Technology – Stimulant of Change in Animation Design

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Animation is a discipline in demand across an array of channels – advertising, music videos, apps and more. Constantly evolving technology has compressed the distinction between live action and animation, as made evident by recently released animated films like 108 Demon Kings, A Rooster With Many Eggs and The Good Dinasaur. Animated characters are now as believable as the real actors.

1950s – Computer for Design – Use of computers for design objectives goes back to 1950s when a computer was specifically designed for plotting pictures, which would then be photographed to produce images on paper. Early computer monitors could draw only lines which limited their use.

Toy Story, First Feature-length Computer-animated Film – Toy Story, produced by Pixar, was the first feature-length computer-animated film, following the relationship between a group of toys that pretend to be lifeless whenever humans are present. Shrek, which amassed $484.4 million globally at the box office, established computer animation as a sophisticated and emotive form of animation.

John Whitney, Sr. and Walt Disney – John Whitney, Sr., considered the pioneer of computer graphics, is credited with bringing it into the film industry. Walt Disney, an overpowering figure in the history of animation, contributed big way through his Disney Studio, that not only came up with several technical innovations, but also introduced advanced animation as an art form.

Creating Photorealistic and Non-photorealistic Images – A number of techniques – scan-line algorithm, ray tracing, radiocity, fur, digital stuntmen, digital actors, among others – were developed over time to create photorealistic images of computer generated 3D objects.

Digital Pen and Ink – Introduction of digital pen and ink was a key development in the line of computer graphics and animation. Artists preferred using 3D environment for 2D animation as it makes it easier to change perspective and lighting condition. Technology made it possible to use special effects like water, snow, fire, smoke, steam, clouds, rain, lightening, etc,. in animation.

Strengths of 3D and 2D Animation – Technology can be used to promote 3D as well as 2D animation. However, there are salient differences between the two and it is for the animator to make the right pick. Advantages of 3D animation are ease of making changes, wider variety of visual style and less manual labor. Strengths of 2D animation are broader exaggeration and richer facial expressions.

Behavioral Animation – Behavioral animation involves a suite of techniques that facilitates interaction between a large number of ‘characters’ with rule based motion. Rather than procedurally controlling the position of tiny primitives, motion is generated for characters through orientations and interactions. The animator would set the rules, enabling an autonomous character to determine its own actions. The character can improvise, freeing the animator from the onus of specifying every single details of every character’s motion. Behavioral animation is generally deployed to animate flocks, herds and crowds.

Motion-specific vs Model-based Approaches – Any technique requires collective effort of the animator and the computer to produce the desired effect. A major criterion for distinguishing animation techniques is whether most of the job is done by the animator, or the computer. Motion specific approaches would require more input from the user and less computation, while model-based approaches involve more computation and less information from the animator.

Animation technology has changed and improved a lot since the early days of hand-drawn cartoons, and still is. The process is on.

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