Monday, January 13, 2014

Between Books - The CG Story: Computer Generated Animation and Special Effects

Between Books - The CG Story: Computer Generated Animation and Special Effects

The CG Story: Computer Generated Animation and Special Effects by animation historian Christopher Finch is a comprehensive history of computer generated animation that presents the history of this now common application of computer technology from it's origins to its maturity today.  Finch documents early attempts by computer pioneers to use their computing power to create images.  He then outlines how these early images lead to very early computer animation by pioneers like Ed Catmull which would eventually lead to a dream to create an entire animated feature with computing power.  The author outlines the evolution of that dream within Pixar which eventually lead to the creation of Toy Story.  This is followed by a discussion of computer animated features and how they evolved the art and the growing use of computer generated special effects in live action films.  Finch's words are illustrated by 350 images, primarily showing the results that programmers and artists generated.

The CG Story is a big big book.  It is over-sized, and though I tried, it is not really a book you snuggle to in bed.  The size allows the illustrations to be gorgeously displayed.  There is no squinting for a reader in reviewing and appreciating the images.  My only real complaint of the book is some images are turned on their side, and the size and weight of the book really does not allow a quick orientation change.  But honestly that is a very small complaint.

Finch's text is well researched and has clarity.  Especially in the early portions of the book there are a lot of technical concepts and words that could intimidate a non-specialist if handled incorrectly.  However, I was able to keep pace with the text and never felt like I was missing out on content.  If asked for a history of computer generated animation, that went beyond Pixar, I could see myself recommending this text in a heartbeat.

For me the real star of The CG Story was the discussions of character animation.  And Finch gave me much to think about.  His comparison of Toy Story to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs helped me see Pixar's new film in a new way.  Finch notes how for both the Disney and Pixar animators working on their first full-length project they were pioneers into a unknown world.  And I enjoyed the use of Glen Keane's comparison between Disney (Once upon a time) and Pixar (Wouldn't it be cool if) story approaches.  That small included quote really made me see the two studios in a different way, and I wonder how those approaches will continue to bleed into each other with movies like Brave and Wreck-It-Ralph.  Finch's discussion of animated features includes nearly every important feature including key international releases.  Though Mars Needs Moms did not make the cut.  Of course that is really not a bad thing!

As a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I was excited to see the inclusion of special effects.  Though I was shocked to find out that Hellicarriers were not real, I loved a peak into these computer generated specials effects along with an understanding of their costs.  I did not fully grasp the complicated system of computer generated special effects, with most movies contracting to numerous houses and even having competitors work on effects for the same frame.  And I appreciated Finch's discussion between directors who rely heavily on computer generated effects and those that prefer the "weight" of a practical effect. 

The CG Story by Christopher Finch details the evolution of the idea of using computer generated images in theatrical releases.  The text outlines key moments, like the growth of Pixar, in both character animation and live action special effects.  And that history is punctuated by the gorgeous color images used extensively in the book!

Review Copy Provided by Publisher

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