Xtranormal: A Glimpse Into the Future of TV Animation Production

Over the past year, I’ve been sent links to a number of online start-ups that allow consumers to create their own animated films using free web software. Every one of them has left me unimpressed. Every one of them, that is, until Xtranormal.com.

Xtranormal advertises that “If you can type, you can make movies.” It’s not just the ease of creating cartoons that makes Xtranormal so appealing, it’s also that the final results don’t look half-bad, and at least as professional as many “Adult Swim” series. Xtranormal’s software has a robust (as far as these type of things go) selection of built-in camera angles, expressions and animated movements, and the end result is a film like this:

The cartoon above was made by Fran Krause, who we interviewed on Cartoon Brew last week. There’s probably a good post here about the democratization of content creation, but I’m going to follow another idea that occurred to me while watching various Xtranormal shorts, and that is the ramifications this has for professional animation production, particularly as it relates to the TV industry.

Fran Krause titled his first blog post about Xtranormal “New Website Makes Animators Obsolete.” In my opinion, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

I’ve long felt that the amount of effort invested into TV animation is disproportionate to the quality of work that appears on the finished screen. Too many production dollars are wasted on menial artistic tasks that could more efficiently be handled by a computer. The only reason that studios continue to employ so many artists is that they’re too shortsighted and cheap to invest in R&D and devise new automated production systems that are appropriate to the dialogue-driven nature of contemporary animated shows.

Too much manpower and production money is wasted on redoing tasks that don’t need to be redone. Take this recent interview with Fairly Oddparents background designer Jim Worthy in which he discusses how much wasted effort goes into the production of the show he works on: “After 7 seasons, I’m amazed how many times I still need to design Timmy’s bedroom. Thanks to all the board artists for keeping me employed.” In other words, he doesn’t need to be redoing Timmy’s bedroom every episode; he only does it because an intelligent production system is not in place that could call up a template of the bedroom.

Dialogue-driven shows that are visually formulaic (i.e. Fairly Oddparents, The Simpsons, Family Guy, most pre-school and “Adult Swim” series) could easily be replaced with automated production systems. Crazy talk? Consider South Park, a half-hour show that uses automated systems to deliver finished episodes in as little as two weeks and doesn’t suffer with audiences one bit.

The New York animation industry, in particular, is a hotbed for this type of automated animation production, especially with preschool-oriented shows like Little Einsteins and Wonder Pets. These shows rely on stock libraries of movements, expressions and takes, and entire episodes are animated in a month or less. The digital animators (a more accurate term would be “digital technicians”) set up the scenes and determine the sequence of these actions, but they don’t create original actions; there are also a couple traditional animators on board who create the original movements needed for each episode. The only manual part of the process is adding lip sync to the characters. In other words, Xtranormal is not leading the revolution; they’re only offering a consumer version of production systems that are already becoming dominant in animation. (Xtranormal, for its part, is currently working on creating a desktop version of its software that includes voice-capture and character customization.)

I don’t begrudge anybody putting together these copy-and-paste animated productions. While it’s certainly not my cup of tea, there is a legitimate need for this type of material as the number of channels proliferate in this new era of digital cable. My only question is why aren’t more shows throughout the industry saving money by switching to automated production systems?

Many traditional artists are beginning to see the future, even those who have worked in TV animation. For example, former TV series director Pat Smith (Daria, MTV Downtown wrote about Xtranormal on his blog recently: “If you’re wondering where the future is…pre-programmed actions using text. all this needs is professional voice acting, custom character design option, then tweeking by director, and you have a dialogue driven script and one hell of an entertaining film!!!”

There could not be a bigger supporter of artists than myself, but common sense tells me that the majority TV shows could cut their crews and budgets in half or more with minimal consequences on the visual creativity of the production. There are only a handful of shows that truly depend on their artists for the final results (Spongebob Squarepants and Superjail among them). So let’s get the technicians to create the rote and run-of-the-mill, and let’s let animators rededicate themselves to creating unique imagery that could only come out of the hands and minds of artists. With companies like Xtranormal, anybody can create South Park- and Family Guy-quality animation from their home now. Now is the time for animators to step up to the plate and create the kinds of inspiring artwork again that can’t be emulated by a ten-year-old sitting in his bedroom.


  • http://bakertoons.blogspot.com/ Charles Brubaker

    Isn’t that what Filmation did for much of its existence? They pretty much reused the same animation and cels throughout their output. I believe the later “Fat Albert” episodes were produced almost entirely out of old animation, only creating new ones if it was necessary.

  • Sarah

    I am currently a lead animator on the BBC show called “Third and Bird”, which is produced at the same studio as Wonderpets. The notion that we don’t produce original animation and simply act as “technicians” is completely false and vaguely insulting. I’m not sure who supplied you with this information, but let me set you straight.

    Our re-use library was originally developed to yes, streamline production and prevent as much needless repetition as possible. It consisted primarily of idles, walks, and hops- actions that typically take the character from point A to point B. It is up to the animators to make the characters act and create any other original animation (dances, etc) called for in the script. As our series has progressed, our library has expanded- after each episode, re-useable animation is captured and added to the library. However, this does not create a “plug and play” scenario- it merely allows us more time to spend on original animation where necessary. Our re-use system certainly has streamlined things and eliminated some unnecessary stress from the job, but by no means makes us obsolete.

    I’m a huge supporter of what you wrote about- streamlining TV animation production with more enlightened methods and technologies. I just wanted to make everyone aware that we aren’t quite replaceable…. yet :)

    And again, please thoroughly research your information before you post it. If you’d spoken to anyone currently working at Little Airplane about the matter, you would know that we are ANIMATORS, not technicians.

  • http://www.elliotelliotelliot.com Elliot Cowan

    I should like to repost a link to my own Xtranormal animation.
    http://sandwichbag.blogspot.com/2009/01/brilliant-idiocy.html

  • jim worthy

    Regarding my comments on re-drawing Timmy’s bedroom, I thought I was clear in my explanation of why this happens. Our board artists have the freedom to set up the shots as they work best for that particular episode. They are not locked in to a blueprint of any room or location. That’s what makes this action-packed show work better. The continuity from show to show is created by re-using the same elements and design style while the placement of things is ever changing. The shows production system is fine now as it has been for all these many seasons. No one is wasting any time or money. Thank you.

  • Suity McCorprate

    On behalf of non-creative executives everywhere, we thank you, Amid, for providing us with this brilliant suggestion. And in the middle of a recession, too…what luck! As this eye-popping new innovation becomes the new norm of TV, animators will be free to spread their creative wings and create new web content for no pay… when they’re not working their 3 other grocery bagger/barista jobs and caring for their heath-care-neglected kids.

    Animators may come and go, but number-crunching suits with brilliant ideas such as yours will continue to flourish in creative roles in major media companies.

  • Charles

    I’ll agree that companies waste a lot of time and money. But these automated animations are far from entertaining.

  • http://www.kohrtoons.com Robert K

    I have to agree with Sarah here. I animate for video games for Nick Jr. and because I am the only animator I need to streamline the processes as much as usual. If I didn’t do this I would have to re-animate the same actions on every Dora game ever made. It makes much more sense to come up with one really nice walk, jump ect. and concentrate more on the close-up action. It also allows me to quality control the animation from one vendor to the next as I work with about 10 vendors who all have difference ideas of how to animate and what counts as animation in their contracts.

    Its not that its less animation its a snowball effect. See in Japan a studio will have two crews its A+ crew then its standard production crew, the result is the first episode is really high quality, that and the intro to the show has a lot of effort, then the quality diminishes as time progresses. I make this point because the process that I use and that Sarah uses allows the production to grow in quality rather than diminish, where you start with less animation and snowball up to more over time.

    Its not a technical job, its still animation.

  • Asymetrical

    Gee thanks Amid but talking about taking money out of my pocket is fighting words. And what will you write about and bitch about when it’s all automated? You’ll bitch that there’s no life in animation these days. Reuse animation?

    As Charles stated Filmation did that for years. Anyone like any of that animation? Do you want to write a book about it? I don’t see you writing a big glossy coffee table book on Filmation. Of course not because it was automated crap! and that’s WHY it was crap dude.

    I can’t believe you of all people think this is a great idea. You always bitch about crappy animation on here and then along comes some automaton stuff that completely wipes the artistry away from a film and you’re FOR IT?

    I think you’re just baiting us on this one dude. Is it April Fool’s Day back there in NYC ?

  • http://zeteos.blogspot.com/ mick

    yeah this is spot on. I cannot wait until this happens with everything. I think watching a comedian at a club which had the could technically enable everyone in the audience to totally kill all the entertainment would be a real step forward.

    I remember when dialogue driven shows where called radio shows

    good bye everyone. It’s time to go underground

  • http://www.nelsart.com Nelson Diaz

    ALL OF WHAT YOU SAY IS TRUE AND MORE.

    YOU SEE I HAVE WORKED ON WONDER PETS AND THIRD AND BIRD AND I CAN TELL YOU THAT EVERY SINGLE THING WE DO IS AUTOMATED.

    BUT WAIT, THERES MORE.

    I AM IN FACT A ROBOT. THIS IS AN AUTOMATED RESPONSE GENERATED TO ANSWER ANY SUCH ARTICLES PERTAINING TO AUTOMATION OF ANIMATION.

    THE SAID SHOWS ARE ANIMATED ENTIRELY BY ROBOTS WITHOUT THE GUIDANCE OF HUMANS. 010111001010. END SEQUENCE.

    …but seriously folks. I animate on third and bird and we care about our acting scenes, dancing scenes and we inject it with as much warmth and energy as we can. And we have notes to push our acting all the time.

    We use palette sure, but we also create new animation.

    Automated animation will never be the future.That’s a cute thought though.

    And I’d be careful as to saying that tv animation should become completely automated. You gonna give us jobs if the animation bots take over?

  • http://www.nelsart.com Nelson Diaz

    I also agree with Asymetrical….maybe you are just baiting us and trying to get us to comment. oh well it certainly worked.

  • David

    “There are only a handful of shows that truly depend on their artists for the final results.”

    Funny, I thought all shows depended on their artists for the final results.

  • Danielle

    I’ve worked on a fair number of preschool shows (including Wonder Pets) and an Adult Swim series, and I’m with Sarah in that your view is vaguely insulting. To add on to what she said: yes, reuse libraries are there to make our jobs easier, but to say that digital animators don’t create original animations and that only a couple of traditional animators on staff do is flat-out incorrect, at least on the various productions my colleagues and I have been involved with in NYC. While you have your lead or senior animators, assistant animators, etc. on such productions, every animator at every level is expected to animate and complete reliance on reuse is discouraged except in very specific cases (theme songs and regular segments, for instance).

  • amid

    Nelson: Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Just to be clear, there’s nothing at all meant to bait people in this “think piece”. I think it’s time to start asking some serious questions when off-the-shelf consumer software appears to be only a few short years away from replicating the quality of most of today’s animated TV shows. It’s time that we re-assess animation production standards from the ground-up, and understand which shows truly merit huge artistic crews and which shows have bloated production staffs that aren’t reflected in the final animation. More importantly, it’s time for artists to start focusing on more challenging pieces of animation that can’t easily be replicated by automated software.

  • Sarah

    Amid,

    While I appreciate your desire to ask the industry to “think outside the box” regarding modes of production, please acknowledge that you got your facts wrong. Had you simply done a little fact checking, this post could have generated a genuinely productive conversation. Instead you’ve upset people by insinuating they are worthless and one keystroke away from the unemployment lines. Your lack of research degrades your objective and the integrity of your site. Please take note for next time.

  • http://www.symbolinterface.com Laura Jane

    “It’s time that we re-assess animation production standards from the ground-up, and understand which shows truly merit huge artistic crews and which shows have bloated production staffs that aren’t reflected in the final animation.”

    — I understand your point, but who are “we”? Most animators frankly don’t have the money or the resources that would be required to reassess anything. That stuff is left to the producers/suits, many of whom don’t give a crap about animation as an art form.

    Also, wouldn’t it be kind of weird for us to go around saying “Oh, this show deserves a lot of good, talented artists, but this other show over here kind of sucks so let’s just automate everything.” As working artists, especially in TV, many of us are NOT working on a show which really reflects what we love, or what we feel inspired by personally, etc, BUT we’re grateful for the paycheck and we try to do the best work we can given the limiting circumstances. That’s why it’s upsetting when you go and call a bunch of animators “technicians” — because they AREN’T technicians — they’re animators who are doing the best they can, trying to make a career out of an art form that they love.

  • http://zekeyspaceylizard.blogspot.com zekey

    disney killing off their 2d division and laying off enormous amounts of people, cartoon network cancelling their good cartoon shows for reality shows starring tweens.
    and now the brew supporting software that will get hundreds if not thousands more animators laid off.

    how many more nails can possibly be hammered into animation’s coffin until we can officially pronounce it dead. its death has been awfully slow and painful.

    lets just get it over with. someone pull the plug.

  • http://www.candlelightstories.com Alessandro Cima

    Amid, I completely agree with your perspective on this. I am totally convinced that this type of software, online or otherwise, is the real future of machinima. Having done some machinima myself, I can attest to the fact that producing machinima films with game engines is supremely awkward. As this tool improves, it will allow greater customization and more unique individual creations.

    Beyond machinima, I think that tools like this will become more prevalent and extremely powerful with nearly unlimited customizations possible. Quite frankly, most 3D software packages are ridiculously complicated and difficult to master. I think we will see things like XtraNormal merging ideas with things like Swift 3D to make digital animation much less labor-intensive. Sometimes it’s actually all the labor that kills art.

    I’ve been using XtraNormal for some short films recently and though it is somewhat rudimentary, it will evolve into a very powerful film making tool. It’s just a tool. As they improve, tools always tend to reduce the requirement for workers. Nothing really wrong with that.

    I get a lot of fun out of making little things with this XtraNormal thing. I suspect many animators better than me would enjoy it too. It makes you focus on something hard to define, but it’s sort of idea-based. You focus on what you want to say and let the software take you where it will.

  • Carlos

    Huh! Well, I guess I’ll just stop drawing I then. I mean, why make anything with personality, when it can be programmed to have it? I suppose I’ll stop learning animation principals too since I’m sure the program will handle that. Silly short sighted schools teaching pitiful archaic ways to make animation. They should be teaching programming instead! Morons. I think I’ll stop bring inspired too, it’s making me want to animate. And in today’s fast moving world, why waste my time.

  • Suity McCorprate

    Hey you animators, lay off poor Amid! He’s the only one here that understands that I will always pick artistically superior work over ‘cheap and quick.’ So what if the savings will go directly into my bonus? I’m in TV animation for the love of the artform. History has proven this. “Think Piece”… he’s even got our lingo for pure b.s. down.

    “If you can type, you can make movies.” I believe it was Orson Welles who first said this.

  • http://www.velvetandratskins.com ECJ

    Correction- South Park is not a good example of an Automated production. Everything is boarded on paper and animated frame by frame (even the mouth assignments). The artists just work really really LONG hours.

  • amid

    Alessandro: Great point in the connections you draw to machinima, a much earlier form of automated animation production. It’s all part and parcel of a much larger shift in animation production.

    Sarah: You’re free to debate the EXTENT to which you rely on libraries, but at the end of the day, you still rely on libraries. It’s also a fact that a significant (and ever-increasing) amount of work done on automated shows is more technical in nature than creative. An animator’s job is to devise a unique solution to each individual acting problem, not to rely on a library of pre-fabricated actions.

  • Bob

    I had to read this post twice. I’m still not sure Amid isn’t pulling a Stephen Colbert, disguising his disapporoval with sarcastic praise. However, if this post truly reflects Amid’s thoughts, then I am shocked and disappointed.

  • http://www.elliotelliotelliot.com Elliot Cowan

    I agree with Amid (for a change).

  • Emily Mann

    I also work with Sarah and Nelson on the BBC show. I’m in agreement of course, but I might add, a little more…

    As we were all trained in the traditional ways in our respective paths to this great team, I’d like to borrow Judith Moncrieff’s term and call ourselves “tradigital artists.”

    We often open the studio to tours to share the process of how we make our shows. I’ve been here for more than 2 years, and to say that the people who have chosen to stay employed here as long as I have (and some longer!) are some of the most talented artists in their fields would be an understatement. They choose to stay, as I do, because this IS an environment that “truly merit[s] [a] huge artistic crew,” where we’re challenged to create great work. Truly, the larger portion of our assigned scenes require dialogue and situation-specific acting, and in a very limited time frame.

    Our shows may not be your cup of tea. We can see the success in our final work not from critics like you, but from our adoring target audience of preschoolers. We feel proud when we introduce ourselves to new people as being part of a company that makes the Wonder Pets.

  • http://www.rauchbrothers.com Tim Rauch

    I couldn’t agree with Amid more. I worked for a season on Wonder Pets and could hardly bear the day to day task of running our three main characters through the motions. They have a limited range of acting potential (same as most TV characters) and they say the same things with nearly the same emotions almost always in profile. This is art? The challenge here is finding a way to sneak life into the puppets, a very difficult and nearly impossible task. I don’t want to denigrate the work on that or other TV shows, especially as I have many good friends still working there. Still, if you can honestly tell me this is the work you were inspired to get into animation to be doing, I’d be surprised. Laura Jane says “most animators frankly don’t have the money or the resources that would be required to reassess anything”. In the modern age, the means of digital production are at your fingertips. I use an iMac I bought for $1300 four years ago, a $90 scanner, Ticonderoga pencils, animation bond and a $1000 traditional animation desk to make my films. Others have even cheaper productions systems.

    By all means, collect paychecks anyway you can. It doesn’t even have to be “in the industry”, but if you can be replaced by an overseas employee or a computer, you will. If you are in animation to do “art”, go home at the end of the work day and be sure to do some. Who knows, some day you may get paid to do just that.

  • David

    “I think it’s time to start asking some serious questions when off-the-shelf consumer software appears to be only a few short years away from replicating the quality of most of today’s animated TV shows.”

    Here’s a serious question I’d like to pose: What do we consider the source of a particular show’s “quality”? I’d say it’s a combination of all the facets of production — story, writing, design, animation, etc. — that forms the overall quality of a show.

    However, the statement quoted above makes no distinction between quality in terms of a show’s “polish” and the overall quality of a show. It equates shiny graphical achievements and ease of use with originality and appeal. Programs like Xtranormal might be great, but they are merely new tools to use, and should be regarded as such. Technology is not the same as creativity.

  • http://www.symbolinterface.com Laura Jane

    Amid, what are you really proposing here? What would you like to see happen?

    On the one hand, you’re criticizing so-called “automated shows” for their lack of artistry and original situation-specific animation, while on the other hand you’re suggesting that we “streamline” the whole process, cut back staff, and switch to full-on robot mode for shows that don’t deserve a big artistic crew.

    …So you want to see fewer jobs and more soulless junk on TV? What does this accomplish?

  • http://www.symbolinterface.com Laura Jane

    TIM: I was referring to the ability (or lack thereof) of a single employee at an existing (oftentimes large, corporate) studio to alter the entire modus operandi within that studio’s framework/production pipeline.

    I wasn’t referring to the individual’s ability to produce work independently, at home, etc, which is something I’m totally in favor of (and personally couldn’t live without).

  • http://deleted OtherDan

    Amid, you’re crazy! South Park is great, but I don’t watch it regularly. I wouldn’t want all TV shows to look automated-that’s seriously depressing, especially if you’re working in TV. I agree that there are are probably better ways of archiving assets for production. I’ve thought for a long time that it would be useful to have BG’s done in CG, so you can set up a camera wherever and not have to re-imagine the setting with every new layout and storyboard. But, in reality to organize a show like that is a real challenge because the software and technologies that we work with evolve, and management personnel changes over time. I noticed that every time disruptions occur, a shift happens in how we organize our assets. If these changes never happened, and you always referred to stock expressions and animation, TV animation would be lamer than it was when we were watching the Smurfs, He-Man, Pac-Man, etc. That’s bleak picture you paint.

  • http://www.xtranormal.com Mike Hughes

    Amid,

    Thanks for the article and all the follow-on comments too. As the guy who runs engineering at xtranormal, I just want to reassure everyone who makes a living at 3D animation that we’re not actively looking to take the food off anyone’s plate.

    What we are trying to do is afford our users the ability to make short animated movies to tell a story or send a more interesting message around to friends. Our script-based interface seems to have resonated with a large number of casual users, and there are lots of people using the site every day (for both good and evil), reaffirming the commonly held notion that pretty much everyone has something to say.

    We’ve even seen people who make a living at writing (not animating) use the tools to take the content to a completely different level. My personal favorite is the Howard and Leslie series at

    http://howardandleslie.blogspot.com

    Most of the people at xtranormal come from the high end gaming and 3D or visual effects/editing space, so we do understand the demands and time required to make professional level content, but we decided to take the whole thing in a different direction and put simpler, more accessible tools in the hands of everyone who can type (hence the interface).

    We do indeed have a higher end, installable application on the horizon (feel free to sign up for the Beta on the web site if you’re interested) that will allow you to animate cameras, have characters move around, real-time previews, and lots of other things you can’t do with the web application, but the fidelity of the content you’ll be able to produce will still be a function of the dialog and the camera moves, not any tricked out or highly customized animation – that we’ll leave to the professionals.

    Anyhow, we’re presently having fun trying to democratize story telling for the general public, but in five years, who knows? Watch your backs :o) Regards,

    Mike Hughes

  • Andrew

    You make a good point Amid. But to me, there won’t be any amount of economic animation work that would rival the quality brought by Disney when they made Snow White! That took a long time to produce- probably by today’s standards, the lenght isn’t so impressive- but the quality of character animation and cinematography, color, etc. all raised the bar for how animation should look. Of course not every television show or movie should be produced that way, but the amount of work that is seen on tv now looks drab. Maybe I’m biased from growing up with that way of animating. It can and will always be possible to produce every drawing of every frame from scratch by hand, but I’m saying that making the future of animation ruled by simulated, prepared systems may not be the best way to learn and get the most out of your experience.

  • David

    I think what’s confusing about this discussion is what exactly we are talking about — the television animation industry, or the personal work of artists.

    On the TV side of things, this is kind of a moot point. We, the animators and artists in the television animation industry, are generally not in control of how the shows we work on are run. We come into a previously established workflow with the intention of a) getting a paycheck (and benefits, if we’re lucky), and b) getting to do some really original work every so often. We are frequently limited in this aspect by the amount of recurring actions that need to be re-animated, and so any type of reusable libraries, as Sarah said, help us to focus more on the original portions of each episode of each show we work on.

    But we don’t run the show. If the producers and executives and other assorted money-holders want to implement reuse systems to allow their animators more time to work on original animation and acting, then so much the better for everyone.

    The other side of it is the personal artist’s side. Tim Rauch brings up the manner in which he makes his personal films; it’s great for him, but it has no correlation to how television animation operates. TV is business, not personal, and the artists and animators who are looking for something a little bit more financially stable than freelance/personal work generally have little to no ability to “step up” in these situations — they have no control over how these television shows are run.

    I find it highly doubtful that any show in NYC or elsewhere is 100% automated, even with the extensive use of libraries — which, again, do not replace the artist, but merely allow them to save time by not having to redo animation that has already been completed.

  • Mark K.

    Try typing a few pages of “Silence of the Lambs” into this program. The results are TERRIFIC! And REALLY funny. Can’t ruin the script, but it sure does put a freakin’ hilarious spin on it.

  • http://www.kohrtoons.com Robert K.

    I think the discussion of this is really great, but I think what needs to be established is whether machinima and this text to video thing are animation or are they something different, that are a part of film but is it really animation?

  • http://www.milowerx.com Mike Milo

    At the end of the day a good film will always be the result of knowing how to put one together and no software is going to replace a good artist or a good director. What we’ll most likely see is a whole lot of crap resulting from this software and possibly a few gems that rock. They will rock because of the person that put them together and they would have made great films with or without this software.
    It might keep them more on their toes and who knows it might even bring back more animation to the states. Can you automate Network execs brains so they buy good stuff and not crap? Now THAT’S some software I’d like to see.

  • pizzaforeveryone

    Dr Katz. One of my favorite animated shows of all time. It was hardly animated. Entirely dependent on reuse, talking heads, and some of the funniest writing I’ve heard. it did not kill tv animation.

    This sort of thing won’t replace animation any more than motion capture has. I’m thankful that it will help shows that are dialogue-driven, and hopefully bring new and talented writers to the forefront. These new writers and directors will need talented animators should they ever need to produce anything other than hilarious talking-head shows.

    being a commercial artist is extremely frustrating. we all know that. (I worked as an “animation technician” on wonder pets and third and bird). Cutting corners here and there is the reality of production. What I do know is that LAP’s animation methods employ a large and steady workforce in the heart of new york city. They employ numerous animators as well as living, breathing musicians. I doubt the money saved by minimal automation is being wasted too much.

    nope, wonder pets not for everyone, but I think it’s mostly for preschoolers. In the end we’re all lucky to be in this silly industry at all.

    perhaps the amid’s post was intended as a call to arms? I think to most people it just came off a little too snarky.

  • http://www.frederator.com Fred Seibert

    I don’t really want to wade in too deeply here, so I’ll just say I love Xtranormal. Not at all for its efficiency (over the years I’ve never found too many of these magic bullets do much to save anything) but just as another cool filmmaking tool. I’m all for anything that gives someone another way to express themselves. It’s yet to be seen whether creative people embrace this one (so far in my office, people are intrigued, but no one’s made anything yet) or not, and I’m all for supporting every new, fun tool I can.

  • big bad balloon

    Gimme a break.

    How many 10 year olds would draw, animate, ink and paint cels for 2 months…vs the amount who will click in a few things and make a piece in 2 hours?

    It’s quick, easy and cheap. Music to the studios ears.

    Jobs have been lost to overseas, the 3D transition and soon a computer click.

    But eh, prolly better to complain about what SHOULD BE instead of what WILL BE.

    I’d be spending less time condemning amid and more time creating something unique.

  • joe

    I totally agree. Its time to get weird and discover new visual territories.
    Do something that can’t be replicated by a machine.

  • I pay you to tell me that i’m artistic

    I don’t see why people are jumping at Amid about this. I’m a TV animator and I don’t ever get to really ‘perform.’ I basically tween. Quite honestly I do just enough to get by because let’s face it, anything too ‘good’ or unique will get shot down quick.

    I save all of my performing energy on my own projects.

    What Amid is suggesting is that perhaps producers stop pretending like they are letting their artists actually be artistic & just have a program do everything they need to get their show done. Grant it, I would hate to lose a job animating due to this, but it isn’t like the job is that fulfilling anyway.

    Might as well get an office job!

  • http://www.coffeeroll.com JPDJ

    “I don’t see why people are jumping at Amid about this. I’m a TV animator and I don’t ever get to really ‘perform.’ I basically tween. Quite honestly I do just enough to get by because let’s face it, anything too ‘good’ or unique will get shot down quick.”

    That’s the honest-to-goodness truth. Character Animation is so formulaic today that it’s become a commodity. There aren’t unique performances–just stock motions using squash & stretch, secondary action and follow-thru to make it look pretty. Unless you’re John K, the expressions/performances being seen aren’t exactly envelope pushing.

    As depressing as all of this is there is a positive: software also makes animation accessible enough for the talented small studio to develop their own project and distribute it online (or something). The game has changed but it’s not over.

  • http://www.coffeeroll.com JPDJ

    And my apologies for double-posting but I’ve one more thing to say:

    This Xtranormal thing doesn’t exactly look great. It’s still a ways from competing with the likes of a “Chowder” or “The Mighty B.”

  • http://www.dougvitarelli.com doug vitarelli

    “digital technicians”: love it.
    also i completely agree with “I pay you to tell me that i’m artistic “.

  • Nick

    I think now would be a perfect time to plug Ray Bradbury’s Farenheight 451. Why stop at TV? Why not film? Beauty, craftsmanship, intellectually inspiring art, who needs that in this wonderful Consumerist nation. We’ll just streamline everything as much as possible until your thoughts are streamlined. I mean why have different opinions when it’s more efficient for everyone to have the same opinion. Thank you Amid for giving our already under achieving and under performing society another venue to continue to dull the minds of future generations. Why look at beautiful films that cost a pretty penny when we can look cold little office rooms with mechanical voices saying random lines. That doesn’t sound dystopian at all.

    I mean seriously Amid, do you not see the intellectual damage you could do to people by just stripping art from tv? We watch way more tv than movies shouldn’t we be putting more effort into that. It is the very source where we get our information, and for a good few of uneducated people their very own beliefs. Don’t we as artist have a responsibility to the people to provide work that inspires the next generation that to be greater than the past? Why would you even consider settling for mediocrity? The world doesn’t need that, the world never did and never will.

    I will not say that all the work out there right now does just that, but why make it even harder for good work to be produced? There is absolutely no reason to bring this up. Rather than posting this why not talk about new and experimental animation, animation that can provide good for our industry. This does provide good but only in an economical sense that only benefits the already well-to-do people.

    It’s that kind of selfishness that’s screwing up the world. Why spend money on good work that can benefit the artists and the audience when I can save the money with shotty work done by computers and slaves in Korea and blow it on my trophy wife and Ferrari? I think you need to ask yourself seriously who are you really helping by bringing this to people’s attention? Certainly NOT the artists.

    As for IPYTTMTIA maybe you should consider a different career path if you don’t find it fulfilling. Because I know a lot of people who would. You make it sound like work, but obviously you’ve never really worked. If you had you wouldn’t be complaining about in-betweening.

  • http://www.rauchbrothers.com Tim Rauch

    Steve Neary (Mr. Pizza) is right. I love Home Movies, King of the Hill, Dr. Katz and it has nothing to do with their “animation”. They are animated exactly as they should be: it’s all one big burrito. And yes, Wonder Pets and shows like it employ real artists with awesome talents and it SHOWS, it’s a unique and very special show, there’s no question about it. Emily Mann, Mike Cocuzza, and Andy Kennedy are but a few of the many highly talented artists and animators who contribute to the show. How many of us have a hit show like this with talents like that? This is a strong collection of people at Little Airplane.

    For me the issue here is giving those individual talents a strong hand in the product. The best episodes of the Wonder Pets, and there are some VERY good episodes, are the ones where individual creators from within the studio had a strong hand. There are several episodes (Save the Sheep, Little Black Kitten, Bee and Slug) that are great bits of script writing and directing by Jen Oxley. Emily Mann has done fantastic bits of animation, especially with Ming Ming, in several episodes. Bobby Hoolihan, Paul Zdanowicz, and Mike Scanlon are a few of many great designers who’ve worked on the show. Episodes like “Kalamazoo” and “Three Little Pigs” are quite unlike anything else and really very good.

    I think what we should focus on is the fact that computers are making all this possible and each of us owns a computer so we can all do it ourselves. Be the next Josh Selig and get on it!

  • http://www.rauchbrothers.com Mike Rauch

    David says:

    “Tim Rauch brings up the manner in which he makes his personal films; it’s great for him, but it has no correlation to how television animation operates. TV is business, not personal, and the artists and animators who are looking for something a little bit more financially stable than freelance/personal work generally have little to no ability to “step up” in these situations — they have no control over how these television shows are run.”

    David, I’m not sure what you mean by “personal film”. The only films of Tim’s that I would call personal are not finished. They are pencil tests. That’s because they’re personal– wasn’t much point to finishing them if no one’s going to see them.

    After that, the only films that he makes (or we make rather) are indeed personal insofar as they are a creator driven product with an individual style. But they are equally about business, and certainly made for a wide audience (I hate that artists statement- “I make films for me, films I want to see.” Nonsense. Make films you think many, many people would want to see.). It also has EVERYTHING to do with TV animation. That’s why we’re currently pitching our own shows to networks. If we’re lucky enough to land one, we will have some control over how our show is run. And I can certainly say we wiould be making use of some of the tools Tim mentioned. We would not be relying on automation for the animation on screen, it would be financially sound and cost effective, and it would be produced fully in the U.S. (and probably fully in NYC, or wherever we happen to be living at the time).

    What you’re calling “the manner in which he makes personal films” seems to refer to the technology. I think Tim was highlighting that the tools needed for quality animation are within anybody’s reach these days. As much as technology has made crap more possible and cost effective, it has made quality more possible and cost effective. The “we are powerless to change the status quo” line just doesn’t hold water. Augenblick Studios (which, from what I gather, started with what you seem to be calling “personal films”) is a great example of using technology to do something no automated system ever could. Unfortunately, their effecient studio is fairly small. But they offer a place where actual artists can use their talents. Regrettably, there seems to be few people left in animation (at least here on the East Coast) with any notable ability to make much work of artistic merit. People can move things around from point A to point B. They know how to click colors from a computer color palatte and arrange them in garish assortments. But how many understand and can use basic elements like line, color, or shape to pleasing effect?

    David also says:

    “We come into a previously established workflow with the intention of a) getting a paycheck (and benefits, if we’re lucky), and b) getting to do some really original work every so often.”

    I can’t understand this way of approaching either art or your career. I usually come into a job with the intention of a) getting paid to do a job I think I’ll love, and b) getting to original, creative work often– ideally every day, if not every hour of every day. But if you only hop to do some original work every so often, automation and reuse are probably great.

    “But we don’t run the show. If the producers and executives and other assorted money-holders want to implement reuse systems to allow their animators more time to work on original animation and acting, then so much the better for everyone.”

    …but only if the overall effect is truly that of being quality, original animation and acting. I would argue that the less than great inbetween bits destroy the overall effect so as to render the hard work on a few key bits of action pointless.

  • David

    Mike:

    I apologize for not being clearer. Tim described the process that he used to make “his films.” No reference to a studio or a partnership with you or anyone else was ever made.

    What I mean by a personal film is this: when someone describes “their films,” it generally means “the films they make for themselves, as opposed to those made for an outside vendor.” Despite your assertion, many people do make films for themselves — myself included. I think I can safely say that neither Tim nor I was referring to unfinished films that no one will ever see.

    That being said, it’s a no-brainer that any of us would love getting paid to do great, creative work every day. This is not a practical goal. The type of animation job you describe is a rarity, especially in the current economic climate where we have seen multiple NY productions shutting down.

    For many people, this issue is not about their careers. In any industry, folks take the jobs they can get; because it pays the bills, puts food on the table, and keeps them financially secure. Not everyone is able to sacrifice this personal security for the sake of consistent artistic integrity. We CAN change the status quo, but not from within our corporate jobs. It is through our own work, which we control — our “personal films” — that we can push the envelope in the direction that Amid alludes to. Unfortunately, this is often separate from the space within which the corporate television world exists.

    There are many people on the East Coast who are huge talents in their own right, even if they haven’t made it as far in their careers as you and Tim have. To suggest that these folks are unable to produce work of artistic merit is just as disrespectful as suggesting that the great, original work they do in their animation jobs is negated by the fact that their workflow involves automation and re-use.

  • Tekena

    Reading this, I suppose xtranormal can be fun for kids, but ultimately Amid is telling the truth. If you pay attention to Dora, 3rd & Bird, and any baby show it’s obvious and that’s why adults don’t watch them. But it also continues into adult television like squidbillies. it’s pretty awful

  • Vector Enhancer

    I think people are overestimating the amount of re-use there is just because there’s the existence of a LIBRARY. It’s not like we’re making Model T’s. And I’ve worked on tons of shows ranging from awful to what I thought was good (but panned here). But for sure after reading this vitriol, my copy of Cartoon Modern is now in the trash…pretty sure it was a Horcrux for Amid.

  • http://www.enigmation.de slowtiger

    I just tested the Xtranormal interface. Wow. It’s an impressive beast of a software, and I very much like to have something like this implemented in my professional animation software. While the text-to-speech voice and the character designs get on my nerves after only 30 seconds, I really appreciate the whole structure behind it.

    I’ve created my fair amount of library animation in my career. This included games (where this is essential) as well as feature animation. Every walk cycle and every set of mouth positions is “stock animation”, no matter wether it’s done by hand every time, or picked from a digital library. And a good amount especially of TV animation never goes further than that in terms of expression, acting, or plain movement. If I analyse a production, I can easily spot the elements, labelled like Flash symbols, glued together with more or less non-library animation. Some of those shows work, others don’t.

    Such a system of basic movements and expressions can be created in any style and any production environment. I’d say it is a must for any series. On this foundation the individual episodes can be created more easily.

    The biggest problem in such an approach is the way to organize things. Stuff must be put in libraries, labelled correctly, get checked and double-checked for fitting together in any combination. Every software uses another system to do that. Using the elements gets you another headache. I haven’t yet found a system which didn’t push me into the unwanted role of a software wrangler.

    That’s why I like the Xtranormal interface. This is what I’d like to use in the task of creating an animatic, or a lengthy dialogue scene. Let me have complete control over the system, and get rid of the computer voice, and I’ll be happy to use it. I can imagine a framework of empty “slots” of movements, gestures, and expressions, which I can fill with my own artwork, no matter which style or source it is, 2D, 3D, drawn, photographed, whatever. Working would be much like using a video editor, only that the visuals will be just a rough draft of the final animation. The trick is that I could really save time on all the tedious tasks, look at the result, and then decide where I need to put sugar on top, tweak the expressions, create more animation – but only where needed!

    The final result would still depend on what always was important: good script, good voice acting, good timing, good style (more or less in this order). If these four are met, nobody will care about the tool which was used to put it all together.

  • http://www.inforthekrill.com Greg Holfeld

    You’ve GOT to be kidding.

    Xtranormal doesn’t make animation any more than a cracking open a paint-by-numbers kit makes art.

    Animation means “to bring to life”. Merely moving doesn’t necessarily count.

    I’ll admit that this software has some potential within the industry, but that says more about the standards of television animation than it’s value as an artistic tool. “Democratization of content creation” happens not when you make the tools of the craft readily available, (yeah, about time we did away with those expensive pencil licenses) but when you set the bar low enough for the standards of the end results.

  • http://rauchbrothers.com Mike Rauch

    David, don’t get me wrong. Tim and I are only just starting our careers. We haven’t made it far at all. But we are working to start from a point where we do work we love. Work that is unique to a degree that it demands the hands of artists making decisions about everything that ends up on screen. No automated art. That’s not the only way to make a quality project, but it’s our way.

    I’m sorry if my comment re: lack of artistic talent on the East Coast bothered you. I’ve been searching high and low. So far the talent seems to be few and far between. I’m talking here about people who can draw (really draw), paint, design, or animate (not stiff flash type animation, or over the top snapping, squash and stretch). I would absolutely love you or somebody else to share links here to the work of people who can do the above. I’ve seen a few promising talents coming out of college recently, but not many experienced professional talents. Again, maybe you’re right and I just can’t find them. I would be pleased as hell to know that there are more people than I think with talents like this (in NYC/East Coast):

    http://bobjinx.blogspot.com/

    http://jholtmeddlenmeadows.blogspot.com/

    http://kalikazoo.blogspot.com/

    http://www.pyatyletka.blogspot.com/

    http://pumml.blogspot.com/

    http://jonklassen.blogspot.com/

    http://verabee.blogspot.com/

    The production system of outsourcing work overseas has played a big role in destroying the pool of talent here at home. But development of technology is now putting power in our hands to show that an in-house product a-la Termite Terrace is still financially viable, and maybe even creatively superior. That does take studios and productions that will give artists those opportunities. But artists are also the masters of their own destiny and should start working now to make a case for their existence. If not, they have no place whining when computers start taking over for them.

  • http://rauchbrothers.com Mike Rauch

    @ Greg Holfeld

    Thank you for talking some sense! I agree 100%.

  • http://asteriskpix.blogspot.com richard o’connor

    Xtranormal and its ilk are by no means competition to professional animation.

    They are toys.

    Is EA Sports’ Madden game any competition to the NFL?

    Both Madden and Xtranormal are fun and drive interest in the fields they emulate.

    Worrying that things like this will drive animation underground is the equivalent of a doctor who is concerned his job is in jeopardy because Milton Bradley reissued “Operation”.

  • http://mymedicatedlife.blogspot.com/ Bitter Animator

    Amid, I’m late to the party here but making your declarations about certain shows and then saying in the comments ‘you’re free to debate’ when, in fact, you are just misrepresenting certain shows just isn’t playing fair.

    You see, I was once a traditional animator who, over a year ago, ended up on a Flash production that used (shock horror) libraries. Episodes animated in less than a month? Try a week.

    And even in that week, some of what you’re saying is actually far from the truth. Reuse has been common for decades. That is no different, Amid. What is different is that, because of these systems and the libraries, reuse is no longer just reuse. You can take some parts from a library, or an old scene, and then go in and modify them. Make them new. Make them suit the exact context the animation will be needed for.

    Creating, completely opposite to how you put it, original actions. The source file may not be original. The end result can be.

    That’s actually better than it used to be, Amid. Better than having a board artist just reference old scenes for complete reuse.

    Now I have no end of posts on my blog deriding the Flash (and similar programme) systems that I have been exposed to over the last year. There’s a hell of a lot wrong with it. I have serious worries about the future of animation. But you need to some animators the credit they deserve and check your facts and, when you haven’t checked your facts and are set straight as you were in this case by Sarah, at least look into what you’re talking about at that point. Some of what you say about Wonder Pets is not about being free to debate. It’s simply wrong and should have been amended in your post.

    As an animation expert, you owe it to yourself to find out more.

  • Jonathan

    As a former assistant animator who had to redraw characters a LOT, I was more than happy to move into CG where the character was always on model.

    Amid is mixing media in the argument. If Timmy’s bedroom were CG it would never have to be redrawn anyway.

    I hate dialog driven animation anyway. From the looks of what I’ve seen, this technique will only expose how awful the writing is.

  • http://rauchbrothers.com Mike Rauch

    @ Richard O’Connor

    I completely agree with what you’re saying. But I think the idea of replacing more and more of the decision making of artists has taken hold for some. Whether it’s Flash, AfterEffects, or Xtranorml people are using technology to make things more efficient, but often lowering the bar in the process. There is no question these tools can be used to quality effect, but most often they are not.

    John K has a great post that’s relevant to this today:

    http://johnkstuff.blogspot.com/2009/04/goals-of-shorts-program-8-developing.html

    Aim high, rather than low!

  • Murray Bain

    All someone has to do is add bitter animator’s “antic-overshoot-settle-abuse” to flash’s inverse kinimatics and have a “auto cheapo TV animate” plug-in for flash.all that would be left would be to key out the scene, and even then Im sure someone could make and audio analyzer that finds the “hits” and puts in the up and down.

    I think what Amid is saying is if the majority of TV is formulaic in its execution and it’s only a matter of time till someone finds a way to automate it.( Which shows? Im sure we can all think of a few, but it’s not fair to call out a crew, we don’t know what the producer & director calls are behind the scenes)

    I’m sure most of the good animators on those shows hate to get revision notes that spew formula, “eye blinks; timed exactly like this; on every head turn” characters put “on model” rather than have specific gestures and expressions.

    I love jim tyer and rod scribner and a few modern guys like nick cross because gosh, every frame is a surprise and delight. I hate that MOST shows on tv have absolutely no individuality, and I think it’s why kids are not watching as much animation. They aren’t stupid. I could see the stock runs in scoobydoo, the badly color matched held cel of a boulder about to fall on He-man. But at least they had more angles in those shows than three quarter front; and they drew elbows and knees for christ sakes!! most (not all) flash animators are more like puppeteers, even the simple preston blair hand sends them pleading to the already over burdened design department.

    But until someone makes a HIT show that is specific and creatively animated producers will continue to play it safe.

    Oh wait.

    Sponge bob has made 30 bazillion dollars. No excuses for us I guess.

  • http://www.cut-ups.com woody yocum

    I would like to show you a personal project of mine, ‘Cut-Ups’ this is a simple online moviemaker that allows users to make and email little one minute cartoons using preanimated assets. Please do not confuse this with a replacement for any kind of animation, it is simply a form to put my characters and artwork in, so that an audience can enjoy them in a novel interactive form. The project is template based so other artists can style make there own versions. The idea is to let the audience play in the artists world a bit and make a little something fun while doing that…an animation appreciation not replacement.
    Here’s a sample cartoon (copy whole into browser without breaks):
    http://www.cut-ups.com/newhome/mailem.php?session=R5Zz9zfPqpD6O3hHcW

    Here is the site to make your own:
    http://www.cut-ups.com
    Here is the blog:
    http://www.cut-ups-cartoons.blogspot.com/
    inquiries welcome
    [email protected]

  • Celia

    Xtranormal is charming, in a crappy low-fi way.

    Some shows can work with that charm, like South Park. I wouldn’t want it any other way.

    Some lo-fi shows can’t do it (add a Adult Swim show here). Concept and execution is key, and there’s no program written to do that.

  • http://vigusanimation.comkvigus.blogspot Vigus

    I don’t disagree that anyone who cares about animated television shows should be concerned about the framework in which they are created, and preserving and advocating individual creative talent and skills, while avoiding the opposite by using threatening software and stock libraries. I think what Amid points out is rather obvious here.

    Almost anybody, even non-animation enthusiasts, or elite sectors of the industry, could perceive many shows in the rather business minded areas of television as harmful to artistic integrity and creativity. Its so obvious that its boring to even mention. So we should be asking what role are we taking to reduce degradation of animation.

    If the artists and executives, the advertising industry and so on change their approach and mentality to less capitalistic endeavors, or work to do so, then we won’t have have to worry about the ever increasing threat.

    Spongebob and whatever other shows that are perceived by many to be considered worthwhile creative and capitalistic ventures, often fall to the same crimes of reducing humans to automatons as well as any harmful software program such as the one you mentioned. Just watch the latest Burger King commercial and you will understand.

  • http://www.symbolinterface.com Laura Jane

    Apologies if this is a double post, but the comment I submitted this morning still hasn’t appeared here so I’m going to reconstruct it.

    In response to the assertion that there are no super-talented folks on the east coast, I’d like to spotlight all the NYC-based folks at Hornet as well as the entire creative staff at Blue Sky up in Greenwich.

    A few examples:

    http://jony-chandra.blogspot.com/

    http://www.nash-dunnigan-art.blogspot.com/

    http://vincentdi.blogspot.com/

    http://williereal.blogspot.com/

    http://www.trevjimenez.blogspot.com/

    http://vadim-a-palooza.blogspot.com/

    http://www.robert-mackenzie.blogspot.com/

  • http://www.chrissokalofsky.com Chris Sokalofsky

    Although it’s already been said many times, I feel I have to say that on behalf of the animators working on League of Super Evil, which runs directly after Fairly Oddparents on YTV (possibly different for Cartoon Network in the states), that this post is really far off the mark, at least for our show. As respected as you are in the animation industry, I really don’t think a backhanded slap across the face was the appropriate way to introduce this technology to your avid readers.

    Our show relies entirely on our animators to give the characters that spark that makes them entertaining to watch and enjoy. Yes, you can draw comparisons to some of the dreck of modern television, but they’re a minority, and I don’t think you should group the shows that are truly excellent work in with the leftovers.

  • http://gogopedro.blogspot.com GOGOPEDRO!

    Interesting discussion:

    Although I see a need to embrace the computer to stock certain elements, for the ease and cost effectiveness of a production. I believe calling anyone a “technician” isn’t quite right because even if your plugging stuff into the computer like it was code to make your animation, your still calling on a animation skill set to put it all together, and then (hopefully) embellish it.

    I had a job in a new york studio doing designs for a few seasons of various children’s shows.
    Sometimes I designed, but other times I had to be a fabricator, because there just wasn’t the time and money for certain props and characters…. This meant reusing elements, and cobbling various elements together for sure. But, always under the umbrella of trying to make visually appealing design or create useful reusable elements for the animators (whole where using flash) to work with. Because there just wasn’t time to do it any other way.

    I’m probably rambling now, but I embrace the concept that the computer is a tool and its only as effective as the person using it. Automated assembly lines worked well enough for cars, so I guess it can make cartoons to a certain extent. But, it in no way should draw attention away from the creative and productive people animating, designing, and ect. on the show.

    Also, on another note I think there are plenty of skilled artists here on the east coast, and there is a wide variety of artists too.

    Thanks for hearing me out.

    P

  • Sarah

    I’d like to raise another point about the value of automation and libraries in TV animation. I’m a fan of reuse, because it allows me to go home on time and focus my creative energies on my personal work. If I painstakingly animated each walk or hop over and over again in place of a reusable one, my entire life would be my day job. Not taking advantage of the technology we have to streamline production is just as stupid as searching for creative fulfillment and meaning on a preschool television show.

    Groundbreaking, boundary-pushing animation motivates the industry to evolve… slowly. The harsh deadlines of commercial TV production are inherently prohibitive to experimentation and growth. That’s why its important for artists to be able to work on their craft during their off hours. Not everyone can afford the risks of going indie, but we can all push ourselves and each other to bust our butts on our own shit on nights and weekends.

    If we want our industry to progress, we need to be supporting each other, not putting each other down. Regardless of how we pay our rent, we all have the same objective- making kickass art. The profit-driven TV business has little to do with that. Lets bring the focus back to where it belongs- supporting each other and making great work.

  • http://www.frankrause.com/franimation/ Fran Krause

    I think there’s a few points that are getting lost:

    It’s possible to make a crappy cartoon with XtraNormal. It’s not a job-slaying monster. I spent a few hours fiddling with the program to get the above animation, and it’s pretty choppy.

    It’s also really fun. I’ve worked for Little Einsteins in the past, and I think working on a low-budget show with lots of re-use (or XtraNormal, for that matter) can create a challenge in that it’s so difficult to get anything to look nice or unique. Nothing was more fun than cutting one of Leo’s arms off and trying to get it to work on Annie’s body. It’s a challenge! I mean, it’s not a challenge that ended up on my reel, but it was interesting. In a way, fun.

  • http://www.frankrause.com/franimation/ Fran Krause

    Oh, and thanks for posting my cartoon, Amid!

  • http://www.elliotelliotelliot.com Elliot Cowan

    Perhaps I’ve missed a couple of posts here, but who exactly is suggesting there’s a lack of talent on the east coast?

  • Vince

    Kudos to the many professional and proud animators who have posted here, giving a real insight into the everyday and commonplace act of doing the best you can in your dayjob and still having enough love and creativity to persue your own personal projects at night. No kudos at all to Amid the alledgedly professional reporter who hides his lack of real insight or understanding behind the title ‘think piece’ when his facts are challenged by the people he was writing about.

  • http://pedroeboli.blogspot.com Pedro E.

    Sure, it’s crap. But, like many people said, it’s nothing but a toy. I just really really hope they keep the computerized deadbeat voices, becuase it just makes everything way funnier. I was laughing all alone at home making these things. Maybe I should go out more…

    http://pedroeboli.blogspot.com/2009/04/indie-and-new-raver-meet-in-bad-piece.html

  • http://rauchbrothers.com Mike Rauch

    That was me Elliot. Of course, I wasn’t commenting that there aren’t ANY talented folks on the East Coast. There certainly are. I’m talking about what John K calls “obviously rare and astonishing abilities” (see link I pasted in a post above). Color stylists, layout artists, animators, storyboard artists and designers who can make work of rarefied appeal. People able to create work where, as Murray Bain said above, “every frame is a surprise and delight.” In that regard, I often feel that our talent pool here is dismally shallow. Thanks to Laura Jane for the links she shared to the contrary, there is some good stuff there and it gives me hope.

    A good deal of the fault here lies with a system that has been failing artists for probably a decade or more. Maybe, if the prevailing winds change, artists will be given a chance to grow and prove themselves. But I do think it’s incumbent on people who care to not wait for that moment, but instead create it themselves.

    also,

    Sarah says:

    “I’d like to raise another point about the value of automation and libraries in TV animation. I’m a fan of reuse, because it allows me to go home on time and focus my creative energies on my personal work. If I painstakingly animated each walk or hop over and over again in place of a reusable one, my entire life would be my day job. Not taking advantage of the technology we have to streamline production is just as stupid as searching for creative fulfillment and meaning on a preschool television show.”

    This is a really surprising, but illuminating comment. I would have thought people who advocate for reuse did so because in some way it increased the quality and creativity of the project. But you seem to be saying that it requires less of your creative energy, which you then save for after hours projects. My take is that investing full energy into a product that has a vast audience would be more worthwhile. But if you don’t believe in its integrity, I could understand where you’re coming from. I completely agree that not taking advantage of technology to streamline production would be stupid, except where that push for efficiency damages overall quality. However, I couldn’t disagree more that searching for creative fulfillment and meaning on a preschool show is stupid. Why would that be? I do think it sounds like a mistake to work on a show (or any job for that matter) that is not challenging you, not taking full advantage of your talents, and not fulfilling you.

    “Groundbreaking, boundary-pushing animation motivates the industry to evolve… slowly. The harsh deadlines of commercial TV production are inherently prohibitive to experimentation and growth.”

    This is simply not true, and it’s been proven by untrue by a number of groundbreaking, boundary-pushing TV productions. Unfortunately, you’re correct that many systems being used are inherently prohibitive to experimentation and growth, but that doesn’t have to be so.

    “That’s why its important for artists to be able to work on their craft during their off hours. Not everyone can afford the risks of going indie, but we can all push ourselves and each other to bust our butts on our own shit on nights and weekends.”

    I don’t think this is about a choice of going indie or not. I do agree that everyone is responsible for their own artistic and professional growth. I’m not sure what risks you have in mind, but I would suggest that slogging through a job that doesn’t fulfill you is a pretty big risk in itself.

    “If we want our industry to progress, we need to be supporting each other, not putting each other down. Regardless of how we pay our rent, we all have the same objective- making kickass art. The profit-driven TV business has little to do with that. Lets bring the focus back to where it belongs- supporting each other and making great work.”

    Agreed. But the TV business can, should and sometimes does support exactly that.

  • http://www.elliotelliotelliot.com Elliot Cowan

    Mike – I’m astonished to read some of your comments (to say the least).
    No doubt I’ll see you at an alehouse sometime soon and I’ll be able to accompany my astonishment with diagrams my notebook.

  • Daniel

    I completely welcome this new form of creation. I think if anything it will help spurn writers which we animators desperately need. It’s so wonderful to animate on something that’s well written.

    I also think that this is great because it will only help solidify my job. When I look at machinima and the stuff at Xtranormal I can’t help but think “you can have that”. This isn’t the stuff I pictured myself animating when I entered the industry and it’s not what I see myself animating in the future. If this was the quality or depth of my interest level and the peak of my acting abilities then craaappp… I probably should be replaced.

    I do take offense to the tone though, it really does come across like you’re telling animators that we all do repetitive work and we should get off our lazy butts and make something creative. It also sounds like you feel animation is only good at making indie stuff. I don’t think either of those are true, I think animation is great at making mainstream entertainment that isn’t repetitive, but sometimes it just calls for a cycle here, an idle there. That’s not threatening, but implying that it’s easy as this is. That sort of thought will lead someone to be biased and take advantage of someone else. It fosters a disconnect between the suits, the writers and the animators. You won’t get good work from someone, animator or other who can easily see you don’t respect them.

  • Dminor

    It’s not always up to the animator what level of quality gets into the show, especially when there are six people above them giving notes.

    I’m an animator on the Wonder Pets. There have been many occasions where I have spent the extra time and care to entirely animate a scene only get be told to replace it with re-use animation.

    And you know what? When one of the characters is making the 100th butt joke that isn’t funny, I’d rather spent two minutes using re-use animation for it so I can spend all my time and energy on a 3 minute song and dance sequence. Why is my time so valuable? A show is technically animated in 2 weeks. And this schedule is not at all flexible even if someone higher up requests an entire character to be re-designed 2/3 of the way into animation.

    I’m sure that every project has problems like these. Television takes these hits especially hard because of their unrealistic time-tables.

  • Dminor

    I think it’s important to remember that it’s not always the animator’s decision as to what caliber animation makes it into the final output.

    I’m an animator on the Wonder Pets, and there have been multiple times where I have taken the time and care to animate an entire scene only to be told later to replace it with re-use animation.

    And you know what? I’d rather use the two minutes it takes to utilize re-use animation when a character makes the 100th butt joke that isn’t funny so that I can spend the rest of my time working diligently and passionately on a 3 minute song and dance sequence.

    Why am I so worried about time? Because a Wonder Pets episode is technically animated in two weeks. This pre-determined schedule is in no way flexible. It is always two weeks despite varying levels of extra characters, show complexity, animators available, and also despite the fact that a person higher up may suddenly decide they want a character re-designed 2/3 of the way into the animation process.

    I’m sure that many projects have these problems. I believe that television is especially hit hard due to the unrealistic time constraints.

  • http://trnorton.com Tennessee

    Thank the Animation Gods I am in STOP-MOTION !!!

  • David

    I agree with Daniel regarding tone. Many people try to speak for all artists in their respective industries. In doing so, they make generalizations and assumptions that are frequently incorrect. That’s been the case with this article, and with several of the subsequent comments.

    Not all shows are the same, and not all artists are the same. Some folks take it upon themselves to go after industry-shaking progress and advancement. Others just want to work through their day jobs, and get home to rock their own work. Neither is right, and neither is wrong, but mutual recognition and respect of this fact is part of the support system the animation community should always have.

  • OH ALRIGHT…I GUESSS SOoo.

    Amid says:

    “Now is the time for animators to step up to the plate and create the kinds of inspiring artwork again that can’t be emulated by a ten-year-old sitting in his bedroom.”

    And here I was. Only doing the bare minimum 50 to 60 to 80 hour work week. Not thinking. Just grabbing something from the library. Switching a part. Cause that really IS how it’s done. HOW DOES HE KNOW??? HE’S RIGHT!! I GOTTA GET MOVING!! NOW!!

    Wish I were a blogger. Do I need a degree in journalism for it? Or any sorta of ethics classes or experience in verifying facts and sources? Or can I just whip up something incendiary and post it to a regular audience?

    DIGITAL TECHNICIAN??? Tell us how you really feel.

  • Androoo

    I’m actually lucky enough to sit in close proximity of some of the most talented animators on WP. Sorry Amid, but as Sarah already stated you got your facts wrong.

  • http://jodimationindustries.blogspot.com Jodie Hudson

    Digital Technican… It has a nice ring to it, like you went to college for a real job.

    But seriously I can see why everybody’s upset. Amid makes hugely incorrect statements and comes to some questionable conclusions. First, why he has come to his conclusion about the state of the television animation based on a program called Xtranormal is beyond me. The program he says can replace animators looks so unsophisticated that I have vague memories of a Super Nes game that gives you the equivalent amount of freedom. Secondly, as an animator on the Wonder Pets, I can say that the show isn’t made up entirely of preapproved animations, where only a select few of the animators make original animation, and I’ll assume that goes for Little Einsteins and the other shows he bashes. South Park is not already automated as far as I know. Animators work crazy hours to make the show possible in that amount of time (Now whether that in itself is good and the process should be automated like the other shows he mentions is up for debate but he states that it already is automated). Super Jail is sighted as a show that need artists. It is a good show but does he use it as an example because the animation is so integral that is couldn’t be done automated as the other shows he mentions or is it that every frame has to be hand drawn, and that in and of itself qualifies it as creative animation. The quotes he uses are alsp taken out of context. Thankfully he links to the sources so you can see they are misquoted. Jim Worthy, a bg designer on “Fairy Odd Parents” says in an interview that “After 7 seasons, I’m amazed how many times I still need to design Timmy’s bedroom” but then elaborates why that is but this part is not quoted. Amid also quotes a post on Fran Krause’s blog says “New Website Makes Animators Obsolete.” While not directly saying Fran believes this, he doesn’t say that he doesn’t, which is apparent if you visit his blog. And how could you misinterpret Pat Smith’s, a renowned traditional Animator, sarcastic remakes about Xtranormal.

    Wow that’s kind of long, but that is one of my pet peeves. Some statements are of the right or wrong, partially right and partially wrong, depends on the context of the situation type, based on your ideological viewpoint kind which make life kind of hard. And then there are those pesky little things called facts, which are either completely true or completely false from every viewpoint. Everyone has a responsibility when talking to someone else to give at the bare minimum, factual information that’s in context. You have the potential to change some one’s viewpoint and you don’t want to give them false premises to come to your conclusion even if your conclusion is correct. It’s called journalistic integrity, which I don’t see alot of thesde days.

    And that’s really the tragedy of all this. Because if you disregard all incorrect information (which arguably makes up the bulk of the article), the point he is trying to make is valid about the amount of creative talent put into television in general vs the actual talent of the artists on the shows.

    I’ve actually been thinking about this alot lately myself. Although, I will say that Amid is specifically talking about animation that is so bland and unspecific, in his opinion, it might as well be done by a computer, whether or not, someone uses stock libraries to animate it or creates it from scratch. That is a tight rope to walk on in regards to what warrants being animated as opposed to not. Sure, there are broad strokes you could paint but, like all art, when you start getting in to specific areas, you move from generally accepted opinions to your own personal opinions. (Sure, most people think Disney’s hand drawn films are of high quality artistry (in terms of animation), but are they the only films of high quality art or even the best showcases of quality art?)

    However, I do think that the animator could be given more opportunities to create quality animation, which is why I am more interested in areas where alot of time is spent on things that are not creative in nature but are still challenging, and or tedious to do, and have to be done one way or another. Basic television A-F lip sync(I know, Toon Boom has it. Hint, hint, Flash and After Effects, you major television production tools, hint, hint.), in regards to hand drawn animation some forms of inbetweening, and in my opinion, alot of forms of overlapping actions, etc. Alot of this could be done by the computer and probably will be one day. That doesn’t mean animators will be out of jobs. The more an animator has to do on an animated television show, especially when it comes to tedious tasks that require time and energy($$$) but nothing creative, the less valuable each animator becomes, and the more inclined a studio is to send things overseas.

    Sure, people will say, “If you want to create quality stuff, do it outside of work.” That is all good, yes, do that. Yet, that’s not justification for offering excuses on why the industry has to be this way, and not discussing the state of the industry and how it could be a more creative environment. Nothing’s set in stone. So whether you think the current system works just fine or is creatively bankrupt(though you probably will be better off considering another career), I think we can all agree that even the best systems can be improved. Who knows, maybe we can even collectively fix a couple of things.

  • http://eggheadcheesybird.co.uk Alex

    Agree with you 100%
    Why on earth Family Guy is still animated by hand is completely beyond me.

  • amid

    There is nothing inherently incorrect in my description of the production process of a show like Little Einsteins or Wonder Pets. Certain readers are free to keep claiming that until they’re blue in the face, but facts are facts, and my description of the process remains accurate. Sarah, an animator at Little Airplane, posted a much lengthier description of the typical automated show process in the comments. It adds details to my description but doesn’t contradict any of the info. Again, I’d written:

    These shows rely on stock libraries of movements, expressions and takes, and entire episodes are animated in a month or less. The digital animators (a more accurate term would be “digital technicians”) set up the scenes and determine the sequence of these actions, but they don’t create original actions; there are also a couple traditional animators on board who create the original movements needed for each episode. The only manual part of the process is adding lip sync to the characters.

    The only part that people have been able to argue is factually inaccurate is that there are more than “a couple traditional animators” who create original actions for each episode. And most people seem to not like the playful suggestion that they should be called “digital technicians”.

    I would however like somebody to write in and describe the South Park process. I was always under the impression, because I’d been told so, that some sort of libraries are used in the process, but according to one commenter, the animation is created completely library-free. That’s just left me confused.

  • Sarah

    Amid,

    The passage you quoted above is just what we are taking issue with. You say “The digital animators…. set up the scenes and determine the sequence of these actions, but they don’t create original actions”

    This is untrue. Every single animator on our staff creates original actions. No one gets by on just reuse- As a lead animator, I make sure of this. Over-reliance on reuse makes shots look dead and uninteresting… inevitably the reuse heavy shots get revised with original work until they are brought to life.

    Also,

    “… there are also a couple traditional animators on board who create the original movements needed for each episode. The only manual part of the process is adding lip sync to the characters.”

    The majority of our animation staff has a traditional animation background. Others specialized in CG or stop motion in school or previous jobs. Either way, its not the case that there are a select few “traditional animators” who are the only ones generating original work. Every single one of us creates original animation on a daily basis. That’s just a fact.

    The point is that this is all done within the realm of good taste. We bust our butts here to make a product we’re proud of. No one is slogging in library animation carelessly – reuse is employed strictly as a time saving mechanism. If library animation isn’t working for a certain scene, the whole thing will be reanimated from scratch. Trust me, I’ve put in the late hours to prove it. If it looks like shit, we can’t go home. This just encourages us to do good work as quickly as possible, which is actually pretty sweet… quality with speed. AE FTW!

    You may feel we’re just arguing semantics, but please understand the assertion that only a select number of our staff are artists and the rest are technicians is offensive to an entire crew. I work with some of the best digital animators and artists in New York (and abroad.) I’m proud of them and feel they should be represented accurately.

    On a lighter note, I saw this clip today and found it amusingly relevant. Even classic Disney films stoop to the lows of recycled footage:

    http://www.todaysbigthing.com/2009/04/07

    Hope this clears things up better! And a shout out to Jodie… every system could use improvement. Lets put our collective heads together and work for some positive change :)

  • David

    “The only manual part of the process is adding lip sync to the characters.”

    This is also false.

  • http://kvigus.blogspot Vigus

    “The digital animators (a more accurate term would be “digital technicians”) set up the scenes and determine the sequence of these actions, but they don’t create original actions; there are also a couple traditional animators on board who create the original movements needed for each episode. The only manual part of the process is adding lip sync to the characters.”

    Quite true that part of the article was arguable. I would also like to add that is incorrect.

    The fear of automation is quite legitimate. Although, if it is ones goal to produce very little content, then they can avoid libraries. Digital technician not yet, but the fear is understandable. Even so I do feel it is a bit strange to compare XtraNormal to television animation, there are some tenuous points if contact, but not worth regarding talented creatives as “digital technicians” in my opinion.

    Looking from Mars every show mentioned in this article is a compilation of more or less the same evolved trends and production styles, with minor variations. SpongeBob especially should not be excluded from the same kind vilification as say, “Family Guy”, and many of the other shows mentioned.

  • http://www.onnoknuvers.com Onno Knuvers

    I think our jobs will be save but it is an interesting site to play around with.

    I just made a very short film called “I can’t believe it’s animation”, it’s on Youtube here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9z6o2qdzdjo

    The possibilities for crappy animation is limitless, nice!

  • Bob Funn
  • Ah so it’s bad WRITING

    I, for one, wasn’t aware that you were attributing a quote when referencing “digital technicians” into your “article.” Maybe as a reader I’d have understood your point that …well…i’m not entirely sure what the point is…animators are obsolete, execs are too cheap to get rid of animators by way of machination, animators are lazy and have it coming, I don’t know… but nevertheless, maybe some of the angry is stemming from a misunderstanding of the article. As it stands now, portions of what was written lifted from other blogs and smashed into an opinion obscuring the point that… there’s a lot of recycling and that we as artists should stop messing around and try and get something good going?

    Very aggravating and fairly insulting article unfortunately. It’s one thing to see countless great shows in development flushed by people at the top, but then to have another person regularly writing on a blog
    about cartoons that you suck and should be put out to pasture…well that’s just…wonderful.

    Oh and something about some software that will eventually fire the first shot, darken the skies, and come after Sarah Conner.

  • I shall translate for you, A.S.I.B. WRITING

    • Making animators obsolete is not necessarily a bad thing. (Please note: There could not be a bigger supporter of artists than Amid).

    • The only reason that studios continue to employ so many artists is that they’re too shortsighted and cheap to develop software to replace them. (We all know how studios always hire artists and extend artists’ contracts when they’re trying to cut the budget.)
    (Please note: There could not be a bigger supporter of artists than Amid).

    • Xtranormal makes animation which emulates that which a 10 year old could do in his bedroom. Xtranormal is the future of TV. More animators should do work that doesn’t look like a 10-year-old could do it. Because..um…then they will be up to speed for what the future holds, which is…um… making work that looks like a 10-year-old could do it. Okay..I’m still working on this one…

    • The unintelligent production crew in place at Nickelodeon would do well to fire skilled, veteran artists– one in which he calls out by name and misinterprets a quote to imply that his work is unnecessary. (Please note: There could not be a bigger supporter of artists than Amid).

    • After all this, animators (especially the east-coast ones) are too thin-skinned to get the playful ribbing when referring to them as “digital technicians.” LOLZ.

    On a serious note, I couldn’t give a damn one way or another on this software. But I cant wait to see Amid continue with the snarky remarks about the newest lazily drawn or written piece of TV garbage after, basically, welcoming and hailing it’s production process.

  • Rex The Runt

    The lack of any checking of facts or retractions or good grace when contradicted by the people he was writing about, plus the continued resort to sarcasm and snarking means I’ll never trust anything Amid writes at face value again.

  • http://deleted OtherDan

    After thinking about it for a while, I see this software as potentially a great tool for an initial animatic to get the story process rolling. But, after watching some of the stuff on YouTube, it has a looong way to go-it’s hardly inspiring at this point. I wish they would focus on a shot library and effects library for that purpose. I think it would be awesome to create a basic animatic based on a script and shot library: a simple notation for a camera shot in the script, and then it could automate that into an animatic. As far as animation goes, it’s better that humans actually decipher how a character gestures and acts.

  • Erin

    I’ve made an animation video inspired by this conversation.

    http://www.xtranormal.com/watch?e=200904161439319

  • http://dailygrail.com/blog/8389 red pill junkie

    Well, this has been an interesting read!

    I can’t help but wonder if the REAL intention of Amid is for TV execs of the shows he hates ( the ones that are script-based) will eventually shift to fully automated animation software, so that the audience finally realize how crappy they are and start demanding programs that are more animation-driven.

    That of course will cause an entire generation of animators to lose their jobs and end up working at Walmart; but it’s a small price to pay for the salvation of the art form, right? ;-)

    As I wrote before, I think Xtranormal is a really interesting concept, and maybe some 10-year old kid playing with it will realize he wants to pursue a career in Animation. Nothing wrong with that. Nothing wrong with some automation in the drier parts of the TV programming process for that matter!

  • Celia

    “The only manual part of the process is adding lip sync to the characters.”

    This is TRUE in regards to a “digital animator’s” role on Little Einsteins. Occasional head nods, drops shadows were also added. The character animation library is constructed in Flash, and drawn by traditional 2D animators. The 3D portions were done by the CG animators.

    “These shows rely on stock libraries of movements, expressions and takes, and entire episodes are animated in a month or less.”

    TRUE in regards to both Little Einsteins and Wonder Pets. WP introduced the library system second season, to help the animation production to go more quickly. LE had them all along.

    Amid’s observations don’t accurately blanket the production of both shows, but they aren’t entirely inaccurate.

    If we can agree on one thing, it’s that nobody likes being called a “digital technician”!

    That’s my take (coming from an animator who has worked on BOTH shows).

  • http://rauchbrothers.com Mike Rauch

    It’s wrong to be right. It’s right to be wrong.

    Given the feedback in comments above, and face-to-face with friends here in NYC (some of our finest I might add), I can only assume that my evaluation of the existing talent is wrong. I expected that may well be the case, and was truly hoping that people would tell me and show me I was wrong. If I had wanted to be 100% right, I would have left that out of my comments. I think there’s value, however, in discussion where all participants aren’t overly focused on playing it safe and being right. As a relative outsider, I commonly withhold comments and judgments, but the development and use of artists’ talents is one area I feel passionate enough about to enter the fray. Letting yourself be wrong is a valuable thing. I’m well pleased to have been wrong on this.

    Also, I think I must have been unclear because some people seem to think I was singling out particular studios or shows. The only studio I mentioned was Augenblick, which I think is doing extraordinary work.
    I was calling out the potential creative pitfalls of a particular system. A friend here in NYC, brought up a great example of an old show which many of us love that used re-use to decidedly poor effect— Scooby Doo. The era in which that show existed is considered by many to have been dark days for the art of animation. My hope is that the promise of technology doesn’t become the lie of technology, and leave us years from now still recovering from the damage.

    Undoubtedly, there are studios and shows today that use automation and produce work of great value. I remain concerned though about the processes we’re using to create animation. If too much decision-making is taken out of the artists’ hands, the end result can only suffer. If artists look around and can’t see anywhere to apply their best talents, will they maintain and develop those talents? Will anyone know their full potential if it’s not demonstrated on the job, or on an independently generated project? Re-use is not the end of quality animation, it’s been used to great effect on extraordinary work for decades— Schoolhouse Rock is genius re-use in my book. Technology to make the application of re-use more efficient can only be a good thing. Shows from daytime preschool to late night adult and everywhere in between use it in varying degrees, and will continue to do so. If the efficiency and cost advantages of automation or re-use are put second, and the creative pluses are put first, I think we’ll be headed in a good and sustainable direction.

  • linda beck

    Nicely put, Mike. :)