The computer has basically revolutionized how we as a society go about our everyday lives. We check our email, go on Facebook, read the news and search for videos on YouTube. In animation school, it became apparent that the old fashioned way of animating was becoming a thing of the past. Not necessarily so: some animators still go the old fashioned route, but computer animation and computer generated effects have pretty much changed the way animation and films are made.
Today’s animation schools focus on both the old and the new. While some still have a loving adoration of hand-drawn cel animation, computers have streamlined the process. Say you’re watching a film like The Wizard of Oz, which was made with actors in costumes and matte paintings to showcase the backgrounds of the Emerald City; today it would all be done by computer, where the Cowardly Lion and the Scarecrow would be digitally enhanced characters instead of actors in costume. An actor would have to voice the character, but in some cases there’d be no need for an actor to actually be on set, as it could be animated instead.
When the first film version of The Lord of the Rings was released in 1978, it featured a combination of animated cells and live action rotoscoping (animating over live action), which gave the film a dark and mysterious appearance. However the film was limited in what it could do and it only covered half of the actual story. With the recent Peter Jackson trilogy, many of the issues that the first film was unable to achieve had been remedied with computer technology, where live action was mixed with computer generated characters. The most remarkable element of these films was the use of actor Andy Serkis who played the notorious Gollum, through a process called ‘motion capture’ where an actor is covered with reflective markers, filmed against a green screen and then a computer generated character is animated over the motion capture image.
Animation school taught me how the motion capture process would revolutionize the way animation and films would be made. The impossible is now possible. The first Star Wars films were made the old fashioned way, by using models of spaceships and matte paintings. In the first trilogy (Star Wars, Empire Strikes Back) alien characters were either animatronic puppets or Claymation. By the time the second batch of films were released in the late 1990s, all the alien characters and spaceships were computer generated. This is part of the reason why the series’ creator, George Lucas, has gone back and tweaked his original films, to give them more ambience and add more graphical flourishes that were impossible when he made the first film in the 1970s. However this was controversial in some camps, as many die-hard fans felt the original films should have been left alone without the new-fangled embellishments.
However, most animation schools give you the leeway to find your niche. It’s good to experiment with both, which gives a chance to decide which works for you. If you love computers, then computer animation may be a good fit. But if you love the way old animation looks, there is still an audience for it and if you’re in animation school, you might want to give that style a whirl.