With the popularity of such films as "Lord of the Rings" and "Jurassic Park" as well as "Toy Story" and "Shrek," the capabilities of computer animation have been brought sharply into focus. Additionally, these days people use computer animation for more than just movies. It has its uses in a variety of fields, ranging from architectural renderings to legal animation to space environments created by organizations like NASA. However, despite some amazing uses, this type of animation does have its limits. Knowing when to use hand-drawn work as opposed to computer animation will help most projects stay on track.
Tools like Maya, Lightwave, Flash, CAD and other computer programs should be looked at for what they are---tools. They happen to be just another instrument in an animator, illustrator or architect toolbox. Most projects require more than just skills with a computer animation program. Depending upon the task at hand, they might also require a script to be written, story boards to be drawn---very often by hand, client consultations and a host of other considerations. Additionally, most projects still require traditional work using pencil or pen and ink and paper, which means that despite having state of the art tools, it's often a good idea to have a more classically trained artist on staff.
The misconceptions involved with using computer animation goes hand in hand with the considerations. With the advent and availability of new technology, often people mistakenly believe that because they have the high-tech tools to do the job, they also have the talent to complete the requirements of the project. This phenomenon was first seen when desktop publishing software became popular. Businesses purchased the desktop publishing software and tried to created their own in-house brochures, posters and other marketing pieces, which required graphics. Most of the time, the results were mixed at best. These kinds of programs require talent as well as technical know how in order to create the desired effect. Computer animation is no different.
Any kind of graphics work is time-consuming and requires more skills than people often realize. For a company or organization considering using animation in their advertising or other collateral materials, skimping on the budget for the graphic arts end of their campaign in lieu of doing it in house is often a mistake. It's better to budget a graphic artist than trying to do it in house if there is no one in house qualified to do the job.
If everything taken together leads a company to decide to hire an animator or graphic artists for a job, it's then wise to weigh out the pros and cons of using this kind of professional (and the tools they can bring to the job). A discussion of the pros and cons of using a graphic artist or animator is often in order.
According to Jesse Cordtz, animator and operations manager of HieroGraphics Entertainment, an animation company based in Boise, Idaho, two of the greatest advantages of using computer animation on a project is the realism and speed computer animation can bring to a project. For example, once an image is created in the animation program, it can be stored there for later use; it doesn't have to be "redrawn" or recreated. For shows produced weekly, this saves a great deal of time. While the initial output to create the product is steep, the later episodes of a production go faster, because the key images have already been created.
In terms of realism, one need only think of the battle sequences in the "Lord of the Rings" films. Created on a program called Massive, this program encompassed exactly what Cortdz spoke about. Not only did this program offer speed to the project, creating thousands upon thousands of warriors for huge battle sequences, it was able to do so faster than anyone could hand draw that many individual characters. Additionally, the program provided realism to the sequence. Each soldier, whether Ork or Elf, was a realistic, single character. This program coupled with sequences of shots of live actors in costume provided believable and realistic results.
Cordtz also points out that any computer animation is limited often by the program's limitations. In order to understand this, one need only to think of the various versions of different video games. The earliest incarnations of a game like "Tomb Raider" look different than the later, more realistic versions of the game does. These changes are due in large part to the advances in technology, which have a direct effect on what the computer animation program can do. If the technology is limited, the program is limited.
An animator must also take into consideration what each stage of the task calls for. A pencil drawn image often leads to a spontaneous image, full of feelings and emotions that are often difficult to convey with a computer animation program. Such graphics are vital to the early stages of a project when it's being fleshed out. The rendering of characters lends itself to using pencil drawn or hand painted images for this reason. Because there is no pressure to produce a finished product, the artistic team is free to explore, to doodle, in order to get a character just right.
Finally, as Cordtz also points out, much of the use of animation is for the purposes of branding. While CG images can be a part of a company's branding strategy, much of the work in terms of design is still on paper. A printed brochure might require a graphic artist, but won't need computer animator. The needs of the assignment always come first.
Computer animation has its place in the world of filmmaking, graphic design and other businesses. Because of its versatility, it is now used in legal settings to recreate such incidents as the scene of an accident as well as by NASA and other organizations to illustrate images that could not be seen otherwise.
Computer generated animation is here to stay, but it should be looked at for what it is---a piece and only a piece of a whole project.
- Photo Credit Photo credits: NASA/JPL
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