Updated: Aug 14, 2022
It's hard to imagine a time before Computer Animation. Two- dimensional animation, as rendered by hand has been the standard for Disney movies since 1937. The last hand-drawn Disney Princess film was in 2009 with The Princess and The Frog. These days, most of the movies and television shows that we regularly view were partially (if not mostly) computer-animated with only some of the work being done by hand. This means that for those who wish to be a part of the next generation of cartoonists, it may not be mandatory to be skilled in drawing by hand. Learning how to utilize computer animation technology can be a viable alternative to traditional animation.
When a character on-screen moves, it is made to look fluid, mimicking natural movement. The way animators do this is by taking several images of the character that are played in sequence from the image before and flashing those images quickly enough to appear like movement. The animator's responsibility is to create those images. Using the program of the animator's choice (link to a list of animation software), the animator will put the character in the desired position and choose the range of motions that the character will take. Motions as simple as walking, talking, and (in the case of Encanto) dancing will be modeled and recorded in sequence. Some animations are a lot more complicated to depict, as noted by Renato dos Anjos and Kira Lehtomaki, two of the animators behind the 2021 film Encanto. In an interview for their new film, they discussed the difficulty of having characters sing or rap quickly. Lehtomaki notes having to "blend some of the words and blend some of the mouth shapes" when depicting them on screen. Despite these difficulties, they, amongst a team of animators were able to create a stunning and very life-like musical with computer animation.
But that's not to say that hand-drawn animation is no longer done. Anime, the Japanese art form responsible for shows like Pokemon, Sailor Moon, and Cowboy Bebop, is still a hand-drawn medium. In fact, according to Shingo Adachi, the designer and animator of the anime series Sword Art Online, there aren't enough talented animators to fill the many available roles. Those passionate about sticking to the traditional style can embrace this art form without worrying too much about being replaced by computer animation. Though, it may be best to stick to doing so stateside.
Computer animation is not new but has become more pervasive in the last few years. A film like Encanto depicts the beauty and, at times, the complexity of rendering animated images across a screen. The future of animation will rely on computers more heavily, but there is hope for those wanting to draw cartoons by hand in anime. No matter the method of animation is chosen, there is room for as many animators (hand-drawn or otherwise) to take up as much space on the big or small screen as they like.
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