Animation: Activity 4

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Learning from the Best

Using computer generated imagery (CGI), an animator can reproduce the three-dimensional effects of stop-motion photography or the twodimensional effects of hand-drawn animation. Instead of pen and ink, paint, clay, paper, or cels, computer animators use a monitor, computer tools, and software that includes complex mathematical formulas. Rather than sketching out characters and objects like traditional animators, computer animators build a three-dimensional "model" that can be viewed from different angles. CGI can imitate camera moves and angles that would be difficult or impossible to achieve with traditional cel animation: the swoop from the chandelier to the dancing couple in the ballroom scene of Beauty and the Beast, for example. Because of its ability to mimic reality, CGI is also used to produce special effects in live-action films. CGI can create digital tears or blood, embellish backgrounds and sets, make a small crowd seem large, or touch up the actors' wrinkles and flaws.

The 1982 film Tron, which combined live action with animation, was the first film to use CGI on a large scale. When the Academy instituted the Best Animated Feature Film award in 2001, the first ANIMATION: CREATING MOVEMENT FRAME by FRAME Computer-Generated Image Model Oscar went to the CGI-animated film Shrek. Early computer graphics looked unappealingly flat, but recent improvements in technology make it possible to create more realistic surfaces.The most difficult task facing the special effects animators who created the character Gollum for the live-action film The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers was developing new computer codes to provide the creature with translucent, lifelike skin.

Having the use of a computer does not necessarily mean less work for the animator. It took four years to complete Toy Story, the first completely CGI-animated feature; coincidentally, it took the same amount of time for the Disney studio to finish Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. CGI may never completely replace traditional animation, because some animators still prefer the latter's personal touch and slight irregularities. For others, using CGI can be compared to using a word processor instead of a typewriter for writing, in that the new tool allows the animator to manipulate ideas and images with greater freedom.

CGI and stop-motion animated films are sometimes also referred to as 3D films because those techniques create a more lifelike illusion of three-dimensional characters and backgrounds. Many animated features are now stereoscopic films – films with 3D effects.Through the use of digital equipment, specially designed movie screens and polarized lenses, viewers are fooled into experiencing a movie as a three-dimensional space rather than as images on a flat screen.

Part A

Have your students compare hand-drawn or stop-motion animation to CGI animation, using selections from the following groups of films. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Lilo & Stitch, The Secret of Kells, and Fantasia employ hand-drawn cel animation. Coraline and Fantastic Mr. Fox use stop-motion photography. Happy Feet and Up use CGI animations.You may also have them compare different scenes within a particular animated film. Most of Beauty and the Beast was drawn on cels, but the ballroom scene is a good example of early computer animation. CGI was used to create the stampede scene in The Lion King, an otherwise hand-drawn film. Ask your students if they notice differences between CGI and traditional animation. Have them consider why animators might choose a traditional method of animation if CGI animation can duplicate traditional effects.

Part B

Each year, an outstanding array of new animated films is released. Some are especially appropriate for families, some are appealing to teens, and some are geared toward adult audiences. If you or the parents of your students feel that some, or even all of this year's nominated films might be inappropriate for viewing by young people, you can modify this activity. Ask your students to view one of the films nominated for achievement in animation and analyze it in terms of how its storytelling, character development, and animation contributed to the total effect of the film. Students may also view Academy Award-nominated and -winning films from past years to complete the exercises. A list of those films appears at the beginning of this teacher's guide.

Animation: Creating Movement Frame by Frame

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Complete Animation Activities Guide (PDF)

Activity 1: The Origins of Animation
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Activity 2: Drawing Movement
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Activity 3: Imagining Action
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Activity 4: Learning from the Best
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