Thursday, April 11, 2013

Farewell For Now...


Today was a rather dark day for Walt Disney Animation Studios... Today was a very shocking and saddening day for the studio, Disney fans, film fans and animation fans... Today was a day where dreams were crushed...

Walt Disney Animation Studios, as reported by Cartoon Brew, has laid off several veteran animators, most of them being from the hand-drawn animation unit: Nik Ranieri, Ruben Aquino, Frans Vischer, Russ Edmonds, Brian Ferguson, Jamie Lopez and Dan Tanaka. The Animation Guild also reports that meetings will be called for other veteran animators, meetings about pay cuts and buyouts...

The Walt Disney Company has been laying off a lot of employees for past couple of days, from the film studio to the marketing department. The layoffs were announced a few days ago, which seemed surprising since Disney came off of a great year. A year that included the mega-blockbuster that was The Avengers along with two animated hits, Pixar's Brave and Disney Animation's own Wreck-It Ralph.

Why are people being laid off? Supposedly, Disney CEO Bob Iger is "looking for efficiencies and cost-cutting measures in areas where digital technologies were reshaping businesses..." (source) One of which was said to be home entertainment, which makes sense since a majority of Disney's recent physical media releases (on Blu-ray and DVD) have been lacking. Disney is scaling back in these tough times where video game companies are being shut down to all of the trouble going on in the VFX industry...

With a lot of the hand-drawn animation veterans being laid off, this spells trouble for the future of hand-drawn animation at Disney. It's heartbreaking to see these animators go, them having been with Disney since the Second Golden Age and the fact that they have contributed greatly to several films made over the years that have entertained and inspired audiences of all ages.

Upon hearing this news, I was in shock... I'm still in shock, actually...

Hand-drawn animation seemed to be on a slow comeback trail to the silver screen in America. Such passion and dedication was put into the two recent hand-drawn films done by Walt Disney Animation Studios: The Princess and the Frog and Winnie the Pooh. The former was a critical success but did decently at the box office, its numbers paled in comparison to Tangled and Wreck-It Ralph's big grosses. Winnie the Pooh was barely marketed but got good reviews, it still wasn't enough. The lovely little film didn't even crack $30 million at the domestic box office. But Disney was satisfied with how The Princess and the Frog performed and didn't seem to fret at Winnie the Pooh's performance; perhaps they knew beforehand that it wasn't going to do very well to begin with. It seemed like hand-drawn was here to stay, but would come around every once in a while... It was confirmed last year that Ron Clements and John Musker's next film would indeed be a hand-drawn film... This may not be so anymore.

From my perspective... And I don't want to sound like I'm pointing fingers, but... It seems to me that it's the ignorance from the higher ups that's the cause of all this. Animators and artists in the computer animation wing of the studio will also be laid off, but if you ask me, this is happening for all the wrong reasons. If it's true that Iger wants efficiency and will cut costs to "reshape businesses", then it tells me that the company is losing it. I had worried a little while back that the acquisition of Marvel and Lucasfilm would slowly have the suits diverting their attention to their properties whilst neglecting the work of Disney's own animation studios. It seems like they're just ignoring the studio all together. The very studio that got the company to where it is now... They wouldn't be there without Steamboat Willie, any of the Silly Symphonies, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs or any of the other feature films and short subjects produced there since 1928. It all started with animation...

Marvel and Lucasfilm are sure to bring profitable films and products to Disney over the next decade. That's all fine, and I was enthusiastic about the acquisitions because Disney would be able to expand whilst improving those companies. Marvel's films produced for the company have all been good, and the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe shows a lot of promise. Star Wars Episode VII also looks like it's going to more than a worthy successor to the original trilogy. There's a lot to look forward to there, but sadly, Disney may be more interested in them than other areas of their business that matter a lot...

Disney executives sent hand-drawn animation packing over a decade ago for reasons that were equally as wrong as the apparent reasons they are doing it now. Executives had become too powerful at Disney's feature animation wing, spoiling a lot of films that could've been potential winners whilst aiming others at the wrong audiences. Disney Animation hasn't been like this since Bob Iger had become CEO in 2005. John Lasseter and several others helped revamp the studio and with a few good films, they finally got back to their roots. They got back to what made them good, and it paid off with the successes of Tangled and Wreck-It Ralph. Hand-drawn animation was slowly going to be brought back... It was going to be a dream come true for fans and audiences across the globe.

I'm still excited about Walt Disney Animation Studios' upcoming films, though only two have a name and a release date: Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee's Frozen and Don Hall's Big Hero 6. I've also been waiting for more information surrounding Ron Clements and John Musker's secret project, and was happy to hear details about it whenever they were revealed. Despite the layoffs and the uncertain future of hand-drawn animation, I'm still anticipating their upcoming works for the storytelling and for the craftsmanship. The medium does not define the quality of the film...

Disney should not jettison hand-drawn animation. There's no good reason to. A hand-drawn animated film could cost as much as a computer animated film does. Hand-drawn animation is not an outdated form of storytelling. Hand-drawn animation is still loved by audiences. The Princess and the Frog was a hard sell, it was backed by paint-by-numbers marketing and it had to go up against Avatar and other big films that season. Critics loved it, audiences loved it and it was able to make quite a bit after such a weak opening. Why doesn't Disney consider this? Or how about merchandise sales, home media sales and everything else? Frog making much less than Tangled has nothing to do with it being hand-drawn. Nothing...

History has repeated itself. Hand-drawn seems like it's going to be sent packing again...

However, I do have one theory...

Paperman, the lush and beautiful short attached to Wreck-It Ralph, seamlessly combined computer animation and hand-drawn animation. It looked great, and it's possible that this meshing of two mediums will be the studio's answer to hand-drawn in the future. Rumors went around that Ron and John's film would be done in this style, so it's very possible that classic hand-drawn animation is being scrapped in favor of this new kind of traditional animation. What this means is, all future traditionally animated films will be Paperman-style hybrids.

This technology has already shown how much potential it has, and over the next few years it should be improved. Different things can be tried with it, and Disney can really innovate with that. At the same time, they can keep making computer animated films. It would be a win-win situation, but will this be in the cards? We don't know, but knowing how corporations work, I can't help but be a bit cynical and less optimistic than I usually am about the future of animation. I think the suits clearly don't care for hand-drawn animation or have no faith in it.

Scrapping hand-drawn is just so wrong in so many ways. Either Disney feels that audiences have ditched it - despite a lot of that being based on assumptions - or they don't see much of a future for it in this digital age. Hand-drawn was able to co-exist with computer animated spectacles like Toy Story and Shrek, it looked just as great even though some were quick to declare computer animation as more "real" than hand-drawn. That didn't stop audiences from seeing good hand-drawn films like Tarzan and Lilo & Stitch. Audiences avoided subpar hand-drawn films like Brother Bear and Home on the Range, whilst seeing good and bad CGI films since computer animated films were still a novelty at the time. This explains why schlock like Shark Tale and Chicken Little made big money at the box office. This is not the case anymore, of course. Audiences now avoid bad CGI films.

I fully understand that several industries are in trouble. A lot of video game companies have faced trouble, Lucasfilm shut down LucasArts! Visual effects companies like Rhythm & Hues (Life of Pi) have gone bankrupt, with the future of VFX possibly lying in cheaper outsourcing. DreamWorks laid off over 350 employees after Rise of the Guardians didn't do well at the box office, and with their new units in India and China, it looks like they may be seeking other ways to produce more than two animated films for release each year.

With the layoffs, Disney's release schedule might be affected. We may have to wait every once in a while for their films, rather than a full year. Frozen is apparently close to completion and will of course open in November as planned, with Big Hero 6 to follow in November 2014... But will something be ready for November 2015? Or that year in general? We might have to wait until 2016 to see the studio's 55th animated feature...

I wish the best for the animators who are being let go. I hope they find great success elsewhere. Hopefully these talented folks keep hand-drawn alive outside of Disney in some way while creating or helping create great works at other studios. These are some of the finest animators in the industry, so I hope there's a good future waiting for them...

This news has left me and a lot of others bummed out... Hand-drawn animation is a beautiful and unique way of telling a story. Hand-drawn animated films from Disney are like lavish works of art come to life... There's something so special about drawn characters moving in perspective in hand-created and hand-painted settings. I admire both hand-drawn animation and computer animation equally, but both mediums should co-exist. The future of animation isn't all about what's rendered or created on a computer, or what's made with clay models. Hand-drawn animation is one of the earliest and most classic forms of animation, it is no way outdated. Why do a lot of Disney's classics hold up today? If hand-drawn was outdated and obsolete, then why do people still admire and love all those great Disney classics? You can't just leave a nearly century old art form in the past. It is the future. It has to grow and improve. Look at how others out there experiment with hand-drawn animation. Hand-drawn animation fares incredibly well in the television animation industry... It's here to stay. It's not outdated and it will never go away.

Hopefully somewhere down the road, with the industry in better shape, Disney could re-hire animators or start over again with their traditional animation studio and try to give it another shot. There's always time, but for now... It's hard not to feel very let down and a bit unenthusiastic...

6 comments:

  1. Howdy! This is my 1st comment here so I just wanted to give a quick shout out and say I truly enjoy reading your posts. Thanks a lot!animated intro maker

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  2. That is indeed shocking and saddening....

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  3. I don't think this is the end of hand-drawn animation. Just because 9 hand animators were laid off doesn't mean they're completely doing away with it.

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    1. Not just 9 hand animators, but the veterans - some of the finest in the industry. There's still a ton of talent left. It's true that hand-drawn isn't being killed off and may not be killed off at all, but without these animators and the cost-cutting measures that are being approached, a lot are worried about the future of the unit.

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    2. Was Burny Mattinson one of the 9 people that were laid off?

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  4. I want 2D animation back so my future kids can get exposed to its wonder and beauty!

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