Art Moves Forward (While Artists are Left Behind to Suffer?)
Visual representation of ideas, history, and stories has been an important part of human culture since prehistoric times, when cave paintings and other primitive drawings were used to record and relive events. As human culture developed, so did the visual arts, and primitive cave paintings gave way to more complex drawings, paintings, and engravings that told stories ranging from epic mythological tales to a simple moment from daily life. While a talented artist has always been able to bring drawings "to life" and have a sense of movement in the work, actual animation has its roots in the 1800s. Devices such as the zoetrope, also known as the "wheel of life," were simple and used a cylinder with slits in the sides to make the drawings inside appear to move when a person peered through the sides as it spun. Also popular in the 1800s was the flipbook, in which the drawings would appear to move when someone quickly flipped through the pages. The first official "animated cartoon" was created in 1906, and by the 1920s animated cartoons were commonplace along side the live-action film movies, also experimenting with color and sound. Walt Disney revolutionized animation through the 1930s, bringing into animation the idea that realistic motion and movement of the characters was vital to creating the best cartoon. Over the years, other forms of animation became popular as well, such as the stop-motion animation which made use of clay figures or other 3-dimensional "real" objects, which would be photographed frame-by-frame, like the drawings of hand-drawn cartoons, and would have the appearance of motion when the frames would be played at film speeds. Of course, whether or not most people are aware of the history of animation, it is nonetheless an integral part of Western culture today. The entertainment industry would be missing a vital piece without animation, and the film industry would be incomplete without the addition of the animated film.
In recent years, as both hand-drawn cartoons and Hollywood live-action special effects have all become more realistic to satiate the increasing demands for grandiose eye-candy for public consumption, new methods of creating visual art have been incorporated into the industry. Computers have been a standard addition to film-making for some time now, being used for special effects that would otherwise be impossible to create, and to add a flair to animated cartoons that would not be possible if drawing by hand. This digital addition to movie making has perhaps caused a stir by jaw-dropping the moviegoing audience, but it has never really been a controversial matter. The use of a blue-screen to digitally impose actors into a foreign setting is not only common but expected of a movie today. Even when digital animation made such leaps and bounds as being able to realistically make dogs and cats appear to be speaking English or have a believable scene in which a person morphs into a robot, people were thrilled and excited about the new capability of movies. Yet digital manipulation in films has recently taken some turns that have lead to controversy among artists. Now that the human form can be realistically created by computers for a film, some people think that traditional movie making with real life actors may be nearing an end, and that we are entering into an era where films will be created from beginning to end within a completely digital environment. Some artists are excited about this possibility as it will be possible to create things that were impossible before, while others are hesitant to embrace this technology because it is feared that actors will be replaced by digital simulations and therefore put out of work.
Computer animation is considered by many to be more closely related to stop-motion animation, such as puppet and claymation animation, than the traditional hand-drawn animation. The first computer animated film was released in 1974, and the medium continued to make progress during the following decades. Computer graphics, or CG, has been used in films like Star Wars (1977), but the makers of the film did not intend for the audience to be fooled into thinking that it had actually been filmed in the outer space locations presented in the film; the audience was expected to realize that there were in fact computer-generated special effects. In 1982, Tron became the first movie to use CG as an integral part of the movie, but again "the CG was still supposed to be computer-like because the action takes place inside a computer... It integrated computer animation with live action, but, since the action took place in a computer, the CG didn't have to look realistic (and didn't)." (Parent) CG is often used to create alien-like creatures, such as those found in movies such as The Abyss (1989), Terminator II, Jurassic Park (1993), and Species (1995), but the issues faced today are still worlds away from those facing the creators of such movies. Today, CG can be convincingly used to replace human actors in movies. Take, for example, the recent Lord of the Rings trilogy. According to one of the creators of the film, "There's been a thousand-fold leap in this technology from the first Lord Of The Rings film to the second one,... Before, we mostly showed these characters at a distance because they barely would have held up in the video game world. Now the camera shows almost full head shots of some of these guys." (Wolff, AI) It is actually possible to fool the audience today that they are seeing human actors on the big screen, when in fact the entire scene is computer-generated.
Even those who are artistically excited about the progress CG has made in the movie industry are completely aware of the fears held by others. According to one animator, "Some people view this as an evil evolution...That it gets rid of the creativity in the animation process. ...Eventually it will lead to the point where animators, as we know them today, will become superfluous....I'm not saying all animators will be gone, but...there will be three or four people doing this instead of 150." (Wolff, AI) Very much the same scenario is faced by animators and actors alike. Recently, Disney's Human Face Project jolted moviemaking technology into the future, allowing for digitally created performances that capture the tiny nuances and expressions of actors that were previously missing from digitally-created characters. Willliams, the head developer of the project says, "We tracked the face of a guy in his sixties onto a guy in his thirties. We abstracted the performance of the actor in a way that allowed us to cross-map it to another face." (Wolff, Creating) Plastic surgeons have helped the animators identify the 84 muscles of the human face, giving the animators a range of emotion and expression to work with that was previously missing from digital actors. Related to the hand-drawn techniques that have been used in animated cartoons to bring an actor's expression to a character, such as the Genie in Disney's Aladdin, "You can use [this technology] to drive the performances of characters with unusual shapes. Eerily enough, you can see the essence of that person in that performance. You could make a worm act like Robin Williams." (Wolff, Creating) In response to many of the concerns of actors and animators alike regarding being replaced by the technology, Williams states, "There's no reason that we can't incorporate the talents of realtime performers as well as the painstaking work of gifted animators. It may not necessarily be cheaper or faster; it depends on what actor you're trying to shoot.... In animated movies, it's amazing how strongly the artists regard their traditions." (Wolff, Creating)
"Despite all of the enthusiasm around synthetic actors, there remains a number of ethical questions. Concerns include everything from trade union and image rights to whether the technology will be able to fool audiences into believing they are watching real humans." (Suydam) Traditional animators are as much at risk of being replaced as the live-action actors, but far more controversy has been stirred regarding the actors, perhaps because it touches on a sore spot for people. "Filmmakers may soon be faced with their own version of the cloning debate. ...is it right to create humans out of pixels?" (Kehr) There was no uproar when Disney created the recent cartoon-style digital "Shrek," because it was presented as cartoonish rather than organic. Yet when more realistic humans are digitized, actors get scared. Tom Hanks is one of the bigger stars expressing concerns over such CG use in films. "I am very troubled by it...But it's coming down, man. It's going to happen. And I'm not sure what actors can do about it." (Kehr) However, is this fear of human animation vs. The animation of, for example, the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park driven more by a legitimate concern or by human pride? According to many experts, there is…