michael_barrier michael_barrier

LINK: Historian Michael Barrier Decries Pixar, CG Animation

Read the article on The Huffington Post.

  • Upstanding Citizen

    Michael Barrier earns my respect as a historian, but as a critic I’m afraid I don’t see a lot of what he claims on the screen. He’s making claims that don’t hold up for me. The accusation that Pixar’s strongarming the audience into emotional response in particular is a puzzling and pretentious statement that seems to imply his own superiority as a judge of storytelling.

    A shame, since he’s obviously an incredibly influential and intelligent individually who passionately studies this artform. But I personally get no constructive insight from his thoughts on feature films.

    • Hal

      Of all his arguments, I’d say the emotional manipulation one is more on the mark. Its more that Pixar is now falling into a routine of pushing narrative envelopes in the first act and then reigning in that progress to more conventional resolutions. Look at WALL-E – if he’d stayed brain dead in the third act it would have been a masterpiece and there wouldn’t have been a dry eye in the house. It would have been Pixar’s BAMBI (or its ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST) and strengthened the film’s argument about self-sacrifice for the good of humanity and the environment while lending the tragic edge that was there from the start a fitting end. Instead we get a convenient reboot and a happy ending, which was satisfying and we all breathed a sigh of relief and felt good… but it was cheap and easy. Then look at TOY STORY 3 – the inferno where a bunch of toys confront annihilation is terrifying, so much so its almost out of context with the rest of the movie, only to come back to that safe zone. Barrier did make a pretentious argument, but he’s not necessarily wrong. Its that they’ve chosen to make entertainment that’s safe instead of narrative choices that are genuinely daring… at least in the third act.

      As for the AESTHETICS of cg, if you watch Toy Story 1 – 3 in any close proximity you realize just how much advancement has come. Then bring in the loosness of ENCHANTED and the amazing stylization of David O’Reilly to name but a few and Barrier hasn’t a leg to stand on.

      • Michael

        I’d agree with you Hal, as far as Wall-E goes, certainly. I was so shocked when Wall-E was brian dead but a little voice inside me said: they’ll never let it end that way, certainly not when they’d already made the choice to change the story’s focus from Wall-E to the predicament of the humans. And of course, they didn’t let it end that way. I haven’t yet seen Pixar make the sort of choice made in Dreamworks’ “Dragon” — SPOILER ALERT! — to have the protagonist lose a limb. That really shocked me, and I thought. “Hot Damn!” Because it made sense for the character’s journey and sort of rippled back through the movie and added weight to what had come before, in what seemed to me to be a totally appropriate and honest way. The Pixar endings seem to be about removing whatever weight the characters have been toting around, and for the most part, it works for me, but I’d love to see it get changed up a little.

        Of course, your remarks on TS 1-3 and so on are right on the money. It’s literally not possible to watch those three movies in succession and not see the development. And now that I am thinking about it, the “Steamboat-to-Snow White” leap happened before Toy Story. It’s the “Wally B-to-Toy Story” leap that’s comparable.

    • Heya Upstanding Citizen.
      I’m in agreement with Michael’s “strongarm” comments regarding the film Up.
      I’ll tell you what I think he’s getting because I think it’s a fundamental flaw of the film.
      In a film we’re used to characters developing over the length of the story.
      For example: Woody (in TS1) starts out at the boss of the room, then has to deal with the introduction of a popular outsider. The results of these interactions changes Woody’s character and the audience follows him on this emotional journey.
      Buzz of course has a similar journey having to come to terms with the fact that he’s a toy and not a real space ranger.
      Karl in Up has none of this character development.
      Instead, the film makers cleverly dispense with the complicated business of getting to know a character by wrapping up everything in the opening montage.
      We don’t discover anything about Karl at all – the story tells us nothing about him.
      We’re *told* everything about him in the first 5 minutes of the film.
      Using emotional music and a hand picked series of cliched emotional beats the audience is handballed (or strongarmed, if you prefer) everything you need to know about Karl.
      And that’s what I think.

      • The Gee

        He had to be dragged along in adventures. In order for the Karl character to live life to the fullest, to achieve what he claimed to want, he needed to be pulled along.

        That opening montage explained that as an establishment shot.

        What was learned about Karl from that point on was just how passive and set in his ways he was as a person. He was alone without a spark and had not impetus (or want) to go beyond where he was. Then when he had to he planned his escape. So, we began to see more about him and how he reacted when his back was to the wall.

        There is a constant discovery or reveal about the character throughout the movie. To say there isn’t is not exactly fair.

        If there was a want for growth in the character, for him to change and develop, one needs to consider that the character had to go back to his youthful aspirations after years of having capitulated. Then, to grow, he needs to pick up where he left off. That point is when he stopped being pulled through life by his wife. That’s when he really gave up. But, he didn’t exactly make a ton of progress to achieve his goals/growth while his wife was still alive either. What he did accomplish was enjoying life with her. He lived an adventure with her. Once that ended, he didn’ t know what to do.

        As much as me writing this seems a bit much, good God, to need to explain it is mind-boggling. Just watch the movie again.

  • Karl Hungus

    I made this point in the comments of a previous article posted about this issue. The point that, CGI animation is bereft of any fingerprint. There is no individual talent providing a brilliant performance. The computer animation process has so many hands on the final product that talent isn’t valued as much as it was in the past.

    I remember one poster tried to tell me that its exactly like it used to be and that he could easily determine which CGI animators worked on which scene and “Doug Sweetwater’s character animation is distinctive in such and such a way blah blah blah.”
    Thats RUBBISH.

    I’ve revisited this point in my head while sitting through a hist of computer animated movies since and that argument is a fabrication. The audience’s eye is not discerning enough to identify the movement characteristics of a character alone. Drawings have a distinct traits and flourishes that add to their identity. CGI animation is muted down in that department and salaries in the industry will either remain static, or sink as more people graduate from college with a proficiency in a program rather than a style.

    • Jim

      Hi Karl, two questions:

      1. Over and over I see the argument that traditional animation is superior because each shot carries the personal marks of each individual animator. Why is this inherently superior? Isn’t the goal of filmmaking to create a seamless experience that reveals character and inspires emotional revelations through story? Isn’t that goal identical, regardless of medium? And how does it improve a film if that experience is actually LESS seamless (e.g., you can tell that a character, which ideally would be completely consistent, is not actually so?).

      2. I suppose this isn’t a question, but it seems pretty hilarious to me that you discount the evidence of hundreds and hundreds of CG animators (including myself) who all claim to recognize others’ shots based on the acting choices and movement patterns. All animation, regardless of medium, requires the animator to put him or herself into the characters in each shot. That will never change as long as animation exists, and it’s one of the reasons why I find it so beautiful — whether someone uses a pencil or a computer or a ball of clay.

      • Karl Hungus

        Because, quite simply, traditional animation is the equivalent of a CGI animation being designed, rigged, animated, and textured all by the same person. I don’t know any films where that’s done by one person. Do you?

        There is a personality that comes through honestly when the entire image and performance is crafted by one artist. There is a sublime element there that makes it another experience altogether that isn’t hinged on realism like 99% of all CGI. An animator’s fingerprint on a character makes it no less seamless than seeing Jack Nicholsen play different characters. They are all Jack Nicholsen-like, but they are all brilliant because he’s brilliant. I feel the same way about Avery or McKimson. I have never seen any CGI animation that has that kind of aura. And I think its ridiculous to assert that there are as clear a personality present in CGI animation. There isn’t.

        I think its pretty hilarious that CGI artists would be so arrogant that they think their manipulation of a skeleton that wasn’t designed by them and is altered in numerous processes after their hand has left it, would still have their mark all over it in the same way a hand drawn animators work has. Its like the difference seeing a performance of a singer live and hearing a recording that uses autotune.

        CGI is a different process altogether and like most things in this world, there is a balance. CGI has attained a realism that is nearly more realistic than reality itself. And its also pays a price in the personality of its animation because of that. Thats the way the cookie crumbles. You can’t have everything.

        Its not because CGI animators are inferior, its because the process is so much more complicated. I’m citing shortcomings in a process, not the artists that make it. Things get muted. Sure, the viewer gets used to them throughout the duration of a film and after 20 minutes they aren’t noticable, but they’re there.

        And no, I don’t think stop motion animation has what hand drawn animation has either.

      • The Gee

        “CGI has attained a realism that is nearly more realistic than reality itself.”

        Well, that does bring up the question of when does the character animation become less of a cartoon, and, is it a bad thing when it does become less of one?

        OK. Maybe that’s just two questions rolled into one.

        The more realistic physics are fine, as long as squash and stretch aren’t put by the wayside. But, the need for the visual gloss, the veneer, to more photoreal is….well, to me, it has been the wrong direction. But, I know that the end result doesn’t need to look like that, there’s other options for rendering. Obviously the choice is to render it with every grain of sand visible and every fiber blowing in the wind.

        If those touches are things that kick Barrier out of what he’s watching, I can see why. It really does seem like too much detail for a cartoon. Stone me if you want. It would be cool to see more well done CG that is done with restraint, in more of a minimalistic fashion. Not done half-*ssed but well done.

      • Because, quite simply, traditional animation is the equivalent of a CGI animation being designed, rigged, animated, and textured all by the same person. I don’t know any films where that’s done by one person. Do you?

        Am I reading this wrong? Because you seem to be saying the opposite of what’s the case. Traditional feature animation is done by an army of animators, inbetweeners, colourists etc and while of course the same is true of CGI from Pixar etc, computer animation makes it possible for a film to exactly be “designed, rigged, animated, and textured all by the same person”. There are countless examples of this in shorts and now even in features: M dot Strange for one is on the way to completion of his SECOND mixed media/CGI feature film as we speak.

        Hand drawn animation of the commercial, cel-animated, Disney variety is and has always been a process of massive compromise in which the real personality and hand of an individual artist doesn’t get thaaat much of a lookin at all, even if the end product is of phenomenal quality.

      • “nearly more realistic than reality itself.” haha what?

      • I’m sorry, but that statement is ridiculous. A cg animator can’t put his personality into his character because he didn’t rig it? Or design it? Does every 2D animator come up with his own finaled designed? And textures? Do you really think cg animators need to texture their characters? Do 2D animators switch over to ink and paint?

        Again, I’m sorry, but that is just so ridiculous to the point of being ignorant.

      • Karl Hungus

        There are a wealth of articles and analysis of traditional animators individual styles being prevalent in and drawn animated movies.

        There’s nothing of the kind for CGI even though its been around for what, 20 years already and the avenues of criticism and analysis have grown exponentially. Instead there’s just a select few of animators from the CGI industry that insist that there personal touch is retained in CGI films. Its not.
        Its not there.


      • Amelia

        Yeah as an animator of both mediums, I really disagree with this sentiment. I’ve animated in a studio setting in both 2d and cg and I felt that the performance I gave as an animator was far more intact in the cg animation I did. Tim is correct. A 2d animated scene done at a studio is not done entirely done by one person. The rough animation is, but the final scene has been touched by many artists. I mean, hello! Clean up! Another artist traces over every one of your drawings, adding lines and taking some away. This has a HUGE impact on the “purity” of the original test. And god, when the clean-up inbetweens are sent to another country to be done….FORGET about it. Unless you kept track of all the spacing and timing perfectly and charted everything, it’s over. When a rough test is ENTIRELY recreated frame-by-frame by a bunch of people other then the original animator, it’s definitely not pure anymore.

        When it comes to CG, everything I did as an animator is still intact in the final scene. All the tiny little details I put in are still there. Yeah the hair and cloth was added and not animated by me, but it’s still my performance. The very specific look *I* got in a characters eyes, that little piece of my soul I put in that character is still there.

        When I look at my 2d scenes finished I don’t recognize my characters’ eyes anymore! That is a huge deal. Those aren’t the eyes I drew. I don’t see myself staring back anymore.

        I’m sorry I just HATE hearing how traditional animation is this pure artistic expression and CG is just this soulless animation machine. Definitely in your own personal 2d animation tests it is, but in a studio environment? That is such BS. When it comes to a studio environment both are crafted by many people, but in my experience CG is better at holding on to the animator’s original performance.

      • Karl Hungus

        Oh, come on. You’re crazy.

        Any casual animation fan can almost instantly recognize Glen Keane’s work. The same can be said for Richard Williams. And its not because of the pacing or speed of movement alone. Its because those are their DRAWINGS up there. The key poses that were cleaned up by them that effectively guided any clean up process handed out. In the traditional process a guy like Andre Dejas is at the top of the work hierarchy and every aspect of the piece is based on what he created and flows from him.

        That not the case in CGI. There are processes of lighting and texturing that an animator simply doesn’t have that much control over. Not to mention the character is rigged by someone else before the animator even gets a hold of it. Its the sum of a team’s efforts. Now you can ague that in important scenes a great CGI animator, with a lot of clout, gets a final say on how those things look, but thats definitely not the case in most productions. But even when they do, its a computer process applied to their work as opposed to another artist evaluating how that work should be treated. And there is the quality lost in all of that.

        CGI has a dazzling realism to it that the audience never dreamed could be possible, and in each new feature released, the visuals are more and more amazing. I’m amazed by it! Traditional animation never had that aspect to even its finest films and it never will. But there is something taken away from individual artist’s voice to the work in CGI.

        Thats the fact of the matter. Anyone can see it.

        I’m not going to pussyfoot around the obvious because of the delicate sensibilities of the CGI animation community on this. They’re out of their gourds if they think that their work as animators is as essential an element to the production of movies they work on as traditional animators were during their heyday.

        *I’d also like to apologize for the horrible spelling of my above post(where I used “there” instead of “their”. I posted that before I had my coffee….

      • Mario NC

        I completely agree. Animation, has always been considered the ugly and underrated cousin of live-action even though they share only a few key aspects. They’re different and if the technology is advancing to a point where an animator will be capable of imitating live-action (which at the same time, is also an imitarion/illusion of real time) then we’re in big, BIG trouble. That’s not the evolution or the next step in animation, it’s a “de-volution” of decades of great artists trying to improve the traditional craft.

        Just for the record, I love Ratatouille, it’s one of my favorite movies of all time, but I’m not blind. Even with the inherent cartooniness of Remy and Linguini, they are still characters that moved and act in hyper-ealistic environments. The kitchen or the sewers provide a mood not by a sense of design, but by lightning ans staging (elements of live-action cinema). That’s pseudo-animation or the animated equivalent of those comic books where cartoon characters move in very realistic worlds (Cerebus, Tin Tin, Bone).

        Even if you disagree with the opinions of Michael Barrier, he still has some very good points. And yes, Toy Story 3 is manipulative and empty.

      • Tim K

        I would have to agree with Tim, Jean-Denis and Amelia on this one. The one aspect you are disregarding, Karl, is that all animation done in large scale productions is a team effort. In 2D, you can definitely see the hand of the supervising animators in the final film, however, I think you are discrediting the vast amounts of other animators and artists that also work on the films. Under the supervising animator, is a team of key animators, rough animators, rough inbetweeners, inbetweeners, clean-up artists, etc. who also have their hand in the animation as well. In the Disney film’s of the 60’s and 70’s you are seeing Milt Kahl’s, Frank and Ollie’s drawings because they used xerography to transfer their drawings onto cels. In more modern animation, is mostly digital, so while you may see a cleaned up version of the rough animation Glen Keane or Andreas Deja made. You are also seeing inbetween drawings that their teams made to match their style.
        In CG animation, on the other hand, I believe the animator has much more of a part in the finished film. The reason why I say this is because for the CG animator, there are no inbetweeners or clean-up artists. The character animation you see in any given shot is the work of 1 person. Sure, the characters were not designed, rigged, textured, lit or rendered by that animator, but I don’t see any reason it would make the animation any better if they did. A 2D animator doesn’t have any control over how the character is colored or what type of lighting they use in the final film, that’s the job of the color stylists and ink and paint team. I don’t mind that you prefer 2D over 3D, but you make it seem like in 2D, the supervising animators make the whole film by themselves. At least give credit where credit is due.

    • Ryan

      What about stop-motion animation? The animator doesn’t draw the character but moves an armature inside a model. Is it less legimate because not every animator on the production has their own personally-designed and built character model that they animate?

      I agree with Jim completely.

    • I have to disagree with that. I had a few moments where I knew who animated which shot. And I’m not really familiar with people’s work. So no, it’s not rubbish at all.

      But on the other hand, I prefer when the style doesn’t change. Take the awesome bathroom shot of Woody in Toy Story 3. Love it. But the style was pushed more than usual for that character, so it stood out as almost out of character. I wouldn’t put style over consistency. Style as whole is important, but the world within a movie has to be consistent. I don’t see it as “muted”, I see it as good work from the supervisors keeping it all cohesive.

  • Michael

    Mr. Barrier has been banging this drum for a long time. I know he is a knowledgable man but his continuing assertion that computer animators are less intimately involved with their art rings completely hollow to me, and almost has echoes of the ignorant presumption that people somewhere press a few buttons and cartoons just pop out of the computer somehow. Also puzzling to me is his repeated insistence that what he’s terming “character animation” is essentially nonexistent in CGI animation. I think I either have a warped conception of what “character animation” is, or Mr. Barrier is making some wildly inaccurate suppositions of the process involved in making these films. I’ve certainly seen immensely moving and finely detailed character animation — as I perceive it — in any number of CG animated films. Perhaps someone here can explain to me what Mr. Barrier means by the term?

    Mr. Barrier’s characterization of, for example, the opening sequence in “Up” as shamelessly manipulative baffles me as well, given his shining examples of completely “emotionally organic” “unmanipulative” films as “Dumbo.” It’s hard to describe sequences such as “Baby Mine,” for example, as being any less manipulative than that sequence in “Up.” Speaking as an editor, it makes me feel keenly aware that Mr. Barrier is not a filmmaker, let alone an animator, and not really aware of how manipulation of audience emotions and expectations is more or less the name of the game. There is a continuum, of course, but when it’s really nothing but manipulative, my experience has been that audiences just don’t respond.

    Of course, Mr. Barrier is demonstrably wrong in claiming there have been no developments in computer animation other than finer polishes on surfaces and textures. The CGI characters of today are much more expressive, and the degree of control and nuance today’s animators have over their creations is manifest. It’s simply wrong to suggest otherwise. To measure these advances against Walt’s progression from “Steamboat Willie” to “Snow White” is like saying that there haven’t been any good rock and roll bands in the last ten years because the Beatles managed to do so well in ten years and nobody’s been able to do as well in the last ten. It’s, well, it’s not even a Straw Man, it’s not even an argument that makes any sense. One simply can’t point to that sort of lightning-in-a-bottle confluence of talent, ambition, drive, timing, persistence, vision and plain good luck and measure anything against it and thus find the latter wanting.

    Mr. Barrier is increasingly reminding me of BU’s Ray Carney, who bangs away constantly at the same old drum, decrying any film that wasn’t made by John Cassavettes and isn’t essentially neorealist and devoid of any artifice as nothing less than cultural garbage. For him, if it’s not two people sitting in a room bitching at each other, it ain’t a film. For Mr. Barrier, who endlessly recites the sort of thing quoted in this article virtually every time he reviews a CG film, if it isn’t hand-drawn, directed by Walt Disney before he got interested in theme parks, and made before 1950, it doesn’t seem to be authentic.

    With the mind-melting exception, of course, of his views on “The Polar Express.” I will leave it to you to look up his review of that wonderful, authentic “animated” film.

    I sometimes wonder why he is taken so seriously. His scholarship on animation’s early days is beyond reproach, but I find his views on contemporary animation curmudgeonly at best.

    • GhaleonQ

      I do think Dumbo’s crass. It’s 1 of my least favorite before Disney’s 2nd budget period, even though I love the premise and artistic influences. However, his argument’s based on the idea that Up leads with the manipulative scenes. Viewers have no knowledge of the characters, so when their personalities are conveyed in cliche (and in horrible movie cliche at that; does anyone ACTUALLY watch clouds?), it amounts to manipulation.

      I disliked the article immensely for making him see whiny. Well, more whiny. He’s still my favorite modern animation critic.

      • Alberto

        I like watching clouds from time to time. They can be quite beautiful. You should try it sometime

  • comparing CGI to hand drawn animation is like comparing watercolors to pastel chalk drawings. They’re not the same medium, and can’t be judged on the same criteria, because they’re created by different means & methods. Naturally, there is quite a bit of cross-over, but there are too many differences to lump them both together and compare them as if they ought to be the same thing. let CGI do what it does best, and appreciate it for that, without constantly saying, why isn’t it this or that like hand drawn is. Each medium has its own strengths and weaknesses. I respect Mr. Barrier’s rep as a historian and animation writer, but disagree with his conclusions in this matter, and I would bet I’m not alone there.

    • Ed

      I agree. I’ve always thought CG is more akin to stop motion. Inner rig, outer skin, moving a puppet frame by frame in 3d space, lighting in 3d space…

      • Brian O.

        That’s where the similarities end. One form floats, the other contends with gravity.

      • The Gee

        And, yet with the right tools, true computer generated puppetry could be done. I wonder how long before someone uses the Kinect or some other setup for that purpose? Or, has it already been done?

  • Lucas

    Emotionally strongarming an audience into having an emotional reaction… is called acting. Setting up a contrived situation which evokes feeling is what all fictional storytelling is, and when it does it well enough to cause actual laughter, fear, anger or tears, it’s very successful. The Carl and Ellie montage in Up was poetically staged, character driven, elegantly pantomimed and if it had sucked and we didn’t care about the characters by that point, we wouldn’t have felt choked up. Same goes for the incinerator scene in Toy Story 3. Either one could’ve been handled badly or winkingly, but instead there was a heartfelt exploration of those moments by the artists portraying them, and that they resonated like they did means they did well.

    • pheslaki

      Well said. Whether or not you feel manipulated or carried away is subjective, not objective.

    • Funkybat

      I tend to agree with Lucas’ point of view. I don’t really get where people are coming from with the “Pixar films are emotionally manipulative” thing. I mean, I know *what* they are talking about, but I just don’t find it to be out of line or different from any other successful filmmaker.

      Would it be better if Pixar made films with characters and situations more like the more run-of-the-mill Disney films of the late 90s/early 2000s, where you had some beautiful artwork combined with “vanilla” characters and conflicts? Would pleasant, somewhat forgettable stories and characters be better than ones that make you feel “artificial emotions?” (Whatever those are.) I mean, are the emotions you feel when you see Dumbo separated from his mother somehow more “real” than seeing Andy say goodbye to his toys forever & passing the toy torch to a new child? It does not compute for me. Successful storytelling is all about getting your audience to become emotionally involved with the characters and the story they are taking part in, so that you are in essence taking part in it with them.

      Maybe it is the extremely good aim of Pixar that is pissing some people off. Every time I see a new Pixar film, I get hit at least once by something that strongly resonates with my own life story and people in it. It reminds me of how Capt. Picard in “Star Trek First Contact” knew the hidden “soft spot” the Borg had, and directed all the ships to fire their weapons at that spot. The folks at Pixar “know where to hit us” (or most of us anyway) and we love the experience and come back for more. If you don’t like it, don’t go to see their films…

  • Karim

    Well, before reading blogs (Michael Sporn, Hans Perk, etc.) I couldn’t tell which animator did what on the classic Disney… this will possibly be said for CGi films in the future.

    I haven’t seen Tangled, but according to Glen Keane he could say who did what shot… Ok, he’s the animation director, but unless you have access to archives and the veterans, who could differentiate the animators on the classics ?

    Is that really an issue ?

  • AmPhotog

    Isn’t the purpose of every film to invoke an emotional response from the audience?

    • Jorge Garrido

      Yes, but not to manipulate or strongarm. Authentic emotional reaction is different from cheap counterfeit tears.

      • Personally, I had an extremely strong emotional reaction to Up, and who are you or Michael Barrier or anyone to say that it wasn’t authentic?

        That’s the problem I have with Barrier’s critique – I am totally okay with people not liking things I like. But when those people claim that people who like those things only like them because they have been manipulated into “counterfeit” emotions, well then, I think I am perfectly justified in feeling insulted.

  • JOEY

    The Character acting in “Up” “Tangled” and “How to Train Your Dragon” is as effective and well crafted as anything else that’s ever been done. BOOM.

  • Bruce Wright

    I disagree with about everything he wrote here, but I wanted to comment on a very small part.

    He is very specific in choosing his timelines for animation’s improvement.

    For hand-drawn he chooses the era between Steamboat Willie and Snow White.

    For CG he chooses the era NOT between Andre and Wally B. and Toy Story…but between the first and last Toy Story, two feature films 15 years apart which share a continuity of look.

    If we do the same thing with Disney’s features we would find ourselves comparing Snow White with Alice in Wonderland.

    Draftsmanship aside, I think Alice pales in almost every aspect to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

    That is not to say that the artfom didn’t have steps forward throughout Disney’s golden age. But merely that it’s a convenient choice of the bracketing years that does a disservice to the undeniably meteoric rise in the quality of CG animation from the earliest days of Pixar.

    • Funkybat

      Good call, Bruce. I had the same thought regarding what period of the artforms’ development corresponded to each other. We have entered an era of extended refinement of an existing medium with 3D animation. It’s not really “new” or “cutting edge” anymore. There will be breakthroughs, but in the same way that Xerography and digital ink & paint were “breakthroughs” for 2D. They improved the process of creation, but the end result didn’t look significantly different from 2D animation done before those things, and that’s somewhat by design.

  • God Bless Michael Barrier.

    • I keep seeing the number of comments for this post increasing, but they’re all blending together into one exhaustive whine of : “Wahh, M.B.’s a mean ol’ grandpa!” Boring. I’m going to drink a beer on the toilet and watch Popeye cartoons.

      • The Gee

        Do you think it is a solid critique or one man’s opinion?

      • Joey P.

        I think you’re missing some of the more insightful critique’s of Mr. Barrier’s… critique. I understand you also share similar (perhaps overcritical) views of Pixar, and, it seems, most modern animation, but at least listen to what people are really saying.

    • I’m with you there. So much hate going on here. Apparently people don’t respect the kind of work he did to give us the information on the Golden Age of animation that we have. You don’t have to agree with his criticisms, but he will make you “think” about the cartoons you watch.

      • Pavlovich74

        I believe that is why critics exist, just to help us think more about what we view/listen to/read. It does not matter that you disagree, as long as your argument with the critic helps you look into the film/song/book/painting closer, and think about it deeper.
        I don’t agree with every criticism I read about different art forms but I find that they help to stimulate discussion and we all benefit from that.

  • MichaelHughes

    Every animation historian I’ve met doesn’t seem to really have as much intelligent insight or analysis into animation as film historians do about the whole of film. It’s like they can’t see the forest for the trees. At this point animation filmmakers should be more worried about looking back to Ford and Godard than Frank and Ollie.

    • Ted

      Have you considered that film criticism is just as un-insightful as animation criticism, it’s just that you’re familiar enough with animation to see it, as opposed to the vast hydra which is film as a whole? Alternately/relatedly, general film criticism has lots more material to BS about.

  • There’s so much crap in Barrier’s statements regarding this particular issue, it would take all day to refute. In short: Don’t listen to that guy! He’s crazy!

  • You lost me at “Huffington Post”, who seem to really want to become the place where crackpots and people talking outside their expertise have a soapbox.

  • In more positive pixel news, Pixar Times has a first look at the new Toy Story short, Hawaiian Vacation:


    • Funkybat

      Looks pretty cute! I think having shorts featuring the ongoing adventures of the Toy Story gang is a great way to keep that “world” alive. I’m a little surprised they would have a new short featuring them so soon after TS3. If we had to wait a couple more years and they returned then, it would probably have more of a “surprise” factor, but it’s good to learn that TS3 wasn’t the last we’d ever see of them!

  • Geoff Gardner

    Wow … I enjoy Barrier’s commentaries on some of the Looney Tunes Golden Collections, and respect his knowledge, but I couldn’t disagree with his opinions more in this case. I think that Pixar is absolutely creating their own golden age of animation, and I firmly believe that if Walt Disney were alive today he would have long ago embraced computer animation as yet another means to convey a story when used properly. Pixar deserves every single accolade that it has received. I’ve seen lots, but not all of the other films they’ve gone up against over the years. From what I have seen, they are the best – it’s that simple.

  • The Gee

    I have yet to read it and am a bit hesitant to do so.

    With his criticism of Pixar is he miffed with the studios use of sentimentality or the predicability that often results from certain stories that use sentimentality?

    I guess the studio hasn’t produced its “Old Yeller” for its stable of family films but how many studios do these days? And, is it dealing with tragedy which is seen as that important?

    For some reason “Tragedy is easy, comedy is hard” comes to mind. Going for “feel good” may seem easy but we are awfully jaded folks these days. When I get around to reading Barrier’s piece, I hope the piece doesn’t just come across as just as jaded.

  • Gray64

    A learned man, entitled to his opinion, of course. Still, after reading his article, I come away with the notion that he was already predisposed against CGI, which kind of compromises his arguments.
    A great many people have formed emotional connections to Pixar movies, been emotionally effected by them. Barrier kind of insults them here.

  • Oliver

    Michael Barrier, the Armond White of animation criticism… he also hates Miyazaki (but loved ‘The King’s Speech!).

    • Joey P.

      He’s never said he hates Miyazaki; in fact, he’s said that his respect for the Japanese animation virtuoso grows the more he watches his films.

  • PeteR

    barrier may be a “historian,” but he’s hardly an “expert.”. He wallows in a sentimental past that belies his old age.

  • They make family movies. Family movies. How far do the boundaries of family movies ever get pushed?

    • Jorge Garrido

      When they get nominated for Best Picture, the boundaries of predictability and convention should be pushed quite far.

      • cjseaton

        Then why was that song from “Country Strong” sung by Gwyneth Paltrow nominated for best song? Just because a movie gets an Oscar nomination doesn’t mean it’s pushing “the boundaries of predictability and convention”. It just means a lot of highly influential people liked it a lot and voted for it to win an award that in the end is arbitrary at best.

  • The Gee

    I’ve read the interview with Barrier and re-read the current comments, too.

    I can understand what he’s saying. I also believe I get why he might be saying why he can see the process.

    The problems he pointed out though…

    Like others mentioned, his timeline of early advancements isn’t exactly fair.
    Since the first “Toy Story” was made, decades of animated features had passed. By the time “Snow White” was made, there had not been very many animated features.

    We have a lot of precedents with which you can contrast with “Toy Story 3” or any future Pixar release. But, if his problem is Pixar’s CG and Pixar Storytelling, it doesn’t seem worth getting bent out of shape over.

    Audiences have and do respond to Pixar’s films. If they are being shamefully manipulated into feeling certain ways with “synthetic emotions” nonetheless well shouldn’t we just chalk that up to something evil?

    Obviously, there’s witchcraft involved with that.

    As for seeing the process…If he doesn’t need to look that deep to see the process and he can’t lean back as he seems to be able to do with earlier, better works, I don’t know how that is solved with him. Turning it off and suspending disbelief and not over-analyzing can be tough when you can’t let a film do its thing on you. It happens. It sucks. I wish it were easier with CG but dang that stuff can be mesmerizing. If it were bad hand drawn, classical, animation, I’d look away. But, I couldn’t get through things like “The Snow Queen” and the excerpts I saw of the “Thief and the Cobbler.” I’ve given not-so-great CG films due diligence.

    Its him more than an unbiased critique of the state of Pixar’s feature film CG storytelling. If someone can point me to more pointed critiques, I’ll reconsider my point. Based on the brief Q and A…that’s my two cents, adjusted for wicked high inflation.

    For goodness’ sake, Charles Dicken’s wallowed in sentimentality. Some of his contemporaries parodied his work for those reasons. Dicken’s works are still better known than the ones that dissed him. Culture works out like that often.

  • When I read Barrier’s book (Hollywood Cartoons) I got the impression that he felt all of animation was crap except for a couple scenes Bill Tytla did of Grumpy in “Snow White”. He’s just not the kind of guy I’d go to for positive criticism.

    • Funkybat

      I have to say that if he’s *that* down on anything produced by Pixar, he would probably have a fit of nausea if he looked at most TV animation. I can appreciate the difference in quality between classic Disney, Pixar’s films, Hanna-Barbera, Looney Tunes, on and on… I can also enjoy them all on their relative merits. His critiques of what is “missing” from 3D films can go both ways. I’m a hand-drawn animation lover, but I can easily cite things that CG does “better.”

      Enjoy each art form for what it is, including subgenres meant for different audiences/media such as TV animation or game animation. Comparing 2D and 3D is frankly getting to be a stale fight that does nothing to advance the overall art form of animation.

  • Matt Bell

    Barriers articles on contemporary animation are mostly cynical snipes that appear to be without any point other than to defame, and without any major justification for doing so.
    He never really tries to address any of the big issues that I think a lot of young artist & filmmakers have when it comes to our ‘apparently changing’ medium.
    Here are some of my own thoughts:
    @Michael Barrier & others;
    Sentimentality is in the eye of the beholder.

    3D, 2D, stop -motion, cut-out or paint on glass.
    These are all simply processes, techniques, knowledge and tools.

    The animation ‘art form’ itself is what we do with the techniques, what we construct and achieve with them.
    And that has far more to do with the people who undertake the task of learning and utilizing them than anything else does.

    @the broader animation community;

    Progress is not simply death the to old knowledge or old practices, it builds upon and sits beside them as well.
    And when the goal is that of creation and expression, it means that there is simply a broader scope of visual possibilities with the potential to be explored.

    I am not against realism, and certainly not against a level of naturalism in animation.
    But Reality & realism are always right in front of us.
    Animation shouldn’t have to constantly try to encompass every aspect of it.

    Yes, reality is ‘a / the’ source, but it shouldn’t inevitably be the product.

    Stop treating Animation like Film.
    It’s not.
    Animation has a diversity of visual potential and a freedom of abstractness that pure film doesn’t.
    Embrace and explore that.

    There is so much more to be found by exploring the diversity of styles and ‘limitations’ that one can impose on aspects of a creative project, which beg inventive thought and solutions down the road.
    The trick is to choose to do so.

    – Matt Bell

  • Toonio

    There goes my shares in animationmentor.com :(

  • I couldn’t agree more with Michael Barrier’s opinion.

  • Oscar Goldman

    Is that his real logo next to his portrait at the top of the page? How appropriate. An animated figure running to his ruin, falling off the page, disappearing from everyone’s attention.

  • I feel like Barrier hasn’t seen Tangled. I mean, I’m in the middle of spending a ridiculous amount of money to learn how to do traditional animation halfway across the country from home because I’ve never been attracted to CGI and all its limitations. And Tangled still made me say, “Holy crap, there’s hope for this after all.”

    It’s also incredibly unfair to use Toy Story 3 as an example of the current state of CGI, as the characters and sets were created purposefully to look like they existed in the same world that the first film created in 1995.

    I guess five years ago I might have agreed with this guy completely, and I still might have a bit more sympathy for his argument if I hadn’t been slapped with a “sentimental” label just because Up made me bawl my freaking eyes out.

    • Found his review of Tangled… seemed to like the animation, and then he said a lot of things that didn’t make any sense, like “Did the directors and their superior, John Lasseter, understand or value the tool that their highly skilled (and essentially anonymous) animators gave to them? I have to doubt it. Lasseter’s Pixar features have conspicuously shunned the challenge of animating real-seeming human characters, in favor of toys and cars and the like.”

      I also went and looked up his Polar Express review, and he said some things in there as well that make it sound like he’s under the impression that if CGI animators just TRIED a little harder, they could have “bridged the uncanny valley” and been making gloriously appealing 3D characters 15 years ago, but they just didn’t really feel like going to the trouble.

      • “Pixar features have conspicuously shunned the challenge of animating real-seeming human characters, in favor of toys and cars and the like.”

        Ratatouille, anyone?

  • Kellie

    So much rage here. I guess animation isn’t a subjective medium, then.

    While I agree with Barrier, I can’t help but feel that his views on the subject matter are somewhat too conservative. I know the dude’s 70, but I expected an educated animation historian to be more open-minded about these things than the average animation fan (like me).

    I’m not really angry about it, though. He’s not as annoying and closed-minded as John K. was on the Looney Tunes Golden collection commentaries, ugh.

  • I don’t agree with everything he says, but I usually like to see someone has a different opinion. Especially with Pixar, which is so universally loved that it just can’t be good. I’m not saying you shouldn’t congratulate a company that’s making good movies or giving them prizes, but the way every critic is acting like all of their movies are completely flawless and always deserve more credit than anything produced by other company seems a little exaggerated to me.

    About the emotional/manipulative thing I believe both Pixar and Disney kind of share that style, though maybe Disney did integrate that in the story a little more. Like others have said that scene with Wall-E losing his memory seemed like a cheap manipulative moment before it ends in a happy way. I won’t say I’d have find the sad ending better, cause I just didn’t see so much of a strong narrative or character driven story in that film beyond the first thirty minutes. To me it was basically the same if Wall-E ended well or bad. I’m not saying the robot wasn’t cute and I wouldn’t have felt bad if he had lost his memory at the end. I’m saying that it doesn’t have anything to do with the story whatsoever. At that point the focus was in the humans returning to earth, and Wall-E had already won Eve’s hearth, so both things (being good or losing his memory) were equally random in the general scheme of the story. Dumbo, Bambi or Lion King, for that instance, had their sappy moments, and they weren’t subtle, but they were very connected to the story.

    Toy Story 3 is also a little manipulative to me, though I like the incinerator scene. But the ending is esentially a happy one. It’s emotional and well done but I felt like the music and length of the scene was pushing it too hard. Maybe I’m too cold but to me Andy has always been a story element more than a character. If the movie had ended with Woody saying goodbye to Buzz forever, now that would have been really sad. But Andy? I know Woody is very loyal to him, but the kid doesn’t even know that his toys are alife. At the end of the movie the toys are safe in the arms of a very nice little girl. Ok ending, but why they are trying to make it so sad with the music, voice acting, etc.?

    I disagree with Barrier about Up, though. I read his whole review and I’d agree with him about some manipulative moments, like Carl doing the cross thing in his chest way too often, but the first scenes seem integrated in the story and very well crafted. There is a certain disconnection between the first scenes and the rest of the story, which is esentially a light, fun, adventure-which I loved, I thought it was very funny and entertaining-but I felt like it had little relation with Ellie. In fact, at some point, Carl and Russell because the first one had already done what he was trying to do and was not interested in the whole thing about the bird. Then there’s that little scene with the photo album that gives “closure” to his story, but there isn’t that much of a relation with the Russell part, apart from the fact that Ellie and Carl never had a children.

    Still I felt the first scenes sincere enough, cause they were there to give the character a motivation, even if that motivation wasn’t so important for the actual story at the end of the day.

    About the whole CGI versus traditional animation thing, I think the characters in CGI are getting more expressive, but I felt it was like starting all over again. The most expressive ones in Tangled or Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs are pretty similar to what Tarzan or Dexter’s Laboratory had already done much earlier. Yeah, I guess the CGI has some “bonuses” like camera angles, textures or other technical stuff that can be good or bad depending of your opinion, but basically when CGI is well done we say that it’s “almost like 2D animation”. I still fail to see CGI like the natural medium to make cartoons, I have always seen it more like an instrument to make realistic special effects. I tried to learn CGI once and I felt it was extremely complicated to make a cartoony character, while I can take a pencil and a paper and get better results in five minutes.

    • Gray64

      “Pixar…is so universally loved it can’t be good.”
      Look, if you dislike something, fine. If you want to be critical of something, fine. But if your priamry reason for disliking something is that you think too many other people like it a whole hell of a lot, and are too busy liking it to look for its flaws, then you, friend, are beyond help and your opinions in this regard should be dismissed out of hand.

      • Andy Rose

        In some of his scholarship about Disney, Barrier has betrayed an odd disgust with Middle America. He strikes me as what you might call an “anti-anti-intellectual.” Not only is it bad to sell out one’s artistic vision to an average American, it seems any attempt to take one’s audience into consideration at all is beneath him.

        I sometimes wonder if people who get upset at “emotional manipulation” are just mad that they themselves got caught up in the moment, too, and have to lash out in order to preserve their sense of artistic integrity.

      • This is the fourth time I try to respond to it but I really wanted to say that I don’t dislike Pixar movies. I pretty much like all of them, I even thought Cars was ok (at least the best you could get from that uninteresting premise) and loved some.

        My english is not very good. I didn’t mean something universally loved can’t be good. I meant that is not good when something is so universally loved. Even the good things need some criticism.

        Pixar make great movies but they’re not flawless. Other companies are also making great movies and sometimes they don’t get as much credit as Pixar.

        That’s all my problem with this.

  • I agree with Barrier when he touches on writing issues. When it comes to narrative cartoons–short or feature–story is still king. With all due respect to y’all, it seems strange to see so many adults here defending derivative kiddie products like “Wall-E” and “Toy Story” sequels. Bo-o-o-ring!

  • I wasn’t totally fair with CGI animation in my previous comment so I felt like I should extend a little more about that topic.

    I’d say this straight. I clearly prefer traditional animation to CGI or stop-motion. And I’m talking about the visuals exclusively. However with stop-motion I don’t have the same problems I’ve with CGI.

    Watching “Wallace and Gromit”, “Coraline” or “Fantastic Mr. Fox” I never felt that movies were trying to imitate the visual style of any other features. The problem with CGI is that I always feel like it’s trying to imitate something,whether it be traditional “cartoony” animation (“Kung Fu Panda”), traditional “Disney” animation (“Tangled”, “Ratatouille” or “Up”), life action (Zemeckis’ works) or even stop motion (“Flushed Away”).

    Even in the ones that are really well done I still feel like I’m watching an imitation of the real thing. That’s what I see CGI as the perfect medium for special effects for life action movies, like “Avatar”, when the goal is to create something that is almost real but doesn’t exist in real life, but I fail to see it like a substitute of traditional animation.

    However, there had been a couple of movies that made me doubt about it. The main one may be “Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs”, which esentially looked like a cartoony cartoon in the vein of Spongebob, but it also looked a little like really wacky stop motion or puppets of some sort. While I’d have probably liked it more in traditional animation I still admit some of its look took advantage of the CGI medium. It had camera movements and 3D effects that would be a pain to do in 2D and even the characters design was usually interesting in the way that they looked like “Muppets” with some dimentions.

    While with “Tangled”, though really well done, I still thought it didn’t do much more visually than, say, “Tarzan”, in which the backgrounds and camera angles (the special effects, so to speak) already took advantage of the CGI but the traditional animated characters and their expressions looked more vivid and easier to read than those of “Tangled”.

    Pixar films are divided between those that use “inanimated objects” and those that use animals and humans. While I tend to prefer the visuals in the more “cartoony” ones I still can’t help but thinking those are the ones that should have been done even in traditional animation. “Up”, “Ratatouille” or “The Incredibles” are great achievements for CGI, but it’s a little like the uncanny valley thing with life action, the closest it gets to the “real” thing (cartoons) the more I miss they were hand-drawn. On the other hand, the ones about “inanimated objects” like the “Toy Story” saga or “Wall-E” , have a look that kinda justifies the use of CGI. They look like “real” toys or robots, but they’re animated. We could get different results in traditional animation, but not the same thing. “LOTSO” wouldn’t look as a “real” teddy bear in 2D, for instance.

    So I don’t know. Trying to be objective and leaving aside my preferences about 2D, I guess all the tools are valid, though I usually feel that most of the movies we see today are made in CGI cause it’s what’s hot now and works with audience (or , in other words, that’s what Pixar does), without actually thinking too much about what tool is the more adequate for the visuals of each individual story.

  • Ad

    Why isn’t anyone allowed to express a dislike for Pixar movies? People automatically go into lynching mode whenever somebody says theyre anything less than a masterpiece.They just seem like movies aimed at toddlers, don’t know how grown men and women like them so much.

    • Gray64

      Well, you answer your own question, to an extent. Your comment that “you don’t know how grown men and women like them so much” kind of says “I don’t like these movies, and I think you are childish and stupid if you do.” People go into “lynching” mode in the face of criticism that is intended to make them feel stupid for daring to enjoy something.

      • Well, I also think Ad’s comment is dangerously close to saying “animation is for kiddies”, but there’s a chance he thinks Pixar movies are the ones that seem directed to kids in a variety of animation features.

        And I agree , to some extent. I may add I’m not saying that as a bad thing. They are excellent movies, but they are usually “family” movies, maybe not only for kids, but certainly more aimed to the regular family viewers and their children than they are to teenager couples, for example. There’s nothing bad in that, but there are a lot of life-action movies there that are directed to everybody from teenagers to adults, with or without children or couples.

        Anyway I definitely agree with the “People automatically go into lynching mode whenever somebody says theyre anything less than a masterpiece” part. I think most of them are good, and some of them are masterpieces, but there are too many people who think every one of them are masterpieces and don’t ever make a single criticism about any point of the story or characters. That’s exaggerated.

        And after all Ad’s comment just say he doesn’t understand why grown people liked them “SO MUCH” and that they are directed “TO TODDLERS”. Like I said I don’t totally agree with the last line, but I don’t see the part where he said people are childish and stupid if they like these movies. Maybe childish is kind of implied but not necessarily stupid. Children are not stupid.

      • Ad

        As if Im saying “all animation is for kiddies”,for example The Incredibles was marketed as something both children and adults would enjoy, similar to in sophistication to say a Warner Bros cartoon,but the movie really wasn’t like that at all.I tried to put a link up to an article where the only 2 critics who gave Toy Story 3 an average score were harassed by Pixar fans but it didn’t appear.

  • Geneva

    I’m not a huge fan of Barrier, actually, but I thought his criticism of Pixar’s sentimentality was right on the money. Too bad the writer’s tone made Barrier’s critique sound a lot crazier and old-mannish than it actually is. The writer’s bias is obvious.

  • Jack Torrance

    I just got out of an advanced screening of Rango, and for once someone had the balls to make an animated feature that doesn’t have one-sided cliched colorful 1950’s nostalgia bull-malarki that’s so prominent in Pixar and most of the major studios.

    The characters in Rango are actually ugly and disgusting, lit like a real movie from a real director, not afraid to take risks. And they all speak like they’re from a Coen Brother’s film.

    All the rest of these animated films are practically coloring books for poop. Why was Up and TS3 ever nominated in the first place? Oh right, simply because it’s Pixar. And they actually thought they could compete with Best Picture? Laughable. They’ve got hundreds of creative individuals stuck in a sandbox.

    • Uh perhaps because Toy Story 3 actually was the best picture, ie. the picture the most people liked.

  • Much as I’d like to agree, and there are things Barrier says that I do indeed agree with,
    I think he’s way off base to paint the entire medium with such a wide brush. There is successful CG and there is stuff that doesn’t work very well. Generalizing in such a way is unfair and untrue.
    BTW; I’ve been hearing good things about Rango. Personally, it’s the only animated feature I’ve been looking forward to seeing.

  • To me it just seemed to boil down to the old argument of 2D versus 3D

  • w

    I just don’t understand the hubbub, bubs.

    I’ve read the article twice.

    The first time, JUST reading Barrier’s quotes.
    The second time, I read the text AROUND the quotes.

    Barrier’s just expressing an opinion, and kind of mildly, at that. It’s the author, Jordan Zakarin, who’s making the sweeping summaries telling you what Barrier’s “really” saying, and it seems that those words are the ones commenters are crapping their pants about.

    And that’s Jordan’s job – to get you to read his article. Well done, Jordan.

    Do I agree with Barrier? Not entirely. But he’s not being an ogre about it either. There are other self-professed professionals who are far more cruel. He’s just telling you how it feels to him. He doesn’t like it, fair enough. However, millions DO, so what’s the big deal?

    Oh, and in ‘How To Train Your Dragon’, I’m wondering who animated Gobber losing his stone tooth in his beer while conversing with Stoick about his son’s prospects. Gobber was shockingly fluid and there was a lot of entertaining business executed in a short scene. Nice work, whomever it was.

    • billnyc

      Spot on. The article was an oversimplification and misrepresentation of Barrier’s views. Here are two quotes from his review of ‘Tangled’:

      Barrier: “Far from being disappointed in the animation, as my friend was, I was thrilled by it. A great deal of CGI animation has more or less successfully aped live action, especially its surface textures, but the exact equivalence I saw in parts of Tangled has never been achieved before, to my knowledge. I would have said that it couldn’t be done, but I would have been wrong.”

      He continues…

      “Where CGI is concerned, it seems to me that a complete naturalness in the characters’ movements, like that in parts of Tangled, does not limit the animators to a deadening literalness. Instead, it creates the potential for more subtle and expressive animation of a distinctly non-literal kind, just as the Disney animators’ growing mastery of hand-drawn animation in the 1930s meant that cartoon characters like the Seven Dwarfs could be more insistently present on the screen than characters that were drawn with superficially greater realism.”

  • tedzey

    @ Karl Hungus

    “Because, quite simply, traditional animation is the equivalent of a CGI animation being designed, rigged, animated, and textured all by the same person. I don’t know any films where that’s done by one person. Do you?”

    Umm, you realized you’re discrediting the ink and paint people responsible for giving the texture to the characters. And FYI, animators in a traditional setting still need to follow a model sheet created by another guy; so to say that it’s all done by one person doesn’t seem to add up! How about you find me a traditionally animated film (actually humor me and find me a full length feature film) that’s all designed, rigged, animated and textured by the same person! On paper with little to no aid from the computer!

  • Mister Twister

    Only a few CG films have “heaaart” IMHO.

    One of them is The Missing Lynx, and that one was done by an ex-Disney animator.

    It’s the subtle movements, that CG is not that good at.

    Also had to say that anything CG looks “too real” to me, and a good part of my imaginaaation turns off automatically.

    The whole idea of animation (again, IMHO) is to look at something that is NOT realistic, and IMAGINE that it is.

    It is close to reading books, where you imagine the whole picture, while only given bits of it.

    Most CG films just don’t leave enough room for imaginaaation.

    I was trying to be funny as well as informative.

  • misha

    The point that everyone’s avoiding is how cg animation can be improved to create exaggeration and the wild squash and stretch one sees in traditional animation. The software is still relatively young, with tools improving to make animation easier and more expressive for the artist, but still, there hasn’t been much exaggeration in the cg characters we’re familiar with. We would all like to see wonderful animation and I think we will. Coraline and Tangled are examples of unique takes on cg, and further improvements and innovations are around the corner. Pixar has been intimately involved with the development of computer graphics, from digital texture and light creation to animation innovation and hiring great animators. Pushing the envelope to create fantastic performance and amazing visuals is now the challenge,and surely either Pixar or another company will step up to fill the void. The attraction of traditional animation is the fluid expressive act accepted by the viewer, without consideration for the technical aspects, and the best cg animation follows that guideline. Let’s not forget how technical cg is, although cg is improving faster than anyone thought. The best is yet to come, and best will be based on the best of the historical animation and art principles.

    • GW

      Coraline is not computer animated. That’s stop motion. It uses a combination of 3D printed replacement modelling and armatured puppets.

  • Alissa

    I can kind of see where he’s coming from, I think. Most cg movies seem more obsessed with replicating reality than telling a story. Realistic sunshine is great and all, but what happened to using color to enhance mood?

    Maybe once all of the big studios get bored with meticulously rendering individual hairs on a chinchilla we’ll start getting better stories?

  • Elliot

    I’ve heard people complain about “manipulative” scenes in movies before. I’ve come to the conclusion that if a scene seems emotionally realistic to someone, then it’s simply film doing what it’s supposed to do: drawing us into a an imaginary world; if not, then it’s “manipulative”. People have different emotional triggers. A lot of people loved the opening montage in “Up”; who’s to say that an audience member’s reaction wasn’t sincere or real?

  • Ethan

    much of his arguments concerning cg were correct. however, he failed to mention many of the benefits that cg has brought to animation. more ability for cinematic storytelling in composition lighting etc. not to mention the impact cg had on hand drawn in the early 90’s with the beauty and the beast, and up until now with the princess and the frog. yes it does lose a little bit of the ‘soul’ or ‘purity’ of a hand drawing but cg does free up the animator at least in terms of performance, notwithstanding the limitations of a computer generated, geometric model. i’d say cg has only strengthened the filmmaker to tell a more convincing story, something that can settle right alongside any live action film.

    as for his critique of the pixar’s stories being manipulative, there may be some ground in that, but for the most part i think its opinion. pixar’s reputation speaks for itself, and for him to pull out an example from cars, probably their weakest film, i believe for many reasons, i think he may have gotten into the realm of opinion a little too much for the sake of argument. plus, many of pixar’s films have incredible depth in story telling, homages, etc, i think it be blasphemy to say that pixar is dishonest in storytelling. -i think they have fun with it, if anything they should be criticized for being too good at their job (making animated movies for all audiences including children).-opinion but i think its indisputable pixar is the best animation company on the planet.

  • The Gee


    Good points in that post, if anyone cares to read it.

    And, on another point, if a person intentionally falls and makes someone laugh, are they still being manipulative?

    Get over the word “manipulation” and accept that art you experience plays with your noggins…pretty much always. The only bad manipulation is just bad attempts at art. It just doesn’t or rarely is effective. So, those who complain about it are squarely placing themselves within an audience instead of being storytellers or joketellers or entertainers.

  • I highly respect Mr. Barrier as an animation historian(*I’m reading both this Hollywood Cartoons AND Disney biography right) I’ve never really heard him critique modern animation though. This post surprised me a little.

    First, he’s right, Pixar is trying to juice the public for all it’s got with over-sentimental movies. I’ve stopped seeing 3D animation since the Toy Story one, really.

    But in the end, his critisism is a personal statement. He’s saying he doesn’t like 3D textures and shadows (*i dont either) But let’s not belittle the amount of work that goes into one of these pics either.

    I agree that an animator who knows how to draw AND animate, is much more skilled than a CG only person, but that’s just the difference in the medium. A stop motion animator isnt any less talented than a cel guy simply because he doesn’t draw his animation. It’s just a different medium!

    In the end, CG and traditional are two VERY separate things. If only studios put out more money and effort into putting traditional movies out again, we wouldn’t be putting CG down so much.

    Maybe the reason for our CG bitching is because we don’t have enough traditional movies (*or shorts) out there!

    Let’s get moving people! :)

  • Kevin

    Readers of this article and Mr. Barrier’s website need to remove themselves from personal attachments to the Pixar films to understand what the historian is actually trying to say.

    Mr. Barrier is stating that Pixar:
    a) has avoided challenges in the computer medium by keeping human characters to a minimum or (in the case of UP) surrounding the stylized humans with a highly “cartoony” backdrop to ease in character believability
    b) has used emotionally charged “ideas/ sentiments” to elicite a response from the audience (as in the opening minutes of UP) instead of using the movement of the character and the movement of the plot to gradually develop an emotional response (as in the Mother/son scene in Dumbo)

    I do find that Mr. Barrier, at times, seems to focus a bit too heavily on these shortcuts. Many Pixar films, in my opinion, are strong enough in story value and entertainment value to overcome these weaknesses. But I feel that real fans of animation would do well to hear what Mr. Barrier has to say. His criticism’s may take away from the initial “joy” of your viewing, but will also make you a more keen observer.