when the first animated movie hit the screen in early nineties, it was just the coolest thing to have ever happened to movies. Whether it was a Disney movie or a 3D cartoon that blew your mind as a kid, there has always been something utterly fascinating about seeing fantasies coming to life—when imaginary non-real characters moved, talk, sing and dance like emulating living people.
Animation is a method in which pictures are manipulated by means of technology and tools, to appear as moving images. Because our eyes can only retain an image for 1/16th of a second, when multiple images appear in fast succession, the brain blends them into a single moving image. In traditional animation, images are drawn or painted manually on transparent celluloid sheets to be photographed and exhibited on film (cel animation). Today, most animations are made with computer-generated imagery (CGI). Computer animation can be very detailed 3D animation, while 2D computer animation can be used for stylistic reasons, low bandwidth or faster real-time renderings. The effect of animation is—more often than not—achieved by a rapid succession of sequential images that differ from each other by a miniscule amount. Animation is more pervasive than it may seem. Apart from short films, feature films, television series, animated GIF’s and other media dedicated to the display of moving images, animation is also prevalent in video games, motion graphics, user interfaces and visual effects (VFX).
The technique of animation has been used and improvised upon, over the years, only to make it more refined and real. It’s an effective tool for visual communication—it offers a whole new medium for expression and creativity on a more practical level—who wants to see static images when you can see movement, right?
Some early filmmakers, including J. Stuart Blackton, Arthur Melbourne-Cooper, Segundo de Chomón and Edwin S. Porter experimented with stop-motion animation, possibly since around 1899, or, more likely, since 1906. In 1900, Blackton is credited for creating the first ever animation called The Enchanted Drawing. Blackton’s The Haunted Hotel (1907) was the first huge stop motion success, baffling audiences by showing objects that apparently moved by themselves. The short film inspired other filmmakers to try the technique. Blackton’s Humorous Phases of Funny Faces (1906) is usually regarded as the first animated film on standard picture film shown in theatres. It was partly animated on a chalkboard and partly with cut-outs. Other movies followed suit, including Fantasmagorie, Little Nemo, Gertie the Dinosaur.
During the 1910s, the production of animated cartoons boomed into an industry of its own. The most successful producer at the time was John Randolph Bray, who, along with animator Earl Hurd, patented the cel animation process that dominated the animation industry for the rest of the century.
In 1928, Steamboat Willie, featuring Mickey Mouse, the immensely popularised cartoon character, put Walt Disney’s studio at the forefront of the animation industry. This was the start of the golden age of animation. The rest is history. Several studios eventually introduced characters that are a household name till today, including Walt Disney Productions’ Goofy and Donald Duck, Warner Bros. Cartoons’ Looney Tunes characters like Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny.
To create the appearance of smooth motion from manually painted or computer-generated images, frame rate, or the number of consecutive images that are displayed each second, is considered. Moving characters are usually shot ‘on twos,’ which implies that one image is shown for two frames, totalling in at 12 drawings per second. 12 frames per second allows for motion but may look choppy. In film, a frame rate of 24 frames per second is often used for smooth motion animation.
There are different kinds of animations involving varied techniques that are employed to achieve desired effect.
Traditional animation, also called cel animation, as discussed, goes long back in history—think—The Lion King and likes. In this technique, each frame is created individually, and then run sequentially for the illusion of movement. This is the historical root of animation, but its cost and time-commitment are the reasons animators developed more modern methods. In the earlier years of traditional animation, the animator would draw on a table that had a light inside of it, so the creator could see his or her previous animation. While traditional animation is not nearly as prevalent today, drawings are generally done on tablets.
This is also called vector-based animation. The software is more advanced as compared to traditional methods, but instead of havingto draw individual frames manually, vector-based animation tools generate the frames based on the animator’s input. Movies such as Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast are examples of 2D animation.
Images with familiar formats like JPG, GIF, BMP, are pixel images. These images cannot be enlarged or shrunk without affecting image quality. Vector graphics don’t need to worry about resolution. Vectors are characterised by pathways with various start and end points, lines connecting these points to build the graphic. Shapes can be created to form a character or other image. It relies on mathematical values to resize the images so that the motion is flawless and seamless. They can re-use these creations so the animator doesn’t need to keep drawing the same characters over and over again. This explains why so many animators are not the best drawing artists.
3D animation or CGI animation is the most-widely used technique, where computers generate images and animators help put the angles and motion. The visuals are entirely handled by the computer, while the puppetry or movements are decided by the animator. The animator uses a program to move the character’s body parts around. They set their digital frames when all of the parts of the character are in the right position. They do this for each frame, and the computer calculates the motion from each frame. Computer generated studios came about where animators could work with powerful software, and tech companies provided the perfect tools for these studios. With technology and developing film processes, the unrealised dreams of what animation can be are being discovered. The tiger featured in the movie, Life of Pi, is an example. That tiger was the star of the show yet generated by software programs and computer-generated animation.
In this, individual frames are captured by manipulating and photographing real objects; most commonly known as claymation. It is costly and time-consuming, but the result is worth it. Stop motion animation encompasses pixelation, object-motion, cut-out animation, and more. But the basic mechanics compare to traditional animation. Instead of physical drawings, stop motion adjusts physical objects in each frame. If moved in small increments, and captured one frame at a time, the illusion of motion is produced. The 1993 movie, Nightmare before Christmas is an excellent example of stop motion.
Motion graphics are digital graphics that create the illusion of motion usually for ads, news headlines, title sequences in films, and are meant to communicate with the viewer. They’re often combined with sound and text for multimedia projects.
THE LATEST TECH
Animated subjects appear to move because images appear on screen and are quickly replaced with a series of similar, slightly altered images in a sequence that suggests walking, dancing, waving or any action the viewer’s eyes perceive to be occurring. Nowadays, characters are scanned in to a computer animation program or a virtual skeleton of the character represents them. Once the virtual skeleton is in the program, the animator moves key features, such as limbs and mouth, to key frames, the next major movement of the character. The programs tween the differences between these key images and know what movements to fill in to produce the desired movements between key frame A and B. The program then renders the images, enabling it to present a fluid final form. The same process goes for any moving objects or backgrounds around the characters. CGI effects greatly heighten the look and feel of any given sequence. These are especially useful in live action, where each segment
is filmed near a blue or green screen backdrop that is then removed in the
editing process and replaced with the created CGI in a process commonly known as chroma keying. Another form of computer animation in films is the use of motion-capture technology to film a live actor’s performance and digitise it into a computer-animation program. The performance is rendered into an often photorealistic animated character against an animated backdrop. Dedicated mocap studios, today, house technologies capable of producing live on-set capture, virtual production, cinema layout and crowd simulation, facial as well as body animation services.
For animation, sky is the limit!