Brad Bird Throws a Jab at Flash

he highlights the Marky Maypo TV spots from the 50s, which were brought to life by the late animation great John Hubley. Bird, who briefly featured a Marky Maypo spot in the masterful feature The Iron Giant, then posted this comment:

… this sort of old-school-at-its-best expertise was learned through a thorough knowledge of full animation, and the [sic] Eric is dead-on in mentioning that Hawkins knew just how to give weight and mass to the characters, though the characters are highly stylized (not unlike Goldberg’s own beautifully animated scenes in ZIGGY’S GIFT). I sometimes worry that people whose knowledge is limited to FLASH tricks will never be able to reach the level of skill demonstrated in these little demonstrations of genius.

Pencil Pro Studio Edition 2007?

Okay, maybe we’re overreacting a bit here. I often feel like the first line of Flash defense, and I refuse to let “Flash” become synonymous with “crap.” In his defense, Bird only calls out those who use “Flash tricks,” and we can only hope he’s stumbled onto the ocean of incredible Flash animation that features all the hallmarks of traditional animation. Case in point – The Flash Animation 10: Best Animated.


  1. We Flash Animators are tuff…we can take the occasional jibe…

  2. Last night I baked a steak for dinner because broiling is outside my realm of knowledge. It was so awful that I’ve conclusively determined that all ovens are crap.

  3. Gerard de Souza October 15, 2008

    Gosh, it seems as late I’m coming off as the blog contrarian but here’s my 2 cents:
    I think Bird’s comment is not dissing the tool but he qualifies it as those “people whose knowledge is limited to FLASH tricks…”.
    It’s the people, not the tool he is emphasizing. What if “people” were capitalized and not the word “flash”? Different emphasis.
    With his vast experience from TV to perhaps one of the greatest animated features,I can’t interpret the comment any other way. He’d probably say the same thing about people whose knowledge is limited to 3dcg tricks, too, emphasizing principles over the tool. I never read the word “crap” in his blurb.
    Let’s face it, “tricks” can eclipse principles especially when one finds themself in a fast paced
    production. Nothing really wrong with that either but principles get forgotten whether conciously or not.
    Strangely enough, I think the poster agrees with Bird but doesn’t know it.

  4. I honestly don’t see any jab at flash here at all. What I do see is a comment about a new generation of animators who rely too heavily on the automation things like Flash provide rather than learning how to accomplish these things the ‘old fashioned’ way.

    I believe his point is this… Animators need to learn these traditional techniques first. Doing this grants them the vital knowledge they need in order to utilize the technology properly.

    For example: You need to understand what is required to create an appropriate in-between for your desired result, before you can decide whether an automated process will work for it or if you have to get in there and draw it yourself.

  5. Author

    But why pick on Flash? You can take shortcuts with 3Ds Max, After Effects, Maya, a pencil…

  6. I think it is, in a wierd kind of way, an unintentional compliment. Flash is so well known that it’s sort of become synonymous with all 2D vector-tween-re-use animation.

    I’ve heard a bunch of non-animator people, even in the animation industry, refer to places that use toonboom or what have you as ‘flash animation studios’.

    As for the picking on Flash and not on other shortcut-heavy mediums or poorly animated projects…

    There are a whole lot of beautiful 3D features out there that have sort of eclipsed all the crappy 3D animation in the public eye.

    The same can be said for traditional animation. The amazing works of art that have been released over the decades drown out the turds.

    Unfortunately, the same can’t really be said for the vector programs…

    In my opinion, given the same budget and resources as any of the recent 3D CGI blockbusters, talented artists could put out something of equal or greater integrity using a program like flash. There just hasn’t been the opportunity, and a lot of people don’t realize that.

  7. Flash….way more than any 3D program, is about the individual animator/artist getting to do their own thing designwise. We all use the tricks of the trade (resuing art, tweening, etc) to ply our trade….it makes it affordable as opposed to traditional animation options. The tricks are a big part of it, but it doesn’t substitute for quality, we all know that, and make sure that the quality of the art is there, be it character design, background art, or nice Flash animation techniques.

  8. im not a fan of the guy but hes right

  9. Fonce Falooda October 15, 2008

    Yeah, Brad’s right. We’re kinda being sensitive, because we’re used to getting poked by grumpy old-schoolers, but in this instance, no harm was meant.

    Like if he’d said that a person needed to know more than Bob Ross’ “Happy Little Tree” tricks to be a good painter, we wouldn’t bat an eyelash. But since it’s Flash, we get all bent! ;)

    Calm down, everyone (myself included), and get drawing. :)

  10. Andyman and Joe have great points. If a flash animated film had a Pixar budget it would be amazing. If Pixar made a flash animated film it would be amazing. It’s not just the tool or the artist we’re talking about, it’s also the time and money invested in the tool. Flash unfortunately has been used primarily for free internet animation and cheap TV budgets. Which is fine, there’s a market for that, but it doesn’t have to be limited to that. I think Pixar or Brad should give a Flash feature or short film a shot, I doubt it would leave anyone wanting.

  11. Joe,Corrao October 15, 2008

    The other thing…looking at that Maypo ad (I’ve seen it many times) Its great but its a far cry from what Disney and the big studios were doing at the time. I’m sure people at the time saw in it some of the “Tricks” of the time, based on the budget and workforce…just like us Flashers.

  12. Just for the sake of historical accuracy, John Hubley had next to nothing to do with Gerald McBoing Boing. That film was directed by Bobe Cannon. Because of Hubley’s supervisory role of overseeing the studio’s output at the time, he did receive a “supervising director” credit, but his involvement was next to none.

  13. i find it funny that bird brings up flash, generally small budget tv stuff, and not 3d animated movies, that probably use more stock “8 frame anticipation, then stretch, then squash, then…” than flash stuff. i remember seeing a trailer for meet the robinsons and every character moved the same way regardless of size and demeanor. i’m willing to bet they had a slightly bigger budget than a weekly web cartoon.

    i can see his argument, when you’re taught with a program, are you learning animation or are you learning the program? there’s a tradeoff for sure. i get really bored when i do a lot of symbol animation and i’m not drawing, it’s a different process, but again i’d relate it more to doing 3d animation and say because of the capacity of flash to allow the user to DRAW learning animation utilizing flash can create a far more full animating experience than can say, maya.

  14. I had to re-read it a few times, because my initial reaction was anger, but I get what he’s saying now:

    “I sometimes worry that people whose knowledge is limited to FLASH tricks will never be able to reach the level of skill demonstrated in these little demonstrations of genius.”

    He’s not even mentioning people who are traditionally trained, and even then, he’s only expressed a “worry” or concern that people who’ve learned animation “the flash way” MIGHT not be able to do what the old greats did. I see that more as a, “Go ahead and prove me wrong” kinda statement, which I think we all agree, the quality Flash animation out there can speak for itself.

    But again – I AM a little tired of hearing people rag on Flash. Apparently people have forgotten that Maya and 3D Studio Max also tweens FOR you, and there is absolutely NO shortage of bad 3D animation floating around on the web.

    Moral of the story: Learn your basic principles of animation kids. The tools you choose to use are up to you.

  15. I think its a fair and reasonable point he’s making. Although I would have said (from a London perspective) that that was probably more the case a few years ago and less the case now.

    Personally, I’m of the belief that Flash is to Animation industry what Punk was to the record industry, and that can only be a good thing.

    God save the Queen.

  16. I do think it’s a bit of a jab at Flash, but mostly at Flash tweening. It’s a bit silly, considering how many animators don’t use shortcuts like this anymore, but whatever, to each his own.

  17. Flash is a tool that fuels a large chunk of the animation industry. Yeah some of the stuff the program can do is cheesy and some of it is great. Sometimes its clients preferences and deadlines that can lead to some poor quality work and other times its the artist in the cockpit calling all the shots making amazing films.

    … and the war rages on. :)

  18. I think the industry perpetuates the stigma of shortcut-heavy Flash animation. There is the assumption that doing a show in Flash will be a fraction of the cost of something done traditionally or in 3-D. “Let’s just do it in Flash” gets thrown out a lot. The small budget means tighter deadlines and less manpower, so the animators have to resort to the tweeny poppy shortcuts just to meet their deadlines.

    Unfortunately this demand breeds a new type of Flash animator that knows the shortcuts inside and out, but not much else.

    It’s often hard to find good traditional animators who are also skilled in Flash, which is unfortunate. I think they are scared off by the climate of the Flash industry and choose to learn 3-D and work on features.

    Brad isn’t pointing his finger at Flash but at those who use it as a crutch instead of a tool.

    To all the traditional animators making magic in Flash, keep fightin’ the good fight!

  19. Mike O and de Souza have the best points.
    It’s a tool, and Flash will always be the scape-goat cause it was the first of its kind, Harmony/Toonboom and many others will follow, but Flash is currently the most widely used because of it’s simple-to-use nature. It (unfortunately) makes television animated series production possible to get made with a very small budget, the result is often seen as limited or minimal animation.

    If budget & time factors are increased to any project (with the right talent) the quality will increase, and it’s is the method and approach that counts, not the software. Full animation is possible and Flash can be made to look nearly exactly like paper/traditional animation. Classically trained animators simply need the time and budget and structure to work within those means and then genius is produced, their talents come through.

    A reliance on the ‘tricks’ is necessary when you need to keep food on the table and the production’s budget is limited, one needs to find shortcuts in order to get the job done. But you see all the time when you have a bigger budget and more time spent on art direction and timing you can break that bad Flash reputation to pieces.
    Look up clips of TOOT & PUDDLE, there’s some fine stuff there.

    And take a look at these people using Flash as a digital paper tool, it’s happening more and more often:
    Rune Brandt
    Rachel Morrison

  20. Watch Toy Story — pretty horrific walk cycles at the dawn of the 3D era. Relax Brad, technology takes time to get into the right hands.

  21. Brad is completely within bounds of his criticisms of Flash animation.

    He’s criticizing the users, not the tool. I think he knows that most animators who use flash are not formally trained in animation because flash made animation so accessible to the average person. Tricks became a substitute for drawing, and most never learned WHY animation works the way it does. Most flash animators haven’t used anything else or tried other mediums.

    Some of the best “flash” animators I know have had to unlearn what they have learned. Myself included.

    Don’t be a Flash animator. Be an animator who happens to use Flash.

  22. As someone who is currently a Flash animator, I think not only is he right, but the potential problem is far, far, worse. Okay, so you can say Flash isn’t the culprit – does it help if you say “Flash and Flash-equivalents”? Flash just gets mentioned because it’s the best known.

    I’d throw the same criticisms at Harmony and other systems.

    Thing is, your site here shows that there are loads of talented people doing some really great things in Flash. It would be wrong to take anything away from those people and would be totally wrong to say or imply that those people aren’t talented. They are.

    But this is something I’m talking out on my own blog at the moment. The impact that production Flash (or equivalents) will be huge. Whole generations of people who, while still probably producing some entertaining things, won’t have that drawing background behind them.

    But there are people who work in Flash who are great at drawing? Of course there are. You’ll find some of the best are people who have traditional training. And those that don’t and are still good, well, practice makes perfect. Think about what you learn while drawing. Then think of what kind of practice someone in the traditional system got on top of any college training.

    Well, as I worked out on my blog, the difference is around 7,000 finished approved drawings a year.

    What happens when there are no more people left who have that practice?

  23. Author

    Hey, Bitter. Thanks for chiming in.

    Your comments are all supposed with the assumption that these Flash and Toon Boom artists are “replacing” traditional TV animators. You’ll surely remember that there was practically no television animation in the US up until Flash arrived. I worked on this type of network show, which were all storyboarded here and sent to Korea. You and Bird are blaming a symptom, not the problem.

    What’s the alternative you’re suggesting, Bitter? We animate 100% traditionally? That’s fine, as long as you’re willing to work for free for 14 hours a day. Unless you animate in a few rare buildings in the US, traditional animation just isn’t feasible in this new TV economy. Licensing fees are just too small, and the overall TV financial model is just plain broken. On top of that, budgets will likely get smaller before they get ever grow.

    What got Bird all worked up is this – to enable these (hundreds of) jobs to return to the US, budgets rely heavily on re-use animation, which often results in “Flashy” work. I don’t deny that there’s plenty of “Flashy” animation on TV, but I’d rather celebrate the fact the Flash and Toon Boom helped bring jobs back home, and that lavishly-animated series like Superjail can now be done ENTIRELY in the states.

    This has never been my approach, but the same ire that is cast on the Flash community could be thrown right back at the “old guard” for letting 2D animation escape our border. What happened guys? Weren’t crafty enough to save our legacy? No smart enough to come up with cost-saving solutions? But that’s not what we do – we focus on how Flash and other technologies are bringing jobs back.

    What we need is the older/wiser generations of animators to continue learning these new digital tools and pass along traditional skills to the new artists. Also, schools need to teach a marriage of technology and artistry, as opposed to one or the other. Lastly, artists need to continue learning – and drawing, drawing, drawing…

    Consider that Flash and these other digital tools are still in their infancy. As more traditional artists get their hands on them, they’ll pass on their skills that focus more on the fundamentals of animation. These leaders will empower those who don’t yet value (or understand) these fundamentals.

    Flash is not the problem. Quite the contrary, it enables one of our best solutions, and is one of the key forces “saving” TV animation production in the US.

  24. Unfortunately, on the ‘what do you suggest?’ question, you leave me without an answer, Aaron, which I realise is unhelpful and makes any griping about the Flash system seem like pointless negativity. I wish I had an answer.

    And you’re absolutely right on the positives. For a short time, it has saved animation production in the US and other countries. If it weren’t for that, you can be sure I’d be out of a job right now.

    But it is keeping me employed because the costs can currently compete with what it would take to animate something traditionally in somewhere like Korea. But for how long? How long will it be before most, if not all, Flash production gets shipped abroad for even less? At prices we can’t compete with?

    That’s simply financial though. What Brad Bird is talking about, and what is striking me at the moment, is the creative impact it will have.

    In one respect, it has an immensely positive creative impact – it allows people to realise ideas and make short films who otherwise never would have been able to. That is fantastic.

    But the learning of the craft, the difference that drawing 8 hours a day in a studio makes and everything that will be missing for a whole generation of animators, can only take a huge hit. It has to. Schools can only teach so much. And most people employed in Flash production are employed to get volume. It’s less about the fundamentals and advancing animation, then it is about exactly what you’re talking about – competing financially.

    So you’re right. Flash keeps people employed. It can compete with traditional outsourcing. People do some great projects with it. And, most of all, I don’t have a workable solution in terms of the industry.

    But just because I don’t doesn’t discount the effect that industry-wide Flash production is already having and will have to a far greater extent in another generation’s time.

  25. Author

    I suppose with the dropping US dollar, the studio’s money doesn’t make such an impact overseas. This could very well lead to more jobs in the US. I’ve already seen big swings in overseas/domestic production in the short 9 years Flash has been in the mix, so I’d expect it rollercoaster like that for years. As you suggest, we don’t know what the future holds.

    Bird shouldn’t waste too much energy worrying about the future of 2D animation. Take any decade of animation in the last 40 years, and there’s plenty of garbage that would make you worry about where it’s all headed. I’m a positive person by nature, so take this for what its worth, but the net result will be a new legacy of great animation – much of it produced here in the US.

    Plus, this new digital era is creating an undeniable tidal wave of brilliant animators. The downside, which Bird chose to focus on, is the onslaught (see of mediocre stuff. If you go watch some of the stuff from the 1990′s Liquid Television series, you’ll realize that the bar has gone WAY up in the indie animation world, and there’s WAY more stuff out there. We’re in a new golden age, and the side effects aren’t always tasteful, but its better than animation recession.

  26. See, I think it’s not so much just about the future of 2D animation, but the future of animation itself. The difference in the training ground is immense.

    The thing is, it’s not just in the results. You’re right that there is garbage in any period. Some absolute horrific stuff has been created in what people have called golden ages. Just as there is now.

    But I’m not just talking now. I’m talking about where it will go. The big difference is that I once saw studios of people drawing each and every day of their working life, each drawing telling them something about structure, weight, character, flow, timing, line quality, pleasing shapes, etc, etc, etc. I now see studios of people spending their days hiding symbol changes, or the joins, making choices on expressions from what’s available in their libraries and so on.

    Of course, the people who are really into it will learn outside the studio and work and work to hone their skills. But then, so would people in days gone by and that was after a full day of practice.

    Although I’d see the same results from 3D which Brad Bird seems to have embraced.

    I look at some great work in Flash and 3D from people who trained and worked traditionally and then moved with the tides. And I wonder – could that happen the other way around? Personally, I very much doubt it.

    But ultimately, Aaron, I think you’re totally right – we’re blaming the symptom and not the problem. And, while I think that won’t make the end results any better, is Flash production better than no production at all? Or production of 80s toy cartoons being shipped off? Yes. Though I see it as all part of the same thing and Flash is just the latest chapter in that saga. But my answer is still yes and that’s something I’ll have to consider and weigh up with all this.

    And, yes, there is some great indie Flash work and definitely more stuff out there. As a means of expression, I think Flash absolutely rocks. Never before has an animator had the means to be able to produce something of such quality themselves without being studio owners or multi-millionaires.

  27. Yes, you’re overreacting.

  28. I can’t add your rss feed to my reader, what could be the problem?

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