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David O’Reilly’s History of Animation

David O

Twenty-two-year-old animation wunderkind David O’Reilly, who we’ve mentioned frequently on Cartoon Brew (here, here and here), was asked to create an original piece of animation for BoingBoing.tv. The resulting piece is a ‘history of animation’ from Disney through John K, and beyond to CG. In a humorous manner, O’Reilly makes a thoughtful point: that CG animation represents a quantum-leap forward in the development of this art form because it offers the possibility for a clear break from traditional reality-rooted styles of animation. Instead of replicating existing worlds, CG offers the chance to create entirely new worlds, an opportunity that few artists have explored to date.

  • Innovate or GTFO!


  • rrc

    I totally agree with the idea of innovating and not getting caught up making the same cartoons all the time…. but this dude is not innovative. Sorry. Talking about being cutting edge doesn’t make you relevant either. Guys like paper rad have been doing what they do for nearly a decade. limited cg was done in the eighties and clashing neon has been done since the sixties. Even modern editing has been around since computer editing programs existed. Experimentation is interesting but the pattern I see is that someone comes up with a new way of doing things will get little recognition and no money then someone will soften it for commercial consumption and get recognition. What I would say to mr. o’reilly… just keep making shorts and let others put the label and decide you importance… you also don’t need to get on a soapbox and tell everyone what kind of cartoons to make b/c people will innovate on their own… they always have.

  • Jim

    Cool, hip and angry but nothing that Norman McLaren or Len Lye didn’t do eighty years ago. But people like this need to be encouraged rather than squashed by the man. Best of luck to him along those lines. Maybe he’ll find a rich punk backer.

  • William Ansley

    Leaving aside David O’Reilly’s short for the moment, I have to take issue with Amid Amidi’s interpretation of it. It seems stunningly wrong headed for any person knowledgeable about animation to imply that traditional animation cannot create entirely new worlds or that traditional animation techniques can only create reflections of the “existing world.” Perhaps no artist working in pre-CGI animation techniques has created an entirely new world, but certainly the current mainstream use of CGI is to re-create the existing world in ever greater detail.

    To me, O’Reilly seems to be calling for an abandonment of the traditional Hollywood funny cartoon style, which he traces from Disney through Warner Bros. to John K. He seems to think it has reached the limit of what can be done with it, just as the originators of what has come to be called Modern Art felt that representational painting had reached its limit around the turn of the previous century. I doubt he would care what technique was used by those who answer his call.

  • Most current animated shows are still “RECOVERING” from John K.’s influence.

    O’Reilly’s got something to say. Only not completely sure if he’s going about saying it the right way. He seems to contradict himself a little. Nevertheless, great work. Always good to see original pieces such as.

  • Well that just sounds completely retarded. I don’t know how you can watch a Bob Clampett short and say that he didn’t create an entirely different and sometimes terrifyingly abstract world. Just because this animator moves his characters, interacts with his enviroment, and moves his camera differently doesn’t mean he’s made any more of a new world than any other great filmmaker. He’s still reality based, he’s just pushing it like an animator but with a different method. He still has characters, voices, time, narrative and a setting.

  • christy

    i agree with rrc. hes right on the money.

  • “O’Reilly seems to be calling for an abandonment of the traditional Hollywood funny cartoon style”

    I don’t know if this is his suggestion but I’m all for it.

  • “O’Reilly seems to be calling for an abandonment of the traditional Hollywood funny cartoon style”

    The future is now!

    I have a feeling that the person making this video is pulling our legs and making fun of backwards art school theory blather. It’s not easy to accuse traditional animation of being too realistic and praise CGI for its ability to create totally new worlds with a straight face. I think we’ve got a healthy dose of irony here wrapped up in sloppy, postmodern 8 bit style.

  • amid

    If you look at what he’s saying, he doesn’t deride anything from Disney through John K. He’s only saying that CG offers opportunities to push beyond and do new things. It’s a call to make use of the tools and not simply repeat the past. A valid point.

  • I don’t think either technique offers any more opportunity to push beyond the accomplishments of the past than the other one does. Both CGI and traditional animation could benefit from new ideas that build upon and expand upon the great accomplishments of the past.

  • Jenny

    the fact that you intepret the film that way is sorta ironic: you seem rather hostile to CGI from what I’ve read here

  • phil

    Message may hold some truth, but aesthetics do count for something, and this does not hold my interest…sorry.

  • What is the cutoff age on “wunderkind” these days?

  • purin

    I realy didn’t gather anything from that. It just seemed really pretentious and unenjoyable.

    The pooping thing was neat, though.

  • Nancy B

    Plenty of animators created ‘new worlds’ before the advent of CGI.

    CGI seems to be obsessed with imitating reality, not doing anything new.

  • Zander K.

    I have a feeling that the person making this video is pulling our legs and making fun of backwards john k. theory blather.

  • Chuck R.

    Your mistake, Amid, is in looking to technology to push art in new directions. Shouldn’t dreamers and storytellers create art, with technology evolving at their whims? It was that way with Disney. It’s that way with Pixar.

    Sure, Hollywood films have their commercial aspects, but you have to admit, it’s the tools that Jobs and Co. have invented that have made it possible for independent artists to create almost anything.

  • david

    maybe people should just focus on entertaining their audience instead of spewing pretentious de-constructive gibberish. but what do i know. i just like real cartoons.

    • swekkieboy2000

      Breaking routine (regarding art) has always existed and opened a lot of paths to great things such as your “real cartoons”…

  • Ceaser

    I think this is crazy brilliant, and completely agree with his theories. Yes, toons right now are done in one style, derived of Disney and WB. its good to see this completely new effort, with more of an inspiration from videogames. 8 bit is straight to the point and beautiful, and I really respect what he did here. great stuff.

  • This “history” is too short, extremely simplified and America-centric to be of any use to anyone.

    That graph showing the colour spectrum (“this colour range is present in ‘real life’, this one in ‘cartoons’ and this one in ‘rgbxyz’) ignores not only the decades of innovative colour spectrums in animation (starting all the way back with Lotte Reiniger and “The Adventures of Prince Achmed” in 1926 with its colour tinting, and heading up to the sepia colours in contemporary sand animation, eg. “Forest Tales”), but the developments of thousands of years of traditional art. Using simplified colour palettes is nothing new, and is certainly nothing that requires a computer to do.

    And this sentence!
    “Instead of replicating existing worlds, CG offers the chance to create entirely new worlds, an opportunity that few artists have explored to date.”

    How can anyone take even a cursory look at the richness of worldwide animation history and believe for second that artists have not taken the opportunity to create new artistic worlds over and over?

    Lest we forget, there is NO. SUCH. THING. as a non-reality-rooted style of animation! There are only different interpretations of what is before our eyes, and different tools for portraying it.

    Look, amid, perhaps you’ve simply expressed yourself in unfortunate manner. I will agree on this much, though you did not say this in your original post:

    The computer is a different tool. Why should we care? Because art knows no progress, only change; art represents culturally significant meaning and will naturally change to reflect a lifestyle changes in the culture that produced it (and of the individual artist too, of course, that goes without saying; but I’m talking about the cumulative effect). Through the course of the last 15 years, our lifestyle has gone through dramatic changes. Computers have rewired our brains, and our sense of reality is shifting. Who but this generation could make or understand that bizarre animated feature called “We Are the Strange”? The only reason that it has become so successful (predominantly among the young) is that it is tapping into a shifted sense of reality that would be entirely unknown to someone who had lived without any electronics.

    Using a computer as a medium in order to get closer to our shifting sense of reality, which is dependent so heavily upon the hours spent online, is quite a natural artistic decision. But it should be recognized for what it is; not progress, just relevant change! Because as our brains are collectively rewired to accept these new stimuli, we simultaneously forget ANOTHER sense of reality.

    Throw a computer geek in the woods and he will be blind; he will likely see nothing but a featureless expanse of green and be extremely bored. But if he stays in that environment for a long time, and gains understanding, he will start to see thousands of interesting things that had been invisible to him upon arrival. To him, this will be progress. But ultimately, it is nothing more than adaptation to a changing environment.

    What I’m saying, basically, is that certain people are attacking what was done in the past as if “they were crude and we know better now�. What is really happening is that it no longer fits with what counts as reality for you, and the meaning that it originally had now finds no receptor.

    Amid, the last two sentences in your original post seem to show your lack of awareness… of your own lack of awareness.

  • Magnusson

    So you’re saying that instead of trying to use these new tools with the techniques of the past (for example, trying to re-create Clampett with CG), that the new tools should be explored in their own right?

    I can’t help but wonder if he is over-emphasizing the historical impact (if any) that John K has really exercised.

  • eero

    Isn’t the problem with modern features that they focus too much on innovating with technology and mediums instead of telling a good story and looking for something timeless.

    I think if something is made with heart and artistic motivation, innovation will always come as a subproduct. Every medium of animation and art still has enormous amounts to offer and show us and room for innovation, just compare the amount of existing animated features to live-action cinema. The important point also expressed in the video is to stop focusing on copying others and giving space to the numerous unvoiced visions out there.

    It is silly to think that any medium of animation has given us all it has to offer, when even the history of animation and cinema is so young.

  • It seems that the purpose of CG was to duplicate reality. That is how much of it is being applied to Live Action films. The CG animated features slavishly recreate realistic environments and movements for characters that look like stop motion puppets. While this form of CG Animation is refered to as “3D,” I continue to take exception with this term. Unless it is a presentation in spacial separation using polarization glasses such as THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS-which is a stop motion film, this is still a two dimensional medium just as much as a live action film is. So the concentration on making CG look three dimensional is an imitation of reality and not a pushing of the boundaries of the traditional representations.

    Drawings are limitless in what they can convey. There are so many ways to draw something, and drawings are not limited to the restrictions and technical specifications of Computer Generated images. Since CG is mathmatically based, it is more literal. In many ways, the technique offers things previously not possible in drawn animation such as detailed textures and patters on the characters and their costumes. Before, we were limited to areas of flat color, or
    simple patterns of polka dots, stripes, or plaids, which animation workers dreaded working with due to the margin of error in doing them by hand.

    With regards to the piece of discussion, it is a mockery and also misinformed in many areas of animation history. Aside from being too saturated in chroma level, or possibly illegal in terms of a video signal, it looks like a school exercise that was done to demonstate the execution of some basic computer moves using some basic templated shapes. It doesn’t take much ability or talent to use
    built in components such as this. As for the piece itself, there is confusion in the execution, and a lack of good direction.

    Genius is a dangerously overused term to the extent that it has lost its meaning. There are other 22 year olds who are more realized and mature in the medium. In fact there have been children who have done things better than this. They are really are the “wunderkind” deserving of such attention.

  • John Tebbel

    What well informed and attentive commenters. I hope it is helpful to point out that painters addressed the idea that human perception can be a limitation. One of the things that happened was abstract expressionism, referencing human gesture instead of the visual programming induced by a lifetime of being led around by our lying mammal eyes.

  • red pill junkie

    The only real limitation I can find in any form of art or is that it is made BY humans FOR humans. No matter how different or exotic the medium you use, your goal will still be to provoke a reaction of some sort (either emotional or intellectual) in the person who is exposed to it.

    So, if you do innovate, but people do not get connected to it, what’s the point? Is that still art?

    Unless aliens arrive to Earth or computers become sentient, there will never be a change in this. But luckily we humans are pretty varied in our tastes, and there are quite a lot of us around, so there’s ample room for any kind of artistic expression we can think of.

  • warmowski

    The 8-bit piece was okay, but I think the biggest “tell” of O’Reilly’s talent (as well as his own impression of it) is the Meebox piece that followed it.

    I thought it was great but there’s no way it meets the billing he gave it as a “parody” of motion graphics. Parody that doesn’t read as parody isn’t parody, is it?

    What was most interesting was his statement that it was a parody. I recognize the impulse to skewer and satire things, I just don’t know how it could be that a person finishes that Meebox piece (with very de rigeur Johnny Greenwood music no less) and thinks they parodied anything.

    The confusion comes from the fact that there’s no difference between what that piece was and what ad agency/production company boardrooms around the green-light and respond positively to every day.

  • Cliff Galbraith

    Wow — you guys sound like a bunch of eggheads on NPR arguing over this stuff.

    Hey…it’s a cartoon! You know, like, funny, ha, ha? Get it? A cartoon. To enjoy. To be entertained. Who cares if its historically acurate or Americancentric? Bugs Bunny was pretty Americancentric, too. So was old Popeye.

    Step back. Take a breath and repeat “It’s only a cartoon” about a hundred thousand times. Then maybe you’ll actually be able to enjoy this medium for what it is at its best — pure silliness. Try to have a little fun.

  • “Then maybe you’ll actually be able to enjoy this medium for what it is at its best — pure silliness.”

    I was mostly with you until that bit, Cliff. I wouldn’t have said such a thing about visual art (despite how many silly drawings there are in existence), and I don’t think that it’s true of animation.

    But regardless, I assumed that this particular cartoon was meant to be educational and make an artistic point, rather than to be funny. i.e. that thing with the poop before it was funny (and I liked it), this was not.

    If it was not actually trying to say anything at all, and was merely being silly (Amid’s introduction suggested otherwise), then my bad.

    To be honest, I half-suspect that both David O’Reilly and Amid Amidi are pulling our leg here just to get a reaction. (a subtler form of trolling)

  • I’d like to say something:
    RGBXYZ was never made for public consumption. I personally hate it, but I will say that the emotions that put it together came from a sincere place when I started it, 3 years ago.

    2nd. I’m delighted you’ve all started discussing animation as art. Lets be honest, most people don’t normally do this.

    3rd. This mini-documentary was an obvious joke. If anyone seriously thinks it’s possible to create a ‘style’ using charts and graphs then they need their heads examined :)

    finally, lighten up, and please don’t hate.