If you think Jennifer Aniston's hair requires a lot of attention
for a "Friends" shoot, consider this: Of the four years it took to
make the sci-fi film "Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within," nearly a
year was spent coiffing the 60,000 hairs on the head of its new
digital Hollywood star, Aki Ross.
"Final Fantasy," the first digitally animated movie to feature
photorealistic characters like Ross, is just one of many animated
movies to challenge Disney's dominance in the brush-strokes and
pixels domain this year.
In the past, only a trickle of animated feature films made it to
the big screen. Now, studios like Sony, DreamWorks, and Nickelodeon
have joined Disney in producing such a rich variety of animated
films geared toward kids and adults, that Oscar has taken notice.
Disney's coming "Atlantis: The Lost Empire" and "Monsters, Inc."
are possible Oscar contenders in the new feature-length animation
category next year. But they'll face stiff competition from films
like "Osmosis Jones," "Jimmy Neutron," and "Shrek."
Animation is experiencing vibrant changes in both style and
direction. "I think being able to go to worlds you've never been
before, and to places you've never been before keeps people's
imaginations alive," says "Shrek" co-director Andrew Adamson. "It's
the public wanting to be refreshed with something."
Veteran Disney animation producer Don Hahn says the animation
boom started when studios took notice of the success of "The Little
Mermaid" (1989) and "Beauty and the Beast" (1991).
"I also believe that [with] movies like 'Men in Black,' 'The
Phantom Menace,' and 'The Mummy Returns' ... I think you're seeing
a blurring of the lines between what is animated and what is a live-
action movie these days," Mr. Hahn says. "All that adds up to a
In particular, people are responding to cartoon movies of the CGI
(computer-generated imagery) kind.
"It's sort of the year of the CGI," says Nickelodeon president
Albie Hecht. "Between 'Shrek,' 'Final Fantasy,' 'Jimmy Neutron,'
and 'Monsters, Inc.,' [there are] probably more movies done in CGI
now than [hand-drawn] cel animation."
The first movie to employ computer-generated imagery from
beginning to end came in 1995 with Pixar studio's "Toy Story." It
revolutionized animation because it allowed computers to create
three-dimensional models of characters that could then be
manipulated by the artist. Director John Lasseter won a special
Oscar for this animation milestone.
But the traditional divide between hand-drawn animation and
computer animation is increasingly an artificial one - cel artists
are quickly becoming as fluent with a mouse as they are with a
sketchpad or paintbrush.
Computers were first used in Disney's "The Great Mouse Detective"
in 1986 and were later used to create sequences like the ballroom
scene in "Beauty and the Beast." The three-dimensional, deep-focus
backgrounds of Disney's "Tarzan" and coming "Atlantis" are also
But although traditional animated movies of recent years, such as
"The Prince of Egypt," "Mulan," "The Emperor's New Groove,"
"Anastasia," "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," and "Pocahontas" have
performed well at the box office, few have replicated the sheer
drawing power of earlier bonanzas like "The Lion King" (1994) or
"Aladdin" (1992). Other features, like the acclaimed "The Iron
Giant," and Japanese "Princess Mononoke" failed to find a US
audience, while 2000's "Titan A.E." sunk Fox's animation studio
weeks after its dismal release.
At the moment it's the eye-dazzling, fully computer-animated
films, such as "Antz," "A Bug's Life," and the "Toy Story" movies
that have a "buzz" factor working in their favor.
"Video games have changed kid's aesthetics with film. They are
used to deep focus and detailed backgrounds," says Chris Lee,
producer of the $100-million-budget film "Final Fantasy. …