This New Google Project Proves Humans Are Better at Animation Than Computers Are

Sorry, Android L, Android Wear, and Android Auto: This may be the best thing which got announced at I/O.

I had a good time attending Google I/O, but I somehow missed out on the premiere at the conference of something which means a lot to me: Duet, a new short film by Disney veteran Glen Keane, one of the finest animators of the past forty years.

Fortunately, I just caught up with it on YouTube:

The movie is part of Google’s “Spotlight Stories” project, and will be available in an interactive mobile version for Android phones later this year. But the thing which makes it interesting and moving isn’t the technology: It’s the fact that it consists of a series of drawings by a human being who happens to be a master draftsman, rather than the digital stop-motion puppetry that is computer animation.

Keane may have used more modern tools than his counterparts at Disney did in the 1930s and 1940s, but the basics of his craft haven’t changed at all.

There’s lots of computer animation I like, and some I just love–but the medium has a long way to go until it can match the charm, grace, and emotional depth of something like this. How said it would be if traditional animation–which is clearly an endangered artform–ever goes away altogether.


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  1. Jeba Qpt (@JebaQpt) June 27, 2014 at 11:13 pm #

    Great work done by Glen….

  2. sirwired June 28, 2014 at 8:24 am #

    I’m not sure I agree that computer-based animation is inherently crippled compared to hand-drawn. The two certainly have a very different look, and some stories (and shots) are more appropirate in one medium vs. another. There are some very compelling things that can be done only with hand-drawn work, and computer animation makes other things possible that would be nearly unachievable if done by hand.

    I think hand-drawn animation works very well for highly individual stories and shots, but it cannot match the power of computer animation when a sense of scale is required. Hand drawings can capture emotion and tone well, but computer animation provides much more realistic and immersive settings, due to the ready ability to provide complex lighting and consistent buildings and objects all done at the proper scale. For instance, something like a spooky mansion is VERY difficult with hand-drawn animation, as the lighting is tough, and getting the scale of every room, every piece of furniture, every object, etc., correct for every shot with every animator is also difficult.

    I do agree it would be a shame if hand-drawn animation ever disappeared; however, I do not think that is a huge danger. Just like movies did not wipe out plays, and photography did not wipe out painting, I do not see computer animation eliminating hand-drawn animation. Certainly there will be fewer hand-drawn feature films (not that there were that many to begin with), but I cannot imagine the field going away entirely.

  3. TishTash June 28, 2014 at 8:58 am #

    Computer-animation will improve. But like the asymptote of an ellipsis, I find it difficult to imagine it ever surpassing the raw emotional impact of hand-drawn animation. Unfortunately, it’s also just as obvious that hand-drawn animation will quickly go the way of the dinosaur. Sad (or “said” even, lol).

  4. TishTash June 28, 2014 at 9:05 am #

    [btw, that’s gotta b the world’s oldest & most robustly healthy dog in history]

  5. Steven Fisher June 30, 2014 at 7:58 am #

    It’s a good sequence, but compared to Carl & Ellie’s life in Up? The sequence from Up has so much more emotional content than this.

    I think it’s always (always) the story that matters.

  6. twitterkilo July 3, 2014 at 8:58 pm #

    Technology will never…