I’ve been going through old Disney films this week, and something struck me when I was watching the Making of Bambi featurette on the Bambi DVD. I self-identify as a computer animator; I think of myself as a traditional artist, as I still have more control over my cheap ball-point pens than I have ever managed to achieve on a tablet, but in terms of animation my mindset is strictly digital and primarily 3D. Working with Maya, I’ve realized that there is a habit in 3D to deal with anatomy, volume and structure primarily during the modeling and rigging stages. Once the character is rigged and ready to animate, it is easy to stop paying so much attention to those concerns. Obviously body mechanics are central to any good animation, and body mechanics wouldn’t exist without anatomy; however, it is dangerously easy to trust in the constraints and controls built into a rig to preserve proportion and anatomy while we focus more on timing, framing and strong poses.
The Bambi animators, by contrast, spent even greater amounts of time in pre-production studying the anatomy of their subjects, and every artist on that film was forced to continually readdress those problems of anatomy and form in detail on every single frame they touched. Even more time was spent learning to draw those deer than is spent on most 3D rigs. As a result, even individual frames have a deeper level of concern and consideration than you tend to achieve in CG. Watching Bambi right after another film like Open Season, that comes across very strongly.