Like any technology, film animation has experienced massive development over the years. The animation industry originally started with hand drawn images and had to be animated by hand. With the use of groundbreaking technology and years of developments, animators now employ top of the line software to create awe inspiring, larger than life films, shorts and shows. It’s safe to say that traditional animation has come quite a long way.
Today's Tech in Animation
Animation got its start years ago with the development of the spindle viewer or phenakistoschope disk, the flipbook and the zoetrope. When the world of animation was still very young, animators had to hand draw all animations and go through the extensive frame-by-frame animation process. All of these outdated inventions were top of the line animation equipment in their time. With the likes of modern technology, animation has gradually developed from two dimensional animations to three dimensional formats and stereoscopic 3D.
Just as major technological advances have been made in the development of software and new methods for animation, there are also specific tools that have been created to make the animation process easier. Tools like the tablet, digital pen ads other digital sculpting tools have helped facilitate today’s successful world of computer generated animation. The advanced software of today helps CG studios with rendering, modeling, lighting and more.
The animation of today’s world is so advanced that it is integrated in all forms of entertainment. Movies, television shows and video games all take advantage of some form of modern day animation software and techniques. While all of the new technology has dramatically increased the quality of the world’s animations, the amount of time it takes to complete an animation project remains similar to projects of the past. Animation is never about a rushed process—animation always hinges on quality work. It is with technology that the industry standards have been raised.
Animation Technology History
Computer generated animation was not always accepted with open arms. When it was introduced in the 1980’s, many animators feared that allowing computers to animate projects would leave them without a job. However, many animators soon learned that this wasn’t the case. Producers Bill Kroyer and Brian Jennings created a short film called Technological Threat and this allowed animators to see the need for computers within animation. This film helped others in the animation industry understand that both computer generated animation and traditional animation should coexist.
Even in today’s world with the most high powered machines and cutting edge software, animation studios often use traditional methods alongside the technology and software serve as a way to enhance the animation.
Welcoming Computer Generated Animation
Pixar and Disney were both the first companies to develop Toy Story – the world’s first computer-generated feature-length animation. After the success of Toy Story and successive films like Shrek, computer generated animation became the industry standard. This turning point created a shift in what tools and technology were needed in modern animation studios. With new technology and new projects came new data. This shift created a need for studios with the latest software as well as data centers for the massive amounts of data that was being created.
Enter the new world of CG, or computer generated, animation. In these CG studios, animators work with powerful software and 3D animation technology. HP, Cisco and Dell, as well as several other tech companies provide the powerful tools and equipment in several of these studios. In addition to all of the well known tech names that are heavily involved in the CG world, new processes are constantly being created to help make everything as realistic as possible.
When talking about CG animation, technology is essentially allowing the animation process to enter into a virtual, three-dimensional space. It is with technology that unrealized dreams of what animation can be are realized. With the right software, tools and professional talent, technology can perfectly execute a producer’s vision in ways that have never been possible before.
An example of this standard setting work is the tiger featured in the movie, Life of Pi. With the help of specific software and programs, a computer generated image of a tiger is the star of the film. This tiger was created as realistically as possible with the help of new technologies and 3D modeling. This created tiger saved the producers from having to obtain a real tiger.
Life of Pi’s tiger was just the beginning. Filmmakers and animators are constantly attempting to find new ways to merge technology with animation. The way that animation keeps improving with every new movie keeps audiences entertained and engaged. The phrase “the best is yet to come” certainly holds true in the world of computer generated animation. Every year, audiences are taken aback by the brilliance of new animated movies.
Entering the Illusion of Animation
Animation’s evolution into 3D CG is really what has set it apart today. To simply explain the complex process of computer animation, animators essentially create a sequence of stills pictures that create an illusion of motion in a three dimensional or two dimensional space when they are played in sequence. This process works for all types of animation and is how 2D work developed into 3D. In today's animation studios, animators now have the option of playing between both worlds. Disney's Beauty and The Beast is an excellent example of 2D animation with a hint of the 3D world. In the ballroom scene, Belle and the Beast are scene dancing underneath a 3D chandelier. This was an exciting breakthrough from the world of 2D into the third dimension.
As animators continue to explore creating in 3D, certain softwares have become the bread and butter of animation. The most popular software amongst animators today includes the likes of Maya and 3D Max. These programs allow animators to us 3D modeling to create images on the computer that exist in a three dimensional space. Within the software, the animator provides a set of parameters to tell the program how to display the image show the animation, and the illusion, is believable.
Within the software, the animator puts a camera at specific coordinates Z3, Y3, and X3—this tells the software how to look at the scene and is essentially creating a point of view for the viewer. Additionally, animators must add a source of light for the whole image so the whole scene looks like it might actually exist in the real world. After the animator sets the parameters, the animator must continue the process of rendering. During the rendering process, the animator needs to determine where the animated object will be at each of the frames and how the frames look from the camera’s point of view. This is no easy task and takes a lot of critical thinking and understanding of how animation works to an object.
When these questions are answered and the frames are created, they will be played at 25 frames a second. This is essentially how the illusion of animation is created. This process of playing specific frames during a specific time frame is the way all animations are made and debunks the idea that computers “create animations” on their own. Within animations, computers are just another tool that the animator must learn how to use.
Animators Still Do the Hard Work
Computers have made animation a bit easier. Computer animation technology can help animators fill in “in-betweens”, create a multiple character scene, develop 3D illusion perfectly, simulate lighting setups, simulate materials, integrate virtual images with live action, combine live performances of an actor with an animated character and so much more. Despite all this talk of 3D CG animation, computer generated animation can be two dimensional as well.
Just as 3D animation is really an illusion of a flat image, 2D animation is also an illusion of motion, but not in a three dimensional space. With 2D animation, shows and movies were drawn by hand. In today’s animation studios, a lot of 2D and 3D work and cartoons are started with handmade drawings and finished in the computer. As pointed out above animation is an illusion. When the human eye views a sequence of slightly different frames in a certain span of time, the human eye will see the illusion of movement. If you are curious about 2d animation, simply turn on a cartoon or watch cartoons online. Shows like Tom & Jerry is a perfect example of how timing was used to create the perfect illusion of movement. In 2D animation as in 3D, timing of the footage is everything. If there are too few frames the animation can look choppy and if there are too many, the creation of the images may take too long.
Looking back through how animation has developed over the years and the entire process of creating an animation, it is understandable to see how and why technology has had such a lasting impact on this industry. In the hands of an animator, technology is simply another method for creating and animating. As we continue to advance our knowledge and understanding of animation, technology will improve as well as the quality of the work that is made.