The new documentary Pencils vs Pixels explores the fascinating history and evolution of animation, from classic hand-drawn 2D to modern computer-generated 3D animation. This article provides a detailed overview of the key insights and highlights from the film.
- Pencils vs Pixels premiered at Annecy International Animation Film Festival in June 2023, and will be released on VOD on November 7, 2023.
- The film celebrates the unique art form of traditional 2D animation, especially during the Disney Renaissance era of the late 80s and early 90s.
- It also examines the CG animation revolution started by Pixar’s Toy Story in 1995, and how this disrupted the industry.
- Interviews animation legends like Seth MacFarlane, Pete Docter, Tom Bancroft, and others.
- Narrated by Ming-Na Wen, the voice of Mulan.
- Directed by veteran animator Phil Earnest.
The Magic of Hand-Drawn Animation
The first half of Pencils vs Pixels is a love letter to the artistry and painstaking craft of traditional 2D animation. It takes us through the early days of animation, from innovators like Winsor McCay (Gertie the Dinosaur) through to Walt Disney’s first animated feature Snow White and the Seven Dwarves in 1937.
The film really focuses on the Disney Renaissance era beginning in the late 1980s with films like The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast. This was a comeback period for Disney animation after a lull in the 70s and early 80s. During the Renaissance, Disney pushed the art form forward with films like Aladdin, The Lion King, Pocahontas, and Mulan.
Tom Bancroft, an animator who worked on Mulan, describes the excitement but also the “manic intensity” of working in hand-drawn animation at that time. Everything was painstakingly drawn and painted by hand, frame by frame. As we see amazing behind-the-scenes footage of the animation process, it’s clear why many consider this a golden age of 2D animation.
Pencils vs Pixels Trailer
The Rise of Computer Animation
The second half of Pencils vs Pixels documents the CGI revolution, sparked largely by the release of Pixar’s Toy Story in 1995. This was the first feature-length animated film created completely with 3D computer animation. It was a massive breakthrough that changed the industry forever.
The film examines how quickly CGI animation took over. Disney Animation switched from hand-drawn to computer animation for films like Dinosaur in 2000. Eventually, even Pixar’s creative leader John Lasseter announced they would no longer make any 2D animated films.
Veteran animators describe how hand-drawn animation started to be seen as “old fashioned.” Studios closed their traditional departments as computer animation came to dominate feature films.
The Loss of an Art Form
While CGI films like Finding Nemo and The Incredibles were huge hits, many animators lament what was lost with the end of hand-drawn animation. They explain that 2D allowed for more stylized and personal artistry. There is a tactile quality that cannot be replicated digitally.
Pencils vs Pixels suggests that the art form became homogenized as studios switched to CGI animation. Varied visual styles were abandoned for more realistic and formulaic CGI films.
Seth MacFarlane argues that studios got carried away thinking CGI was the future, when hand-drawn still has a vital creative energy that should have been preserved.
Keeping Hand-Drawn Animation Alive
Some studios like Disney are starting to bring back hand-drawn animation in films like The Princess and the Frog (2009). But it remains rare. Independent animators are also working hard to keep the hand-drawn tradition alive.
The documentary highlights talents like Adam Fisher, who created the traditionally animated short The Cartridge Family (2019). The film ends on a hopeful note. Though costly and difficult, traditional 2D animation still captures imaginations unlike anything else. Its magic endures for those with the passion and dedication to keep it alive as an art form.
Pencils vs Pixels ultimately celebrates the special quality of hand-drawn animation, while acknowledging the phenomenal impact of CGI. It makes the case that these two art forms can co-exist if there is enough audience demand for the unique beauty of the human touch.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some common questions about Pencils vs Pixels:
When and where can I watch Pencils vs Pixels?
The documentary will premiere at the Annecy International Animation Film Festival in France in June 2023. It will then be released on video-on-demand (VOD) platforms in the United States on November 7, 2023.
Who directed Pencils vs Pixels?
It was directed by veteran animation filmmaker Phil Earnest, who has worked on both 2D and 3D animated projects over his decades-long career.
What is the documentary about?
It explores the evolution of animation from hand-drawn 2D animation to computer-generated 3D CGI animation. It provides a historical overview ofanimation while celebrating the unique artistry of “pencils” (2D).
Who is interviewed in the documentary?
It features interviews with major figures in animation like Seth MacFarlane, Pete Docter, Tom Bancroft, Leonard Maltin, and others.
What era of Disney animation does it focus on?
It especially highlights the Disney Renaissance period from the late 1980s to 1990s with films like The Little Mermaid and The Lion King.
Who narrates the documentary?
The narrator is Ming-Na Wen, known for voicing the title role in Disney’s animated Mulan film.
Pencils vs Pixels promises to be an illuminating documentary for both animation fans and anyone interested in the history of filmmaking. By charting the transition from hand-drawn to CGI animation, it celebrates the unique qualities of “pencils” while examining the phenomenal digital revolution. It makes a passionate case that traditional 2D and modern 3D animation can harmoniously co-exist if studios and audiences continue to demand imagination, variety, and the irreplaceable human touch of hand-drawn artistry. Be sure to check it out when it arrives on VOD this November.
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