Winter 2016

About the Magazine

Northwestern is the quarterly alumni magazine for Northwestern University.
Contact or contribute to the magazine.


Life In CG

Story Tools

Share this story

Facebook  Facebook
Twitter  Twitter
Email  Email

Print this story

The Man Behind the Magic

Life In CG

Find Us on Social Media

Facebook  Twitter  Twitter

Longtime Disney director John Musker talks about the differences between traditional, hand-drawn animation and conputer-generated animation.

In many ways the computer-generated and hand-drawn animation processes are largely the same in the story development stages. In either format, storyboarding is a multiyear process. Once the script is set, actors provide life to the characters.

But creating those characters and the world around them and moving them through that world is very different depending on whether the artist is working in CG or traditional animation. Traditional, hand-drawn animation, or 2D animation, is a simpler, more linear process, says John Musker ’75, but it takes longer to animate. “We essentially animated Moana in about six months,” he says. “And if this were a hand-drawn film, it would have taken a year and a half to do that.”

However, CG animation requires a much longer setup time, Musker says. The CG animator is essentially a puppeteer. “You have to put, in effect, an armature inside the character controls that direct how you can move that character. And then you have to find how you blend these different shapes so they don’t interpenetrate and they feel appealing once they move and don’t look too rubbery, so they’re plastic but don’t look too stiff and blocky.

“Once people get up to speed moving the characters around, you can reiterate scenes or change a camera angle without having to literally redraw,” Musker says. “You could never do the same thing in hand drawn. That’s been kind of liberating.”

CG also allows for more effects animation. In Moana — a film in which 80 percent of the scenes feature effects, 30 percent more than any other Disney film — there’s lava, rain, mist, steam and wind, all thanks to the effects animators.

Despite the advantages of CG animation, the idea of creating a character with pencil and paper still has its appeal.“ The 2D animator can completely, 100 percent freely create,” says Bill Kroyer ’72, who teaches digital arts at Chapman University in Orange, Calif. “The 3D animator does not have that freedom. He pretty much has to work with the tools and the model he’s given. 2D is pure illusion, and 3D is more of a representation.” — S.H.