The Tradition of Animation: Hand-drawn vs CGI

Hand-drawn animation is something that really has a split down the middle in terms of the reception that it receives from audiences. Most people that are keen about animation will marvel simply at the commitment to large hand-drawn projects, but to the layman all of that work and effort could almost go wasted when similar effects could be created using CGI.

A CGI hand, oh the irony!


Most people who weigh in on this debate will fall on the side of hand-drawn animation with credit given to only a few notable examples from the CG world. Pixar in particular always seems to get a free pass whenever anyone is discussing the quality of CGI; one of the first feature film to use it was Toy Story which really got it right in my opinion. The reason for this is because they seamlessly blended the style into the story. When you’re using a technique that has been criticised for being glossy, stiff and robotic, what better subject to render than a group of toys that are given life?

In recent years a few steps have been made towards trying to reach a happier medium between the two styles. Disney’s feature ‘Tangled’ deserves a mention for its efforts to take stiff CG animation and try a combination of techniques to give the film some of the fluidity and depth that the style can lose; the ambition of Glen Keane, who wanted the characters and their environment to mimic the impression of a watercolour. One feature film that I am looking forward to, from Dreamworks of all places, is called ‘Me and My Shadow’ which is going to feature a real world environment and a ‘shadow world’ rendered in CG and hand drawn respectively. You can read more about it over here

Now comes the part of this post that I was really looking forward to, which is particularly notable examples of incredible hand-drawn animation. Pre-dating modern CGI these sequences were carefully and extremely patiently drawn by hand just by way of necessity, but the detail and the final effect is nothing short of remarkable. First of all, there is for me, one of the greatest chase sequences filmed, particularly in animation at least, which is in the film pinocchio when he is being chased by the whale. When it comes to hand-drawn skill take a particularly close look at the waves and the splashes in the ocean; the fluidity of which is a real credit to the slow ‘piece by piece’ reality of hand-drawn animation.

Another important film to mention here is ‘The Thief and the Cobbler’, the unfinished masterpiece of animation giant Richard Williams. The detail of each shot and the complexity of the style itself took Williams and his team 25 years to create, as well as the fact that Williams was an absolute perfectionist and would repeatedly scrap long sections of work because he wasn’t happy with them. The story itself deserves a much longer write-up, but in the end a lot of the set pieces, character and plot was ‘borrowed’ for use in Disney’s Alladin, much to the chagrin of the animation world who feel very loyal to the efforts of the now little-known Williams against the animation powerhouse. Here is a fan edited trailer for the film itself, made out of the unfinished elements that were left when the project was finally shelved: