Gene Lee
Armen Boudjikanian · From fps #7 · April 26, 2006 | Frame-by-frame filmmaking, as many animators will attest, is not an artform of instant gratification. While it is true that the mastery of any art form demands years of creative and technical labour, most offer shortcut tools that allow artists to achieve quick results on which they can build as they progress. A ubiquitous example can be found in rock and roll: like animation, an artform that ranges between the "pop" and the "indie." Rock music offers the power chord. This instant gratification tool can be learnt within weeks and allows a guitarist to play (albeit limited versions) of the majority of chord progressions.

There has never been the equivalent of the power chord in animation, not even with the advancements of digital technology. Animation filmmakers instead seek the help of technical wizards to achieve the effects (and sometimes the scenes and the mood) they envision—whether it is elaborate camera work, custom-designed puppets or advanced computer capabilities. Even when artistic ingenuity has allowed a filmmaker to transcend technical issues, throughout the history of animation, important technical innovations have often been redesigned from production to production for stylistic purposes. For example, replacement animation (developed by George Pal in the 1940s) was used in Tim Burton's Nightmare Before Christmas but not in Corpse Bride.

Perhaps it is because of this perpetual dependence on craftsmanship that animation artists have accepted the extreme speed at which digital technology is evolving. It comes as no surprise that nowadays animation and effects studios of all scales revamp their production pipeline for virtually every major release. It is with these technical aspects of filmmaking in mind that I asked Gene S. Lee, senior software engineer at Walt Disney Feature Animation, some questions about the work he does in animation.

Want to read the rest of this interview?

You'll find it and many other articles in the March 2006 issue of fps, available for only 99 cents US.
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