Ever since I can remember, I've always loved animation. There's something about the ability of a drawing or computer generated image to make me laugh or cry that's pretty powerful. Years ago (before the onset of animation graphics), I took an animation course at a local college. I loved the idea of dreaming up imaginative characters and placing them in some sort of plot. The task was reminiscent of what I thought movie directors or screenwriters would go through - develop engaging stories used to inspire an audience.
Years later, the art and science of animation would enter a whole new era and a little company called Pixar was born. Now a subsidiary of The Walt Disney Company, Pixar was the brainchild of ex-Lucasfilm employees John Lasseter and Dr. Ed Catmull. What's so striking about Pixar is the amount of creative thought that goes into the process. Through curiousity, skill and creative vision, Lasseter and his tremendously talented team are able to see the world through the eyes of the characters portrayed in their movies. We see "A Bug's Life" through the eyes of a bug and "Cars"...through the eyes of an animated car. Their world becomes our world as the movie plots unfold.
According to their website, Pixar's objective is to: "combine proprietary technology and world-class creative talent to develop computer-animated feature films with memorable characters and heartwarming stories that appeal to audiences of all ages." How cool is that?
Besides having an imagination worthy of earning the title of "Principal Creative Advisor, Walt Disney Imagineering", Lasseter has shown that he also does his research. To prepare for the hit film "Cars", Lasseter and his team travelled Route 66 (central to the movie's theme) to get a better idea as to what the characters would "experience" during the movie - both visually and emotionally. This hands-on experience helped craft the visuals and story behind the movie. The result was a story that touched our hearts, and added a sense of reality to what could have simply been a story of nothing but "talking" animated characters.
However much technology advances, it will still be important to audiences that animated characters invoke some sort of emotion in a story. In the November 2000 edition of Scientific American, John Lasseter was quoted as saying "an animator is just that special kind of talented actor who can make us believe that a collection of colored polygons has heart, gets angry and outfoxes the coyote." Whether the coyote and roadrunner are created using cell animation methods or modern day animation software isn't as important to the story as whether or not the audience is able to sit there and wonder whether the coyote will EVER CATCH the roadrunner. It's this emotional play that keeps us coming back for more.
What's important to a digital film's success isn't so much drawing ability or knowledge of computer modeling techniques, but acting skill since (to quote Alvy Ray Smith the author of the Scientific American article "Digital Humans Wait in the Wings") "an actor on stage or screen is an animator of his own being. He makes us believe that the body, voice and mind we see are those of an entirely different person..." This is true of all engaging immersive environments - their ability to transport us outside of reality to a world of another making.
I've always been fascinated by people who are lucky enough to make a living using their imagination. It is my hope that I too will some day hold this honour, and spend my days creating characters and stories that bring joy to millions.