Give 'em the Old Razzle-Dazzle
What has that meant for us -- animators? I was dazzled, when I got the biggest job of my career in 1956: Creative Director of CBS-Terrytoons, which came complete with a 20th Century-Fox release of 18 theater cartoons a year, all in glorious CinemaScope, a 20th-Fox invention and the format they wanted for their cartoons. WOW! I thought. What I can do with that vast screen real estate! I soon awakened to the reality: 1) The useful animation device, the rotating field zoom, was almost completely ruled out. I could barely rotate a scene without the corners of the screen moving out of camera range! 2) I was informed that our shorts also had to be able to be shown on TVs of the time, still in classic format. That meant that all important action had to be confined to the central "TV Safety Field" area. The result? All visual benefit of the ultra wide CinemaScope size was lost! I had managed to get R.O. Blechman's Juggler of Our Lady into production, hoping to dramatize the contrast of Bob's tiny scraggly little figures with the vast wide screen. But the compromises I had to live with virtually lost the effect I had hoped to achieve. So what has the wide screen brought to animation? Only limits; only difficulty in creating good graphic composition. The original shape of the classic movie screen was inspired by the most typical shape of most oil paintings we see in museums. CinemaScope-shaped paintings with human figures, natural views or events are certainly rare!
The original IMAX system creators at least understood that the height of the screen is every bit as important as its width!
Motion capture and performance capture have already muddled the question of what is animation.
All of this continuing mad rush to dazzle masks over the true point of what film is about: storytelling. "What's it about?" That's the question John Hubley taught me to ask.
So what is the real shape? What's left to us? My feeling is coming to the notion that we are now approaching a new truth: There is only one category, cinema itself. All films contain one or more elements of animation and visual effects. All films have one goal: to tell stories in compelling ways. Let them all be judged on their success in that one "Master Category" rather than focusing on the technology of their production!
Roger Ebert's May 20th Newsweek article boldly explores and debunks the current "3-D" craze, and coincidently completely demolishes the ga-ga over 3-D statement made by Jeffrey Katzenberg in Time magazine of the same date.
Gene Deitch has been an innovative and maverick animator for 60 years. He worked at UPA (Bert & Harry Piels) and later then joined Terrytoons before moving to Prague, where he worked on Tom and Jerry, Krazy Kat and Popeye, as well as the Oscar-winning Munro and the Nudnik series, based on his Terrytoons character, Foofle.