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A Machine's Hand.

By Adrienne Martini

AUGUST 23, 1999:  In my secret heart of hearts, I want to be an animator. The sticking points are many: my knowledge of the craft is shaky, my patience for tedious projects is small, and my skill as an artist is minuscule. Even my doodles are odd and misshapen—and not in a good way. Given all of this, I still think it would be fun, kind of in that crappy-day-at-work, think-I'll-join-the-circus-fantasy way. Which is why I find computer animation such a boon; it removes, at least, one stumbling block from my quandary since the machine can do some of the tedious stuff, like coloring millions upon millions of cels.

While early attempts at the whole computerized process were, at best, clunky, studios are now doing amazing work with these silicon-based inkers. For example, Pixar's latest A Bug's Life (G, 1998) which is a masterpiece of the form—partially due to the vocal talent, like Dave Foley, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Denis Leary, and David Hyde Pierce. But the story is pretty good, too. Foley's Filk is an ant who can only seem to do wrong. After he destroys the colony's food crop and ticks off some bigger bugs, Filk sets off on a hero's crusade in order to bring back some even bigger bugs to help him save face within the colony. No, it ain't War and Peace, but it is just enough of a plot to draw you into the Pixar team's incredible graphics. Hard to believe a soul-less machine churned out this flick—with the help of some very human animators. And the VHS version includes the charming short Geri's Game as well as all of the staged "out-takes" that helped drive folks into the theaters when A Bug's Life was first released at the end of last year.

Of course Pixar really made their name with the awe-inspiring Toy Story (G, 1995), which married the vocal stylings of Tom Hanks and Tim Allen with the computer people while exploring what toys really do when people aren't watching. Toy Story walked off with a '95 Golden Globe, as well as Oscars for Best Screenplay and Best Song (Randy Newman's "You've Got a Friend in Me"). My strongest hope is that the sequel—set to be released in November of this year—will be as magical as the original.

For me, it was Tron (PG, 1982) that started my whole enchantment with the idea of animation of the computer sort. Admittedly, the movie itself was lackluster, despite the work of Jeff Bridges and Bruce Boxleitner, but it was one of the first to combine computers and animation.

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