Saturday, February 28, 2015

More 2D Talk

You know, my assumption was that it was executive ignorance... Well it is, but that's not all...

I simply thought this: Executives look/looked at the 2D films released in the past 15 years and see that Lilo & Stitch - outside of The Simpsons Movie, which was obviously going to be big - earned the most, making $145 million domestically and $273 million worldwide. That was against an $80 million budget, but those numbers look minuscule nowadays. Adjusted, that Lilo gross is $208 million. That's damn good for any animated feature in this day and age, but I guess they conveniently ignore that.

Most of the others bombed or underperformed, and the execs failed to see that it was corporate blunders that caused most of the poor box office performances. In other cases it was just bad luck. Make a bad movie or make a movie look bad, and no one will see it.

Flash-forward to 2009, when Disney Animation released their first traditionally animated feature in five years. The Princess and the Frog was not the blockbuster Disney suits wanted it to be. The inexperienced Rich Ross was named Chairman of the film division in early 2010, when the film was still in theaters. He immediately barked death to 2D films and fairy tale movies. Then John Lasseter and Ed Catmull reluctantly brought the bad news, saying it was time to stop with fairy tale movies and that they were passe and blah blah blah. Well, fairy tales ended up surviving because the executives couldn't pull the plug on the expensive knee-deep-in-production Tangled, and second... That film did well! So that resistance to fairy tale movies made them all look foolish. Yeah, conventional "wisdom" alright. But Tangled was a CG film, so 2D was left to wither once again at Disney Animation. Frog made $267 million worldwide, Tangled took in $590 million. The final numbers did the speaking, sadly. Winnie the Pooh was dumped in theaters the following year, then Disney laid off veteran hand-drawn animators in early 2013. No 2D film seems to be in production or development, unless Moana really turns out to be that Paperman/Feast-esque 2D/CG blend feature we're all clamoring for...

But as usual, there are more complications. There isn't just one answer to the million dollar question...

Steve Hulett, who needs no introduction, recently spoke with a veteran Disney animator. He didn't drop the name, wisely, but what he said speaks volumes... Big time...

"I've worked on CG features and I've worked on hand-drawn features. And hand-drawn features are harder to make. Hand-drawn cartoons take a year to produce. Once you've produced sequences, it's hard to change the work. You have to go back and do everything over.

But with CG, you can animate the movie in three or four months, change things close to the release date. You can't do that in hand-drawn animation. If you find out the story doesn't work when you're two-thirds done, you're stuck. With CG, we change the story and rework sequences until late in the process.

It's close to live-action in that way. You can rework until late in the production. With hand-drawn animation, the plot, action and dialogue has to be locked down way earlier, or the picture won't get done in time for its release."

This really adds a whole new perspective, and I think it's a near-definitive explanation as to why traditional animation won't be used for features anytime soon in the US animation industry. For example, Disney Animation made major story changes to Frozen very late in the game. From what I've gathered, this was in early 2013, mere months before the film's release and the actual animation production hadn't even begun at the time. Or it did, but very little was done.

It's arguably a near-sin to chop completed sequences from a traditionally animated film, as it's a waste of all the drawing, painting, and inking (whether it's digital or physical). Walt Disney himself made sure that everything was working before mere frames were finished. He learned that lesson when he decided to cut seconds of scenes from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Of course, not everyone followed the rules. Jeffrey Katzenberg certainly didn't when he snipped ten minutes out of The Black Cauldron back in 1985, and Disney's execs didn't flinch at omitting an entire near-completed musical number sequence from Pocahontas ten years later. A whole film with a good enough amount of finished animation completed got axed at the studio in 1998! Steven Spielberg and George Lucas had Don Bluth get rid of roughly twenty minutes of finished animation from The Land Before Time in 1988, Bluth also had to cut finished sequences from his later films. Pressure from execs, test screenings, etc. You get the idea.

Originally, the whale was supposed to approach Marlin and Dory
from the front... The change came very late in the game, which
is why the scrapped scene is in one of the trailers...

In CG though, not much of a problem. There are whole scenes cut from various CG films that are finished. Even Pixar has done this a couple of times; Finding Nemo's seagull chase was shot and conceived differently at one point, for the longest time EVE was going to be shocked by Autopilot in the second act of WALL-E, until the decision was made at the eleventh hour to have WALL-E get shocked instead. The whole garbage airlock sequence as a result was redone, the animators basically swapped EVE and WALL-E since they did similar actions. (MO saving WALL-E was used in trailers, that's how late in the game it came.) The Tokyo race in Cars 2 was significantly truncated and Brave lost some completed bits. The models are still there, the sets are still there, along with the objects. New movements and camera pans and such have to be done. It's still a lot of work, but you don't have to scrap beautifully-made backgrounds and painstakingly-drawn character movements. Closer to live-action, like the animator said...

The problem is, feature animation in the states is like an assembly line today. The idea of getting the story right before a single frame is completed seems to be a bit dead, hence Disney making last-minute changes to films like Frozen, and other studios doing similar things. Heck, just look at DreamWorks! Look at how many times that slate of theirs changes! Apparently something like B.O.O., which was initially set to come out this year, entered production and some sequences were finished. Character designs were seemingly finalized, for they showed up on merchandise and at the studio's 2014 Licensing Expo booth. It's been delayed, it won't be opening - if it does at all - until after 2018. A rare exception: Pixar restarted The Good Dinosaur very close to its original release date, then a month later they wisely delayed it. Not all studios will do that, though. (Frozen could've used a year-long delay, and the film would've been even better as a result in my eyes.)

But here's my question...

Why can't a particular studio do a 2D film every once in a blue moon? A lower budget 2D film at that? Have a line-up of CG features slated for every calendar year, while a crew spend a long amount of time on just one 2D film. Then after it comes out, do another one that'll open 2-3 years later. Wasn't that supposed to be the plan at Walt Disney Animation Studios before The Princess and the Frog got its autopsy?

Like, they could've made Wreck-It Ralph, Frozen, and Big Hero 6 as CG films. Fine, fine. While those films are worked on and completed one by one, a 2D film is quietly and carefully being worked on. The people behind it will only start production once the story flows well. Then that film hits in, say 2015 and 2016, and does okay. It's great, no changes need to be made at the eleventh hour, because they locked the story before a single frame was finished. It comes out, does well, then no new 2D film for another 2-3 years. They repeat the same process.

I ask, why can't a studio like Disney Animation or DreamWorks or anyone else do that? Traditional animation done mainly by hand is something that shouldn't go away when it comes to features, nor should that style in general. The look and feel of American traditional animation should not be a thing of the past.

Disney used to crank out a 2D film every calendar year. Two films, sometimes! But the quality of each of those films? That all boils down to opinion. Box office is a whole other story. Most people will agree that The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King are very high quality films. They got great reviews, formed an upward slope for the studio at the box office, and are still beloved today. They're "go-to" Disney films, the ones people immediately think of when asked, "What are your favorite Disney movies?"

All four of them were released from 1989 to 1994. There's a gap there, The Rescuers Down Under - which was released the year between Mermaid and Beast - wasn't widely seen and it seems to get mixed reactions, despite having a vocal fan base. (I'm one of those fans!) Pocahontas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and Hercules are more divisive, and the latter two certainly didn't replicate the success of Beast, Aladdin, and Lion King. Pocahontas got mixed reviews and it has fans split down the middle, from my experience there's no middle ground with that film, it's either underrated and awesome or rightfully scorned. The same goes for The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Hercules, both of which got decent-to-good critical reception.

All of this applies to several studios today, even Pixar. Do I need to bring up everyone's anger over Brave and Monsters University, to say nothing of Cars 2? I hear people constantly say "For every Kung Fu Panda or How To Train Your Dragon, DreamWorks makes a mediocre flick like Turbo!" Maybe one a year isn't always the answer, even though it brings the bucks in a timely manner... And you know how much those bean counters love bucks.

Quality is key, and apparently 2D films don't fit the modern animation industry's assembly line methods. That's all fine and well given the production process of 2D films, but I feel that the "one film every year 2-3 years plan" should be considered. 2D features need to be kept alive in some way, corporate ignorance can only go so far. It can thrive on TV, it can certainly thrive in the features world. There's also that pesky stigma, the "2D films just aren't viable" nonsense, but I already ranted about that a million times over...

I still think there's a way, but that's because I'm a raging optimist... What's your take on this new reason for 2D's struggles here in the states?


  1. Well, my reason for the executives don't want to do hand drawn animation is because their a bunch of greedy anti-hand drawn animation jerks! And I bet the reason why people don't want to see the current Dreamworks movies because they're sick and tired of CGI and demand to see hand drawn animated movie. Those Disney current executives should of been fired for their greedy behavior. I don't hate CGI or Dreamworks, but this is how I feel.

    1. I think a reason barely anyone sees recent Dreamworks movies is cause Fox can't really market for crap

  2. I think what's been happening with theatrical 2D at Walt Disney Animation studios is Rich Ross's fault. He was inexperienced in his job, went on a power trip, and apparently both Winnie the Pooh and The Princess and the Frog were poorly marketed as a result. Then, HE made the (misguided) choice that hand-drawn animation is no-longer bankable in theatres, and is only successful with TV shows like Phineas and Ferb, Gravity Falls, and Fish Hooks. I think even Bob Iger had enough of Ross's BS, so he fired him on the spot after John Carter flopped. However, Iger didn't give him the boot at the right time unfortunately, causing the 2D unit to shrink. I'm sure with the success of that new SpongeBob movie, that will cause Hollywood execs to think that hand-drawn features are only bankable if they're based on recent TV shows such as The Simpsons and SpongeBob. As a result, I think the Adventure Time movie might be 2D.

    1. Really? Okay, then Rich Ross is bad as Michael Eisner.

  3. Well let's be thought about the lack of 2d films. It appears that studios like Disney don't seem to care about 2d animation because North America don't seem to care about theatrical 2d animation. Worse, people hates 2d animation left and right whenever people like kids are saying "I hate traditional animation." or "Traditional animation is awful. CGI is way better." and so on. Why can't traditional animation be staying? Why animated movies has to be in CGI? Let me guess, money. Traditional animation is still going downhill in the last 20 years since 1995 and never stops. Even Toon Boom doesn't help. Seriously, people are getting tired of traditional animation because all people care about for animation is CGI. Animation is not always about CGI. Hand-drawn has to appear too you know. I guess people hates traditional animation at all because traditional animation has been collapsed since 1995 even with digital animation. You have to use TV shows to use traditional animation. Even internet doesn't help too. Blame America for only use repeats and technologies and forget something like try something new. The only way is inventions. Curse you, today's America.

    1. I know, right? We are now living in America that's filled with greed.

    2. Can we change that view ourselves in any way?

    3. Oh, I don't know. If only Princess and the Frog is a box office hit in the first place, none of this would of happened. I heard from the hand drawn artists that Disney executives are abusing and trying to get rid of them for their greedy deeds. They're bullies! Believe it or not, I e-mail Disney to fire those executives immediately, because their cruel greedy anti-2d animation jerks. I know they won't send it back to me, but I gave it a shot.