Over the past years we’ve seen CG rise, but will it last?
It won’t come as a surprise that the usage of CG has gotten some backlash within the anime community. And for good reason, since some CG elements ruin the overall experience of an anime series. CG is a cost effective tactic, but despite the criticism, will it permanently leave a mark within the industry?
CG has been around for a long time. Willem Fetter, who worked at Boeing, was one of the pioneers for creating computer animated imagery. In 1960 he set the basis for a computer generated human animation. Ever since, computer animation has been witnessed in movies, games, graphic design and much more.
A recent article in the Japan Times highlights the rise of CG within the anime industry. Despite the success of fully digitally rendered movies from Disney and Pixar, the domestic audience still seems hesitant and shares the view of the anime community, that it is best reserved for foreign studios. But let’s not forget that the transition for Disney from traditional hand-drawn animation to CG wasn’t an easy one. Disney did many attempts during the beginning of the 2000’s to replicate the magic of Disney with CGI. This didn’t work out that well and they even went back to the literal drawing board to create The Princess and the Frog, since CG still wasn’t cut out for them, only to return stronger than ever with Tangled, Big Hero 6, Frozen and the most recent addition, Zootopia.
With this trend and the more common usage of CG, the opinion starts to shift to a more accepting one. Again Polygon Pictures comes back into the picture, the oldest CG animator in Japan. A company with a lot of foreign experience, which I’ve briefly mentioned in the ‘Can streaming safe anime?’-post. Interestingly enough, according to the CEO(Shuzo John Shiota) of Polygon Pictures, they haven’t been in the anime industry that long, but with technological improvements, are able to compete and find their place among the established names. Their experience with working with parties such as Disney has given them a taste of what CG can do for storytelling, and of course, profits.
According to Shiota the biggest challenges for CG is to overcome the lighting effects, which in anime can be almost otherworldly and the extravagant facial expressions. Expressions in anime can go towards the absurd, making it nearly impossible for CG to replicate them. I also believe that not only the lighting is a problem, but also the smoothness of the lines and movement which are characteristic for CG and disrupt the overall look and feel of the hand drawn animation. Disney is working on technologies to mimic pencil strokes through CG, which demonstrated in the animation short ‘Paperman’. Hand drawn animation still has a certain magic to it. There are no limitations to the imagination and because it isn’t realistic, it enhances a sense of escapism.
I agree that CG has a long way to go, especially within anime. CG itself is a wonderful thing and can greatly reduce certain costs within an anime production. Examples such as Fate/Stay Night UBW have greatly used CG to their advantage to give hand drawn animation an extra touch. Yet, there are many series that struggle to find that sweet spot. P.A. Works likes to fill the background, to make it more lively apparently, with cell shaded characters. Those still have wonky movement and distract the viewer. Examples of this within the P.A. Works line-up are the series True Tears and Angel Beats. Angels Beats used CG to its advantage when creating action and music scenes, really pushing the envelope when it comes down to enhancing the viewing experience. It will be interesting to see how CG-technology will develop into perhaps a technique to mimic the hand drawn feel of anime today, instead of enhancing hand drawn with CG.