Magic Box Disease

Hey, people. The Butcher here with some more fodder for The Chopping Block. Today, I wanna talk about what I call Magic Box Disease. This malady seems to infect an awful lot of animation industry executive-types. The main symptom is a prevailing belief that since animation is "all done by computers now", that a lot of the work process has been relieved and "the computer will fix everything". For example, we all know that if a character is a bit off of registration, in the old days (of 6 or 7 years ago) you would have to take each cel for that level, cut off the strip at the bottom that contains the peg holes, offset that strip to fix the reg problem, and then tape the cel back together. Now, since it's "all done in the computer", realigning an entire character level is a simple point-and-click operation that takes only a few minutes.

Unfortunately, the suits heard about this and took it as meaning that the computer (not a human being) fixed it. A Magic Box! You shovel shit into one end and it spits out gold bars at the other!

Now, when
in a scene is deemed in need of change, they expect it to take 5 minutes. If it takes longer, the suits ask what the hell they spent all that money on computers for. I imagine the same thing goes on in live action effects. I can picture a suit saying things like, "Have the computer make a dinosaur, and then have it make the dinosaur eat the car. We need to see it tomorrow for the pitch."

Admittedly, some suits have absorbed the fact that it still takes a person to do the work, although the Magic Box allows them to do it faster. Thus, a new strain of Magic Box disease evolved where suits take advantage of the fast results to re-work a scene to death. This has also lead to the rather obnoxious use of soft-edged core shadows on each and every character. Originally, we first saw extensive use of core shadows in "
Who Framed Roger Rabbit
", and the shadows were there for a reason: the animated characters were interacting with live-action actors to a degree of complexity that had never been done before. Therefore, to make the characters visually integrate with the live action background more convincingly, the soft-edged shadows were added to give the characters more depth and "weight". However, "Roger" was made just before the digital revolution, and all of those shadow mattes as well as the traveling mattes to reg the characters to the actors were done in a good old fashioned optical printer.

The look of the characters in "Roger" was so appealing (at least to suits) that core shadows started showing up more frequently. For a while, the term "Rabbitization" was even used to describe the use of soft-edged core shadows on 2-D characters. Then, when the digital revolution hit and this process became easier to do, the shadows not only started showing up on everything, but started being over-used. Even brightly lit, dramatically upbeat scenes had more shadows than a old George Raft movie. Why did they do it? Because they could. Why did box office receipts start to drop? Because it sucked.

It reminds me of an observation someone once made. Back in the early 1900's, it took a housewife a certain amount of hours to do all the housework for one week. This was before the advent of the dishwasher, the clothes washer and dryer, the microwave oven, self-cleaning ovens, drop-in toilet bowl cleaners, vacuum cleaners, and amphetamines. Now, a hundred years later we have all of these technological time-saving devices, but it STILL takes nearly the same amount of time to do the housework. It's almost as if with every time-saving device that came along, we found more things to do with it.

In animation, the more time saving technology that we've had, the more we've overused it, resulting in films that are visually distracting and difficult to watch, not to mention that they take just as long to make and cost twice as much. Yet, films come along with a distinct lack of "Rabbitization" and over use of technology ( to wit, "South Park" and "Rugrats"), that are made for peanuts and yet turn millions in profits.

The lesson here is that it's not what you've got - it's what you do with it.

The Butcher