Animation is a very unique art form; it allows the filmmaker to control their story down to each individual frame. Each object, shadow, and line must be created and placed. The camera does not capture unintentional backgrounds, extra frames, or incidental light, there is only what the animator chooses to show.
The digital revolution in media production is dramatically changing the techniques, forms, content, and function of modern animation and is actively remixing it with other media forms so much that digitally-created animation is now nothing short of a new mode of cultural production and a totally unique form of motion-graphic storytelling of its own right.
The diversity of software tools available for creating moving images on a screen has contributed to the rise of a tremendous and diverse number of styles, techniques, and looks. The multitude of distribution channels further enforced the trend of convergence towards forms more suitable for display on multiple screen sizes and configurations.
As Manovich puts it in his review of Adobe’s AfterEffects, a popular suite for creating digital animations: “[A]s software remixes the techniques and working methods of various media they simulate, the result are new interfaces, tools and workflow with their own distinct logic. In the case of AfterEffects, the working method which it puts forward is neither animation, nor graphic design, nor cinematography, even though it draws from all these fields. It is a new way to make moving image media. Similarly, the visual language of media produced with this and similar software is also different from the languages of moving images which existed previously (Manovich, 2006).”
Modern tools for animation have lowered the barriers to entry into the field by lowering the cost of production, but also, and perhaps most dramatically, by waiving the requirement for traditional artistic ability (which is not to say that it waives the requirement for creativity). No longer does an animator need to draw each single frame or object within the frame. In most modern software packages, the animator has the option to import objects with different formats, including pre-existing media clips, photos, and drawings as is the case in Adobe AfterEffects. The digital animator also has the option to create shapes from primitives and default components provided in the application itself, such as circles, squares, and other basic shapes that can be combined creatively to produce the desired visual effect–a technique which has become a hallmark of Flash animation. Digital animation simultaneously embraces both the technically and the artistically inclined animator, hence opening up the field to a wider range of skill levels (Brazdell, 2007).
Digital animation has adopted free and automated Internet distribution channels such as YouTube, Newgrounds.com, Atom.com, and Machinima.com. Consequently we are witnessing the rise of a new visual vocabulary that emphasizes sparseness, limited color, and limited motion to accommodate for varying bandwidth availability. Additionally, to accommodate for the rising popularity of mobile device distribution, one can also observe a trend towards using more medium and close-up shots which are better suited for display on tiny screens and in varied viewing conditions.
A combination of the tools and the distribution channels have given rise to new and unique genres emphasizing the social media principles of sharing, remixing, and mashing up. Whole amateur communities are now devoted to amateur genres like Brickfilms (stop-motion LEGO videos); Machinima (animations recorded from and in game and virtual worlds); and Animutation (Flash-based mash-up humorous music videos).
Digital animations, especially those distributed over the Internet, cannot be evaluated in isolation from the new media context in which they are presented. A good story is still a good story regardless of how it is told, but the digitization of the story adds a layer of metadata in the form of links, tags, comments, responses, trackbacks, and the rest of the digital experience that both feeds from and into the social media ecosystem in which it is distributed. Content and meaning in new digital animation is created through a process of juxtaposition within the piece and against other productions and media. Nonfiction documentaries, confessionals, commentary, humor, and satire are dominating content and style in amateur multimedia production.
With data and associated metadata becoming the smallest common denominator between all forms of digital arts online, modern media production and manipulation software packages have many characteristics in common, such as: use of layers, channels, and libraries; the ability to import and export multiple formats; and the support for third party plug-in integration that enables compatibility with other software suites or distribution channels. The reduction of basic unit from cell to data also has equalized the storage and archiving processes for digital animation. Animation files can share the same ecosystem as other digital arts. This convergence of moving graphics components both is encouraged and encourages the remix/mashup visual culture of today’s digital animation landscape.
Participation in amateur multimedia creation has been tremendous. 325,000
multimedia files have been submitted to Newgrounds; YouTube has become the amateur’s playground and features approximately 65,000 new videos per day; Machinima.com contains over 2,300 films shot and produced within video games (Brazdell, 2007). With this volume of amateur production we are witnessing the forming of the back channel from the Internet to other media outlets. One example is Machinima.com’s long-running series Red Vs. Blue, which saw a DVD release based on popular demand.
Digital animation is no longer only the site of artistic production, but also of important cultural productions at the hands of amateurs. Animations like All Your Base Are Belong to Us have now become permanent cultural markers that will forever date the technophiles who witnessed their glorious viral spread.
Bardzell, J. (2007). Creativity in amateur multimedia: Popular culture, critical theory, and HCI. Human Technology, 3, 11–33.
Manovich, L. (2006). After Effects, or Velvet Revolution in modern culture, Part 1.
retrieved September 9, 2006, from http://www.manovich.net/