During the 2013 Disney Stockholder meeting, Walt Disney Company President/CEO Bob Iger was asked if Walt Disney had any 2D/hand drawn animation in the pipeline. Here was his response:
”To my knowledge we’re not developing a 2D or hand-drawn feature animated film right now. We’re not necessarily ruling out the possibility [of] a feature but there isn’t any in development at the company at the moment.”
Does this mean that the age old tradition of hand drawn animation is dead? Probably or at best will take on some kind of hybrid form. Disney killed hand drawn animation before under the Eisner regime. When he was booted and the company was run by Iger and Lassister, Disney produced two traditional animated features: The Princess and the Frog (2009) and Winnie the Pooh (2011).
The other major studios have long since abandoned hand drawn animation. Disney appears to be the last.
Why abandon the age-old tradition? It’s easy money and effort. Money is always an issue when it some to movie making. Sadly it’s man-power that’s the issue. One computer animator now takes the place of a lead animator and several in-betweeners. Not to mention that a single animator can work with numerous characters in one scene as opposed to several lead animators working together to produce one scene.
Effort is easier in a few different aspects. In hand drawn animation, a scene is designed and drawn and changes even small elements are a large task. Computer animation allows you to tweak and perfect every scene. Also computer animators have the luxury of framing scenes and employing camera angles after the scene is animated.
But is computer animation able to achieve art. For the longest time, I preferred hand drawn to computer animated from an art standpoint. For some reason drawn art looked more real than anything a computer could generate. Even when Disney produced the photo realistic Dinosaur, it missed a lot of beauty because it replicated reality and could not develop it’s couldn’t render an artistic style.
The Incredibles is the first time an overall artistic style of how human characters are designed. As great as that film was, it was far from perfect in capturing human qualities. In other words, it still felt like a computerized version of 2D animation.
When Iger and Lassiter took over Disney, their first project was to bring back hand drawn animation. With great excitement the Princess and the Frog was announced as a project. As much as I loved the movie, it simply underperformed at the box office. Kids just don’t have an appreciation of tradition.
My sadness for the scarcity of hand drawn animation changed when Tangled came out. It was the first time I felt that a computer animated movie captured everything I loved about hand drawn animation. Watch the movie and you’ll discover that the backgrounds, landscapes and buildings all have a hand drawn feel to it. The bright and vibrant colors created a hyper real fantasy world. The character design looked very “Disney” in style.
To me it was tangled that told me that they finally got computer animation right. On top of that this year’s Oscar winning animated short, Paperman was an example of computer animation replicating hand drawn animation. It was a well produced short that told an amazing story and if you didn’t know better you’d swear it was a traditional movie.
Has hand drawn animation gone the way of the dinosaur? From a major motion picture standpoint, yes. The technology has proven itself successful and the intended audience, children, could care less whether it was drawn or computer generated. They just want you to tell a fun story.