“AI is a thrilling new technology.”Anthony Gibbs, Designer, and Director of Framestore
The animation industry is ever-evolving and it was born out of artists' experimentation with filmmaking in the early 20th century. With experimentation comes discovery and with discovery comes innovation and evolution.
The animation styles many grew up watching as children have drastically changed in a matter of a few decades. Since its inception, animation has been evolving into what we see today.
Animation has come a long way in its evolution. It’s hard to believe that there was a time when the norm in animation was to draw each frame of an animated scene by hand. In fact, many animators still use this process today.
This process is known as traditional animation and some animators consider themselves to be real animators in comparison to their more technologically focused counterparts like AI animators.
However, animators are always looking for faster, more efficient ways to get the job done, and also for resources that help with experimentation and creativity. Whether you’re working on games, educational content, films, television series, or personal projects, it’s always great to find a new tool that gives you more options while reducing the need for editing.
One of the most prominent developments in the animation industry in the past few years has been the use of artificial intelligence technology (AI). With the use of sophisticated technology, AI animators have managed to bring the animation industry into a new era.
AI is rapidly changing the world of animation, and it has the potential to be even more transformative than ever before. However, this doesn’t mean traditional or real animation will lose its place and importance in the industry.
Both AI animators and real animators have their place in the industry. In this blog, we look at the difference between AI animators and real animators and the nuances of each. This will help you see how each of these animation techniques fits into the animation industry.
What is AI Animation?
AI is essentially a simulation of human intelligence in machines – in most cases computers – that are capable of learning and improving their actions based on their experiences based on whatever is fed to them.
Animation is more of an aid for automation and 3D modeling, but there are a few other things AI animators use this technology for. Animation techniques like Rotoscoping have now been effectively automated by AI software like Comixify.
Recently, there has been a surge of AI animators and real-time animation in the world of animation. This is partly due to the ever-increasing demand for high-quality animations created in as short an amount of time as possible. One of the most obvious solutions to this is to incorporate machine learning into animation, and that’s exactly what AI animators did.
Thanks to advances in hardware and software, machines running on AI can now analyze images, colors, pieces of data, and many more to create incredibly impressive computer-generated art pieces.
How AI Animators Use Artificial Intelligence
There are many areas of animation where AI animators have taken the opportunity to improve certain techniques or processes. Let’s take a look at some of the most notable ones here:
Image by via Deedeestudio
Rotoscoping can be a rather laborious process and that’s why it was an ideal opportunity for AI animators to hand it off to AI and deep learning software to automate the process fully. This has resulted in drastic improvements in not only the time it takes to complete the process but how much it costs as well.
LAIKA, the company responsible for Coraline and many other fantastic titles, has partnered with the technology titan Intel to use AI and machine learning to accelerate certain animation tasks.
Their films use a unique 3D-scanned facial animation that has since started using recognition software to automate and smooth out the process. AI animators are fantastic at making repetitive tasks simple and not so repetitive, and Intel is focusing on making tools that assist in streamlining the entire design process, something that often takes big studios years.
3D Facial Modeling
Image via Futurity
Perfecting the subtleties of human emotion and expression is an incredibly taxing task and one that can take real animators weeks to get right.
The conventional methods involve taking models built from 3D face databases that use multi-linear morphable models. However, because of its linear nature, you lose the expressivity of the model. Linear models also lend themselves to creating impossible facial expressions, which is where AI animators come in.
Disney researchers have taken to adopting deep learning neural networks, with a focus on generating realistic 2D faces.
They have suggested utilizing neural architectures to combine both linear and non-linear methods of face modeling to provide semantic control over both aspects. It uses various techniques like 3D face synthesis, facial performance transfer, performance editing, and 2D landmark performance retargeting.
The software doesn’t explicitly learn to disentangle the identity and expression of the model but rather imposes it directly onto the architecture. This means that the software will be able to generate a simple human face and corresponding expressions, capture a real-life human face and transfer it to a 3D character, and allow AI animators to edit keyframes and performances.
For a long time, voice-over has been one of the most time-consuming parts of the post-production animation process, but thanks to AI animators, new techniques, and Adobe, this process is now simple and smooth.
Adobe has released their Sensei AI Animation Technology within their Character Animator software that uses AI-powered lip-synching to assist in matching dialogue with animated characters. Adobe’s new software allows AI animators to assign mouth sounds to mouth shapes, and the software accurately syncs both the character movement and the audio frame-by-frame.
The Pros and Cons of being an AI Animator
1. The Pros
Image via Modlettes
Technological improvement is imperative in any industry, but especially in the animation industry. It helps make animators’ lives simpler and smoother. AI animators have simply taken the next step forward for the animation industry for animated works to be made both smoother and quicker.
A great example of how important AI animators’ work and the technology is, is how it is used in the medical field. AI technologies have been introduced to assist doctors in predicting breast cancer in women at earlier stages.
b) Improved Production Time
AI animators utilize AI technologies within other animation software technologies which allows machines to make decisions faster than we ever could. Decision-making for a machine is logical and unemotional, as it delivers results based on the information fed to it and nothing else.
This drastically speeds up the animation process and helps AI animators create more, better quality work in a shorter amount of time.
c) Reduction In Human Error
Image via LearnGxP
Humans make mistakes; this much is and will always be true. In the case of computers, however, they don’t. At least when we don’t input mistakes.
In the case of AI, decision-making is born from experience. Previously gathered information and data are compiled and analyzed, applying algorithms to make decisions.
This means that the likelihood of error-making is drastically reduced.
d) 24/7 Availability
The truth of the matter is that machines don’t need to sleep to perform at an optimal level. Machines also don’t get bored or distracted. However, humans do. Practically speaking, AI and machines have their uses in certain areas where humans just can’t compare.
While AI technology still relies on AI animators to input certain commands, it can run in the background overnight while completing all of the tasks that were fed into it.
An example of this being applied practically can be seen in educational institutions and helpline bots that receive queries outside of normal working hours.
2. The Cons
a) High Costs
Image via Mowe Studio
As with all technological innovations, the cost of implementation is high and often increases at a rate directly proportionate to the rate of innovation.
As we progress in technology, the hardware and software required to handle our demands must match. Machines also require regular maintenance and repair, and if they already cost a great deal to create, you can only imagine how much it will cost to keep them up-to-date and fixed regularly.
All this being said, becoming an AI animator will turn out to be more cost-effective in the long run. It might be worth the high cost of converting for an ultimately cheaper and faster animation operation.
b) Stifled Creativity
Image via Built by Me
One of the biggest problems facing AI animators is its inability to think outside of the box. Our ability to be creative is what makes humans so incredible and is exactly what makes AI so linear. And, of course, this might very well work for many systems, but not exactly for art forms.
AI animators might find themselves relying too much on their technology, so creating animations with traditional techniques now and again might be a good idea to keep your creative juices flowing.
c) Fear Of Unemployment
As is to be expected, the introduction of newer technology brings with it a fear of unemployment, and as creatives, it is our worst fear to find ourselves without an outlet.
As AI replaces the mundane and repetitive tasks often taken on by individuals with minimum qualifications, those same individuals can find themselves out of work until they find more qualifications.
Every corporation and organization wants to get the most out of their company, and if that means replacing human effort with robots that do their job more efficiently, then that’s unfortunately what happens.
The automotive industry is a great example of this. But there is one big difference – the animation industry requires human creativity to function and thrive, and that's something AI can never replace. Not only that, but AI technology relies on AI animators for tasks and commands.
d) Animation Could Lose Its Connection To Art
Image via Graphic Action
Animation is art. Art is emotion, creativity, and expression, all the qualities that robots don’t have.
Essentially, what AI lacks is empathy and an understanding of what exactly it takes for a human to connect with a piece of art emotionally, whether it be a piece of music or an animated film. Working in a team is also an essential part of working as an animator in a studio, something robots can’t do.
But again, this is up to the AI animator. As long as they make sure to keep their creativity alive, the fear of losing connection with art is not something to be worried about.
Who are Real Animators?
Image via Animation Nuggets
People who draw their animated characters by hand are dubbed real or traditional animators. Thanks to the introduction of computers and, of course, animation in computer systems, this form of animation has been largely phased out of the animation industry. However, there are still many animators who prefer this technique and consider it the truest form of animation.
Traditional animation or classical animation, cel animation, hand-drawn animation, or 2D animation is an animation technique in which each frame is drawn through a traditional medium. It was the dominant form of animation in cinema until computer animation was invented.
A few forms of traditional animation require drawing on celluloid which is a transparent sheet on which objects are drawn, traditional animation is a technique where each frame is drawn by hand. It is also called classical or hand-drawn animation.
“Fantasmagorie” was the first animated film in history created using traditional animation by The French caricaturist Émile Cohl in 1908.
The approach of traditional animation is fascinating for pencil lovers. A traditional animator draws the characters, layout, and backgrounds on paper. Each drawing in the animation would be slightly different from the one before it and the one following it, creating the illusion of movement.
All the drawings are then fed into plastic cells, filled with paint in the desired colors, and are then photographed one by one in an animated sequence on a painted background image. Sounds interesting, don't you think?
Traditional animation also involves the use of plasticine to create incredible animated pieces of characters or backgrounds. This type of animation, known as claymation, uses the technique of stop-motion.
Another form of traditional animation includes flipbook animation, where a small book of drawings conveying a series of pictures in progressing forms of movement in its pages is flipped in rapid succession to create the illusion of movement.
There's also cut-out animation. It is one of the oldest and simplest forms of traditional animation that uses props and scenes cut from materials such as paper, cards, or fabric. These props are then filmed using stop-motion techniques.
The rise of digital animation has resulted in fewer traditional animations being produced and more digital animators. However, they remain hugely popular; each frame is a reminder of the painstaking hours of labor and is arguably more romantic than their more modern counterpart.
The process of creating traditional animations may differ depending on the medium. However, most begin with producing a series of storyboards to map out what the film will look like. These are then synced with the animation's pre-recorded voiceover to ensure that the animators know precisely when a character is speaking.
Character animators then work on creating model sheets to ensure there is consistency in terms of appearance and movement across the board, with many different animators involved.
Traditional animators move on to draw sequences of animation on transparent pieces of paper, one frame at a time, each frame having to match the voiceovers exactly to avoid discrepancy. What is left after this is to create a video of the animation itself!
All of these drawings are then transferred from paper to a thin, clear sheet of plastic called a cel, short for celluloid. Once a sequence has been loaded onto cels, the photography process begins using special animated cameras, after which the final film is sent for development and processing.
Pros and Cons of Traditional Animation?
Image via Darvideo
Some animators, like AI animators, may consider traditional animators as outdated because they still work with pencil and paper in place of a computer. Nevertheless, traditional animators still have their uses which we will discuss next.
- A pencil-drawn image by a traditional animator often leads to a spontaneous image full of feelings and emotions that are often difficult to convey with a computer animation program. Such graphics are vital to the early stages of a project when it's being fleshed out.
- While CGI images in digital animation can be a part of an animation business branding strategy, much of the work in terms of design is still on paper. Take, for instance, a printed brochure that might require a traditional animator and not a digital animator.
- Traditional animators can also do their thing without requiring any tutorials on how any animation software works because they don't need them. They give less importance to design and focus more on creating masterpieces.
- The first thing anyone would say when asked about the cons of traditional animators would be that they take a lot (like a lot) of time to draw out each frame of an animation scene which would be very correct. Traditional animators spend a backbreaking time designing every change in the character for every frame of a second.
- When errors occur, traditional animators need to repeat the whole drawing instead of deleting and correcting a mistake. The repetition of work can become tiresome and time-consuming.
- Traditional animators also require several tools and equipment per production. They include drawing tools, tracing tools, and photographic equipment. A large crew of traditional animators is also required to draw the characters, draw backgrounds and shoot photos of the final images, which all drive the production expenses higher.
Will AI Animators Replace Real Animators?
The short answer is no. This is simply because both of these animation techniques hold their own in the animation industry and provide something unique that the other simply can't.
Each comes with its own nuances and unique characteristics that make it irreplaceable. Real animators, for instance, have a certain level of emotion and imperfectness that AI animators may lack. Then again, AI animators are much faster at producing animations, and it can sometimes cut down on costs in the animation process.
While traditional animators use physical materials and activities, AI animators use machine learning software to improve the animation process and make it much more efficient.
Surely, everyone wants a means through which things, even animation, can be executed quickly. However, traditional animators spend more time drawing each frame, and mistakes can be easily made. But AI animators use complex software to make the visuals more realistic in quite a short time.
In the end, both of these types of animations have important roles to play in the continued development and growth of the animation industry. It’s clear to see that, because of their nuances, one will never replace the other.
If you’re interested in knowing more about animation and the business side of animation, check out our free masterclass, download a copy of our free marketing handbook, and check out our blog on “How to Start an Animation Studio”!