Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Tool$ of the Trade?

An Officer Quadhole pose from Rock & Rule

Is the Animation Industry's reliance on expensive computer equipment potentially shutting out young talented artists who can't afford to buy all this expensive equipment for themselves to develop their talents on?

Not everyone in these hard times has the financial ability to spend the few thousand dollars it takes to do so. It's not the same as springing for a box of pencils and some paper.

When it was all just about the ability to animate with pencil on paper, being able to knock together a basic animation desk wasn't financially difficult. It was affordable to all.

However, I don't know of many artists with the knowledge and capability to construct their own Cintiq and computer out of a drafting table, Plexiglas, some two x fours, and fluorescent lighting.

Your thoughts? Anyone?


  1. Most students and youngsters, these days, have their own computers. Flash enables anyone to call themselves an animator. In fact, if you come to the program with some knowledge, you cactually can learn from it. However, to learn real 2D animation, you have to do the work, and animating with pencil and paper is still the est way to do it. You can then use a computer with photoshop and aftereffects (2 easily acquired and easy-to-learn programs) can color and composite the drawings into an animated sequence.

    Part of the problem is learning all the computer programs.

    So, the answer to your question is probably, yes. The poorest person can use materials at hand to create a flipbook. I once taught a very poor Columbian child who didn't have a light table. I showed him how the window worked by holding two drawings up using the frame of the window for corner registration. He made several films that way.

  2. Being in college, I sometimes sneak into my graphic design lab during off-hours and fool around with their Cintiq. It can be tricky at first but after a while you can get used to it.

    Actually, being a graphic design major can come in advantage when it comes to learning softwares. I've done my share of design work with Illustrator.

    (I still prefer drawing on paper, tho)

  3. While I agree that a work flow that includes a Cintiq is an expensive path to take, I think that technology has really bridged the gap between the professional and hobbiest. There are tons of inexpensive trade-offs a person could make if they wanted to create animation. When I started learning, I had a small starter lightbox with a plastic peg bar (regular hole punch) glued to it, a cheap little scanner to bring the drawings into the computer, Toonboom software to color and animate, and Adobe Premiere Elements to cut together the video. All of the software runs on low end computers and will give you a professional result while being on the cheaper side. I just really think that technology has opened the playing field up to everybody. Sorry for the rant.

    P.S.-The book that taught me a lot of how to produce animation at home is "Producing Independent 2D Character Animation: Making & Selling A Short Film (Focal Press Visual Effects and Animation)" by Mark Simon

  4. Yes, a light table and a pencil & paper are all you need to start animating (or heck, your algebra text book page corners :-) ), but you also need a camera to film it, and then either you need to pay for film processing or scan it onto a computer to do pencil tests, not to mention having to get your animation colored.

    I think for a bare minimum, aside from the pencil and paper, a computer and scanner are almost essential, if you are doing films independently. Even el cheapo computers are powerful beyond the dreams of what we had in the 70s, and cheaper than a decent 16mm camera. A student hard up for funds can also use freely available open source programs like the Gimp, Blender, Synfig, etc. to do all kinds of animation (hand-drawn, CG or 2D vector, and so on). There are also affordable audio applications (both commercial and open source), and it's much easier for someone to produce an entire animated short "in the box" -- this was much more difficult when I was doing stuff with Super 8 cameras many years ago!

  5. I posted the question after hearing from some very talented people who were having that exact problem. Their family finances could not allow them to purchase the necessary computers and software. It is easy to make assumptions that because I have the financial ability, so should everyone. As you can see by the comments, the topic does make for interesting discussion.

  6. I think all the expensive equipment is perhaps shutting upcoming animators out from getting the studio jobs where needing to know the hardware and software matters.

    However, at the same time, in this day an age, it's also much easier to make animation and get noticed as an independent animator. You can still make quality animation with the bare minimum of equipment.

  7. What people love about animation is movement and story. We should be teaching animation students that, instead of, "know these programs if you want a job."

    When ever I can I try to leave the computer out of it. I don't have oodles of money to buy CS5 and a nice computer (yet). But I can animate on paper and get a simple image grabber to test it on.

    In short I think that computers are just a tool. So if you can't afford that tool, use a cheaper one! Master that tool and the principles of animation and visual story telling and you will get noticed!

  8. The little port-a-trace lightboxes are very affordable (like maybe $50 new, you can find them used on eBay for next to nothing, I think). A peg bar with standard 3 hole punch is very cheap (it can be taped to the light table), and then just a ream of paper and a hole puncher from the office supply store, and of course pencils... you can get started for less then $100, I think!

  9. Well, my two cents: I think today it's cheaper to buy a computer and produce animation right there than to buy a scanner to get your paper drawings into the computer. You really don't need a monster computer, even a netbook can do it, if you are willing to use older programs which need fewer resources.

    Really, there are more and more people producing animation than never before, and that is mainly because technology makes things cheaper and simpler.

  10. Equipment is always more expensive at the studio level and always has been. Not every animator nowadays can afford the latest Adobe suite, processor and screen tablet. But not every animator in the 1950's could afford 35 mm filmstock, frosted cels and build a multiplane camera, either.

  11. One aspect of working in the animation industry (back in the day) is that a young person breaking into the business could get on-the-job training at the studio. There was a path that invariably started in the ink and paint department or xerox department, and could potentially lead to all kinds of possibilities.

    That's how I got my break at New York Institute of Technology's "Tubby the Tuba" feature in early 1975. They were hiring young talent. I showed up and got assigned to xeroxing and repegging animation drawings. I showed them I could do a good inbetween drawing, and became a full time inbetweener in the matter of two working days.

    Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't think that's the way studios are organized today.

  12. Hey John, Perhaps studios don't operate like that today because of the massive amount of animation courses out there these days?

    It's a shame that on-the-job training is a rarity as I think someone would possibly learn much more from doing that than learning in a college/university environment. Wouldn't you agree?

    On the subject of expense, I'd say that animation can be done as cheaply or as expensively as you like. That's the beauty of it - there are so many different ways of doing things, unlike live-action film.

  13. Andy, what I dream about (and am working towards) is having an old school style animation studio, producing our own animation series...totally under our control...and under one roof. Some of the regular visitors to this blog know about how long I've been working towards that goal. As time goes on, my company gets closer and closer to being able to accomplish that.

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  15. I hope a passionate talent will find a way into animation without the computer, even if the industry has upgraded to a digital age. One of my concerns is the dependence and reliance on the computer by many of todays animators. I see a distinct style of vector driven animation that is stiff and robotic because of a lack of drawing skill and the very method of animating in a vector based program. A Cintiq won't help if the drawing skill isn't developed first.

  16. Regarding on-the-job training: it's true that studios these days don't have xerox departments anymore, but I got my start at a game studio in 2003 with an internship. I knew a little bit about Maya, but getting to work side-by-side with veteran animators at EA invariably taught me so much more than I got out of classes at school. At first they gave me small assignments and a lot of support so I was able to learn their workflow and animation tricks and techniques. By the end of the summer I was tackling bigger assignments and they hired me on full-time. I think internships are a great way to go in getting your foot in the door as a student or recent grad!

    As far as technology is concerned, I agree with the other bloggers that small lightboxes are cheap (I got mine for $50) and you can get a webcam ($20) to shoot pencil tests with the free MonkeyJam software on any old computer. Up at the Local 839 Guild we were using MonkeyJam on 15-year-old computers for summer school :)

    Granted, getting your hands on a computer that can run 3D software is pricier, so I can see how it would be more of a financial burden. But I think computers have improved these days to the point where even a cheaper one, say $400, could probably run Maya. Heck, I've saved up $400 selling popcorn at a movie theatre!

  17. Can I have a job in your "old-school" studio please John??? It sounds great! :D

  18. Some time in the future, as part of this blog, I will be posting some of the trials and tribulations of launching a self-funded "Old School" animation studio in Central Kentucky (Horse and Bluegrass Country). There have been a lot of ups and downs, blood, sweat, and tears shed getting to this stage.

    But this will show the price of maintaining control of your own animation property. Hopefully, it will provide guidance and encouragement to others to pursue their own dreams.

  19. I also miss the days of on the job training. (My first job was on Raggedy Ann). I have given it a lot of thought over time. I believe there are basically three major developments in the field that have accounted for the change:

    (1) The proliferation of animation schools and specialized college programs. They have become something like West Point to the Army or Law School or Medical school to those professions. If I was starting now, I wouldn't even think of entering the profession without the benefit of going through that kind of preparation.

    (2) There are virtually no more entry level positions. All of that kind of work is now either outsourced or digitized or both.

    (3) The old mentors are mostly gone, now. The age discrimination bar has been lowered at least a decade, if not two. At some studios, recruiters are actually instructed to put an age limit on hiring. To add to that, advances in technology are strongly linked to youth.

    I'm not against technology. It has taken the drudgery, (as well as the expense), out of many parts of the process. I'm for that. I do agree though, that basic skills are basic skills, and pencil and paper are a good way to learn.

  20. Hello, Stephen. My second gig was on Raggedy Ann & Andy's unit in New York City. That and the LA studio made the entire staff a very large crew. I was an assistant animator along with Eric Goldberg, Dan Haskett, and Tom Sito. Click on "View My Complete Profile" link and send me an email.