This Bear Animation Is Not Computer Animated

This short animated experiment of a seemingly CG bear climbing stairs is garnering a lot of attention on the Internet because it’s actually a CG bear printed as 50 separate 3-D models and then animated in stop motion. The bear was produced as a collaboration between two London-based companies: design firm DBLG and animation studio Blue Zoo. It’s a clever piece, but not quite as revolutionary as some Internet commenters seem to think. Laika has been the the innovation leader on 3D printing in animation, and has pushed the process much further in their films Coraline, ParaNorman and the upcoming Boxtrolls.

While not a technological breakthrough, the experiment is interesting from a stylistic standpoint. Rather than using 3-D printing to create organic-looking models a la Laika, DBLG and Blue Zoo printed models that retain their low-poly CG appearance. The slight imperfections in the 3D printing and filming processes give the animation an indescribable warmth that can be felt by the viewer while still retaining the mathematical accuracy of CG animation.

click on images for a closer view

(via Boing Boing)


  • Silami

    This bear animation IS computer animated. It’s just not rendered using the cpu but using a 3D printer and a photocamera.

    • Tony

      The technique is essentially the same as with the gears in The Great Mouse Detective. The models were printed out, Xeroxed onto cels and painted, then shot on film. Different technology, same approach.

  • Chris

    I don’t get it
    They animate it in cg, print it out and bother with placing it at the same spot for each photo, only to get a slightly clunkier animation than if they had just kept it in cg.

    If it had been a puppet, I would understand it, but this just seems stupid.

    • Funkybat

      I see it as a cool gimmick/art experiment. I think actually doing this this way to produce an animated short (let alone feature!) would be utterly pointless. Yes, the physical imperfections introduced to the CG model upon “printing” do make for some mildly interesting texture variations. But really, this seems like a waste of time and resources compared to the more stop-motion oriented method of Laika.

  • https://twitter.com/spitandspite Hurrghhh

    Really? Kinda not buying it.

    A cg bear w/ a type of random noise modifier at a low level would reproduce this along w/ some AE filter in post and you’d have a lot less waste (referencing the physical kind here but yea… you know… man hours are a thing right?) to deal w.

    Also, I find the slight imperfections caused by a machines production process a cop out and weak justification for “hand-crafted” as the actual animation wasn’t put in place on the spot physically but animated in a computer program so the true hand of the artist and his imperfections (?) are still filtered by the precision of Maya or Max or whatever program they used to model/rig/and animate.

    This has as much artistic merit as when i run FilmConvert on my digital footage. It’s pretty and I’d dig having one of those little bear statues on my desk but sometimes we reach on the “stylistic choice” thing.

    • https://twitter.com/spitandspite Hurrghhh

      Seriously tho’ where can a brother get one of these little bear thingys?

    • Chris Sobieniak

      I see we’ve painted ourselves into a corner here.

  • szegers

    i don’t get the negative comments, i think this is cool. sometimes people do stuff just because they can/want to.

    it’s important to push boundaries any way we can, we never know when a little experiment like this might end up in an interesting new technique.

    i like it

  • http://oremagifilms.com/ evan curtis

    Wow, why so critical? This isn’t about how CGI can apply some cheesy filter to achieve the same effect, it has to do with experimentation, innovation, and incorporating new technology. It’s no different than George Pal’s beautiful Puppetoons. I can’t wait to see what others start doing with the replacement process and 3D printing! Great job!

  • Felix Sputnik

    It might get them the next John Lewis Christmas ad…

  • lefty

    So i can print out my photoshop background painting then scan them back into the computer and call them traditional?

  • AmidAmidi

    There is decades of historical precedence for identifying animation by the final technique used in the production. Some of George Pal’s stop motion animation was animated on paper first before being transferred to three-dimensional models. Yet no one in the past seventy years has identified his stop motion films as hand-drawn. Some scenes in films like “Frozen” were animated on paper first before being transferred to CG but no one calls “Frozen” a hand-drawn film. In this case, the bear may have been animated in a computer first, but the final mode of output was stop motion models, therefore using historical precedence, it is accurate to claim it as a stop motion film. If you feel taht this film is somehow an exception to historical precedence, then you need to present a convincing argument for your case.

    • Stan

      Okay, I’m trying to solve this in a more academic way :)

      Let’s start with the definition of “animated”. “Animare” is latin for “to give life to” (see Wells, 1998, 10). That’s a very basic definition and there’s also always the problem with “life”. What’s more relevant, is the meaning of the “give life to”, the classic meaning of “illusion of life.” Now, if I take Lamarre’s remarks on “illusion of life” in account, then in animation there’s nothing like that. The animation of a bear like here is not an illusion of life, it instead “[...]affords a real experience of [...] actual movement.” (Lamarre, 2013 in “Pervasive Animation”). [Both Crafton and Auslander have made remarks on this, too, just fyi.]

      Now, for this bear:In this case, the movement was done on a computer. The animator created the performance on his computer with the digital puppet (model + rig) and the movement was already there, in the digital scene, with a digital camera. Now, if you print this sequence of frames, you can again alter it. You can add elements, you can change the framerate, the lighting, camera angle and so on. Apart from the framerate (which changes the actual movement speed and therefore the timing of the animated figure) all those changes are related to what Lamarre calls non-localized movement, which is usually ‘compositing’, while character animation is localized movement.

      Going from those points back to the actual bear clip: it seems to me that the compositing of the scene has changed but the localized movement, the actual “(character) animation” has remained the same and was created on a computer.

      This is also the case with drawn cel animation. You wouldn’t call this “photographed animation” just because a camera has taken photos of the drawings?

      • Megan P.

        That last point is what I was just thinking. Taking a sequence of photographs of hand-drawn animation (photocopied onto a cel from the roughs, typically, then painted) is still called hand drawn. Taking a sequence of photographs of computer animated (digitally printed from the computer, then lit) should still be called computer generated. Now if someone actually sculpted each one individually from a bunch of different blocks of clay, THEN I would call it stop motion.

    • Stan

      Oh, actually, I missed my point with my last sentence. Damn :)
      I’d like to add: in this case, there were no drastic changes in the non-localized movement (like a camera pan), the focus is still on the bear animation.
      This means, the bigger part of this artwork is computer animated, and, as someone has already pointed out, the rendering was basically done with a real camera and real light instead of a digital one.

    • schwarzgrau

      The question is how it’s ANIMATED. If not you could call a classic hand-drawn animation a stop-motion animation.

  • CB

    Then what the hell is the point of making indie art films?

  • blandyblottschalk

    I understand that. There are the occasional moments (like when The Other Mother in Coraline is frying bacon or when the black cat bites into the stuffed rats) where the stop-motion warmth is alive, but other times it does look a little too glossy. Technically great, but I would like to see Laika simplify it a little.

  • blandyblottschalk

    I liked the result. And I admire that they experimented with it.

  • Alex Dudley

    Printing out 3D models of character poses from an animation? I bet Disney could make some kind of toy out of this.

  • http://skunkandburningtires.com/ Ju-osh M.

    Someone tell that bear to stop playing on the escalator!

    • John Richardson

      This made me snort audibly in amusement.

  • John

    In an industry where CG is king, audiences thinking that Laika’s films are CG will work in their favor.

  • John

    I agree. This actually reminds me all these people who want CG to replicate a 2D look. *coughPapermancough* What’s the point of that? You know what looks incredibly hand-drawn? 2D animation! Similarly, this also looks redundant. Why go through all through the trouble to animate something in stop-motion so it can look like CG?

    • slowtiger

      The look of 2D cutout animation can be maintained nicely when done digitally, with the advance of using skeletons and other helpful inventions. Certain styles translate naturally from one way of production to another, like 2D cel animation. Other styles can be animated only with the help of software.

      There’s nothing wrong in trying something like thi, I just doubt it will be of interest after watching it once. A large part of art consists of just objects made in the fashion of other objects, so why should animation not try this as well? Only the result will tell wether a certain way of doing it was worth the trouble, by adding something which was not to be achieved any other way.

    • ocelot

      Agree with you except for papeman. People are excited about the 2D visuals there because Disney isn’t doing any traditional animation. They want that 2D look however they can get it.

  • John

    This is competely pointless. There is no artistic merit in choosing this approach to CG animation. I cannot detect any “warmth” like Amid is claiming through this technique.

  • John

    This is not stop-motion animation. It’s CG animation. Claiming this is stop-motion is like saying that raw rotoscoped footage is hand-drawn animation or raw motion-capture footage is CG animation. It’s not.

  • slowtiger

    That’s why you should ask yourself before starting a film: “Why does this need to be animated?” Olav in “Frozen” would be a reason because it can’t be done in any other fashion. It’s not art because it’s a lot of work, it’s art because it’s the perfect choice of medium and technique for a given subject.

  • Fabio Vianna

    in this case they not replace heads, but replace the entire bear with the stairs, frame by frame(animating again), so i agree with Amid.

  • raitoringo

    Fantastic!

  • Steven Bowser

    This is fascinating. They basically take the CG frames and pull them out of the computer to shoot them on a table with a camera, rather than shoot them in the program itself.
    What are the benefits of this? Would there be a benefit to doing an entire film this way? I don’t think it’d be worth it. Laika only uses 3D printing for things like facial animation, which makes more sense.

  • Funkybat

    I’m glad Laika made one of the teaser trailers for the Boxtrolls essentially a love letter to stop-motion, showing general audiences some of what goes into making the actual films. I suspect just as many people who wrongly believe them to be all CG believe that Laika’s films are just really well-done “traditional” stop-mo, or “claymation” as the uninitiated still think of it. the truth is something that really stands on its own as a unique type of animation.

    • Gabriel Ruiz

      I don’t think CGI ever crossed my mind when I saw, Coraline, or Paranorman. The felt the same as Nightmare Before Christmas and I think anyone who has seen that can get the same feel of difference from the two mediums

  • HalSolo

    I usually watch stop motion so I DON’T see banding and clipping artifacts. Still, looks neat.

  • Joe Marcy

    And yet, this “bears on stairs” animation DOESN’T retain any warmth of stop-motion. As someone mentioned, though the models are “real”, the methods used to generate those models are responsible for much of the dead look in 3D CG animation. It takes more than printing something out that moves in transition; there’s no performance here, and it’s made all the more embarrassing by the self-aggrandizing 1940′s Showtime music.

  • http://www.ROBatGraveShift.com ROBatGraveShift

    This answered a lot of questions for me. I wondered how ParaNorman and the BoxTrolls films were oh so expressive and finely detailed. Breathtaking.