Last week bonnie discussed Bad Thai Disney Ripoffs and how technology for animation was putting it in reach of everyone. She speculated on how animated fanworks could one day be much, much easier to do. I of course wanted to add my own analysis.
Namely, taking the idea that someday technology could give us reasonable-to-high quality, quickly-done fan and amateur animation. Laugh as we will at the Thai Faux Disney, the quality of the animation is not horrendous – if it were a fanwork it would be considered pretty decent. So, building on the idea that technology is making animation easier and easier, what points do we have to reach to get to many people using available tech to jump on the animation bandwagon? When do fan animations (fanimations?) reach a point where, like music videos and so forth, anyone can at least give them a go?
Fortunately, I have a little experience to call on here – I used to be into home-brewed CGI way back in the day – with Bryce, Poser, and a few other technology. Now this was over a decade ago, back when graphic programs that allowed some basic 3D modeling and rendering were becoming more well known and widespread at reasonable prices. However I got to see how early "easily available" rendering tools worked and how people used them, and though I drifted away from my interest, I learned a lot, and now and then keep up on such things.
The odd thing was even back "in my day" there was great potential for people to do their own animation – even if today many simpler works would seem crude. But "fanimation" potential has been there for a long time. So extrapolating on what I saw from my dalliance in home CGI, and looking at trends today, here's my theory of what it'll take to end up with more fanimations:
Reasonably-Priced technology with reasonable support. First of all, good animation tools need to be available at the right prices and with enough support for people to use them. I'd say that there seem to be some good tools out there for people to use (people alone do some amazing things in Flash), and some open source technologies. I was able to dig up a few tools just by searching, such as this list here, and of course the ever-popular Blender. Some of the older tools like Bryce and Poser are still around.
However I'm not sure the support is there for people to really jump into animation without a heavy effort – or simply we'd see a lot more already. More support is needed, though my guess is that as online communities evolve, there will be more and more support, which leads to . . .
Good Supportive Communities That People Can Join. There actually are a lot of animation and CGI communities out there, some quite enduring and old. Those are in place from what I can tell (some where probably there back in the days I messed with CGI), and usually seem pretty welcoming. However people do need to be aware of them and communities will need to adsorb legions of potential fanimators. That will require . . .
A Critical Level of Awareness. Right now people, even technical people and experienced geeks, aren't aware of the power that's out there. I think for "fanimations" to become more widespread and common there needs to be a "critical awarenes" that makes a lot of people think "I should try that." We're not there yet, and I think it will require more and more "fanimations" to be published by people familiar with the technologies and communities to make others aware that this can be done. Of course when people are aware and want to try, they'll need to make sure the communities support them which means . . .
Communities will need to evolve to support more amateur fanimators. I doubt this will be much of a problem, though there might be soem conflicts of "pro versus amateur" and "original versus fanworks." Still there's a large amount of graphic and animation communities out there, and I'm sure they'll adapt. However to support fast fanworks for people with a more casual interest, there will need to be some support resources, and that means . . .
Premade Tools and Images. Fanimations will be easier to do for people if there's plenty of good premade tools, images, character models, environments, and so on. Fortunately online resources have been available for years, and I suspect as Fanimations get to be more popular, images and models of popular characters will become even more prominent. However there will need to be easy to use and get tools and graphic elements, so I suspect that will need to be gradual evolution of support tools for people who are more casual to get into animation. However using the graphic tools and premade elements will need one more thing . . .
Scripting And Storyboarding Made Easy. Plotting, getting characters to move, getitng the best camera angle, etc. Those are incredibly tough, and fanimation is going to need to have resources, from scripts to advice FAQs to tool modules, that will make thes easy. It may be easy to line up a character model and a setting, but getting the characters to move right and finding ways to get the camera to zoom and pan properly is really challenging. I expect these tools will evolve as more people get into animation
So ultimately I think that the tools are almost there, the community is almost there, but there needs to be increased awareness of the potential for at-home animation, which will lead to them joining communities, and that will help push tools and available utilities and resources to support the "fanimators."
Now how long will this take? Frankly, I see some inklings of it here and there, with amateur Flash animations, Machima, and more. But it's got a ways to go. I'd say we'd need another 5-10 years for fanimations to become noteworthy and more widespread.