It’s a common practice in many animation circles today to bemoan the absence of traditional animation. Often at the forefront of this ongoing discussion about the topic is Disney, whose last traditionally animated film was 2011’s Winnie The Pooh movie. In 2013, they gutted their hand-drawn animation division as part of the company-wide layoffs that began that year and still continue to now. While they are not the only animation company to completely shift away form hand-drawn animation (Dreamworks Animation’s Me and My Shadow, a hand-drawn/CG hybrid, is currently on the shelf until a rewrite can be commissioned), this move seemed further indicative of the industry’s inevitable shift to CG features, brought by a multitude of factors (financial reasons, advance of software technology, changing preferences, etc). In addition, it also fueled the fire to the discussion in the months since. Heck, the whole reason for Hullabaloo‘s knockout success on Indiegogo was because of its readily appealing mission statement: to fan the flames of a hand-drawn animation renaissance and ‘save’ the medium from total extinction.
But often, people forget to ask themselves a different question: just how ‘dead’ is hand-drawn animation. Is it really near the point of extinction that people say it is? You might think so, judging on the rallying cry to action that is Hullabaloo‘s modus operandi, but one journalist doesn’t really think so.
Charles Kenney, who writes for Indiewire’s Animation Scoop blog, posted this fascinating opinion article back in September where he bravely went against the grain and suggested that hand-drawn animation isn’t really dead. In fact, it continues to “duck and weave in despite what the mainstream press will have you believe.”
He begins by laying out an interesting analogy for what is inimitably an overuse of the word ‘dying’ to describe the current state of hand-drawn animation: “It conjours up images of a worn and feeble art style, struggling to stay on its feat like the champion boxer who, eight rounds in, has taken just about all the punches he can and staggers around the ring in a foggy daze, unsure of where his opponent is or even how to even hit back. In this case, CGI is the up and coming fighter, and is getting ready to deliver the one knockout punch.” He then follows that up with this clever sentence, one that sets up the main idea of his article (and indeed mine as well): “Except that it can’t, it just can’t seem to land in the right spot.”
In deep contrast to popular opinion, he believes that hand-drawn animation is thriving in this day in age. One has to simply turn on the TV or go to YouTube to find that the most creative and interesting projects are no longer confined to CG features. He points out FOX’s animation block on Sundays (The Simpsons, Family Guy, American Dad, Bob’s Burgers, Borderlands), and points out that the biggest and most currently popular animated hand-drawn shows come from Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon. And while paper and cels are no longer in use, they are still mostly drawn by hand.
He then starts to wax lyrical about the web where it is, in his words, “awash with 2-D animation in just about any shape and size you can imagine.” The reason why most web productions use this style of animation is what Charles explains as being “for the simple reason that it’s cheap and quick to produce. Who knew; 2-D animation is flexible!” While he does admit that most productions aren’t up to quality, he cites Cartoon Hangover’s Bravest Warriors as a sign of hope for the evolving medium.
But of course, there is the matter of feature films (a regular target of discussion). To get this out of the way, yes it’s true that hand-drawn animated features aren’t as prevalent as they were a long time ago, but among the reasons that I already gave above, he sites one interesting factor: competition! “Traditional, 2-D animation dominated for so long because it was the most viable solution both creatively and economically.”
He goes on to state that once Pixar proved that CGI animation was a viable medium, its prevalence increased to the point of where it is now the norm, just like hand-drawn used to be the norm. But that doesn’t mean that hand-drawn features are completely gone. Again, one has to look to other countries (Song of the Sea, The Tale of Princess Kaguya, Ernest & Celestine) to see that hand-drawn is still going strong.
One final point that I will make of my own is this: try buying into the idea that technology can pave the way for not so much the return of the hand-drawn medium but a full-on rebirth of it. You want an example? Look no further than Disney’s very own short film Paperman. An innovative blending of 2D and 3D animation, made possible by the creation of Meander, a hybrid vendor/rastor drawing and animation system.
CG made to look like 2D.
It’s not impossible to imagine a future where hand-drawn animation may make a comeback in some way, shape, or form. But it’s also not impossible to imagine a future where advances in technology can allow for hand-drawn and CG animation to coexist and even intercross with each other in various and interesting ways.
Which is why I say, as Charles Kenney puts it in the title of his piece (though worded differently here), it’s time to admit that 2D (hand-drawn) animation may not need ‘saving’ after all.