Saturday, November 24, 2012

The day the Chancellor of the Exchequer called me a Luddite

Me in my 2D days
Years ago, back in 1999, I was working at DreamWorks in Los Angeles when some old University friends came to stay. They were Frances Osbourne and her new husband, George. At the time George was a wannabe Tory MP, working his way up the greasy political pole and hoping to get elected, far from the financial and political power he wields today.

I used to enjoy having guests in LA. Being so far from home, I tended to get relatively few visitors, and it was fun to take people to parties in the Hollywood Hills and give them tips on conversation with total strangers. "If you get stuck", I would say, "ask them how the script is going. It never fails".

I knew Frances from University, long before she got married (she is now a very successful novelist in her own right) but I had never met George. He asked me a lot about animation, a world he knew relatively little about. At the time I was working on Spirit - Stallion of the Cimarron, a 2D hand-drawn animated film, not the last 2D film made at DreamWorks, but among the last.
George Osborne. Photo: H.M. Treasury
But by then the writing was on the wall for hand-drawn films, still made in essentially the same way as "Snow White" had been back in 1937. There was already plenty of computer animation around in the movie theatres and and George asked me why I wasn't doing that - after all it was obviously the future. "Are you a secret Luddite?" He asked me, referring to the unemployed machine smashers of 19th century England, who tried to hold back the Industrial Revolution. "Not at all" I said, "CGI is just a different style of animation, and personally I prefer the hand-drawn style". "But surely", he persisted, "you need to keep up with new technology?" After a bit more probing I became grouchy. "Look", I finally said, "I just don't want to spend my day sitting at a desk and staring at a computer screen. It's not how I want to live my life - OK?" He paused for a moment, leaned back in his chair and laughed: "you are a Luddite".
What many 2D animators would like to do to 3D technology
It wasn't until years later in 2003 that I finally girded my loins and learned to love CG, this time at Blue Sky Studios in New York, where I spent a tough apprenticeship learning the new technology. It was hard work and very painful, but it saved my career. Plus I got to work on an excellent movie - "Robots", directed by the fabulously talented Chris Wedge and Carlos Saldanha.

George had been right. I was a Luddite. He had seen right through me. And so today, every time I look at a new piece of technology and think "oh, it'll never catch on", or - worse still - "I can't face the effort involved in learning it", I repeat these words in my head:

"I am not a Luddite".


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