Dec 07
ANIMATION by Alex J. Socorro  |  Posted in Articles  |  on Thu, Dec 7, 2006

From the silents to the sounded black and white, then the colored films and the advanced sound technology, the movies had traversed several milestones but unnoticed stages in its short life.

With the rapid progress of technology, the movies, once again, is changing clothes to be in stride with the torrid pace but this time it is already noticeable. From the 35mm films, slowly but surely taking out the bigger slice of the cake is the digital format. To prove the point, some digitals have already made it in foreign film festivals. Last year, the successful run of Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros in private showings had finally earned the nod of movie gurus such that it was eventually shown in the big theaters this year.

Gaining a foothold in the movie industry, the digitals have shown its true colors. Aside from the convenience in shooting, since there are no rolls of negatives to be wasted because the undesired footage could always be deleted from the tape, another aspect that’s giving it an advantage is the CGI (Computer Generated Imagery), commonly known as animation.

In the olden times, Walt Disney made it big with the cartoons. The early cartoons, especially when color was introduced, were a big treat to the kids. A short story with a simple conflict plus a good illustrator are the main ingredients of a cartoon movie. Maybe life was so simple then that a 10-minute show with nary a twist is equivalent to an hour of watching modern cartoons now. The excitement of kids then was incomparable.

Walt Disney, the company that pioneered in the cartoons, had employed a team of illustrators and story writers. The stories are compact and the flow is calculated to perfection for effective delivery. Like when the xerox was yet to be invented, old technology proved tedious to scribes. Illustrators labor for days, and sometimes for weeks, just to come up with one scene. A second of footage is equivalent to 24 frames of drawing so one minute of footage means 1,440 sheets of hand-drawn images. Multiply that by 10 minutes so Walt Disney has to come up with 14,400 drawings, all done by the hands of their persevering illustrators.

With the arrival of the personal computers came an array of softwares, from the simple typing program such as the very first Word Processor by Wang computers to Microsoft’s Word, computer users now are sometimes confused with the seemingly limitless options. For graphics, there’s a long list of format led by the common GIF and JPEG which are all color-enabled. Softwares like Coreldraw and Adobe Photoshop can afford an artist to manipulate the pictures by changing the color, tint, resolution and even the image itself.

Pushing the luck further, software makers had ventured to the video. Mimicking the screen format of the television, video editing software makers came up with Pinnacle, Adobe and a host of other softwares for video creation and manipulation. But pity the traditionalists, all those softwares are digital in nature.

After the success of the video softwares now comes animators. The software looks so complicated as to confuse even a techno-savvy but upon inspection it appears simple enough. First to be created are images that can come from real pictures converted into digital format or the animator has the option to create his own images. Next is the video footage (only if a real video footage is desired). In other words, Walt Disney’s illustrators of yore are now in a big disadvantage compared to the present illustrators.

Once the desired images are selected, a sequence is created. An animation sequence is a series of images with slight changes in terms of the graphical presentation. For example, a scene of a smiling face starts with a closed mouth and ends with a semi-open mouth. In between the start and the end of that particular scene, the animator has to decide the time period and the software does the rest. Of course, it’s not that simple enough because there are so many options on hand. Nevertheless, the animator is fully equipped with all the things he would need, provided he knows which tool or command to use.

Animation is doing great in fantasy movies. George Lucas is one of the pioneers in the field. Having the foresight perhaps, his Lucas Films had heavily invested in the technology of animation since he was a director himself who used to have a hard time in filming his futuristic movies. Without animation, Jurassic Park and King Kong may not have been convincing enough to our eyes.

In simple terms, animation is a presentation of moving graphics. But unlike cartoons where the animated images were largely composed of caricatures, the animation that Lucas had in mind was the true-to-life or realistic graphics in moving form. Flying, popularized by Superman, was such a difficult task to shoot but with animation it would look very simple and easy to create. A moving image of Superman is captured and superimposed on a scene. Although the moving Superman image is a real video, the backdrop is just an animated scene, showing Superman to be flying above planet Earth.

In full animation, everything is created by the animator, foreground, background and movements. Another plus factor is the voiceover which can be manipulated for the desired tone and timbre. Color is a very important factor in full animations since it gives life to the presentation. So now we can say that ancient cartoons, with the likes of Popeye and Snow White, were kind of drab (although it really wasn’t at that time).

In an issue of Analog Magazine a few years back, an editorial harped on the viability of animation. It floated the idea that the time will come when animation may totally replace the live actors. The word MAY was used instead of will because, according to the editor, animation is very expensive even in the near future. Analog is a science fiction magazine so maybe that idea was not taken seriously by most of their readers.

A year after that editorial was published, Simone was shown on the big screen. It is a science fiction film starring Al Pacino as Taransky who is a failed and miserable filmmaker. He creates Simone which stands for Simulation One (portrayed by actress Rachel Roberts). In the story, Simone saves Taransky from financial and emotional ruins when she gets so popular. But the movie audience has no idea that Simone is only an animation character that is like a puppet being manipulated by Taransky.

 
The digital character SIMONE played by Rachel Roberts. Photo by Lance Staedler.

Simone was just a movie trying to predict what would happen in the future but, in Japan, it is already happening since year 2000. Although the so-called Japanese Anime stars couldn’t be compared to Simone, they are comparable in terms of popularity. In fact, Ken, the animation character of The First North Star series has already garnered a legion of fans. The Japanese Anime is actually an offshoot of the Walt Disney cartoons, with both having caricature features.

There’s still a long way to go for the animation to grab the limelight. As the Analog editorial said, animation is very expensive and will remain expensive for a time. According to his estimation, an animated character is ten times greater in cost than hiring a live actor. But then again, the technology is rapidly advancing so that cost comparison may not be accurate anymore. But in fairness to that editor, local animation is indeed expensive because it is labor-intensive and high tech labor is indeed expensive not only in this part of the world.

Walt Disney and Lucas Films are now specializing in real-life animated films where people look like real people unlike Pocahontas which was pure cartoon-type and falls in the same category of Japan’s Anime movies and the recent blockbuster Cars. It’s good to note that a Filipino animator is in the production team of Cars.

Presently, Pocahontas and its ilk are cartoon type animations but the trend is slowly pointing to the direction of real-life animation characters so it would not be surprising if the demand for live actors will diminish by time.

Akin to the big explosion created by the internet, animated films are here, not only to stay but to entertain us with the art of mimicking nature, whether in caricature form or in natural form images. Hopefully, local filmmakers are in good stead so that when the big leap comes, we would not be left behind. And maybe it would be a national guessing game for movie watchers to discern the true identity of the actors, if he is real or just a digital animation.

Comments to this article can be sent to ajsocorro@yahoo.com