Computer animation can not replace real hand-drawn art

Using pens and paper brings artists closer to their work

The lost art of hand animation deserves a comeback. (Art by Kristen Frier/ Photo by Nicole Gonzalez Filos)

The visual effects (VFX) and animation industry should return to hand-drawn work with good old-fashioned pencil and paper. It just looks better, and it’s the right way to go.

VFX artists rely too much on computer software to bring to life the fantastic worlds and characters for movies and TV shows. Remember the early days of hand cramps and frustrating pencil smudges? People miss that. It’s what animation was about. It’s a lost art. 

It’s also simpler for artists. Unlike those fancy software and CGI techniques, you don’t need to constantly download updates or worry about data storage for physical drawing material. All you need is paper and art supplies that you can find almost anywhere. They’re also much more affordable, and don’t require hours of learning and experimenting for people to use.

You feel a better sense of accomplishment when your fingers feel sore from sketching out every detail, shade, and shadow of a futuristic city or the complex armour of an interesting hero. If that pencil and eraser could talk, they would say, “See how better off you are from that box you call an ‘advanced technology for the ages’? Only a matter of time before you work for Nolan.”

Even those faint pencil marks that remain after furiously erasing your mistakes are reminders of what makes drawing animation so worth it. It’s maddening, but you learn more from doing things the hard way, and seeing literal traces of your progress over time is encouraging.

Those smudges will teach you things like drawing more lightly the next time you’re sketching your projects. You can’t learn this from special effects apps. Sure, you can just delete your errors, but with no trace of them you won’t be reminded to do better and grow. A supervisor can give you feedback, but those pencil marks are the ultimate teacher.

Nowadays, VFX software from Houdini to Maya provides a virtual space for you to create whatever’s needed to fill up those fancy green screens.

Some people still draw storyboards by hand, but once you give animators their marching orders, they throw themselves into their work. From there, it’s just a series of clicks from the mouse mixed with occasional typing of the keyboard. Break time comes, and the artists look into a mirror. Their eyes are tired from losing staring contests with their computer screens. 

Art students complete tons of assignments and projects over the years using their laptops. It can be rejuvenating to take long breaks from a machine that rendered me emotionally numb by reading physical books, doodling in my sketchbook, or playing music. 

My eyes would thank me for these creative pursuits that didn’t involve looking at a bright screen for hours on end. Imagine how many more hours of visual anguish animators have to face in order to make their awesome art. Sketching their work by hand can save them from that pain.

Many artists might be surprised at how forgetting the software, and letting visual effects shine with a classic pencil and paper approach can result in more satisfaction and feelings of accomplishment in their work.