Animation has come a long way from children’s flip-books and hand drawn, frame-by-frame rotoscoping, to what it is now. Today, animation is not only seen in cartoons; big budget three-dimensional animated films are being released, games are coming out more vivid than ever. Animation is being used in conjunction with real-life footage to make the impossible possible. Outside of entertainment, animation also has its uses. In the medical field, animators produce a variety of applications for teaching and demonstrating purposes, for example, the human body can be represented in interactive animated models to demonstrate how pharmaceutical drugs work in the bloodstream and body (Sanders 2005) – this is called medical animation. In aeronautics, pilots and astronauts are put into airplane or spacecraft simulators where they are to take a number of reaction tests and situational tests facing a three-dimensional, photo realistic, interactive replica of the outside environment, before stepping onto the real thing. In real estate, home buyers can now browse for their home in 360 degrees view on the computer. This, is animation at its best – and getting better by the day as technology advances.
Virtual reality googles and simulations
The next step would be to take everything to a higher level. For example, in real estate, instead of having home buyers travel to different locations to check out the properties – this could be simulated through 3D animation. The clients can walk around in a big empty space wearing virtual reality headgear, and browse apartments one at the time with the switch of a remote.
In Purdue University, Indiana, two professors studied how to use computer animation and virtual reality to teach deaf children in grades K to 4 about mathematics principles since reading instruction is delayed, and traditional textbooks are ineffective for kids in that age group. The computer program created for this project was extended to an immersive, virtual reality world where the children had to wear special headsets, stereoscopic glasses, pinch gloves and a wrist tracker to use the application. The children could then communicate with the avatar – which is a robot virtual signer, and learn math concepts from animated characters. Adamo-Villani, the assistant professor in Purdue’s Department of Computer of Graphics Technology says:
“Research shows that immersive games are more effective than non-immersive games. Studies have found that humans process visual information 60,000 times faster than text-based information. Students can raise their math scores 16% after eight weeks using an immersive VR program.” (Raugust, 2006)
Technology has brought virtual worlds into our computers for many years. Soon, virtual reality will be in our living rooms, not just taking entertainment and gaming to the next level, but also bringing about more vivid and immersive approaches to learning.
The most recently released animated feature films – Ice Age 3, Coraline, Monsters vs. Aliens, Up, and G-Force – were all made available in 3D. Seeing the trends, the next big thing in home entertainment is likely to be watching television in 3D. It is true, we can watch some DVDs made in 3D at home wearing those flimsy red and blue glasses, but coloured lenses in the glasses mute the colours in the movie on screen (Bryson 2009). 3D glasses have also been known to make some feel sick or dizzy due to eye strains. In Cartoon Brew’s entry: 3D Animation Movies: Fad or Future?, one reader commented:
“Hope in the future 3d glasses come with some sort of liquid aspirin dispenser or something. Much as I love 3d imagery it gives me a migraine like nothing else.“
Well, the solution to this problem can already be found in 3D televisions in production which do not require glasses.
“It works by combining slightly different angles of the same image to produce video with different depths. Tiny lenses are placed over each of the millions of sub-pixels in the screen which project light at one of nine angles through the front of the display. This process sends slightly different images to the left and right eyes to create the effect and can do so regardless of the angle you’re watching it from.” (Mark’s Technology News, 2008)
If all goes well and consumers are happy to switch to 3D like they have with high definition televisions, this would create unlimited opportunities for the animation industry. If you have noticed, the best part of watching 3D on the screen is not just the realism, but also having things pop at you…
But more – like when Jaws came out in 3D, the audience had on cardboard polarized glasses that created the illusion that elements were penetrating through the screen, so it seemed as if the shark was coming towards the viewers. There are a few film genres, for example, drama, comedy and romance, in which the add-on 3D effect will only lightly enhance the visual experience by amplifying the depth of field. On the other hand, in film genres such as action, horror, sci-fi, and animation, when rendered in 3D, the experience could be heightened to a whole new level. Since there is so much potential in animation to have elements pop (in the event of fear or shock, cartoon characters have the ability to pop their eyes out of their socket up to 3/4 of their height!), and animation and CGI skills are so needed in the film industry right now, the increasing demand for animators means job opportunities for animation graduates.
Keeping up with technology
With technology advancing at the speed of light, new programs and software are constantly being released to solve the market’s needs. Hence, animators have to continually equip themselves with new skills by familiarising themselves with new programs that come out endlessly so as not to fall behind the times. In an article featured in Film in Focus called “Drawing on Inspiration: How to Make Animation With No Money”, artist/animator Martha Colburn says:
“It becomes tiresome trying to ‘keep up’ [with technology]. I’m falling off the barometer of technology altogether in my work.”
“There are no guarantees in this business. It’s one part talent and two parts luck. Some people find work but can’t keep up with the pace. They end up burning out or getting fired. These companies are looking for the best, and you’ll have to stay on top if you want to work for the big boys like ILM, Disney, or Pixar.”