Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The use of CGI in today’s Anime

What is CGI?

This can be quite a large undertaking to explain but I’ll do so in relation to Anime.  The complete definition utilizes a number of methods that are not commonly used in Anime but are rather incorporated from time to time.  Computer-generated imagery or CGI has gown in popularity and use as personal computers and graphics processors or GPUs have advanced.  The forefathers of animation setup some pretty timeless standards that we still teach today.  Many of these standards have been incorporated into modern software applications.  The same principles of motion and composition are used in popular CG movies like Shrek and Kung Fu Panda.  For the most part in regards to Anime, CGI has completely modernized and revolutionized creatives and animators around the world.  Much if not all that was done by hand in the past can now be done digitally on the computer.  Studios were able to reduce their number of employees and streamline their workflow in faster and more efficient ways.  Computers are now the “materials and supplies”.  While many of us still prefer the old school way of doing things, we cannot deny the changes that are taking place.  As the Borg said in Star Trek the Next Generation, “Resistance is futile”.

Traditional use of computer graphics in animation

In the past, CGI was used to create complicated charts, graphics, and show intros.  In those days, computers were far more complicated and fewer artists were brave enough to use them.  I’ve heard some say that you needed a PhD to program them.  I think this sentiment was not far from the truth.
My very first computer was an old Tandy.  I was so excited because it had a color output by connecting to your TV.  I couldn’t wait to make some cool (I would have called it “rad”) looking images.  To my dismay, I opened the manual and saw the programming behind their example images.  I remained optimistic and gave it a shot.  I started off by plugging in the lines of code and then did a simple execute of the code.  After several hours and crashes due to typing errors or missed dashes and slashes, I was able to get my image to display.  What a chore that was.  This experience completely turned me off and I went back to playing Organ Trail on it.
Studios had people specially trained to do specific tasks such as Scenario, Storyboarding, Cel Painting, Backgrounds, Post Production, etc.  Today, many of these common tasks are done in software applications and are easily shared throughout the entire studio and with teams that are not geographically centralized.

Popular uses of CGI in Anime

Many studios utilize a combination of traditional animation and CG.  However, more and more are moving almost entirely to digital.  Some studios have strong roots in traditional hand drawn animation cels but choose to use CG for backgrounds and complicated scenes.  A subset of CG is 3D CG which uses three dimensional space to animate.  For instance when doing action sequences and for situations when a giant robot is transforming, it can be easier to do this in 3D.  If there is a need to re-use the motion and maybe apply another camera angle, it can simply be pulled up in the program and manipulated as needed.  There is no longer a need to redraw the complicated sequences again and again.  Much of the old Anime like Voltron would re-use the same old stale sequences with different backgrounds.  As a viewer, I would pick up on this after the first few episodes and grow tired of it.  Now, consider the sheer hours and manpower it took to make just the one sequence and the fact that because of this they were willing to re-use and recycle old work.  So replacing this portion of the process with CG must have been an amazing benefit to them.

Has CGI Changed Anime?

As a fan of Anime since the early 80’s, I’ve seen quite a bit of change in the quality of art, styles and frequency of work.  So has CGI changed Anime and if so, has it been for the better?  CGI has drastically changed the way anime is made and how it is defined but in Japan with the support of fans, there has been a somewhat strict adherence to the rules of Anime.  Most studios are not quick to adopt a new technology or perceived change in the industry.  I think that while I do notice changes that I may or may not like (some really stand out), for the most part, I feel that I’m still watching Anime and still enjoying the spirit of how it was made in the past.  The categorization of Anime is expanding with each new video put out.  Many now question if certain films like Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within should even be considered Anime since it was done completely in 3D for an American market.  However, we must keep in mind that it was created primarily in Japan by one of the major players in Japanese animation.  I can’t say I have an answer to this issue.  Now the question of weather it is for the better or not.  Well, I love Anime so anything to keep the industry alive and vibrant while attempting to remain true to its original incarnation is acceptable to me.

Where is it going from here?

The push of economies to streamline processes, reduce overhead, cut costs, and to utilize technology create and interesting dilemma for the Anime industry.  The Japanese animation style has become very popular and has influenced many cultures.  Its style has integrated into modern video games and American cartoons.  While western countries still see cartoons as children’s domain, upcoming generations are accepting different forms and mediums of storytelling and entertainment.  They don’t necessarily require them to have talking animals.  Markets are accepting more mature content in the form of cartoons.  CGI is needed to more quickly deliver product to content-hungry customers.

Frank Freeman is a freelance artist, trainer and CEO of Artistic Gurus, Inc. a training company that focuses on how-to videos in the 2D, 3D, Traditional Arts, Comics, Anime and Manga fields. http://www.artisticgurus.com/ or http://www.rentartvideos.com/

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