Anthony Lane makes this observation about The Incredibles:
[Digital filmmaking of this kind] is, by definition, unable to cope with spontaneity. The camera no longer catches a feature, or a play of expression, on the wing; someone has to create a program for it and patch it into place.
The problem with machine based animation is that you cant get out what you dont put in. Live actors in real time on actual sets are inclined to work by accident and inspiration. Things slip into the performance that are not anticipated by the script writer or called for by the director. It is often these little grace notes that make the scene and the movie live.
But these graces notes dont happen in machine based animation. The film maker must think to put things in. And we dont add accidents on purpose. (Otherwise, they wouldnt be accidents.) So machine based animation often feels wooden and not very, um, animated. An effort is made to show “wind ruffling “hair, but the real stuff, the grace notes, the simple gifts, of spontaneity are hard to come by
I was thinking about Lanes remark when reading about a crisis that has now beset the world of education. Many school systems are keen to protect children from competition, and the failure and differentiation it creates. Indeed parents now complain about school plays that have starring parts. They prefer plays in which all parts are equal. The world of education is becoming a place where everyone is equal and no one is allowed to fail.
The effects are beginning to show.
For her vantage point as a Los Angeles-based psychologist, [Dr. Wendy Mogel] has witnessed the fallout of a self-esteem movement that began with the best intentions of protecting children from the emotional harm that comes from undermined confidence but which has instead left schools hamstrung by constant ego-protecting maneuvers and children with wrapped-in-cotton-batten lives.
In an earlier post, I noticed that the lives of kids have been highly programmed and indeed regimented. Here we learn that their lives are sanitized against ranking and risk.
Are we creating a Pixar generation? Will this be a group of kids so highly programmed, so cosseted that they will be incapable of risk taking and even the very animation on which our economy and culture now depends? The problem here it seems to me is very like the one observed by Lane. You cant get out what you dont put in. Raise children without surprises, with tests, without outcomes, without what the French call bouleversement, and we end up with kids who are ill prepared to create innovation, intellectual capital, creativity and change.
Ironically, our world becomes ever more a matter of bouleversement. And we have all made the personal accommodations necessary to cope with and contribute to such a world. There is evidence that we are getting the hang of it. We are getting steadily better at dynamism. But if we are raising a generation of cotton batten kids who are systematically kept from spontaneity, we will become of us? More to the point, what will become of them when we ask them finally not to work for a living but “risk for a living,” as we all now must?
I realize this makes me sound a little like David Riesman and other intellectuals of the 1950s who were persuaded that a new generation of conformists was in the works. The difference here is that Reisman and company believed that a commercial culture must flatten differences and creativity. But now the risk comes from the other side of the isle, from the well intentions liberals who believe that our children must be protected. Riesman was wrong, it turns out. The 1950s helped produce a generation that helped produce a fountain of innovation. Lets hope Im wrong, too.
Belgrad, Daniel. 1998. The Culture of Spontaneity: Improvisation and the arts in postwar Ameica. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Brown, Shona L, and Kathleen M Eisenhardt. 1998. Competing on the edge: strategy as structured chaos. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.
Florida, Richard L. 2004. The rise of the creative class and how its transforming work, leisure, community and everyday life. New York, NY: Basic Books.
Hayles, Katherine N. 1990. Chaos Bound: Orderly Disorder in Contemporary Literature and Science. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
Kelley, Tom, and Jonathan Littman. 2001. The art of innovation. New York: Currency/Doubleday.
Kouwenhoven, John. 1988. What’s ‘American’ about America. The Beer Can by the Highway. John KouwenhovenBaltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Lane, Anthony. 2004. Illustrated Life. The New Yorker. November 15, 2004, pp. 116-117.
McCracken, Grant. 2004. Is there a Ricky Williams effect? The blog here.
Owens, Anne Marie. 2004. Everybody fails. National Post. several days ago. (This is the source of the quote on Dr. Mogel. Sorry, I dont have the full reference. National Post does not allow access in any case.)
Postrel, Virginia. 1998. The Future and Its Enemies: The growing conflict over creativity, enterprise and progress. New York: The Free Press.
Riesman, David with Nathan Glazer and Reuel Denney. 1961. The Lonely Crowd: A Study of the Changing American Character. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Spar, Debora L. 2001. Ruling the Waves: Cycles of Discovery, Chaos, and Wealth from Compass to the Internet. New York: Harcount.