A lot of stop-motion animators I know think 3D printing is borderline stop-motion.
What are your thoughts on this subject?
Cause really, they animate in CGI and just print it off.
Isn't that the same as animating on photoshop, colouring and everything, printing it on a transparent sheet, capturing it again and calling it Cel animation?
It's the same thing as replacement animation, which has been used in traditional stopmotion all along, though sparsely. Often faces or heads have been done with replacement animation, and occasionally, as in George Pal's Puppetoons, entire bodies. It allows for squash and stretch, which regular puppet animation doesn't, so it's more expressive in that sense. It takes a good deal more work in the making, but saves work in the animating. And it allows for simple plug-and-play animation - just grab the right piece according to what's written on the X-sheet, pop it on and keep animating. Clay animation also allows for squash and stretch but is time intensive during animation, so takes a different kind of work ethic and patience.
I guess technically I would say it's closely allied with stop motion and is often used in conjunction with it. Or if I'm feeling magnanimous I'll just say it is stop motion.
The actual facial animation is done by manipulating meshes on the computer, so it's computer animation. However, it is printed out in physical form, and photographed under real light. So that qualifies it as stopmotion animation, the same as older replacement techniques. Also the angle we see that face at is determined by the stopmotion animator on set. The head looks up or down, turns, that's not built in to the replacement faces. And all the body poses, which help to express feelings as well as get the character around the set, are purely stopmotion. So I'd say it is both.
2d animation where the artist draws each pose is still classical animation, whether it is drawn and painted on cels or drawn in a program like TV Paint Animation or Toonz. You still have to be able to draw, to stay on model, to put life into the movements. I've tried both cels and TV Paint, and it looks like my drawing in both mediums. Unfortunately. I don't know if anyone would actually take the extra step of printing it out onto clear sheets and photographing it, only to have a digital file again - that would add nothing to it as far as I can see. But 3d printing the faces and putting them on puppets, and animating those on a set, does add a degree of reality (a peculiar scale model kind of reality) so I can see why it's worth doing.
I do wonder, though - when you add cgi background characters, and more and more of the set is cgi, if you reach a point where you might as well skip the stage of making anything physical for that shot, and just render it out as a pure cgi shot. And if you do one shot that way, why not more? It could become just a token amount of stop motion, just like the big mechanical Di Laurentiis Kong, used for only a couple of shots in the film but up front in the publicity.
I see that I am only thinking of Laika's face printing here, but full body replacement animation exists as well as Strider points out.
I guess the camera angle and where the character is in the set are still determined by the stopmo animator, much like moving a static object around the set, but none of the poses have anything to do with them any more. So the stopmo becomes a more minor element. A bit more like compositing, only in a physical space. The actual day's work in the studio would be less of a job for a really skilled and talented animator, and more something where you'd hire a junior at lower wages. That would have been true on George Pal's replacement animations too I guess, you'd come onto set with all the creative work already done - lighting, camera position, setbuilding, replacement figures - and just plod through the instructions a frame at a time to get it on film. Much like working on a factory production line, you could still stuff it up, but you couldn't really make it better than the way it was planned. I wouldn't enjoy that - I like to leave some room for creativity in the actual animation process so it doesn't get too tedious.
... less of a job for a really skilled and talented animator, and more something where you'd hire a junior at lower wages. That would have been true on George Pal's replacement animations too I guess, you'd come onto set with all the creative work already done - lighting, camera position, setbuilding, replacement figures - and just plod through the instructions a frame at a time to get it on film. Much like working on a factory production line, you could still stuff it up, but you couldn't really make it better than the way it was planned. I wouldn't enjoy that - I like to leave some room for creativity in the actual animation process so it doesn't get too tedious.
That's exactly what Ray Harryhausen said about the days when he was one of those junior animators laboring away on the Puppetoons - he hated it because all the artistry was already done in the planning stages.
But for faces I imagine it would be different. For one, it's probably difficult and fiddly animating faces while trying not to accidentally bend the neck (I've never done facial animation). Doubtless a lot easier to pull one face off and stick on the next one, and it must be pretty cool to have a nice deluxe playset filled with every expression you need! I think it would allow you to stay more in the flow of the body animation, with only minimal futzing around with faces.
There are a number of quasi-digital techniques employed in what we do now as stop motion. I certainly don't hand paint lightning bolts or laser beams on each frame when I can do it in the computer faster and more realistically. For that matter, digital rig removal, editing, and even frame capture are hybrid technologies that were not even possible in the days of photographic film-based animation.
So one has to look at the why rather than the what or how.
Coraline was one of the early uses of replacement heads that had been built digitally, and then produced via 3D printing. Those weren't actually full heads, they were head/face segments that were magnetically attached to the puppet heads to get multiple expressions. The lines between segments were then rotoscoped out digitally in the final image.
Now that's an awful lot of work. Clearly Coraline could have been done effectively inside the computer, with digital heads, bodies, sets, effects, lights, etc. And it would look like Toy Story. Which is not to say Toy Story looks bad (I remember being amazed by it), but it doesn't look like Coraline.
Both of these productions are art. Both are the work of dedicated teams of artists and other professionals working to make their art. Certainly, there was not a compelling financial reason to make Coraline as stop motion. (Toy Story was as much a financial risk as Snow White was when it was made, but that's a different consideration.) Stop motion movies don't necessarily do any better at the box office than CGI movies, and they can be much more expensive to make.
But the producers and directors and artists and animators made Coraline as stop motion because that's what they wanted to do.
Techniques and technology are merely tools that allow us to express our creativity and imagination. The ones we choose are the ones we believe will best serve that purpose. Discussing whether one is this, or one is that, or this is better, or that is more authentic, shouldn't matter to the artist. We go where the muse takes us.