Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Flash in the Pan...

Over on Cartoon Brew there is this discussion currently going on debating the merits or lack thereof regarding the Flash animation software. I'll admit my bias against it is as one who finds the results thus far to be less than satisfying when compared to the best frame-by-frame pencil animation from the glorious past that I grew up on. In fact, I even find the limited animation style of Hanna-Barbera's 1960's era shows like "Yogi Bear" to be far more visually appealing due to the organic, hand-drawn nature of what inbetweens there are. I just posted the following comment that I know is going to result in a good trouncing over on their board. But I have taken great pains to explain my views, so I hope that even those of you who like using the program will at least try to understand where I am coming from on this rather contentious subject:

To all those who defend Flash and claim that “it’s just another tool” and can produce wonderful results in the hands of a skilled artist, I have this to say: An old Etch-a-Sketch is also “just another tool” as well, yet I could practise with it for months or years on end and never produce an image with the same control or visual appeal as I could with a pencil on paper. Like it or not, there are those of us traditionalists who see Flash for what it is: a “tool” for creating computerized cutouts using replacement parts, not fluid character animation.

Even the examples being cited here as superior, such as the dancing frog short and “Foster’s Home For Imaginary Friends”, may well be entertaining but they are not in any way comparable visually to the best of traditional hand-drawn classical animation. In “Fosters” for example, while I’ll grant you there may be a certain visual appeal in terms of graphic shapes, it is still just predetermined replaceable character parts being shifted around on screen. Any “Squash and Stretch” you see is not the real deal either, as it is achieved simply by distorting the image along its X or Y axis. When a character on “Fosters” turns his head from the front to the side, there are no inbetweens allowing for a gradual turn, just a *whoosh* sound as the head immediately changes views in a single frame. At best, there may be an attempt at contriving a 3/4 view inbetween by sliding the features gradually along the the front face cutout before replacing it altogether with the profile. Again, the Flash software is not conducive to subtle animation.

If these limitations are all perfectly fine with you folks, then go ahead and enjoy it as a medium. But please don’t try to convince the rest of us that, in the right hands, somebody could produce a film that rivals “Pinocchio” using Flash. I’ll admit, I’ve seen a precious few examples where an animator is drawing frame-by-frame directly into Flash, but even those results, while noble in the attempt, do not produce anything that has the sensitive rhythmic linework I associate with the best of pencil animation, due to the clunky line quality that I always think looks like a brush inked line that’s been hacked out on both sides with an Exacto knife! I’ve had my own brush inked line art ruined in a similar way by technicians who imported it into the “Illustrator” program, leaving it in a mangled mess, all in their quest for it to be a vectorized image. Sadly, everything has become a slave to the needs of the computer.

Yes, Flash may be “just another tool” in the eyes of some, but don’t kid yourselves regarding its inherent limitations. And to those who maintain that only a poor carpenter blames his tools, please don’t hand me a plane when I need to saw through a piece of lumber…

End of rant. :)

Or maybe not...

In case anybody I've been debating with stops in here for a look-see, I'm posting a clip each from the Flash-animated "Foster's Home For Imaginary Friends" in comparison with a clip from a 60's episode of the hand-drawn "The Flintstones" with my comments:

"Foster's" - Digitally rendered, highly geometric shapes results in a deliberately flat, graphic look. There is no implied volume of form. Characters are comprised of pre-designed body pieces that are shifted around on screen and replaced by new pieces to achieve very limited animation. Animators are largely restricted by availability of head and body angles stored in computer. The clever timing of the movement is its saving grace. Very unsatisfying performance otherwise, due to inherent limitations of software.

"Flintstones" - Also, limited animation with some parts of body on "held cels" that do not move while other parts, like arms, legs and face are animated with different individual drawings to achieve more characterization and distinct facial expressions. Though still shape-based design to some degree, there is an implied feeling of dimensional, organic form. Animators still have to limit their number of drawings, but each drawing can be drawn from scratch, enabling a more satisfying performance overall, dictated by the vocal track.