23 Feb

Stop Commotion

I took a purposefully hardline stance on the stop motion animation issue this week. Mainly that was so there would be a big argument instead of the two of us just agreeing on everything; I don’t feel that strongly about it, but I do question whether or not the process has any relevance any longer. The problem with stop motion is in its fluidity of movement. Things jerk around the screen even if you’re the stop motion master (Henry Selick) and have years and years and millions and millions to make your project. There is simply no way to, say, properly animate the movement of Coraline’s hair as she falls down a well. You do the best you can and you  get pretty close and everyone forgives you because they understand the ridiculous amount of work that you’ve put into this, so who cares if the hair is a little off? However, if you do the hair in the computer, you can get it exactly right. You hit a few buttons, some physics magically appear, and it looks like real hair. Or cartoon hair that moves right, if that’s what you want.

It is entirely possible, using modern CGI, to make a movie that looks exactly like Coraline (or Wallace and Gromit) but moves as fluidly and naturally as if those little plastic dolls were actually moving around in real time. If you want it to look like a model, if you want the focal plane to simulate a macro lens shooting a miniature house, you can do all of that. Hell, build all the dolls by hand and scan them in if you want. The point here is that, if done right, the visual aesthetic is exactly the same as in stop motion. I don’t know the expenses and manpower involved. Maybe you can do a stop motion film for a third of the price of CGI, which in itself would justify the medium’s continued existence (if a movie every 8-10 years can really be considered a continued existence), but I doubt the cost difference is all that extreme.

I am in no way saying that the work that stop motion artists do is worthless. If anything it’s the opposite. The time and attention to detail in these things is amazing. However, if I were a kid who had no clue how any of these things were made, I might get a little put off by the oddities of stop motion when I’m used to the fluidity of Pixar. In the end it’s somewhat like printing a newspaper on an old printing press. Sure, it’s damn impressive that you laid out every single letter lovingly by hand on each and every page, but the end result is no better than if you’d laid it out on a computer, so why not go with the one that’s easier to make and has fewer rough edges?

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