Whenever I start a post about animation I say that animation is something I talk too little about here.
I mean, the deal here is that I’m looking at anime and manga from my twin viewpoints of being a writer and being a trained animator. (I’m actually an untrained writer, so that distinction matters.) But when I talk about animation, none of the usual readers seems to give a crap.
Well, too bad.
Ghost in the Shell: SAC 2045 gets a lot of bad press, and I’m pretty sure I know why. I mean, all the usual characters are there, and the plot is actually kind of twisty and cool, just what you’d expect out of any of the Ghost in the Shell franchise stories, so what’s the problem?
You know what the problem is. It’s the animation. The whole thing is computer animated.
Not animated on a computer. Computer animated, as in the computer does the dirty work. And in important ways it looks like dog doo, like all cheap computer animation.
Don’t bother asking how that happened. How it happened is a function of why it happened, and why it happened is ‘money.’
You see, this may be news to anime fans, but the function of anime, like that of almost all media content, is to make money. That can be described using a simple formula: Revenues minus costs equal profits, right? As a studio only one of those is under your control.
Revenues? Yeah, if we could predict how many people would watch an anime, turning themselves into advertising revenue, then no studio would ever go out of business. Nope, sorry: not controllable.
But costs? Oh heck yeah, those you can control!
This goes back a LOOOONG way in animation history. The first animated films were basically experiments, while people tried to figure out how to make this thing worked. Most of them were pretty damned cheap, since, you know, no one could afford to spend a lot of money on an experiment.
Then came Gertie the Dinosaur, by Windsor McCay. Gertie is considered the first masterpiece of animation, an exemplar of full animation, where the characters are redrawn entirely for each cel.
For 1916 – yeah, it looks at least 15 years further advanced than that – it’s gorgeous. It’s on YouTube. Watch it some time.
But Gertie was HUGELY expensive. I mean HUGELY. Seriously. HUGE.
Animators figured out how to cut those costs in a hurry. A couple cats, Earl Hurd and John Bray, figured out that you could shoot through transparent celluloid sheets, and that meant you could break action down into objects that were moving and objects that weren’t, and then just animate the objects that were moving. Like the characters’ mouths, right? Go watch Trigun and you’ll see what I mean. Vash will move into position and then all of him freezes except for his mouth. So if you watch it again you’ll get to see limited animation plus you get to watch Trigun again.
This led to a bunch of characters like Farmer Al Falfa and (sometimes) Koko the Clown whose animation was severely limited. Limited animation is CHEAP. Not cheap. CHEAP.
Costs down, right?
Walt Disney tried to kill limited animation, and for a lot of years he did. But by the sixties the revenues were slipping and companies still needed profits, so costs had to get cut, so limited animation came back. Sure. Look at anything by Hanna Barbera.
Ghost In The Shell: SAC 2045 makes the same call: If you can’t get a lot of revenue, cut your costs.
So, in the same way that you can do full or limited cel animation, you can pretty much do the same with computer animation. And since SAC 2045 is obviously cheap, you can guess what they chose.
To do that, they start by making what’s called a “wire frame” for each character, and a wire frame is pretty much what it sounds like except that it’s virtual: It’s a set of “3-D” objects of basic geometric shape hooked together by programmed “joints.”
It’s like a Poseman. You’ve seen Poseman, the articulated humanoid wooden doll, right?
The wire frame does all the actual moving. What happens is the animator sets the wire frame in one position, then sets it in another position, and tells the computer how many frames it takes to get from one to the other. Then the computer generates the “in-between” frames.
So movement always looks artificially smooth. BOOM. You’ve seen that, right? SAC 2045, right? Cheap cheap cheap.
For the final production you put a “skin” over the wire from. They spent a lot of time on the skins of the Section 9 characters, so Aramaki looks like Aramaki and Batou looks like Batou. But if you look pretty close a lot of the secondary characters look a lot alike. Cheap cheap cheap.
It didn’t bother me as much as it bothers some people because I knew what it was and why they did it, and once you get past the cheap cheap cheap animation the story is pretty good.
But it looks like dog doo.
I always look at comments and feedback, and I’m sure I’m not the first to see what I’ve seen, so have at it. Just keep it clean and keep it on target…no personal attacks, okay? Thanks.