Cybernaut 

Animation on a budget

Pixar Animation Studios is definitely onto something. Toy Story? $191 million in the U.S. A Bug’s Life? $163 million. Toy Story 2? $246 million. Monsters Inc.? $256 million. Finding Nemo? $305 million in the U.S. and counting. That’s five movies with a combined gross of more than $1.1 billion in the U.S., alone.

Factor in worldwide box office sales – animated movies translate really well into foreign languages – and video sales, and you’re probably looking at a gross two to three times as huge.

Factor in all the video games, board games, plush toys, and more and you can see why Pixar Animation (www.pixar.com) is sitting so comfortably.

How about DreamWorks SKG (www.dreamworks.com)? Shrek made more than $260 million in the American box office and Shrek2, due out in summer of 2004, should smash that mark. Antz was less popular, but still broke the $100 million mark.

Another 3D animated successes is Ice Age by 20 th Century Fox, with $110 million at the box office (www.foxmovies.com).

On top of the list of animated money earners you can lump a wide range of mainstream movies where the main characters were at least partially animated, like Stuart Little, The Hulk, Spider-Man, Star Wars I and II, Terminator 3 – the list goes on and on.

For all of the billions of dollars these movies have made, some of my favourite computer animated features are still crude and low-budget.

Take South Park for example (www.comedycentral.com/tv_shows/southpark// or www.southparkstudios.com).

The short film that got it all stared, The Spirit of Christmas, was five minutes long and featured a battle between Santa Claus and Jesus Christ. It is rough animation, featuring characters that were cut out of construction paper, and animated using stop-motion photography. You can check it out at www.killfile.com/soxmas/.

When creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone created South Park, they were offered all of the cartoon expertise in the world, yet they still insisted on using their own "crappy" brand of animation. Seven successful seasons and an Academy Award nomination later, the formula still works.

Although the South Park scenes aren’t made out of school supplies anymore, thanks to the miracle of scanning a lot of the South Park surfaces still appear to be made of construction paper.

The original characters were put together in Corel Draw (www.corel.com), and then animated using Alias Wavefront and Alias PowerAnimator 8.5 (www.alias.com) – a 3D animation program for a glaringly 2D show. The irony is that it takes an incredibly sophisticated piece of software to keep the show looking so cheap.

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