Animation Nation

We are in the midst of an animation boom. Everywhere one turns there are computer-generated movies. And get ready: more are on the way. A lot more. With the recent acquisition of Pixar by Disney, the floodgates are about to open.

Kids are getting into the act, too. Many teenagers are becoming adept at creating their own Flash cartoons. No longer do they have to painstakingly paint an animated short, as I did in college, frame after frame – 24 frames just to make a single second! Now, a program will do much of the work for them. I’ve tried my hand a bit at this new way; I have to admit, it is fun to have shortcuts to the final product.

We’re in the honeymoon period with computer animation. If a movie looks cool, it gets a buzz going. But soon, as with all trends, the novelty will wear off and jaded audiences will yawn at technological one-upmanship. What will be left then?

The heart of any great movie: the story.

Pixar has understood this from the start. Even though advances have made the original Toy Story look quaint and old-fashioned, it’s hard to top the emotional power of that tale of growing friendship.

This lesson of the importance of story over technique can be shown to your own child in an easy way. Remember flip books? It’s the simplest way to do animation. Find an old book you don’t want and, starting in the back of the book, draw a character in the lower right corner of each page. Change the figure little by little in each corner. Make it do something simple: walk, jump, wave. When you’re done, riffle the pages with your thumb. There you have it! Animation!

It’s a fun effect. But technique is always a servant to story. Watching your character walk just makes one wonder where he’s going. And that’s how it should be.

Enjoy the cartoon boom while it lasts. But as you’re leaving the theater with your kids, talk about the story. Real storytelling will never have a bust.

Bruce Van Patter

all material ©2006 Bruce Van Patter