Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Tyer Debate

One animator who seems to be gaining favor long after he hung up his pencil is Terrytoons’ Jim Tyer. Some folks absolutely love him. Others think he’s a total hack. Thad K. - a big Jim Tyer fan- put up another Tyer clip on his Animation ID blog yesterday. Here’s the clip (in case you haven’t already seen it)

Cartoon Brew picked up the conversation today. The comments in the Brew post show the gulf between the lovers and haters of Tyer’s approach to animation.

Those who don’t like his work…

I ‘d argue(based on that example) that he’s terribly inept as an animator. The animation is so off model it’s like he did it with his eyes closed. The lip sync is also pretty bad, as well as the comic timing.

I agree with the first half of the article: the animation is wrong, sloppy, and way off model.

And those who do…

Tyer proves there’s much more to animation than being on model and in sync.
That walk near the end of the clip is insanely great.

The vaults are full of neat and on-model cartoons, and they are boring. Literal minds may accuse Tyer of many things but not boredom, that cardinal sin of filmmaking.

My take?

I think Jim Tyer should be celebrated, if for no other reason than he provided an striking, engaging and successful counter-point to the over tight Disney style hegemony. It’s as if he was trained by a witch-doctor on some tropical island and was dropped into the world of animation with a way of animating that was completely foreign to other animators (and against the “rules”)- yet so much fun for audiences. You never get the impression that Tyer wanted to show off his fine art skills. Many detractors say he didn’t have any. Even so his inbetweens show a masterful grasp of the power of shapes changing over time to represent more than just motion, but energy and a thriving sense of life. He could see things working out in motion that apparently nobody else could. Looking at his drawings by themselves you’d never think they’d work- but they not only work, they excel! He was the pure antithesis of the overly polished smoothness seen in much of western commercial animation. He seemed to thrive on the idea of showing something underneath the motion. His motion wasn’t motion- it was an explosion of a whole mix of things. He entertains with no apology for form. A slap-dash factory like Terrytoons was actually the perfect place for a guy like Tyer. He was a huge footage producer, which means he did all this crazy stuff without too much suffering and angst- he pounded it out like pancakes. He’s living proof that one doesn’t need to work at “Insert Big Name Feature Film Studio Here” to be validated as a great animator. Some guys would be utterly wasted in those environments. The Jim Tyer mold of animator works best not as a cog safe in the womb of the larger collective, but out in the wild and woolly world of low budget where one animates on a wire without a net- a place where most celebrated cogs seize up and wither.

Those who don’t like Tyer generally fall into what I call the “serious animation” camp. In this school of animation, animation is a high art calling. It demands great dedication to craft. Suffering, if you will. A kind of omnipresent angst over the acceptability of one’s efforts. Fine tuned technical mastery of motion, drawing, accuracy of form, polish, attention to detail, etc. is the fullest expression of this high artistic calling. Even if pressed into the service of inane, sappy and dimwitted shows, the high art of animation is serious business. Thanks to some popular books and well structured marketing this dogma of animation has been preached as gospel to all the animated world ever since.

In the serious school of animation, entertainment often takes a back seat to gaining respect. I never get the impression that Tyer was gunning for much respect- either from the audience or other animators. It appears that he avoided falling into the trap of animating to other animators (something for us to think about). He was too busy having fun and trying to get the audience to have fun as well. General audiences don’t watch animation to respect the animators. Animators do that. General audiences watch animation to be entertained. In this regard, despite his serious technical ‘oddities’, Tyer delivered in buckets.

Obviously I care about doing animation well. I write about it here often enough. But I see the Tyer debate as a reminder that this goal of excellence in animation needs to be put into proper perspective. Technical excellence is not the bus driver- entertainment and connecting with your audience is. Only in service to these goals is technically excellent animation of any value. Devoid of these defining guides technical excellence in animation is mere ego stroking and hype.

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