Feature: Where Has Hand Drawn Animation Gone To?


In 2009, something pretty miraculous happened, Disney animation returned to it’s traditional hand drawn animated roots. Since the beginning of the new millennium  computer animation was the wave of the future and hand drawn, traditional 2D animation was a dying artform, at least at the Walt Disney Company. Sure Studio Ghibli was keeping it alive, but in the United States, Japanese animated films aren’t collecting big bucks at the box office.

Since the early 2000’s, big box office draws in animation have been in computerized 3D films. Pixar, Dreamworks, and Disney have dominated the market, with very few independent film makers getting their animated say in. Pixar has always been a computer animated company so I don’t put pressure on them to revert to something they never even did. Dreamworks was a Disney ripoff at best before they entered into computer animation with Shrek and I don’t fault them for not reverting back to a formula that doesn’t work. Disney however, is a totally different story. Disney’s best animation has and always will be hand drawn. Maybe that’s just me projecting my opinions but when they took the plunge into computer animation in the 2000s, Disney lost their step. What had been a prosperous animation department even up until the late 1990s, started treading water after the switch to computer animation. The best films of the new computer animated Disney company were still the hand drawn animated movies like Lilo and Stitch or The Emporer’s New Groove.

After a few steps backwards, it looked like Disney had reestablished itself with a return to 2D animation in 2009 with Princess and the Frog. Ron Clements and John Musker who had previously written and directed The Little Mermaid and Aladdin  returned to work on a musical animated tale similar to the previously mentioned films which ignited excitement in many traditional animated film lovers. Unfortunately, the return to classic musical fairy tales wasn’t what the general public jumped on. The box office numbers didn’t show that 2D animation was worth more than the computer animated features. Princess and the Frog did eventually win over fans, but it seems like movie goers weren’t initially won over by the fact that the studio had gone back to it’s roots.

animation 1

Disney animation returned to computer animation without a flinch, but they did start to bring back the musical fairytale formula which won over fans with Tangled and eventually Frozen, but what has happened to 2D animation? 2012’s Disney short film which played before the feature Wreck-It Ralph caught many animation lover’s attention. It seemed as though there was finally a marriage between the future and the traditions of the past. “Paperman” was the talk of the town as far as short films and was the first short film made by Disney to win an Academy Award since 1970. A hybrid 2D/3D style using a program called Meander gave “Paperman” sophistication, traditional values, expressiveness, and a nice HD quality. The animation was perfect!

So, why do I bring all of this up? Because despite the success of the Meander program and Paperman, as well as the eventual fandom of Tiana and her princess film from 2009, Disney still has no plans of going back to traditional animation styles. Clements and Musker who last worked on Princess and the Frog for Disney, are working on their first computer animated film set for 2018 called Moana. When asked why they didn’t fight for a traditional animation style with the use of Meander, they said that technology and software isn’t ready for a full length feature. Is 2D animation dying because there really isn’t a fan base for it anymore? Has Disney moved on because it’s more fond of what computer animation can look like? That may be true, at least until they can take the Meander style programs and mix the 2D and 3D animation like in “Paperman”.

animation 2

Meanwhile, I want to point your attention to James Lopez and other animators who have worked on previous Disney films of the 1980’s, 90’s, and 2000’s who are looking to take a dying art into their own hands. Lopez’s short film or possible full length film, Hullabaloo, has been funded with support of fans of traditional animation. Lopez posted a crowd funding project on IndieGoGo.com (a site allowing projects to be funded completely by fans instead of companies or investors.) which was open to donate to from August 27th until October 1st of this year. For 35 days, fans of traditional animation could voice their opinion in the form of donating money to the project which was looking to gain $80,000. That’s a pretty considerable amount of money and if they could reach their goal, it would show that not only were people asking for traditional animation to return, they were willing to pay for it. When the project’s funding closed on Oct. 1st, 2014, fans of animation had donated over $470,000. They reached over 500% of their goal. That’s amazing!

So the issue goes back to Disney. If animation fans are willing to fund an independent project like this, wouldn’t it be in someone’s interest at Disney to put a 2D film into production once every few years, or put the Meander programming to the test and really push the envelope as far as 2D/3D merging goes? Can’t we live in a world where traditional animation and computer animation can both make money and can both be in part of the Disney company?

Josh Taylor
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Posted on October 18, 2014, in Articles and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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