in a "cartoon". Makes no sense. Thats why for my money the best cg cartoon was years ago. That's the original Toy Story film from Pixar. Everything looked plastic...and it FIT THE STORY ! It was a bunch of TOYS. Brilliant. No Problem, but when they tried to apply the same technique to their next film, "A Bugs Life" we got plastic looking ants ! Not so good.

Sven Hoek said...

I will always prefer an artists rendition of a character better than 3D. A computer makes things perfect all the time and makes everything look like a moving sculpture or plastic toy. Artists will usually have a better idea of what the character should look like from different angles as opposed to a model that doesnt change when the camera angle or lighting or the characters orientation or mood changes.

3D will never be as good as 2D at conveying artistic ideas to the eye. 3D spends too much time trying to get out of its own way.

I'm a voice over artist with a good eye and even if 3D weren't so artificial looking, it still would not be as pleasing to look at as a good hand drawn cartoon.

Jeremy said...

Can you please post more images of the Flintstones and Bugs Bunny viewmaster shots? They are incredible!

filmguy said...

The rabbit in Presto reminded me of the Trix rabbit, only with less character, especially in the shot where he is trying to walk toward the carrot but the magician is holding his tail.A complete muddle, all in all.
Wall-E, however had loads of nice scenes and loads of good animation. My kids are obsessed with it. I guess CGI is well-suited to a story about machines.
Cartoons are supposed to be stylized, otherwise, just tell the story with live action. CGI's obsession with realism is a waste of time.
Check out the Splinecast, a podcast by some Pixar dudes. It gives some interesting insights into their process and thinking.

Taco Wiz said...

I agree with what you say about CGI. However, I think that the robots in WALL-E have some pretty nice visuals.

Chickens and Beandip said...

What if they told walt to give up on animation after his first film? Isn't animation striving to get better? Your whole blog is dedicated to "progressing and revitalizing" the art form, you the biggest critic and advocate of stagnating it. CG is still a new artform. It took Disney how many years before his first film? He had alot of time. CG is new, only about 15 years. You are sounding like a dinosaur.

Jim Rockford said...

I agree!

What is this huge obsession with realism in lighting,textures,etc.

We have real life for that folks!
Explore the advantages of your medium instead of trying to ape live action.
Give me a good old fashioned 2d hand rendered artists work any day.

I personally dont care much for CG stuff and would love to see a return to traditional hand drawn animation done by real artists.

And,why do all the CG characters look so damn ugly? that alone puts me off.
its like the same people are designing them all.

pappy d said...

Someone (anonymous) made a good observation on Eddie's blog.

"In 3d every object is painstakingly rendered and doesnt exist in cartoonland anymore its just a noun."

Animation, or real life for that matter, is all about the verbs. Anticipation, action, reaction, drag follow-through are all about simulating verbs. That's what the oldtimers meant by draw the force, not the object. You wouldn't settle for a limited life even if you don't have the budget, would you?

"I am" is moldy concrete. "I do" is fire.

Dax said...

Here is a 3d animated short I did. I did my best to give it my own style and create a gritty, yet cartoony world, starring my own iconic character, Frank Finkerton.

Check it out.

I really enjoy reading this blog, and learning from it.

Jim Rockford said...

"The most creative animation I ever saw in CG was something Chris Wedge made in the late 80s for a Nickelodeon logo. I forget what it was called. It was a funny little character made up of disconnected tuber like blobs. It was funny, imaginative, appealing and magical. It was using the medium to do what you couldn't do in any other medium.

someone help me out and send me link to an image or clip of it!"

I think I remember the Nick ad you are talking about!
Was that the one where the amorphous orange Nick splatter logo would change shape into a walking dinosaur a walking guy,etc then trip and splatter into the Nick logo?

Chris said...

It'd be interesting to see what you think of the art style of the new team fortress game. The characters have been designed to have unique silhouettes and the rendering has been designed to have them stand out from the background - for gameplay reasons. It's received a lot of praise.

Check out a few of the "meet the..." trailers, they present the characters and the art-style quite well:

Warning: the gameplay consists of two teams of people who each pick a character and then try to kill everyone on the opposing team, so it's pretty centred on violence :l

Bitter Animator said...

>>CG is still a new artform. It took Disney how many years before his first film? He had alot of time. CG is new, only about 15 years.

Chickens and Beandip (nice username by the way), I think it's misdirection to bring 'art' into this. There were improvements in the art side of things in CG ealry on certainly.

But in terms of animation, have CG films actually improved since something like Toy Story? Have they made any improvements whatsoever in that end?

Okay, they can do more realistic lighting, no doubt. They can render loads of little bits of fur. And pores in skin. Fantastic. And, by some miracle of technology, they can make one element (Wall-E's treads) look like they are actually somewhat sitting on another element (the ground). I'm not casting doubt on any of those advancements.

Are they advancing animation? Or even the 'artform'?

If you want to compare that to the development of 2D, and you do, things don't match. In the early days of 2D, animation moved in leaps and bounds. Making the method more appealing through different and better designs, experiments in movement and flow, and so on. The animation and the artistry shot forward.

I don't see that happening with 3D. It may happen. There have been the odd bits of real creativity here and there, which is great. But the energies are going on making the lighting realistic. Using a whole film to show off fur. Giving us, as Mr.K might call it, 'tude.

Guy said...

Now that the technology had improved, the people of Ratatouille appear just as expressive as any drawn cartoon.

Any Disney cartoon, maybe.

And they still haven't managed to make them not look hideous.

TP said...

I think it is kind of unfounded to say that CG as a medium is hopeless. Especially when the only work being considered here is Pixar and Dreamworks. Everyone knows that big studios like that aren't the ones creating true art. They have a formula that makes them millions and they won't ever change it. You could make the same point with Disney 2D. There is some really stylish work being done by students and small studios that is worth a second look.

Richard Rosenmen
this studio does some very cool looking work

My Thesis
This was my student film. There are a lot of things wrong with it, but I think I'm on the right track.

My final thought is that there isn't a whole lot of the type of work we are all looking for that is being done right now anyway. 2d or 3d. It isn't the medium itself that is to blame, its the people who are calling the shots.

Michelle Klein-Hass said...

Interesting that you would mention Surf's Up as the example for the "insoluable" problem of realistic water. Well, they actually created some very convincing waves, and basically the way they did that was to animate the waves like they were characters. The wave animation was done by character animators. Not bad.

Mark aguilar said...

Hey John,

As somebody who has animated in both 2d and 3d, i couldn't agree with you more. One of the great things about the paintings in your posting are the energy the single image contains. Energy in the color, composition and poses. There are little nuances in the "Lady and the Tramp" painting that adds so much. The imperfections of the human touch are one of the greatest aspects of art. 3D completely leaves the human touch out and when artists try to compensate and add "the human touch" and it looks bad.
Posing, one of the reasons I dropped animating in 3D is I couldn't replicate a pose in a thumbnail on the computer. I always had to give up an arch or some stretch.

Kyle said...

your making a lot of broad statements here with seemingly little to back it up. CGI has no weight to it? says who? look at the incredibles, I thought they handled weight perfectly. especially when Mr incredible was exercising.

yes, there's a lot of crap out there, but pixars stuff has a lot of appeal. I do think they could stand to go more cartoony than they have been, but I'm starting to see that with experiments like Presto.

"The rabbit was cute- like a Cal Arts student film only in CG."

givin your disdain for Cal Arts, I'm not sure if that's a compliment or a put down...

The Lazy Pundit said...

I saw Flushed Away last night and I was pleasantly surprised by it. It had the expressive look and feel of the Aardman Wallace and Gromit films, but done in CGI. Of course, that's claymation done in CGI, not traditional 2D.

trevor said...

I'd love to add my two cents to this great debate... but that would be redundant. Everyone here has made the points I would, and in spades.

Let me just say this: you're right.

- trevor.

Chris said...

Hey John,

I was wondering about why we don't see cartoons rendered in a way similar to the paintings you put up. I can't recall any animated cartoons that get rendered like that and was wondering why. Is it a matter of difficulty? Or are there worries that that kind of rendering could become too distracting in an animated cartoon?



:: smo :: said...

one of the things i always found interesting about any sort of digital animation, especially 3D vs. traditional work on paper and cel or stop motion is that every drawing, every background painting, every painted cel or clay model in a traditional piece is a work of art in it's own right that can be put on display in a museum and recognized as such. in computer animation even though tons of work goes into the process, the entire work itself is digital and simply pixels. in a hard drive failure the whole work is gone. the work is only recognizable as a work of art in it's finished form as a film. the components of the piece itself aren't tangible and don't actually exist without the computer.

therefore traditional animation is a true complete art, whereas 3D digital animation is only artwork in it's completed form.

Thom said...

I'm a CG animator and I generally agree with you here, John. It comes down to two things, I think.

1. The tech-geeks that developed CG and continue to provide the artists the software -- they don't get it! And we're at their mercy. They give us software that takes years to master, is over-the-top expensive, and clearly isn't designed for making cartoons. There's no concern for controlling the flat image that makes it onto the screen, only that the objects work in 3D as realistically as possible.

Hey Autodesk, etc. -- we don't want "realistic" cloth and fur! We want full control over the final image!

2. Related to this is that the characters are frustratingly hard to work with. The characters have virtual skeletons inside them which have to be programmed to allow you to pose them. The riggers/programmers, who are usually not animators, try to anticipate what the animators will want to do with the characters, and program that in. If we push the characters beyond their programmed limits (very easy to do), they fall apart. It's so hard and time consuming (expensive) to program in more capabilities that we usually don't bother. So we work within the restrictive limits out of necessity.

Some animators can rig, but we find that the rigging tools themselves are very limiting. No matter how hard you try you can't program a character to give you full control over the shapes and lines that make it to the screen. You can only program the characters to not fall apart in 3D when you pose them.

Believe it or not it's much easier to produce verisimilitude than caricature in CG, so that's what gets done.

Sorry for the disjointed thoughts, but I'm short on time.

Thanks for the thought provoking post.

cartoonretro said...

Presto made me sad because it would've been a perfect place to experiment with a more cartoony background style. Instead it had the same dirty brown photorealistic look as Ratatouille.
Pixar has the best artists in the word, and most are fans of Blair, Crawford and Noble- seems strange that it doesn't show in the movies.

Guy said...

CGI has no weight to it? says who? look at the incredibles, I thought they handled weight perfectly.

Everything moves as quickly as possible, whether it's the little kid with the superpower of superspeed or the big fat guy with superstrength. There's no weight to them, just things zipping everywhere.

I do think they could stand to go more cartoony than they have been, but I'm starting to see that with experiments like Presto.

Using ancient cartoon cliches isn't what makes something cartoony. Having the look, feel, and mentality of a cartoony cartoon is.

Chickens and Beandip said...

"If you want to compare that to the development of 2D, and you do, things don't match. In the early days of 2D, animation moved in leaps and bounds. Making the method more appealing through different and better designs, experiments in movement and flow, and so on. The animation and the artistry shot forward."

I think we are forgetting about all of the negatives that went on in animation over the years. They invention of rotoscoping. SOO many people hated this. But even Walt himself trumpeted it as the future of animation. Even Bakshi was a supporter of it. But most of the Traditionalist and purests of the time hated it. It was un-natural looking, floaty and lifeless. But It was an experiment. And people kept chasing it because of it's possibilities. Did It improve what the previous animators had accomplished? Of course not. It was another realm of animation. And much like the original Disney men and Fleisher man, the strived to make it better. Personally I hate rotoscoping. I don't like majority of CG (I work as a CG animator). But it can progress, and the technologies need to progress with it. The reason companies want to make realistic water is because, as animators, they should know how it works. No one is going to make it for them. And if they don't work on this technology then every cartoon will look rubbery and lifeless. Or it will look like Reboot. CG is based in technology therefore they have to keep bettering the technology. It's progress. The other thing is they still need to make money in order to progress. So there is formula involved, but like Me and a ton of other people say, the animators are waiting for the moment they can break into better markets and animation. But honestly the stagnation in 3D is Just as Bad in 2D. People thought Disney was crazy for using Xerox in the film. Not inking them, and just colouring the clean roughs. But he did it. Experimenting. And alot of people, animators, love his desicion to do that because you see the thought process of the animators. You see an aspect of the film that you never saw before. The same happened with colour in film. Disney made all his films in colour, because he was thinking ahead for when tv's could display colour. The demise of fleisher was because they didn't look ahead. You can't just rest on your laurels.

SoleilSmile said...

Hi John,
I'm starting to wonder if it is POSSIBLE to light a CG scene in the way you mention. As you other posters insinuate: CG lighting is very mathematical and no matter what you do or where you place the lights, you are not going to have a lighting situation that is less than logical. BG PAINTERS can be as illogical as they wish, CG lighters, no. The only way around the pickle is to use the light rendering with Maya Software instead of Mental Ray and it's components: Global Illumination and Final Gather. Yet, the problem with Maya software is that although you can place a spotlight wherever you wish, the scene is going to look like it's made of plastic because among other things the textures won't show up and there is no shadow pass.

Yeah, it's pretty complicated. If you wanna see how limited Maya software can be, look at my test renders at the beginning of this post on my blog and compare the Maya Software images to the Mental Ray pieces with shadow passes below:
Rendering Without Mental Ray

Perhaps someone on this board who is an actual lighting TD can chime in an help us?

PCUnfunny said...

Crap Poo Panda was awful. Besides the eye raping art, everyone was a walking cliche of a bad martial arts film and also old Disney roles. Once again we had the stern, lesbo female in Tigress. Po is what else ? The jokester that has a dream and he beat the bad guy because he belived in himself. And the mentors spouted dime store philosphies too simple even for fortune cookies. And could this film come up a single orginal name of anything ? "Sword of Heroes", "Dragon Warrior", "Dragon Scroll", "Jade Palace", etc. Also the action was bland and boring as well. Everyone was basically flying and zipping around, no specific movement at all.

"everyone complains about the state of animation [especially animators] and no one is doing anything about it."

When idiot executives who have all the power strangle real artist to dumb down there art, what else can one do ?

"have CG films actually improved since something like Toy Story? Have they made any improvements whatsoever in that end?"

Bitter, how can you say such things ! Now we have realistic camera focusing and photo realistic background ! Isn't that what we want ?

dave said...

youre right.
one thing i would add is that it isnt because its CG, its because there is a lack of application of the type of appeal we know we can get with 2d, to 3d/cg. if ytoure a glass full type of guy, you'd call it experimentation, and that cg will eventually arrive at a look that carries with it the type of appeal you miss. im one of those people, because the tools themselves are fairly limitless. blame the schools and the supervisors i guess.
there are some great examples of cg shorts applying more 2d principles, like these from gobelins

PCUnfunny said...

Oops, I almost forgot to say what a wonderful Bugs Viewmaster !!!!!!!! He looks so good in the proper 3-D.

Also, John, are you talking about that character that would trip and splatter into the Nickelodeon insignia ?

R.C. said...

I would just like to say that anyone who thinks that we shouldn't go back to traditional animation, have a look at Richard Williams' The Thief and The Cobbler. That was a labour of love and it was evident how much love, judging by the supreme quality of the animation.

Another good example is The Iron Giant, a movie that is filled with beautiful art and lush colours.

Jim Rockford said...

CG is to animation what the synthesizer is to music......A novelty that will never be able replace the real thing.

People today are so gung-ho to embrace new technology that the old art forms get tossed by the wayside.

Honestly,I dont see why so many people are enchanted by crappy CG films like Dung Foo Panda..Wall-e and the like.

"Bitteranimator" is right,it hasnt evolved since ToyStory,even the storys are the same..full of new age messages where the loveable outcast dreamer learns a valuable life lesson and suceeds...with a Randy Newman score!

To bad we dont have any Bakshi cartoon features in theatres anymore!
There's no alternative to this crap

Chris S. said...

I think one of the great limitations of 3D is the skeleton - these characters are usually as exciting as watching your grandma cross the street because they have the same bone structure! Only recently with the Incredibles have they learned to stretch limbs! What took 'em so long!

I think if the 3D houses - at key moments in their films - replaced the characters frame by frame to show extremes, like in 2D, instead of sticking to the damn limitations of the skeleton ... slowly trying to improve the flexibility of those f***in' joints and bones with techies (who ONLY get thrilled by lightning bolts, fire and realistic water BTW) coding and programming a little extra movement in the hopes of creating a wide-eyed, jaw droppin' take. Replacement animation has been done in stop-motion forever. It's basically the underlying principle of 2d animation. Give it a try already.

2D will always be more appealing to children as well as adults. My niece is 6 -... she's seen every Dreamworks and Pixar film a gazillion times. Her all time favorite cartoon if you ask her? Sponge Bob. Cartoons are appealing to us all when they're fun, funny, irreverent and, when we're really lucky, gorgeously animated.

That rule applied in 1928 and it still holds today.

Anonymous said...

Hi John! Been reading your blog for a while, agree with most of what you say (some of the older cartoons look bad too IMO.)

I know Toy Story may have been fun and good for kids, and South Park may be good at getting a controversial message across, but CGI is no match for early Disney/WB stuff.
But aren't they doing CGI because it's cheaper and easier?
I'm not familiar with the industry, but I didn't think using CGI was a "better and high-tech" thing anymore.

I see these children's cartoons as I flick channels and wait for Adult Swim to go on. They just look HORRIBLE, and I feel like an army of ugly creatures are trying to invade my eye sockets.

Keep up the great posts! -Dan Q

P.S. I think the problem you had with R&S is that they didn't have "adult" cartoons back then (other than Robert Smigel's SNL stuff and the also-new B&B) and R&S was marketed as a children's show. I guess you were 5 years ahead of your time!

Mr. Semaj said...


Funny thing about this clip is that until today, I never stopped to ask anything about its 3-D technique.

Another funny thing, about Pixar's "plastic" humans is how that has been brought up since Toy Story 2. I think, especially with The Incredibles, they have made technical improvements with their humans since Toy Story 1.

...because then you have films like Hoodwinked, which actually looks more like a dated video game. That was the ugliest Red Riding Hood I've ever seen.

Ryan said...

I saw the Clone Wars the other day. On the plus side, you could tell from the character design and weird paint textures that they didn't buy into the lie that realism is the primary goal of animation. On the minus side, it wasn't as fun to look at as the 2D Tartakovsky cartoon.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

A great post, and the comments are interesting too! I love 2D because you can make the same character anatomical or cartoony, depending on which makes the gag play best. With 3D you're stuck with one way. It doesn't help that the riggers are seldom cartoonists.

Bitter Animator said...

>>CG is to animation what the synthesizer is to music......A novelty that will never be able replace the real thing.

Hmm, as a fan of electro music it's hard to know what to make of that as an analogy to CG.

Actually, no, maybe it does work. You are right, synthesizers can't replace instruments they try to emulate.

But, then, with some genres, like electro, they don't try to replace those instruments. They embrace what the synthesizers bring. They use different sounds, different methods and create something that those aforementioned instruments could then not replicate.

But, yes, when they try to replace traditional or acoustic instruments, they fall flat on their face.

How this relates to CG is what I was saying over at Mr.F's blog - 3D is not 2D. And it never will be. And much of the CG 3D seems like it is trying to emulate 2D and it just can't succeed there. That is like those synthesizers trying to replace an orchestra.

But if CG could find its own voice, maybe we'd get the animation equivalent of electro.

Pseudonym said...

The "synthesiser" comment has some truth to it.

I think the problem is actually that 2D cartoons bases its craft on thousands of years of drawing, and stop motion animation bases it on thousands of years of sculpture.

CGI doesn't quite have the same history, so it's still feeling its way. The message I'm getting from a lot of practitioners on this thread (and elsewhere) is that CGI artists simply don't feel in control of their tools in the same way that a traditional artist does.

And yes, this sounds like a challenge for the toolsmiths.

DJ said...

I would watch incredibles or monster's inc. any day, rather than watching yogi bear.. thank you.

its taste, i guess. I find many of the 'new age exaggeration stuff' characters quite unappealing, and sometimes, downright ugly. ren n stimpy for example. For me, some of the extreme expressions look disturbing (like war-photography) rather than funny (no offence, just mentioning my personal opinion). I love bugs bunny and daffy though. I love many cg movies too.

I dont pause, take a snap shot, and then look at it.. i look at the film. And yes, I am drawn into it. I was drawn into toy story 2, geri's game shortfilm, incredibles, Kunfu panda and surf's up. I like that. That doesnt mean that everyone else who doesnt like them is an idiot. I just think that its their taste.

It all depends not on CG or 2d for me, its just that if its well made, i love it. And that 'well made' should stand to my taste for me to enjoy, thats all.

Frankly, I like that KFP pic you put up here more than the 'paint book of l and l' image. Both are different, thats all. I like both, but my taste is for that KFP pic. I would have it as a poster, but not that painting. simple.

but good debate though. Hopefully, rather than turning into a bash-em-up party, if this results in better animation, I am all for it. Go ahead, knock each other out! :)


Roberto González said...

I agree with a lot of the things you have said. However, I actually thought KFP was among the best they have done in "cartoony" 3d. Now, you maybe see it more Cal Arts-like than cartoony type and that's probably true. Still it tries to create funny facial expressions in CGI. Even Pixar's Presto uses a kind of designs and poses that are more generic in CGI movies now. These are some of the visual moments I enjoyed in KFP:

-Po's "long" face in the floor after he tried to get to the Tournament

-Po's face when the mantis picked on his facial nerves

-Another moment of that fight sequence you posted, when the master hits him in the chin

-This is not especially "cartoony" but it's fast paced and visually fun, Master Shifu examinating the pergamine when Po said there was nothing written in it

Also, I'd like to say the humans in The Incredibles look actually pretty good IMO. Too bad they got a little worse in Ratatouille and much worse in Wall-E.

I believe The Incredibles and KFP are precisely the best-looking CGI films so far.

Like you, I'm undecided whether the technology can't get more cartoony than those or it's just that they are not trying to make that kind of thing. But these two have hints of what they could possibly do. Also some parts of Horton Hears A Who I guess, but God, what an awful script and jokes it had.

Ukulele Moon said...

I think you've nailed it, bitter animator.

Instead of trying so hard to emulate traditional 2D (which seems to be the goal for most of the 3D houses), 3D should be trying to create it's own voice/style/appeal and consider itself something different. I love stop-motion animation, and it definitely has it's own style separate from 2D.

Do remember in the Mask when they tried to simulate the Tex Avery club scenes? I haven't seen it in a awhile but that scene in the Mask seems to have captured the chaotically energetic feel of traditional animation better than most of the 3d films that came after. And that was a year before Toy Story!

I don't know. Apples and oranges, I guess.

Rodrigo said...

John, sometimes I wonder if you write these posts just to get a rise out of the animation community.

I'll agree with you that CG often lacks that artistic vitality that traditional mediums easily display. It's easier to see an artist's thumb print, especially an animator's, in work that doesn't travel through the CG monster pipeline.

But you aren't the only guy in the world who realizes this. Kung Fu Panda, Ratatouille, and Surf's Up, and lots of modern day CG films have been successfully closing the gap. If you look at Toy Story or Shrek, you can't help but notice how much more aesthetically rich today's films are in comparison. Studios are realizing the importance of retaining this vitality you mention, and modern day tools are allowing art directors to achieve specific looks. I've spoken to the lighting director for Rat, and she made very specific decisions for how she wanted the scenes lit and how to make the food look more enticing (like purposefully saturating the shadows with color). She was first and foremost an artist before even working at the Emeryville studio.

I've also spoken to several animators from Pixar, Dreamworks, and Blue Sky (as I'd bet you have), and they all are "real" and they are "cartoonists" whether or not you allow them in your club. Granted, the projects they're on often decree that they keep their work less broad, but they are craftsmen no less.

As much as you may think the characters don't have depth, they do. If they didn't work on an emotional level, people wouldn't watch them. The industry would no longer be around if they really were as lifeless as you describe them.

Chris_Garrison said...

Can we get some Biden drawings up in here? In the next 5 minutes, please. Chop chop.

CartoonSteve said...

Also, in some 3D, (especially in the early days) I've noticed a split second delay in lip sync - which would indicate the carelessness of being too literal, matching the mouth shapes and totally forgetting to start the audio slightly before the action.

Oh how far animation has devolved.
Thanks John for getting us back to the basics!

John Young said...

cgi arguments aside, i can't for the life of me understand why you are doing the George Liquor show in flash. Where cg has a totally different and arguably interesting look, flash is simply inferior 2d animation period. It seems like with all the attention to detail you're putting in to drawing each pose and inking them beautifully you might as well be doing a fully hand drawn production. Am I wrong? More on topic though, I remember a while back you mentioned that you were doing a 3d pitch. I'd be very interested to see where you would go with a 3d movie; if it looked like those view finder slides i'd pretty much die of excitement.

Jake the Animator said...

The artist behind those viewmaster sculpts of classic cartoon characters is Martha Armstrong Hand.

I know that at least a couple Disney folks look to her for CG inspiration.

Chris said...

Don't discount CG shading from just what you see in theatres - here's a few examples of CG images with shading different from what you'll see from Pixar and the like:

Inspired by a Vermeer painting:

Inspired by traditional Chinese brush-and-ink paintings:

Inspired by some really crappy animé:

Although I doubt these are styles that anyone here would dabble in, I don't think anyone could say it just looks like "blurry photoshop" :p

- Another Chris than the one above

SoleilSmile said...

HOO! Johnm how about posting something else? This discourse is turning into a fight.
BTW, why haven't you posted any of the illustrations from the old Wonderful World of Knowledge Disney encyclopedias? I used those to learn how to draw Disney characters just like you used view masters and golden books for your drawing pleasure as a kid.

PCUnfunny said...

Flash has more potential then CGI ever will. At least in Flash you don't have to depend on rigid templates to make only generic expressions.

Anonymous said...

Interesting post, in some things i agree with you.
Do you know the spanish animation serie POCOYO. I think they use timing and art so fun.

I´m working in a shortfilm trying to be all the cartoonist what we can. but it´s so difficult.
Here a link with a demo for the shortfilm:

(sorry for my english)

PCUnfunny said...

"As much as you may think the characters don't have depth, they do."

No they really don't. People are still watching because they are bored and they also have nothing better to see.

Stephanie said...

I ADORE that little red hen cover.

I was vaguely hoping you would cover the art books from Kung Fu Panda and Ratatouille. The art made before the movies is supposedly quite impressive. I want to get my hands on these books but don't quite have the cash for that as they are quite pricey. Some of the scans I've seen look promising though! I wish the movies had been done by hand...

Hryma said...

Maybe someone mentioned this amongst all the comments, it surely is a big debate.

3D "animation" dissapoints me also, but I have kinda come to the conclusion that it is its own medium and not animation but closer to puppetry. moving pixels around.

Maybe if somehow we can get its name changed rather than compare it to REAL animation and cartoons, letting it be there (because it isn't going to leave), but intern keep trucking on and make great pure cartoons! Like yourself and push for more of it.

trevor said...

someone help me out and send me link to an image or clip of it

Is this it, John?

- trevor.

JohnK said...

nope, that's not it, Trevor.

Rodrigo said...

"No they really don't. People are still watching because they are bored and they also have nothing better to see."

Yes, they really do. Ultimately, whether you're working in CG, stop motion, flash, or fuckin puppets, you've become a successful story teller if you've made the audience believe you're witnessing a real story with real characters involved. You can't argue that these films don't do this. I've seen people cry over scenes in Wall-E as well as laugh their asses off in Kung Fu Panda. Although these films may not be affecting you and your filtered, judgmental eyes, most people can appreciate them. Numbers don't lie either. Pixar, who understands the importance of story, has never had a commercial flop--ever. Dreamworks has been hit and miss, but that just further proves my point.

People are bored. But if the movie doesn't tell a compelling, entertaining story, even he most bored people won't pay to see it again or take their friends along for another viewing.

Spugsley said...

Hi John,
Is there any way you can re-release the Weekend Pussy Hunt flash cartoons? They were brilliant, and the interactive elements were hilarious. There hasn't been anything out there that even comes close. I can't think of a better advertisement for the upcoming GL stuff than these gems.
I found episode 1 at Cold Hard Flash -
Are the rest available?

Sphyzex_9 said...

I'm pretty sure this is the clip you're talking about John

Guy said...

Rodrigo: There are people who enjoy the storytelling of things such as Eragon just as much as people who enjoy Wall-E. There are people who howl with laughter at Epic Movie. And in the world of webcomics you'll find examples even more wretched that people will preach the virtues of. (A certain two stick figure comics come to mind.)

Unless you're willing to say that practically everything in entertainment is effective at storytelling, I'd advise you to not go down THAT path.

JohnK said...

nope, that's not it either, Sphyzex
it's by Chris Wedge

I.D.R.C. said...

...I've seen people cry over scenes in Wall-E as well as laugh their asses off in Kung Fu Panda. Although these films may not be affecting you and your filtered, judgmental eyes, most people can appreciate them...

All you really gotta do to poke a hole in this argument is watch 3 or 4 good Looney Tunes. You could even watch 3 or 4 mediocre Looney Tunes. Then watch Wall E and ask yourself what the hell was so entertaining? Was it all the brilliant, fun, nuanced performances? Was NEMO the best story ever written about a dad fish searching for his lost son fish?

If you think Pixar has much to offer besides texture fetishism, then you don't even see what I see when I watch cartoons. I'm not anti-Pixar, I'm just honest. I wish them the best but for all the accolades, Lasseter and Byrd have to kiss Chuck Jones' ass. They have to kiss Freleng's ass. If I watch Toy Story again in that context, I have to ask why? Life is too short. That's 100 minutes I could use to watch more Looney Tunes 5 more times. I would do that because I am most drawn to character performances. There are a few but not many good CGI perfomances.

nunilo said...

"Soulless" is the perfect word to describe CGI film.

Although I am inspired by many CGI film (mostly from pixar), nothing can ever top 2D for me. Sadly, there is only a couple of 2D films being released soon. Unfortunately, one of them looks like a typical Disney feature animation and follows the basic Disney formula.
But, the other 2D film, (Ponyo) is the only animation film I am looking forward to. You can never go wrong with Hayao Miyazaki. You can actually see the blood and sweat put into his films.
I think its mainly because in Japan the process is much different than the US. The process makes it more artistic and less "machine-like".

Check out this interview.
It describes the differences between both processes.

Anyways, great post (as usual)!

mongo said...

Hey John,

A bit off topic, but I just got Boomarang on my TV. What a channel. No joke, I watched the classics for 8 hrs yesterday, drawing the whole time. I can understand your gripe w/ 3d a little better after yesterdays cartoon freak out. I was particularly enthralled w/ the Jetsons backgrounds, in the episode where George and wife go to Las Venus. The dance seen is epic. The stars, the skys, and tripped out floating hotels...I'm in love.

Anonymous said...

I think I might have found what you've been looking for, John.

Tuber's Two Step was a short that was directed by Chris Wedge and was released around in 1985.

I could only find this video that contains the short film, and Chris's film starts at 5:45, in case if you want to skip the other shorts that are on this video.

Hope I've found what you've been looking for.

From an inspiring animator/ artist

HemlockMan said...

When I briefly wrote in the comic book industry, I had occasion to hang out with a number of comic book artists. In conversation with one of these (now famous) guys one day, I mentioned another artist who was popular at that time. "I don't like his work," the artist told me.

"Why not?" I asked.

"His stuff looks like a plastic airplane."

For a moment I was stumped. What the heck? And after a second or two it hit me. He was right! The guy's work DID look like a plastic airplane!

This is why I hate computer generated FX. They suck ass. I can't stand that stuff! I hate those heavy-handed computer generated cartoons, and I cannot tolerate computer generated special effects in movies. It's fake! It's glorified (but poorly rendered) toons!

Borris said...

i agree 100% with rodrigo!

Wall-e was awesome

punkter said...

To compare 2D to 3D is in my eyes like comparing cartoons to live action. Nice to debate about but totally irrelevant. CGI is not and never will be 2D animation. Totally different approach and techniques.

In animation you have your flat paper and a pencil to draw whatever you like. 3D is, well, 3D. You move in virtual three-dimensional worlds and model things that have volume, rigs, textures and the more.

Most are right by saying CGI movies are crap. But for me they are crap because most of the stories are so bad.

I love good 2D animation but I'd love to see a more constructive discussion going on. Of course 2D is in many ways better. But what can you do about it? How can the techniques of classical cartoons be translated into 3D. Do we even want this because of the strange looking results?

Telling the world that 3D is bad is one thing. Sitting down and doing it is a whole completely story.

I.D.R.C. said...

...Nice to debate about but totally irrelevant. CGI is not and never will be 2D animation. Totally different approach and techniques.

That's all good except they invite the comparison by mining all of 2D's traditional territory, and the comparison is presently unfavorable.

Rodrigo said...

"Unless you're willing to say that practically everything in entertainment is effective at storytelling, I'd advise you to not go down THAT path."

Apparently you didn't read my post closely enough. Allow me to patronize you: Pixar makes movies that people go and see. A lot of people. Good so far? Dreamworks makes movies too, and sometimes those movies are poopie, and no one goes. Eragon made 1/3 the money that Pixar made? Comprende?

But now we're comparing apples and oranges, and that's a path YOU shouldn't have gone down.

"If you think Pixar has much to offer besides texture fetishism, then you don't even see what I see when I watch cartoons."

Firstly, yes to that conditional. I see more than just chubby inducing bump-mapping. But why doesn't that allow me to appreciate Looney Tunes? I adore and emulate the old school stuff(otherwise I wouldn't be on here). My favorite entertainment is the kind that geniunely makes me laugh. Why do you have to be so religiously close-minded to think you have some special born-again cartoonist mind and therefore can't appreciate anything else.

Again, maybe this is all just apples and oranges.

Roberto González said...

One thing I'd like to point out anyway is that CG is clearly not the only problem. As much as I'd like to see 2d movies again I have to defend we have more interesting stories and sometimes even better or more original visuals in some of them that we used to have.

Pixar has more variety than Disney in the stories and even in the visual style.

Of course bad 3d movies are terrible and worse than most 2d features from the 90's.

I really like Monsters Inc. and The Incredibles, for example. If those were 2d I would adore the first one. Back in the 90s it would have been a revolution if Disney'd have produced something like Monsters Inc. or Ratatouille instead of their usual prince/princess stories.

That's why I think we should not be so critic with this particular moment in animation industry.

On the other side there are the people who are not critic at all or consider Pixar look and stories like the best thing we could have. Obviously most of us who post here are still waiting for a movie more similar to the Looney Tunes style. There have never been a succesful feature that is based only (or mostly) in the wild visuals and cartoony gags and that's weird cause it surely could work. The most similar I've seen to that is probably Disney's Three Caballeros.There are not emotional moments there or even a plot yet you feel the characters are real and the whole movie is pure fun.

HemlockMan said...

You're right. THE INCREDIBLES was good. There was some real humor in there.

I.D.R.C. said...

Again, maybe this is all just apples and oranges.

Correct. It's cartoon performance versus relative non-performance. What Jones can do with Sniffles is MAGIC. Pixar is not devoid of charm, but please. Don't tell me I'm supposed to not notice because it's a different medium. I got standards is all.

In the end the comparison is fair because they both compete for the same time from my life. What would I rather do with it?

I.D.R.C. said...

-So actually, it's apples and lack of apples.

PCUnfunny said...

rodrigo: Going by your logic, anything that the masses watch must have some compelling story or characters. I guess you found TITANTIC and SPIDERMAN very complex.

Guy said...

Rodrigo: Pixar is mainly so successful because it has a source of guaranteed sales: parents who need children's movies to take their kids to. You need an extreme level of incompetence before children's movies stop selling. Its competition is also few and composed of studios who all do what Pixar does, only worse.

Eragon is highly disadvantaged in comparison as the fantasy genre has no such source, there's plenty of fantasy books out there, and almost all of them are better than Eragon. That to me makes its success much more impressive than Pixar's, even though it's mainly due to the "IT WAS WRITTEN BY A "KID"" gimmick.

Dreamworks is slightly worse and somewhat more derivative Pixar, which is why they're less successful.

And you should be thankful I took a post that claims that since ultra-bland children's movies make money they're unquestionable masterpieces seriously. Especially one that actually dares to be condescending towards people who fail to lavish praise on said "masterpieces." You, like most fans of modern animation, suffer from a severe lack of perspective.

Ukulele Moon said...

Actual "qualifications" for an animation job at one of the big studios:

• Proficiency in basic principles of animation
and basic shot rigging.
• Drawing skills a plus!
• Must be proficient in Maya and or XSI

What?!! Tell me - what traditional animation job requirement would state "drawing skills a plus?" This aint' your grandaddy's animation!

I think 3D is puppeteering for the new millennium. It's Jim Henson stuff.

Who doesn't love Muppets!

Ben said...

I trained in CG for three years and I can say that 90% of the people that I did my training with knew nothing about the creative process of stories and characters. These subjects were not touched on. The primary goal was to get us proficient in using the awful software (3DS Max)

The software ended up dictating what you could or could not do and this is I think one of the primary factors in the dead looking 3D that we see.

I write scripts and stories in my spare time and have had work performed and published. So when I began doing CG i thought "WOW! I can be a one man studio!) I culd write, create and produce my own stories. The big problem was that you were fighting the software all the way. If you just wanted your character to throw a ball it could take hours of work and then the software could crash, dead, in the next second.

So you end up having to be this left-brained computer geek to deal with all the problems with the machinery and then flip back to right-brained to do the creative part.

In the end I found the whole process so draining that I couldn't climb the mountain.

A studio approaches this by having specialists to do the various parts modelling, rigging, lighting, texturing and geeks to write code for stuff that the software can't do.

Sounds great but it's still the software that dictates the process at every level.

Ben said...

I trained in CG for three years and I can say that 90% of the people that I did my training with knew nothing about the creative process of stories and characters. These subjects were not touched on. The primary goal was to get us proficient in using the awful software (3DS Max)

The software ended up dictating what you could or could not do and this is I think one of the primary factors in the dead looking 3D that we see.

I write scripts and stories in my spare time and have had work performed and published. So when I began doing CG i thought "WOW! I can be a one man studio!) I culd write, create and produce my own stories. The big problem was that you were fighting the software all the way. If you just wanted your character to throw a ball it could take hours of work and then the software could crash, dead, in the next second.

So you end up having to be this left-brained computer geek to deal with all the problems with the machinery and then flip back to right-brained to do the creative part.

In the end I found the whole process so draining that I couldn't climb the mountain.

A studio approaches this by having specialists to do the various parts modelling, rigging, lighting, texturing and geeks to write code for stuff that the software can't do.

Sounds great but it's still the software that dictates the process at every level.

lastangelman said...

1.)One part of the problem is the tools haven't been perfected yet - they're still trying to invent a better pencil, a better brush, a better canvas and a better palette. A lot of these tools are proprietary and have costly licenses or are simply unavailable because the company doesn't want to share it's technology with the competition. The Blender software app may be the solution to bringing down costs since it is free to download and use and is sophisticated enough to match its commercial brethren. Who'd be brave enough to render a CGI George Liquor ten second demo, I wonder, just as an exercise or experiment?
2.)Pixar, the acknowledged leaders in CGI entertainment (and now Disney animation as a whole) is hampered creatively because it's leading light worships at shrine of Chuck Jones. Little or no anarchy. Overly sentimental. Family values.
The hilarious Presto is reminiscent of a an MGM Tex Avery short, but has that late period Chuck Jones/sentimental thing right at the end (Bugs Bunny or should I say, Tex Avery, would have had all the falling debris clobber Presto), no truly harmful or dangerous end that will frighten or warp the children's minds (that's the nagging hippie hausfraus pretending to look out for their children's welfare that permeates family entertainment). They will NEVER, NEVER, NEVER do a truly wacky funny anarchic CGI cartoon.
3.)The reason feature length 2-D died is because Disney and Dreamworks (remember they started out doing 2-D, too) wrote terrible stories that nobody found entertaining (Treasure Planet or Prince Of Egypt, anyone?).
4.)Let's face it, CGI animation is NOT cartooning, it's animation, at best you're making virtual puppets. Cartoons are a series of flat drawings(though they can depict or inhabit 3-D sets, see early Popeye cartoons), CGI is pixels depicted on a screen.
Someone who knows something about making puppets or toys, loves drawing funny outlandish cartoon characters, etcetera, could carve him or herself a niche by being different than what passes for CGI entertainment today.
The tools available are now cheap, reliable and being improved relentlessly, why not have Kali or someone from team dip their toes in water and play around.

Zoran Taylor said...

Okay, let's take a vote: which was worse, Kung Fu Panda or Madagscar? I haven't seen Kung Fu Panda, but unless it was made with shit smeared on a canvas and shot with polaroids and no tripod, it can't be worse than Madagascar. Have you guessed that I didn't like Madagascar??

Beaver said...

There is a really simple reason why no POPULAR cg animation is really pushing it artistically. It costs too much money.Anyways, I have seen a lot of footage from Cloudy with a chance of Meatballs over at SPA, and it looks amazing. It has to be 10 steps closer to what you describe in this post.

You should come check it out. I'm sure they'd be thrilled to have you.

Guy said...

All I remember from watching Madagascar is animals bumping into things, which they apparently thought was hilarious slapstick.

John_Fountain said...

Forgive me if I'm repeating sentiments already expressed... as much as I'd like to, I can't read all of the other 121 comments, nor can I resist commenting myself...

I think one of the challenges with CGI is its inherent lack of 'flaws'.

When you paint something by hand, no matter how hard you try to make it look perfect, there are infinitely tiny flaws that give it a rawness.

Even when you try to run filters through computer images to make them look flawed, they're still more 'slick' than they would have been if done by hand.

I think most people tend to gravitate towards things that are slick and shiny. You'll find more people who would love to drive a brand new shiny Jaguar with all of the latest gadgets but no real personality than you would find people who would prefer to drive a beat up old jalopy that has tons of personality to it.

For me, I like 'em both depending on the mood I'm in.

Most of the cartoons I've worked on had to have a very slick, polished look to them, so when I paint for fun these days, I make an effort to be 'anti-slick' just to celebrate my own human tendency towards imperfection.

Anyway... that's my theory, but whadda I know?

JuZ said...

I dont know if you guys in the USA have this, but the new Orangina adverts are disgusting!! PERFECT example of crap CG taking over awesum 2D-and they banned the 2D version(with the happy Crowes/awesum animation!) because it was 'racist'. The new advert, is just disgusting-its not child friendly, it shows pole-dancing/pornographic animals and is the ugliest design you ever did see. Check it out. Its mindblowingly aweful and you wonder how the hell they got away with it!! Proof that CG ruins all and will probably turn kids into sluts!

Pencilninja said...

well granted that the pro-CG side is going to be hammered in a blog specifically designed to tear it down.

I support CG and its' advancement. A statement said earlier that went along the lines of 'CG Artist are taking jobs from 2d artist' I don't think this is the case, a 3d artist is *usually* just a 2-d artist(Professional or aspiring student) who has(/will have) rent and a car note to pay and needs to specialize in an already competitive job market to survive.

So saying that is like saying "We're taking jobs from ourselves."

To say there isn't a level of beauty in some of the recent, or even not so recent Pixar movies is a fairly short sighted and jaded sentiment. And if defending the fact that alot of people like Pixar movies by saying "Well people also liked crap movies like Eragon" isn't a strawman argument I don't know what is.

Given my Pro-CG stance, I still love good 2d animation (As do 99% of all other serious CG fans)

and on an unrelated note, I love CG cartoons, but HATE CG monsters in live action flicks. Completely unscary.

Work with that.

Chris said...

Hey John,

Here's another short Chris Wedge made back in the 80s, might be the one you're thinking of, it's called Balloon Guy, here's the link:


I.D.R.C. said...

I love that Orangina ad. It's just mocap, but something about it looks like it would give Catholics nightmares. Check out the quivering inner thigh meat on those zebras. That's just nasty.

Zach Cole said...

I know too many people have posted, and no one is going to read this, most likely, but I just wanted to say...

Why don't people just do more stop-motion puppet or clay animation? It has the 3D effect, but unlike CG, it's much easier to make it cartoony and appealing. It's actually sculpted by an artist's hands, not a hand on a mouse/keyboard, manipulating crap (way too much separation there).

The stills of Bugs Bunny and the Flintstones you used in this post could easily be animated as flexible puppets with adjustable limbs and facial features. Same goes for any of your toys, like the candidates.

Still, there is a magic to good cartoony drawings no other medium can replicate.

James Sutton said...

3d is weird.

Alejandro Ghio said...

John, this is my first post on your blog, so first things first. Congratulations for your great work, you've always made me laugh with your characters, they are awesome. As a 3d artist for 5 years, i should disagree with lots of aspects of what you've said. But instead of arguing, I will only mention the fact that 3d (or cg graphics)is not just pixar or the other animation studios (read dreamworks or whatever you want here). 3d is a wonderful tool, and allows to create realistic things. I've seen 3d renders close to be real water, or humans. I think they decide to make things look "unrealistic" to somehow imitate the 2d hanwdrawn style. I'm not into no one's side, I mean, 2d cartoons are great, and you are the creator of one of my favourites. But 3d is not just Pixar, or those ugly cartoon humans. Best Regards. Alejandro

Dor Isaac said...

Seems like "realistic water" was with animated films long before computers got involved.

"When I look at all those bubbles, I'm glad they took the time, the money, to animate all those bubbles [...] the water can really make an animated film"

That's Siskel, from Siskel & Ebert.

How can he qualify that? What does water have to do with it? I think this falls under "if it's hard to do, it must be quality".

Michael Sporn said...

It's all like a very slick student film. Animation graphics has stepped back a couple of dozen years. Animation has stepped back at least 80 years. It may be a horrible movie, but it's in 3D.

Ryan said...

John: 1st time poster, long time listener/reader/watcher. (You are my favorite animator of all-time!)

I just found this blog post via google search and decided I'd chime in.

I took a class on Anime back in college and I discovered something. One of the reasons we accept the human-looking
characters in animated shows (anime or cartoons of any kind) is because we already KNOW that they don't exist, and we
instantly accept the little 2D universe that they live in as being a real, existing one. It might be imaginary, two dimensional,
vibrantly colorful, and have completely nonsensical physics, but we completely accept it for what it is.

I am fairly positive it's why you're so turned off by CG: it's human perception.

When we, as humans, see something that is 3-dimensional, we instantly relate it with our own reality (Since we cannot fathom a
three-dimensional reality outside of the one we exist in). Whether you're thinking about this or not, it already happened.
You used those old View Master sets as examples as how it could possibly be "done right." I can guarantee that if those sets
were moving around using CG, you'd still be turned off by it -- even they looked "cartoony."

3D animation is limited because as humans, we instantly turn it into something that "could be" our reality, whereas with 2D animation
we instantly recognize and accept it as something that already is its own version of reality. CG is going to have a very
difficult time(read: impossible) getting across that gap. You'd basically have to invent some kind of way to make a viewer know that what they're
watching completely exists. And since it's in 3D, and it's moving around and looking like something that you already know couldn't possibly exist,
then you psychologically and emotionally refuse to acknowledge it.

Thanks for reading if you have.
--Ryan B.

Ryan said...

Oh and one more thing, the Nick short that I'm pretty certain you're recalling is called "Tuber's Two Step" and you can see it here:

matthiusmonkey said...

John i feel the same about cgi more or less, but i was wandering what you think about model stop motion animation like wallace and gromit or nightmare before christmas it would be interesting to see what you think about them.

awsome blog btw, i think ive learnd more from you than i have from university cause they teach us so little that i am begining to wander what i am paying for.

as soon as summer hols hit im gona start studing the animation preston blair stuff and comic covers youve put up to try and improve.

thanks for all the cool blogness

from Matt

kurtwil said...

Yes, tuber's two step has something which is very hard to do well in CGI - jiggle. Remember that most CGI programs have a ton of artist-hostile tools that drive animators crazy. The solution is motion capture or (now) Performance motion capture ((also known as Satan's Rotoscope)).

Also Wrt CG animation, a lot of the animation tools out there are relatively old, designed by programmers for programmers. It costs BIG BUCKS to write new tools __and__ retrain all the artists to use them. Very, very, very few studios will do that.
In some cases, studios will fire their veteran artists rather than retrain them to use the new tools that could prove a big help to them.

Oh, yeah (J.K., please feel free to delete following if inappropriate): demos a more toony approach to 3D animation that lets users sketch a sequence before animating it. These folks came from PIXAR and are dedicated towards making a tool artists can use. I got to test their stuff for a few months and found it far more artist friendly than most 3D tools.
(and no, I won't get anything from them for saying this. :-))

kurtwil said...
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kurtwil said...
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kurtwil said...

oh yes, one more thing on CG, spawned from using mucho software since my 80's days to now:

John speaks highly of some viewmaster visuals. Well, why not have some of the "quality" animation he's made or has rights to into 3D, and view it as if it were a Viewmaster come alive?

With FLASH, it's required to go through After Effects or some other compositing program to set up a depth field of the character plates.
One can add lighting or use the natural shade/paint of the character/ BG levels.

If tired of FLASH limitations (and there are tons - its creators visualize it more of a programming environment for limited animation than for real character stuff), then run, do not walk, and get TOON BOOM Animate Pro, which among drawing, painting and scanning tools, has a 3D camera and interfaces with 3D program.

Why? Because Toon Boom itself has a 3D camera, and using it would make it possible for John's or other's 2D animation to have real depth. The output would be viewable on the upcoming avalanche of 3D gaming and entertainment monitor systems.

Given all the current emphasis on 3D, this "viewmaster" approach seems a viable way of carrying quality 2D forward.

Disney itself is converting their 2D Beauty and the Beast into 3D. That process can be hideously laborious (the mother of all rotoscopes) but the success of that project may hint at how 2D will fare in a 3D world. Has anyone here recently tried this? I hope to soon, having worked on one short 2D to 3D conversion project.

Lots of folks including me have Toon Boom, and it should not be hard to get the drawings working in a viewmaster type 3D environment.

(((moderator: I will not be surprised if this is edited. I know of no other way to convey info to this site, let alone John K himself. Thanks!)).

kurtwil said...

oh yes, a thought spawned from using animation software from 80's to present:

John K mentioned and showed some unique Viewmasters. Well, his FLASH animation could be made into a viewmaster type show, either by sending it through After Effects, or (if he wants a ton more animation flexibility), import it into Toon Boom Animate Pro and, after enhancing it with TB's drawing and other tools, send it through TB's 3D camera and export as 3D? Or send TB's output thru MAYA and do the same?

Having original drawings is a huge advantage, for the present way of making 2D into 3D is to rotoscope a 2D movie (horribly labor intensive at moment, though that will change soon), send the plates into a 3D package and render it out again.
The lighting/shading can be exactly what the artwork contains - no extra lights are needed!

Why consider this? The floodgate for 3D gaming is about to burst with a bunch of new 3D displays. Blue Ray is developing 3D standards too. And AVATAR, Katzenberg and a whole flock of forces are pushing 3D at us as hard as possible. Even Disney is converting its 2D movies, starting with Beauty and the Beast.

Isn't it about time for a quality animated Viewmaster?

kurtwil said...

BTW, on an earlier comment I made:

".....Remember that most CGI programs have a ton of artist-hostile tools that drive animators crazy. The solution is motion capture or (now) Performance motion capture ((also known as Satan's Rotoscope)).

I meant to say "THEIR solution was motion capture.....".
Honestly, Motion Capture is _not_ the solution for presenting what an artist really wants to create. At least, not unless a talented artist can work with capture data to add the stylization or exaggeration a character may need to step outside the bounds of reality.

CheezNapkin said...

Here's what you were looking for.

The same person/group animated another ID a few years later that was much more complex and surreal.

kurtwil said...

Interesting graphic, Cheeze, but the rendering appears to be a basic phong shader with no specular detail (what gives the hard highlights).

Unfortunately, motion video folks have been obsessed with chrome, layers and shadows for the last few years, which is why today's graphics tend to look so hard.

You can actually do "toon style" rendering in 3D __but__ there are problems with lines vanishing and keeping solids consistent. As for subtle color washes, "toon renders" wipe those out.

fandumb said...

You know what? Keep your scorn for 'Kung Fu Panda'. The animation is fantastic in that one. What, do you just criticise today's movies without actually going to see them? That's not very open-minded. I don't see you talking about great animated movies today like Satoshi Kon's Paprika, now, do I?