Whether or not you like director Brad Bird’s latest movie, Tomorrowland (and, according to the film’s current Rotten Tomatoes score, it’s pretty evenly divided audiences), you probably miss the Brad Bird of old. The one whose first three features — The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, and Ratatouille — were animated masterpieces. While only the first of those films, The Iron Giant, uses hand-drawn animation, it’s that medium in which Bird began his career. His first directing credit was for the much acclaimed “Family Dog” episode of Steven Spielberg’s ’80s anthology series Amazing Stories, and Bird followed it as one of the key folks responsible for making The Simpsons a TV landmark. (His direction of the 1990 music video “Do the Bartman” was just icing on the cake.) Now, Bird has stated, in the midst of the worldwide press tour for Tomorrowland, that he’d like to return to hand-drawn animation.
While Bird’s recent announcement that he’ll next direct The Incredibles 2 was warmly received, less attention has been paid to his comments on the Bancroft Brothers Animation Podcast (hosted by former Disney animators Tom and Tony Bancroft), in which Bird remarked that he hopes to one day return to his hand-drawn roots…
“A lot of the projects that I want to do beyond [Incredibles 2],” says Bird, “are both live-action and animation, and I would love to do another hand-drawn thing.”
“As wonderful as CG is and can be, and I really enjoy it, and I enjoy being able to move the camera, and I enjoy the control over lighting, and really tiny movement that you have in computer generated stuff, there’s an itch that is not scratched that only hand-drawn can really scratch in me.
“There’s a sense of wonder that’s very specific to me about hand-drawn animation where it kind of announces its artificiality at every moment, and yet, if you do it right, you can make people disappear into that world just as well as you can into CG. I miss that, and I would love to, somewhere down the line, return to a hand-drawn film.”
As a huge fan of both Brad Bird and hand-drawn animation, I find this news heartening. While Hollywood studio chiefs are convinced that computer animation is the only form of animation that today’s filmgoers will pay money to see, the reality is that U.S. audiences haven’t flocked to most recent hand-drawn films because they’ve been either less than enthralling (as was the case with Disney’s The Princess and the Frog) or were just poorly marketed (like Bird’s own The Iron Giant). One need only look at the output of Hayao Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli to see that when hand-drawn animation is done well, it’s just as effective, if not more so, than any CG feature. Hand-drawn animation is actually a less distilled, less expensive, and arguably purer form of animation than CG, in that it doesn’t rely on banks of computers digitally manipulating programmed models in virtual space (actually a form of puppetry, as most animators will readily admit). Instead, hand-drawn animation captures the ever-elusive illusion of life sought by most filmmakers, by shortening the distance from idea to execution to that from an animator’s brain to their pencil.
But what say you? Would you like to see more hand-drawn animated features produced in the U.S.? And is Bird the guy to jump-start the medium? Let us know below!
HT: Cartoon Brew