The End of Hand-Drawn Animation

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.

How Disney Bought Lucasfilm – Bloomberg Businessweek

Bloomberg Businessweek ran a story today about how Disney bought Lucasfilm. Here are some highlights:

  • Part of Iger’s strategy is to acquire companies that could be described as mini-Disneys such as Pixar and Marvel—reservoirs of franchise-worthy characters that can drive all of Disney’s businesses, from movies and television shows to theme parks, toys, and beyond.
  • Lucas’s needs were more emotional. At 68, he was ready to retire and escape from the imaginary world he created—but he didn’t want anybody to desecrate it.
  • “I’ve never been that much of a money guy,” Lucas says. “I’m more of a film guy, and most of the money I’ve made is in defense of trying to keep creative control of my movies.”
  • Lucas pitched the Young Indiana Jones Chronicles to Bob Iger, Chairman of ABC in the early 90’s. “It struggled,” Lucas says of Chronicles. “But [Iger] was very supportive of the whole thing.”
  • Regarding the criticism of the prequels, it got to Lucas. He found it difficult to be creative when people were calling him a jerk. “It was fine before the Internet,” he says. “But now with the Internet, it’s gotten very vicious and very personal. You just say, ‘Why do I need to do this?’ ” At the same time, Lucas was reluctant to entrust his universe to anyone else.
  • In purchasing Pixar, Iger personally negotiated the deal with Steve Jobs, who was then Pixar’s CEO. As part of the deal, Iger kept the creative team, led by John Lasseter, in place and allowed them to continue to operate with a minimum of interference in their headquarters near San Francisco. “Steve and I spent more time negotiating the social issues than we did the economic issues,” Iger says. “He thought maintaining the culture of Pixar was a major ingredient of their creative success. He was right.”
  • In 2009, Iger negotiated a similar deal for Disney to buy Marvel Entertainment for $4 billion. Once again, Iger kept the leadership intact: Marvel CEO Isaac Perlmutter and Marvel studio chief Kevin Feige.
  • On the morning of the Star Tours opening at Walt Disney World, Iger met Lucas for breakfast at the Hollywood Brown Derby, one of Disney World’s restaurants. Then Iger inquired whether Lucas would ever consider selling his company. Lucas replied that he’d recently celebrated his 67th birthday and was starting to think seriously about retiring. So perhaps the sale of his company was inevitable. “I’m not ready to pursue that now,” he told Iger. “But when I am, I’d love to talk.”
  • The pieces had to be put in place before the deal could be made, specifically maintain some creative control/influence on the future. Kathleen Kennedy was placed in charge of Lucas Films. Michael Arndt was hired as the screenwriter for Episode VII and Ford, Hamill and Fisher were notified of Lucas’ pending retirement. Now Lucas was ready to approach Disney.
  • Lucas was adamant that Lucas creative executive were in charge. Iger agreed in theory but the Walt Disney Company had to have the ultimate say on the final product.
  • Lucas needed to have assurances that Disney would tell his stories and he has treatments of the next three films already written. Iger wanted to see them, but Lucas said he would have to trust him or he’d sell to someone else.
  • Once the papers, were signed, Iger when trick or treating with his family dressed as Darth Vader.
  • Lucas felt comfortable with Disney based on the way they handled the acquisitions of Pixar and Marvel.
  • Before the deal closed in late December, [Kennedy] reached out to J.J. Abrams’s agent to see if he would direct Episode VII. “He was very quick to say, ‘No, I don’t think I want to step into that,’ ” Kennedy says.
  • Kennedy persisted. She visited Abrams at the Santa Monica headquarters of Bad Robot, his production company, with Arndt and Kasdan. “By the time we finished, which was a couple of hours later, he had really gone 180 degrees,” she says. “To be involved in this next iteration of the Star Wars series is more exciting than I can talk about,” says Abrams.