I can’t not wonder how the Japanese anime industry is going to change in the years to come. I look at the Animator Expo videos, and half of them are basically full CGI. Sometimes it takes minutes to finally get a giveaway hint that it’s not hand-drawn animation. High-polygon models, refined cell-shading, and good direction can disguise CGI really well.

Needless to say, CGI allows much smoother animation much cheaper, since you don’t need people to draw each and every tween, nor worry about the number of tween frames (tweeners are paid by frames drawn usually). People argue that hand-drawn animation still looks better, but how long is that going to hold true?

And that’s not all either. Some Singaporean company developed a tool that can generate tweens automatically from keyframes. I’ve seen it in action, and it can do really impressive stuff. There’s still a bunch of inconvenient limitations to it, but it’s already capable of drawing tweens just based on (digitalized) keyframes. How long is it going to take until human tweeners are out of jobs?

The issue though is that all keyframers start as tweeners. They learn the basics by drawing hundreds and hundreds of tweens every month, and then start drawing their own keyframes based on that immense amount of experience. And even then, it takes talent and years of further experience to actually get good at it. But what if they don’t get to pile up that tweening experience, because automatic tools can handle it faster, better and cheaper?

If animators have to start from drawing keyframes, how will that influence their learning curve? Their style? The quality? Can the CGI way (that animators only do keyframes) be applied to hand-drawn animation without issues?

I’m so looking forward to seeing how it’s going to develop. I remember the Sunrise CEO Miyakawa stating that high-profile mecha action should focus on hand-drawn animation, instead of taking the easy way out with CGI. But will that mentality persist when CGI can produce better results, more consistently, and cheaper? We’ve all seen the sorry “quality” hand-drawn animation collapses into when a project is out of schedule. Is it worth it?