“The times, they are a-changin.'”
Bob, you couldn't be more right, though in this case, I'm not really sure if it's for the better. Mr. Dylan was talking about social change, of course, but for our purposes, let's focus on shifts in artistry that have me a bit worried.
These changes can found throughout The Walt Disney Company, the creators of corporate magic that everyone seems to love or hate with equal passion. (I'm in the middle somewhere, for the record.) Chairman and CEO Bob Iger admitted at a recent shareholders' meeting that they have no plans to create a 2D or hand-drawn film in the foreseeable future, the very medium that gave birth to the company in the first place.
It's not surprising, but it is disheartening. “The Princess and the Frog” was praised by critics as audiences alike, but $267 million doesn't smell as sweet as “Wreck-It Ralph's” $435 million or “Brave's” $535 million, both 3D, computer-animated movies. I think the subject matter more than the animation style was to blame here, but you can't talk finer details with numbers people, so why bother?
Because it's an art form worth preserving. If hand-drawn animation was so inferior, then why do all the classics in Disney's vault still sell millions every time they're re-released? Can the same be said for movies like “The Wild” and “Chicken Little,” rotting in discount bins? Pixar's output has been prolific and, by and large, brilliant (“Cars” aside, of course), so I cannot and will not say that computer animation is not an art form in its own right that requires time and talent, but does it have to be at the cost of animators who prefer getting their hands a little dirty?
Disney cleaned house when digital took over, but this wasn't really necessary. Look at the 2012 short “Paperman,” which just earned an Oscar – it's hand-drawn, but with digital technology. The two mediums can meet halfway, though what is left behind other than a “making of” featurette on a DVD? You can hang those old animation cells and painted backgrounds in museums, but you can't touch or hold a 3D model on a screen. It's faster and more convenient for me to express this same thought verbally into a webcam, but I'm doing so in print because I believe in the format, not just the idea.
This leads me to Marvel Comics' announcement that it would temporarily offer 700 of its No. 1w issues free through ComiXology, the largest online distributor of digital comic books, in an attempt to attract new readers and possibly coerce print fans to give the medium a try. Within hours, the servers crashed as they tried to meet demand, forcing them to extend the promotion by e-mailing customers when everything is back online. Some might call this an overwhelming success for Marvel, which is owned by Disney, but again, the Mouse is so eager to embrace the next big thing that it fails to see how off-putting this “deal” really is for the rest of us.
First of all, if you're giving it away, that's usually an indication of its value. There is no collectability in digital comics because there is nothing special or limited in a file on your computer or tablet. Half the fun of collecting is in the hunt and in displaying them – now all it takes is a download. Sure, this makes reading convenient, but what happens when your computer or hard drive crashes or breaks? With ComiXology, you can re-download your purchases for no additional cost, but what if it's on a day like this week, when the servers are down? I can access my books any time by simply walking over to my shelf.
But I digress – the heart of the matter isn't my penchant for the smell of ink and old paper, or even for tangible pages, but for the art contained within. It's bad enough that comics are colored digitally now – how long will it be before they're all drawn digitally too? This is already occurring now, though most of the artists I know still use pencils, inks, and paper, scanning their work to be digitized later. How long will it be before this technique is stamped out? How long will it be before Disney cleans house again?
Marvel's Augmented Reality app already allows readers to scan comics for additional content, which is admittedly pretty neat, and with the continued growth of motion comics and Project Gamma, which will apparently add music and other features as someone flips through the story, it seems like they're so quick to integrate comics with other mediums that they ignore the simple pleasures of quietly curling up with a good story in a good book.
I love animated and film adaptations of those stories, but when I read a comic, I just want to read a comic. Books lose those finer details on the big screen, so why would this be any different? I can see an author or artist's intent as I study each panel of their work – will those messages be the same when someone animates over them, changing the pacing or adding music? “Too many cooks,” as they say, and this broth is getting a bit too spicy for my taste.
To be clear, I'm not some technology curmudgeon who's simply angry that he's behind the times; I'm just a guy who likes wearing a watch despite the fact that my phone tells the time. Art comes in many forms, but the greatest art I've ever seen was hung on a wall, not pulled up on a screen – and I have yet to see a frame burn out.