Traditional Animation: The Lost Art



Pencil tests are one part of the countless aspects involved in an animation (photo credit to Disney).

Just like all technologies of this era, animation has greatly developed with time. From its beginnings in the early 1900s with traditional animation to the complex computer animations we have now, the world of drawn films has evolved into something incredible. As the world begins to leave traditional animation behind, however, we have to ask ourselves: is that the right choice?

Animation has been around for quite literally longer than sliced bread, with the first-ever animation being attributed to Emile Cohl with the short Fantasmagorie in 1908. The first animated movie came in 1937 with Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. Animation has prevailed all the way to  present times, when cartoons have been a part of all of our childhoods at one point or another. 

“I really love everything animated…Disney was such a big part of my childhood, and all the Disney Princesses will always have a special place in my heart,” said senior Emma Rowley.

Animation is an art that has many layers of complexity that many people don’t take into account. Like many types of art, the more you understand the process, the more you can appreciate the craftsmanship.

The development typically begins with a storyboard, or a rough comic that gives the general idea of the angles and positions of the scene. Next is the animatic, which almost serves as an animated storyboard; it provides the keyframes and general motion, usually synced up to audio. Then, all the frames between the general poses, also known as the in-betweens, are drawn. After all that is done, it’s only the beginning; afterward, it still needs to be inked and colored, which may be done by a separate team entirely.

“I feel like a lot of people don’t understand how much work goes into animation… I honestly didn’t know before I started doing it! Hundreds of hours can go into just a couple minutes. I have a lot better appreciation for it once I started doing it myself,” said animation major Eliza Gough.

Something that traditional has over the new 3D animations is that it holds up considerably longer. It’s an uncontroversial opinion to say that old 2D movies hold up considerably better than old 3D movies. For example, Toy Story and Pocahontas both came out in 1995. Toy Story’s 3D models looked aged, especially compared to its newest installment Toy Story 4. Pocahontas, however, has animation that still looks stunning to this day.

“I hereby propose Henson’s Law: Even the best CGI will look crude in 10 years, but awesome puppets will always look like awesome puppets,” said James Sutter on Twitter, echoing similar sentiments of many 2D animation lovers who believe traditional animation will hold up longer than 3D.

However, nowadays movie industries are leaning considerably more towards 3D animation. Disney, the most iconic of these animation industries, had its last well-known 2D animated film being over a decade ago with The Princess and the Frog in 2009. In fact, many think that Disney has purposely sabotaged its 2D movies in order to completely transition to 3D animation. Their last traditionally animated movies happened to release very closely to huge blockbusters. This includes Treasure Planet releasing the same day as the first Harry Potter film, The Princess and the Frog one week before Avatar, and Winnie the Pooh the same day as the final Harry Potter film.

“Animation is an art form that has been perfected over nearly a century… I will still always have an appreciation for the old style and hard work put into the traditional animation I grew up with and would still like to see more of today. It was this appreciation that inspired me to want to pursue animation myself and it’s an appreciation that I hope will spread even in our current age of CGI,” said the author of the article The Beauty of Animation

While 3D animation can have its own merit and beauty, traditional animation isn’t something that should be completely left in the past. While the process has been streamlined since the early days of animation, the beauty of 2D animation isn’t something to be forgotten. It takes great craftsmanship to perfect this sort of artform, and it’s one that manages to hold up for decades to come.