While researching The Pixar Touch, I spent a day at a university library looking through computer graphics journals of the 1980’s just to see what people were thinking about computer animation in its early years. In a 1984 issue of Computer Pictures magazine—now defunct, as far as I can tell—I was surprised and delighted to find this article by the renowned Disney animator Frank Thomas assessing the future of computer animation with a thoughtful, but skeptical, eye.
At this time, Thomas, one of the so-called Nine Old Men of Disney animation, was retired from a 43-year career at the studio. He had animated, among many other characters, the dwarfs of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, and young Bambi.
Ever eager to learn, he had taken trips during his retirement to visit a number of groups working in the new field of computer animation. Among these were the Computer Division at Lucasfilm, where a young animator named John Lasseter was working.
He came away with a generally negative view of the ability of computer animation to match the expressive qualities of hand-drawn animation:
An artist must sit at a console for long periods to program a motion, or create a movement that is complicated both in action and keyboard input. It is so much easier to pick up a pencil and simply draw the action. Old-fashioned animation has more control and more freedom, and also confers a greater range of expression.
He ended his commentary, however, on an encouraging and optimistic note. Read the whole thing: