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Name: Charlotte Dobson Programme: Digital Culture, Arts and Media

Date: 26th April Module: Individual Study

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Module code: MMEMD3STU

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Charlotte Dobson


“Walt Disney usually avoided discussing his work as art, at one point explaining “we are not artists but only moving picture producers trying to offer entertainment.” Further he noted, “’I’ve never called my work an “art”. It’s show business, the business of building entertainment.” (Janet Wasko, 2001) Discuss how technology in Disney Studios has facilitated the art and success in their contemporary animations.

The emergence of computerised methods in the field of animation has caused animators to face the issue of the removal of human agency from their work. Adding to the debate is the fact that some animators are not considered to be artists anymore due to the reliance on technology. Disney Studios has been heralded as the pioneer and benchmark for quality in animation. It has also been the studio most debated about around the issue of animated films being considered as an art form or just for a movie for entertainment value. In answer to these issues, this dissertation will draw comparisons on a few of the methods in Disney Studios including CAPS, Toon Boom and 3D animation. It will also look at the staff figures in the production department to determine the importance of the role of the artist in modern animation and determine if the technology really has had an effect on Disney‟s animated features at the Box Office.

Charlotte Dobson


I believe that animation is an art form, in which drawn pictures that move and sound effects and voices are mixed together to tell a story as opposed to just a simple filmed form of entertainment. Animation is defined by Gene Deitch of Animation World Network like so: I tried to formulate my technical definition of animation without using any terms that indicate it must be on film, or any other specific medium or technology for storing and retrieving individual phases of action. It all comes down to creating and registering imagined action in the form of individual motionless increments. (2001) This definition gives the basic meaning that all animation is the process of putting created still images together to make movement. Still images in the form of photography and mixed mediums including paint, watercolour and pencil have been drawn for centuries by artists like Michelangelo but are animators defined as artists? Richard Kerrigan, an artist, in the world of modern animation expressed his opinion thus: Ultimately everyone will be able to call themselves artists (not just in visual effects but globally) provided they‟re utilizing a computer. As the power and speed of the computer increases the operator-artist will rely on voice commands to motivate the machine. Nothing will be between the operator and the art. You won‟t even need fingers to be an artist.” (2010) In this particular definition, it talks about the computers ruling over the tangible human skill of art. Is the digital system of animation removing much of what is artful and human from animation or is it enhancing it and making it more accessible?

Disney Studios founded by Walt and Roy Disney in 1923 are one of the oldest and most popular animation studios in living memory. Even in the early 1990s when computerised methods were emerging they held a significant market share with their expansion into other studios. Elizabeth Bell, Lynda Haas and Laura Sells summarise Disney‟s business success back then thus,
Charlotte Dobson

Disney is a Studio; a production facility that grew from one camera in Disney‟s Uncle Bob‟s garage in 1923 to its 1990s multiple incarnations as Walt Disney Pictures, Touchstone, Hollywood, Caravan and the many subsidiaries of Buena Vista Television and the Disney Channel, as well as the recent studio acquisitions Miramax and Merchant/Ivory…Disney is a multinational corporation: in 1940, public stock in the Disney Company sold for $5 a share and today Disney is an entertainment and media conglomerate worth an estimated $4.7 billion. (1995, p.2)

Despite the expansion and the success and progression of the studios into the digital era, Paul Wells, an animation scholar, argues that now people are calling back for a revival of traditional animation, “Interestingly, seemingly poor [3D] films were associated with the „cold heart‟ of the computer, and the implied longing for the intimacies of old style, hand-crafted storytelling.” (2008, p. 294) On the other hand, Lev Manovich in his book “The Language of New Media” once discussed that computer animation was designed to lead towards achieving realism, Reys is an image rendering system developed at Lucasfilm Ltd. and currently in use at PIXAR. In designing Reys, our goal was an architecture optimized for fast high-quality rendering of complex animated scenes. By fast we mean being able to compute a feature-length film in about a year; high quality means virtually indistinguishable from live action motion picture photography; and complex means as visually rich as real scenes. (2001, p. 174) Hence forth this reads that the medium of cinema entertainment will converge with the medium of animation. But where is the art in creating something to look like realistic photography, where is the imagination in something that already exists?

Wells says that Manovich‟s definition of digital cinema is “live action material + painting + image processing + compositing + 2D animation + 3D animation”...It is important, though, to interrogate the term „computer animation‟ in this formulation a little more closely.” (2008, p. 297)
Charlotte Dobson

Well‟s even gives further definitions about the different types of animation, which I believe demonstrate the two camps of 2D and 3D animation, Computer-facilitated animation in which the computer is deployed in the revision and re-determination of other already established principally 2D, material approaches: drawing, painting, collage and scanned photo-montage; data used from motion capture or rotoscoping also informs this category as it operates as an index of performance motion. In this case, digital technologies function as adaptive media. (2008, p. 298) Under Disney‟s CAPS (Computer Animation Production System), the computer was used as a tool to draw and paint digitally. Computer-modelled animation, which sees the computer as the core context in the construction of „worlds‟ within a 3D environment, and might readily be called digimation. This model uses digital technologies as origination media.” (2008, p. 298) With this instance, under PIXAR, the character is modelled on the computer and moved entirely in a 3D universe with the correct planes.

Bobby Podesta who was the Supervising Animator for the Disney/PIXAR collaboration film Toy Story 3 (2010) states: “A good animated film looks like one person animated it. A great animated film looks like no one animated it at all.” (PIXAR: 25 Magic moments, Broadcast on BBC Three on 1 January 2012) Therefore Podesta agrees with Manovich‟s statement of convergence of animation and film and believes that great skill is needed to create the illusion of life and this is a fundamental stepping stone for computer animation and in fact all forms of animation to be successful.

Charlotte Dobson


Traditional Animation Disney Studios from their humble beginnings in the 1920s up until the late 1980s had been relying on a non-digital system of cel drawing and ink colouring and copying to make feature films and short cartoons. Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston were two animators employed within this era of animation that regarded their work an art form and wrote their book “The Illusion of Life” to teach fledgling artists the skill behind Disney. There is a special ingredient in our type of animation that produces drawings that appear to think and make decisions and act of their own volition; it is what creates the illusion of life. When a producer says he is going to make a “Disney-type” film, he may think that full animation, nice colour and a large budget are all that is needed. But Disney animation is more than drawing, or animating, or storytelling, or painting. (1981)

In this traditional, hand drawn and painted method Disney Studios made a total of 27 feature films spanning 51 years including: Cinderella (1950), Sleeping Beauty (1959) and 101 Dalmatians (1961). With the traditional process being lengthier and budgets being smaller only small teams worked on feature films, adding to this was that Disney Studios were still focusing on their animated shorts for a majority of these years. During these feature productions, they tended not to have to dedicate an art department to determine the look of the film and purely had the animators doing the conceptual art as well as the production work. Taking Sleeping Beauty (1959) as an example, they had an animation department of 49 staff and a visual effects department of 9 staff. (Cast and crew figures confirmed to be complete by Floyd Norman who was a Story Artist for Sleeping Beauty (1959) said that, “Every frame in Sleeping Beauty, even if you were to stop the film anywhere in the course of its projection, you would get a perfectly beautiful composed image.
Charlotte Dobson

Just something you could almost frame and hang on the wall.” (2008, Picture Perfect: The Making of Sleeping Beauty)

Mary Blair, a Disney animator, also did the pre-production concept artwork pieces for many of the Disney films of the1950s like Cinderella (1950) and due to her unique style she was the inspiration for Eyvind Earle to replicate her look in the Sleeping Beauty (1959) film.

(Mary Blair, Concept Artwork, Cinderella Earle, the assigned background artist and animator of Sleeping Beauty (1959), was to carry on her contemporary style combined with the detail of medieval pieces. Earle stated, “I‟ve always been influenced by pre-renaissance, medieval, gothic and here‟s a movie that‟s based on that period of time.” (2008, Picture Perfect: The Making of Sleeping Beauty)

Charlotte Dobson


(Eyvind Earle, Concept Artwork, Sleeping Beauty, This is the era of animation where I feel that animation which lacks the digital technology is the purest art form as the artist and animator are synchronised into one. In this case study, it is clear that the hand drawn concept artwork by both Blair and Earle has heavily influenced the artistic style of the film in terms of backgrounds of scenes being as blocky and bold as the original concepts.

CAPS In 1989, CAPS was born and was first used on a scene in the film The Little Mermaid (1989) at the end of the film with the rainbow sequence, and again when the character Ariel, as a human, runs down a staircase. This system was an integration of elements including a digital ink and paint system with a wide colour spectrum and a camera that could record full scale backgrounds and not lose definition. An integration of such features meant that drawn backgrounds and characters did not have to be hand painted anymore and the system offered digital painting so enclosed spaces could be coloured digitally and accurately with a wider

Charlotte Dobson


colour palette. Walt Disney Feature Animation Department won an Oscar in 1991 for the Scientific and Engineering Award for the CAPS system. An example of the technological advance of CAPS is that during the production process of Aladdin (1992), when the flying carpet character was being created, the detail and colouration in the Persian pattern had to remain intact in each 24 frames a second shot. This would have been difficult for a hand drawing artist to replicate many times over and so the detail in the carpet was put in with an image digitally so the pattern could match the movement and squash and stretch accurately instead of the guess from the artist and resulting loss of detail, however the tassels which acted like hands and feet were added in the traditional drawn manner (paraphrased from The Making of Aladdin, YouTube). Had CAPS not been invented, this would have not been possible and the carpet would not look uniform in all the shots. Taking Disney‟s first fully CAPS film into consideration, The Rescuer’s Down Under (1990), it was not a popular film, and this could have been down to many factors such as the storyline not appealing to children or the characters not being empathetic enough for audiences or that the new Disney „Broadway musical‟ approach (a musical art form in itself) had not been fully integrated into its films. However, since the small pitfall of the Rescuer’s Down Under (1990), Disney went through a Golden Era throughout the rest of the decade, creating famous classics with CAPS such as Beauty and the Beast (1991), Aladdin (1992) and The Lion King (1994) (all under their „Broadway musical tactic) while expanding their commercial success of their theme parks and their merchandise at the same time, capitalising on the films. The popularity of these films can be measured with their domestic total grosses as follows:
Charlotte Dobson

Domestic total grosses of Disney CAPS films.
$350,000,000 $300,000,000 $250,000,000 $200,000,000 $150,000,000 $100,000,000 $50,000,000 $0 Domestic Total Gross

(Domestic Total Gross values taken from Box Office Mojo,

The CAPS method revolutionised production integrating camera angles for a filmic aspect ratio as well as making it quicker and cheaper to produce a film as the process of drawing and inking characters was made shorter with the digital palette available and cels did not need to be individually inked and transferred onto backgrounds any longer, also backgrounds could be entirely digitally created and manipulated. In terms of the skills needed to make The Little Mermaid (1989) which had minimal CAPS input, when looking through the credits of the film, there are separate categories, an art department, a visual effects department and an animation department. The art department dealt with storyboards, development and concept art. The visual effects department dealt with computer animation and effects like bubbles and the animation department had roles such as painter, xerographic processor, ink and paint artist and character animator. The team of these people
Charlotte Dobson

amount to a grand total of 17 staff for art, 33 staff for visual effects and 358 staff for the animation department (the cast and crew figures confirmed to be complete by In comparison to Home on the Range (2004), the last CAPS film, the art department had 17 staff, the visual effects had 61 staff and the animation department had 320 staff (the cast and crew figures confirmed to be complete by These figures are telling because during the CAPS reign, it seems more staff allocation went to the effects department to utilise the computerised system to do the animation and the xerographic processors of the traditional methods had been phased out of the animation department. The art department however, stayed constant, to be used in conjunction with the technology offered at the time. In total, under this method, Disney Studios created 17 feature films in a time span of 14 years, their heaviest period of production to date, and often were developing new films while another one was being produced.

Totally computerised animation: After the popularity of PIXAR studios and their collaborations with Disney such as Toy Story (1995) and A Bugs Life (1998), Disney scrapped their 2D feature animation department in 2004 as it was too expensive to create 2D CAPS films and they were not making as much revenue as the possibilities in 3D could produce. Paul Muljadi‟s reasoning for this closure is thus, Competition from other studios drove animator salaries to a high level, making traditional animated features even more costly to produce. Beginning in 2000, massive layoffs brought staff numbers down to 600. Following a string of dismal performances, and the rise of studios that relied on 3D animation like Pixar Animation Studios, DreamWorks Animation and Blue Sky Studios,
Charlotte Dobson

Disney converted Walt Disney Feature Animations into a CGI studio, performing more layoffs and selling off its traditional animation equipment. The Paris studio was shut down in 2003, and the Orlando studio followed suit in 2004. (2011, p. 388)

In 2009, after the acquisition of PIXAR by Disney, 2D features animation came back into production, but under a much more digitalised system than before. This system is called Toon Boom. Toon Boom Harmony adapted and used by Disney Studios nowadays is the modern, faster and cheaper replacement for CAPS that encapsulates the whole animation system digitally from drawing the character with vector graphics, colouring and movement, and frame by frame editing and then final exporting out into various digital visual formats such as mp4 and mov. Galen Fott in his article discusses that Toon Boom is adaptable to a traditional animators styles, And if you'd rather work with old-fashioned pencil and paper, Toon Boom Studio has you covered: the Import And Vectorize command takes a scanned drawing saved in BMP format and faithfully converts it to vector art. If your idea of drawing involves a Bézier pen tool, you can import Adobe Illustrator 8 files. The program also lets you import bitmap graphics, which are useful for creating backgrounds…. Toon Boom Studio sets out to be an entire animation studio, and the extent to which it succeeds is remarkable. (2002, pp. 1-2) Toon Boom although industry standard due to Disney‟s use of it, is also used by many amateur animators, providing they use a Mac computer. However, it is adaptable for more traditional artists that choose to use the old method of pencil and paper to sketch their characters prior to scanning, hence the artist making the transition into becoming the animator once the image has been scanned into the computer. Measuring the audience appeal of the wholly computerised methods,

Charlotte Dobson


Domestic Total Grosses of wholly computerised Disney films
$250,000,000 $200,000,000

$150,000,000 Domestic Total Gross



$0 The Princess and the Frog (2009) Tangled (2010)

(Domestic Total Gross values taken from Box Office Mojo, We can see that there is not a decline in terms of general monetary success of the latest Disney releases compared to the CAPS ones. However the 3D production Tangled (2010) gained almost twice as much as the 2D Princess and the Frog (2009). So this again leads us to question whether three dimensional animation is overtaking two dimensional in popularity, due to its recent boom and prevalence in the market place with Disney and PIXAR as well as Dreamworks Animation Studios making 3D computer animated works. As the technology has advanced and become so available, animation companies have invested in the newest technology to get ahead of each other.

Under this computerised method, using The Princess and the Frog (2009) as an example with Toon Boom, the art department employed 19 staff for the purpose storyboarding and visual development, the visual effects department stayed almost
Charlotte Dobson

constant at 56 staff and the animation department again stayed almost constant and employed 240 staff responsible for each their own character or scene, including the animation in the credits (the cast and crew figures confirmed to be complete by So the 2D production regardless of totally computerised methods, still kept the roughly the same amount of staff as the CAPS method, however, the time span from conception to final output may have been shorter and needed more staff to complete the much awaited 2D film revival on target and on budget, and up to the expected high standard of Disney as before. The artist Glen Keane who drew Ariel in The Little Mermaid (1989) and also drew Rapunzel in the 3D production of Tangled (2010), states: After two years of finding that there is something special about hand-drawn pushing CG in a direction that can happen, I realized that this is a necessary drive. I want to make the computer bend its knee, to execute what an artist envisions, to make it respond like a pencil. There are a lot of ways of making the world inside the castle incredibly imaginative and then exciting when she gets out for the first time. There‟s no photoreal hair. I want luscious hair, and we are inventing new ways of doing that. I want to bring the warmth and intuitive feel of hand-drawn to CG. (Desowitz, 2006) His opinion is useful to consider as he has worked through all the eras and methods of production used in Disney animation studios, and even he states that he wants to make CG seem more tangible and artistic like the old hand-drawn way. Tangled (2010) had an art department of 16 staff, a visual effects department of 75 staff including roles such as modeller and many lighting artists which had not previously been seen before and an animation department of only 115, markedly less than any other modern Disney production (the cast and crew figures confirmed to be complete by This figure seemingly makes 3D animation seem cheaper to produce nowadays as the technology for computers has progressed at an exponential rate since the late 1980s, and it is an expectation of animation students
Charlotte Dobson

and animators nowadays to have to use a form of a computerised method in their production, either to record the still photos of a stop motion piece or to contain the entire production as manipulative data in 3D or 2D form. However, a common misconception that I have realised in my research is that three dimensional animation is not purely done by making digital models and making them move and act on a computer screen. John Lasseter quoted in David Mitchell‟s research on CGI stated, “The term CGI is a misnomer - the computer doesn't generate the images. That would be like calling traditional animation PencilGenerated Imagery. No matter what the tool is, it requires an artist to create art.” (2002). In pre-production PIXAR hire a team of artists that specialise in sculpture that make clay models of the characters that give the computer artists an idea of how characters should look on screen. This in itself is art as PIXAR hire artists to do tangible work like conceptual artwork in the form of drawings and of sculptures. PIXAR founder Lasseter who had previously worked in the 2D department of Disney Studios also says that, “It‟s kind of the foundation of Pixar is that art challenges technology and technology inspires the art.” (PIXAR: 25 Magic moments, Broadcast on BBC Three on 1 January 2012) This statement shows that the two features of animation balance each other and react to one another to create films in harmony and that if one side is lacking and suffers; the other partner does as well. In conclusion, when it comes to the topic of Disney Studios and their output of traditional animation versus the new contemporary digital methods, there is very little difference in popularity. The art form of animation in this studio is not combining and converging with cinema to gain realism like what Lev Manovich has suggested and with what has been attempted in other animation studios such as with the Final

Charlotte Dobson


Fantasy films. In Disney terms, the 3D animation is still trying to retain the original charm and fundamental principles that were in 2D animation outlined in Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston‟s book. Janet Wasko in her book “Understanding Disney” says that, Walt Disney is often praised as an artistic genius. Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, a host of art critics sang the praises of “Disney, the Artist” comparing him to da Vinci, Michelangelo, Brueghel, Rembrandt and Picasso, among other famous artists. The academic world joined the art world, with exhibitions and awards of honorary degrees to Walt Disney by Harvard, Yale and the University of Southern California. (2001, p.119) The world not only of academics but of the public recognises Disney Studios as a high benchmark for animation and “artistic” standards, even today due to its popularity. It is very true that Disney Studios is a very profitable production company and the sheer success of it leads audiences and academics alike to believe that what they see is art. But on the other hand, the statement that this essay addresses says it was founded firstly as a business and not as a passion for art and animation. Disney is heralded for his visions in his film however technology has levelled the playing field and made the mundane lengthy processes of traditional animation faster to colour and draw and cheaper overall in numbers of staff needed to create the film. Added to this is the fact that the computer programmes used by Disney Studios can be used by amateur animators at home, hence making everyone into “demigods” being able to create the illusion of life. However in the argument of technology versus human agency, technology is always progressing to achieve the nostalgia and the artistic agency of the human hand. I feel that Disney Studio‟s success has not only come from the quality of their animation in terms of how they discover stories that the paying public want to hear but in the way they combine the technology and art together to create the moving pictures on the screen. I feel this is

Charlotte Dobson


so the public can visualise and appreciate the words behind the story as entertainment as well as appreciate and perceive the twenty four frames per second on screen as art works in their own right.

Charlotte Dobson


Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (1991) “Results for the Scientific and Engineering Awards 1991.” Available at: 4 Accessed: 14th November 2011 Bell, Elizabeth and Haas, Lynda and Sells, Laura (1995) From Mouse to Mermaid: The Politics of Film, Gender and Culture, Introduction pp1-2, Indiana, Indiana University Press. Box Office Mojo “Domestic Total Grosses” Available at: Accessed: 14th November 2011 Deitch, Gene (2001) “How to Succeed in Animation.”, Chapter 2: Animation- What the heck is it?, Animation World Network. Available at: Accessed: 20th April 2012 Desowitz, Bill (2006) “’Little Mermaid’ Team discusses Disney Past and Present”, Animation World Network. Available at: Accessed: 15th March 2012 Earle, Eyvind (2008) “Picture Perfect: The Making of Sleeping Beauty”, EMC West. YouTube Available at: Accessed: 20th March 2012 Fott, Galen (2002), Dynamic, Fun Application Adds Fuel to the Animation Fire, MacWorld Online. Available at: Accessed: 14th November 2011 Kerrigan, Richard (2010) “How Do You Define an Artist?”, Animation World Network Available at: Accessed: 20th April 2012 Lasseter, John (2012) “PIXAR: 25 Magic moments”, Broadcast on BBC Three on 1 January 2012, Executive Producer, Mark Cossey Manovich, Lev (2001) Language of New Media, Cambridge, MIT Press
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Mitchell, David (2002) “The Future of Cartoon Film”, Introduction. Available at: Accessed on: 14th March 2012 Muljadi, Paul (2011) “Disney Theatrical Animated Features: The Complete Guide, Creative Commons Licence. Available at: Accessed on: 20th April 2012 Norman, Floyd (2008) “Picture Perfect: The Making of Sleeping Beauty”, EMC West, YouTube Available at: Accessed: 20th March 2012 Podesta, Bobby (2012) “PIXAR: 25 Magic moments”, Broadcast on BBC Three on 1st January 2012, Executive Producer, Mark Cossey Thomas, Frank and Johnston, Ollie. (1981) “The Illusion of Life”, New York, Disney Editions; Rev Sub edition (October 5, 1995), Preface. Wells, Paul (2008) “Animation and Digital Culture”, American Thought and Culture in the 21st Century, ed: Martin Halliwell and Catherine Morley, Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press. pp 294-298, Wasko, Janet (2001) “Understanding Disney” Malden, MA. Blackwell Publishers Ltd, p 121.

Charlotte Dobson


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