As an art form, animation is just about a decade younger than motion picture film.
Since then, it has evolved side by side with the many technological breakthroughs in filmmaking.
It started with making actual drawings on the film stock to create visual effects beyond what can be offered in a realistic set, then there came traditional animation where images were hand-drawn frame-by-frame, and stop-motion animation where clay and other materials physically moved one frame at a time and are shot frame-by-frame as well.
When computers came, it lessened the filmmakers’ burden of having to draw tens of thousands of frames for a few minutes of animated footage. All these where in 2D space, until powerful computers and software programs allowed filmmakers to create computer-generated images featuring 3D visuals. Although still viewed in 2D format, these 3D visuals already provide more depth, texture, and details to animated film offerings. Motion capture technology also came to offer more ways for 3D animation to grow. And now, 3D films can already be viewed in their 3D glory through stereoscopic 3D.
The use of 3D glasses to watch animated movies has become an interesting (and expensive) fad for a couple of years now. Although there are a few mainstream movies that don’t bow down to the “3D pressure,” most animated movies of our times are actually set for stereoscopic 3D releases.
Computer animation’s most popular allies include the programs Adobe Flash and After Effects for 2D animation and motion graphics and Autodesk Maya, 3ds Max, and Lightwave 3D for 3D animation and special effects. There are several hundreds of other programs available to aid the modern animator with his or her work. With the rise of steoreoscopy, companies like Quantel, Autodesk, Spatial View, and Cineform live up to the increasing demand for professional 3D post-production products.
When making their animated movies, big movie companies and animation studios like Walt Disney Animation Studios, Pixar Animation Studios, DreamWorks Animation, and Lucasfilm Animation combine equipment and software from top companies and their own proprietary programs developed by their in-house talents. For instance, Pixar developed the software called Marionette, which is designed as an intuitive animation program for animators with backgrounds on traditional cell animation.
As more impressive technologies come, the future of animation looks bright. Going the 4D route where the other senses, primarily the sense of smell and touch, become part of the movie watching experience is one of the most realistic possibilities that we may actually see coming in a couple of years.
3D seems to be a trend that will continue to develop. There is much to explore in the format like transitioning to a 3D viewing experience without the aid of 3D glasses. This is actually becoming a reality already with animation works in the gaming industry as many consoles and monitors are getting set up for 3D viewing without the glasses. Even news and other TV programs are already delving into “Star Wars” holographic images where true three-dimensional displays get transmitted from one place to another in real-time or almost real-time. How’s that for viewing animated films using your own mobile phone and projecting the movie in “Star Wars” fashion?
Animation also opens promising possibilities to relive our favorite movie icons of yesteryears to star in the latest blockbuster hits. Using animation as the primary medium, George Lucas and his company are looking into the potential creation of digital actors resembling the original stars to act in future movies.