Is animation experiencing a renaissance?

By Jeffrey Peterson

For the Deseret News

Published: Thursday, June 14 2012 6:00 a.m. MDT

In the past few years, computer animation has also evolved to produce motion capture technology, or “mocap,” where actors’ movements are recorded and used to animate computer models (a la “Avatar”). In the world of animation, mocap has been at the center of a small controversy about what exactly defines an animated movie. After the motion-captured “Happy Feet” took home the Oscar in 2006 (beating out “Cars”), an embittered Pixar responded by including a “Quality Insurance Guarantee” in the credits of “Ratatouille” (2007) that reads, “100% Genuine Animation! No motion capture or any other performance shortcuts were used in the production of this film.”

Paralleling the growth of computer-animated films after “Toy Story,” however, mocap has seen rapid progress in the past few years. Steven Spielberg’s “The Adventures of Tintin” (2011), in particular, was good enough that it almost succeeded in wiping away memories of the creepy, inexpressive characters from earlier mocap films like “The Polar Express” (2007).

Perhaps one simple barometer for the overall state of animation is the number of animated films being released each year.

Just the fact that there are enough movies to have a Best Animated Feature category at the Academy Awards (a category only created in 2001) suggests how much the industry has grown.

Along with the number of animated films reaching American audiences, variety is also on the rise. Two decades ago, Disney’s domination of mainstream animated features went almost uncontested. Now, though, rival studios Fox and DreamWorks also have lucrative franchises (“Ice Age,” “Madagascar” and “Kung Fu Panda,” for example), providing just enough competition to keep Disney and Pixar on their toes.

Although it is often tempting to lament the state of the film industry in general, if current trends continue, one can easily imagine another golden age of animation just around the corner, spurred on by technological advancements and creative new forms of storytelling.

A native of Utah Valley and a devoted cinephile, Jeff is currently studying humanities and history at Brigham Young University.

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