Hollywood Uplink – June 2007: Animation Grows Up

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June 2007

        Issue: 16:6

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Animation Grows Up
by Dick Rolfe, co-founder and CEO – The Dove Foundation®

Once upon a time cartoons were animated and live action movies were not. In those days, animation was created by artists who drew and painted “cells” that, when added together by the thousands made it appear as if the cartoon characters were moving. Although this type of animation had been around for centuries, Walt Disney was the genius who developed the simple art form into a thriving commercial venture appealing to the vivid imaginations of children beginning in 1928 with “Steamboat Willie.”

Always on the cutting edge of the craft, in 1995 Walt Disney Studios forged a relationship with a 3D computer animation company founded by another pioneer, Steve Jobs, and his Pixar Animation Studio. Pixar and Disney went on to co-create a slate of memorable animated films beginning in 1995 with “Toy Story.”

Computer animation grew into a huge empire. Other major studios followed suit and opened animation divisions using the advanced technology. As early as 1998, DreamWorks SKG released “Prince of Egypt” combining hand-drawn 2D figures appearing against 3D computer generated scenery.

Animation has evolved to the degree where it is no longer relegated to cartoons.  It is also used to enhance live action pictures under the umbrella of Special Effects.  Perhaps the best example of the dramatic growth in special effects technology is the “Star Wars” series. The original trilogy (IV, V and VI) were produced in 1977, 1980 and 1983. In those days special effects meant hidden wires, green screen projection, and miniaturized models. Twenty-some years later, “Star Wars I, II, and III” utilized Computerized Graphic Imaging (CGI) to create effects that were much more dramatic and realistic than earlier episodes.

Today, it’s hard to distinguish between what is real and what is make-believe. Some movies are obviously CGI-intense and the audience knows it. All of the creatures in “Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe” were created with great care by computers. Everyone knew that most of the movie “300” was enhanced by computer graphics. Less conspicuous, but just as fake were many scenes in “Lord of the Rings.” The film’s animators cut overhead substantially by digitizing tens of thousands of warriors in the major battles.

Most of today’s movies couldn’t be made, or wouldn’t be nearly as realistic looking without CGI technology. Eight of the top ten grossing pictures so far in 2007 were made with substantial or total CGI animation. They are “Spider-Man 3,” “300,” “Shrek the Third,” “Pirates of the Caribbean; At World’s End,” “Ghost Rider,” “Meet the Robinsons,” “Norbit” and “Bridge to Terabithia.” The two exceptions are, “Wild Hogs” and “Blades of Glory.”

One of several ambitious CGI-heavy movies this year is “Evan Almighty” starring that “40 Year-old Virgin” from “The Office,” Steve Carell. The production budget is rumored to be $175 million, although Universal Pictures won’t comment.  Opening in theaters on Friday, June 22nd, “Evan Almighty” is a modern-day take on the Old Testament story of Noah.  Director, Tom Shadyac followed the adage, “never work with children or animals.” He wisely hired over 200 special effects/animation professionals to create the two-by-twos for him.

So, the question is – does knowing that much if not most of a movie you are watching is fake make the experience less rewarding?  Do you find yourself distracted from the story by some amazing special effects? Have we become too accustomed to blurred lines between fantasy and reality?

We’d like to get your feedback. You can share your opinion at www.dove.org/contact.asp.


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