Animation is not a new art form. The origins of the discipline date back to the late, 19th and early 20th century. For example, one of the earliest animations recorded ‘Humorous Phases of Funny Faces’, released in 1906 heralded the introduction of basic stop motion ideas and successfully captured the illusion of movement. Nonetheless, scholars regard Walt Disney’s 1937 first full animated feature film as a watershed moment in the history of animation taking the concept to a new level of artistry. Indeed, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs proved a worldwide box- office success and gave Disney an honorary Oscar in 1939 for its pioneering and innovative animation achievements and breakthroughs. More recently, in 2018, Oscar Winning Animated film, ‘Into the Spider-Verse’, pushed the boundaries of animation even further, by finding itself a unique selling point and differentiating itself from its many predecessors, by both technical innovation and its narrative.
This essay will examine the ways in which animation has evolved using new technologies and advancements over the years and how the past influences the present. The Disney name is synonymous with cinematic animation. Walt Disney’s legacy has imprinted itself onto the global collective mind. Generation of children and indeed adults are aware of his artistic contribution and corporate brand name. Fig 1 However, although many movie historians are nostalgic about the likes of Mickey Mouse, most would identify Snow White as the real game-changer in the evolution of animation. The Snow-White project was a laborious and expensive crusade for the expanding Disney machine. Crucial to this high-risk strategy was a combination of Walt’s unrelenting vision coupled with excessive demands he imposed on his army of overworked employees.
The technological limitations of the 1930s necessitated meticulous preparation and labour-intensive artistic endeavour. Literally, thousands of fragile and combustible sheets had to be painstakingly traced and coloured before being photographed. Disney’s pioneering maxim that it was ‘Fun to do the impossible’, was not always shared by legions of his worker ants. Nevertheless, the end result was eventually proclaimed as a masterpiece of exceptional craftsmanship. Cinematic scholars have identified Snow White as a groundbreaking art work in the evolution of the cinematic animation medium. Disney’s so-called ‘Folly’, elevated 2D animation into a commercially viable and sophisticated art form that captured new audiences and raised the bar for creative animation efforts. Fig 2 Dabbling with CGI 2D hand-drawn techniques remained at the heart of Disney animation projects for decades winning the company multiple accolades and billions in revenue. However, the dawn of a new digital animation process in the 1970’s set the scene for a profound transformation at Disney studios.
While Beauty and the Beast, 1991 was not the first cartoon to nudge studios away from the paper and pencil discipline it is nonetheless famous for heralding the beginning of the process of integrating hand drawn 2D characters with a computer-generated backdrop most notably the ball room scene. This notable early generated sequence allowed animators to craft, paint, and layer their visual imageries in ways that would enhance the richness, vibrancy and depth of the final image in ways never before seen. Fig 3 According to the executive producer of Beauty and the Beast, Dohn Hahn – “For us as filmmakers, the computer offered us a way to get heightened emotions on the screen and more dramatic effects than we could have gotten conventionally. Computer graphics let us go beyond what we can currently achieve with pencil and paper or paint and a brush”.
Toy Story: Full CGI Roy Disney states that “Everything we have done since Beauty and the Beast, at Disney, has passed through the computer. All that means is that we have these wonderful tools at hand, and we can make a movie look like anything we choose it to look like.” Nowadays, the name Pixar is synonymous with the Disney Brand. However, in the late 1970s it was a relatively small computer graphics company known as graphics group in the process of developing a new digital animation process. Realising such enormous potential, graphics group was acquired by apple Co-Founder Steve Jobs renamed Pixar and then purchased by Disney for Billions in 2006. Pixar began with Toy Story earning critical and commercial success. While Walt Disney is credited as revolutionizing animation, in 1995, Disney and Pixar made cinematic history by launching animation to a new sphere. Known for its video capabilities, Pixar’s creation of soft and hardware led to the invention of a brand-new style of movie.
Toy story became the first full feature movie made entirely using Computer Generated imagery. The film enthralled audiences across the globe and was a critical and commercial success. Pixar’s revolutionary technology allowed for its custom software to migrate the cumbersome ink and paint part of the 2D animation process to a more computerised, efficient method. These technological breakthroughs in computer animation opened the realms of possibility and widened the slope of artistic imagery allowing for detailing of meticulous precision such as the fine stickers on Buzz light year (Fig 4). However, on the other hand there were rendering limitations for the new craft because of the computer’s shortcomings at that time and the difficulty of producing organic visuals such as human textures. Fig 5 Ultimately, Pixar was responsible for the creation and production of Toy story while Disney handled marketing and distribution. Infusion In 2018, Peter Ramsey and others co-directed Spiderman: Into the Spider-Verse, winning best animated movie at the 2019 academy awards. They achieved technical innovation in this film by a process of integrating 2D techniques from the past with more advanced 3D styles in order to craft a completely unique style for the film.
According to R, Disney, “…different artists see things differently, and one artist may envision the look of a film in a different way from another. We have such an enormous choice now of looks and style that it really becomes a particular artists choice”. Unlike Beauty and the Beast, Into the Spider-Verse is a fully computer-generated film the artists have incorporated 2D imagery while it is still computer-generated film. While Beauty and the Beast was a 2D and 3D production the creators of Into the Spider-Verse have used the latest technology available to craft a more successful blending of the two styles. For example, the usage of manipulating ones and twos is one of the ways they use older 2D techniques not before used in a blockbuster 3D animated film. Because Cg animation allows for fluid movement nearly all animated films are produced entirely on ones. This means for every second there are 24 frames. Each of these frames is an entirely new image: This is animating on ones. Although animating on ones may look smoother, ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’, broke the mould by using Twos and Threes again meaning that some of the frames would be the same image per second. This allowed the animators to create more pronounced expressive poses, to help create a sense of character and individuality. This technique was also used to develop certain story beats in the film. For example, when the protagonist first gets his power, he is quite clumsy as he is not used to these abilities thus the animators would animate on twos or threes to subtly enforce this fact visually.
Furthermore, by animating him on ones later on in the film it helps to show that he is gaining both confidences in himself and also of his powers. This shows that the animated technique applied in this film does not just serve the purpose of being visually compelling but also helps add to the narrative progression of the film. As this film explores multiple ‘Spider-People’, from different dimensions some of which being quite wacky the usage of ones and twos also helps to differentiate the characters on screen. For example, as I mentioned earlier the integration of 2D and 3D was one of the unique aspects of the films animation process, I believe the character ‘Peter Porker’, Is a direct nod to this. He is a character with direct inspiration from old School 2D characters from the likes of old school Disney cartoons or the Looney Toons. This character is actually introduced to the audience in 180 degrees walk cycle paying homage to classical hand-drawn animations of the past that would have frequented this technique. Another major technique was how they chose not to use motion blur. In most modern 3D animated films to show quick movement, they would blur some frames to soften a movement in an attempt to make the animation seem more realistic. Instead, they opted again for an old school technique called a smear.
This was used in a lot of early cartoons to create a sense of motion. For example, in the film, if you look at a single frame it would occasionally look like multiple limbs to create the illusion of movement. In Fig 5 a character called Gwen is playing the drums and you are able to make out multiple limbs and drumsticks. You can see how they just painted these over the top of the image. Fig 5 Conclusion Lee, and Madej in, Disney Stories: Getting to Digital, state that “The complexity of entertainment nowadays and in the future requires interdisciplinary technological advances and integrated applications”