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Jeff Rowe
Jeff Rowe
Jeffrey Rowe has more than 40 years of experience in all aspects of industrial design, mechanical engineering, and manufacturing. On the publishing side, he has written well over 1,000 articles for CAD, CAM, CAE, and other technical publications, as well as consulting in many capacities in the … More »

CG: Fantasia to Today

 
October 2nd, 2014 by Jeff Rowe

We returned from SIGGRAPH 2014 in August trying to figure out all that we had seen and heard, and what it all really meant.

Over the years, I’ve seen SIGGRAPH and the CG industry become more oriented toward technology and sensationalism and less toward art and humanities. I’m not saying that this observation by itself is good or bad, just an observation. We’re increasingly seeing CG technology take over as rendering farm airflow, resolution, FPS, pipeline issues, etc. as becoming more important than real people being people – in other words, acting.

However, I do personally question the proliferation and predominance of movies that are 100% CG. What is happening to real actors (people) being seen and heard as characters as opposed to CG animated (artificial) characters that are created to be seen, but still require human voices to be heard?

While hardly the first animated feature file, 75 years ago Disney’s Fantasia started a trend with artists manually drawing characters that has evolved to today’s CG-generated characters.

Fantasia consists of eight animated segments set to pieces of classical music conducted by Leopold Stokowski.

Fantasia: Clair De Lune

Over one thousand artists and technicians were used in the making of Fantasia, which features more than 500 animated characters. Segments were color-keyed scene by scene, so the colors in a single shot would harmonize between preceding and following ones. Before a segment’s narrative pattern was complete, an overall color scheme was designed to the general mood of the music, and patterned to correspond with the development of the subject matter. The studio’s character model department would also sculpt three-dimensional clay models so the animators could view their subject from all angles

In the audio recording sessions, thirty-three microphones were placed around the orchestra that captured the music onto eight optical sound recording machines placed in the hall’s basement. Each one represented an audio channel that focused on a different section of instruments: cellos and basses, violins, brass, violas, and woodwinds and tympani. The seventh channel was a combination of the first six while the eighth provided an overall sound of the orchestra at a distance. A ninth was later added to provide a click track function for the animators to time their drawings to the music. In the forty-two days of recording, 483,000 feet of film was used. When the finished recordings arrived at the studio, a meeting was held to allow the artists working on each segment to listen to Stokowski’s arrangements, and suggest alterations in the sound to work more effectively with their designs.

Fantasia was and still is a testament to artistic creativity, but have modern CG techniques really improved on the final product and production costs?

What took hundreds of artists drawing by hand 75 years ago still takes hundreds of digital artists and now tens of thousands of CPU/GPU cores to produce a feature CG film costing tens of millions of dollars. This causes me to think that the technology required to produce all of this today is celebrated more than the people who actually do the work.

There’s no doubt that the US an big parts of Asia love fantasy, artificial environments, and CG characters, but much of the rest of the world (based on conversations I had with many SIGGRAPH 2014 attendees) could care less, primarily because they still enjoy engaging with and watching real human interaction.

I guess I’m leaning toward creating characters that supplement but do not completely replace human interaction in entertainment, at least not the degree we seem to be seeing as mutually exclusive.

Don’t get me wrong, CG is great for what it’s used for, but in my view, real human interaction is better and always will be, whether it’s in our daily lives or on a big screen. I wonder if there could be a movement evolving to humanize CG?

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