Television Reviews : 'Computer Animation'

"Computer Animation Magic," airing at 5 p.m. Sunday on KCET Channel 28, combines the cliches of high-tech boosterism with the unctuous tone of an old high school science film.

Much of the program consists of snippets taken from the show reels of various commercial studios, many of them no longer in business. The images are familiar--glittering chrome and neon shapes that zoom in and out of infinity--and so is the thrust of the program.

Computers are touted as an artistic panacea, although the visuals demonstrate only their effectiveness as an advertising tool. No mention is made of the more challenging work of computer animators like John Whitney Sr., Ed Emschwiller and Larry Cuba.

The script, by producers Geoffrey de Valois and Donna Cohen, extols not only the virtues of computers, but of specific computer systems and products. Instead of showing how a paint box system works, the omnipresent narrator explains what the Quantel Paintbox does. Cynical viewers may wonder if these suppliers underwrote the program.

Some of the information presented on "Magic" is simply inaccurate. A test film based on Maurice Sendak's "Where the Wild Things Are" is described as "the traditional style of film animation achieved through the use of 3-D graphics." Glenn Keane animated the characters by hand; computers were used to keep the figures in register to the background and to produce the colored images.

Although the narrator asserts that "the computer has flowered into a powerful tool for creative minds," Valois and Cohen ignore the thorny questions that surround the role of computers in fine art. Why aren't major artists using computers in their work? Why do so many computer-generated images juxtapose technical sophistication with an aesthetic void? Why hasn't computer imagery moved beyond the airbrushed "Star Wars" look that contemporary graphic artists abandoned years ago?

Computer graphics have had a profound effect on what Americans see every day, especially on television. The subject warrants a more intelligent and balanced examination than the superficial hoopla of "Computer Animation Magic."

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