Saturday, October 06, 2007


High Budget, Low Tech

A post on Neatorama points at this new Sony ad.

According to Youtube, that's 40 animators,3 weeks, and 3.5 tons of clay. But aside from a crane for some of the later shots, unless I'm missing something, there isn't anything involved in the production out of the reach of a regular person. Just a still camera, some clay and perhaps some armatures, and loads and loads of patience. (That, and no doubt crushingly expensive city permits.)

I was reminded of this recent Sprint commercial that uses the "light painting" technique, similarly building up moving pictures from lots of still camera images, this time with long exposures and bright moving lights.

Again, nothing that would be out of the reach of regular folks, as the number of "light painting" entries on Youtube suggests.

What both of these commercials share in common is that they employ low-tech means within the reach of everyone, but in applications that require the addition of time and resources that are all but impossible for anyone without really deep pockets. Unless our hypothetical regular person with the still camera, clay, and bright lights has forty or so friends willing to devote three weeks of their lives to putting together a thirty-second short film, there's no way that anybody but a big outfit could pull it off.

But isn't the same thing true of most forms of animation? It doesn't cost much to paint a cel, but it takes lots of money to get enough cels painted to make an animated film. To some extent the same is even true of computer animation; an affordable Mac can render a single frame that looks fabulous (consider how the director of Sky Captain got started), but you need a lot of money if you want to create a movie in less than geologic time.
Definitely a fair point, Ted. I think what struck me was the material cost here appeared to be comparatively nil (clay or lights, and camera), contrasted with what I think of as the higher costs associated with other forms of animation. But you're quite right that the production costs of other forms of animation are at their most fundamental level quite low, as well. And with things like Flash, can even be done in relatively short amounts of time. Maybe it's just the "low tech" aspect of it that appeals to me, for some strange reason (perhaps ironically, given the amount of time I spent each day thinking about things "high tech").
I myself am a big fan of stop-motion animation, for some of the same reasons I like genre fiction; I think there's something fantastical about making ordinary materials and inanimate objects come to life.
I think I can trace my own fascination with the form to early exposure to things like the Rankin & Bass holiday specials and Art Clokey's Gumby series, and for much the same reason you cite. The characters are clearly real things, but move in ways that they simply shouldn't be able to do.
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