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Cartoon past, cartoon future?

Two views of animation facing off this summer

The studio calls the blending of Mike Mignola's flat graphic style with Disney's traditional animation "Dis-nola"  

From Paul Vercammen
CNN Showbiz Today Reports

(CNN) -- If you're a fan of animated films, this summer could be the Golden Age of the art form, a convergence of old and new, art and technology.

One style of animation -- two-dimensional hand-drawn -- could be heading the way of the dinosaur, but it's still raking in bucks at the box office with films such as Disney's "Atlantis: The Lost Empire."

And another style -- three-dimensional computer animation -- has a new box office hero in "Shrek," who took the computer-animated torch from the "Toy Story" series.

"Shrek," in fact, marks a stepping away from the old guard in more ways than one. It was created by DreamWorks, which has set its sights on overtaking Disney as animation's leading studio.

CNN's Paul Vercammen shows how new animated films push the technology envelope -- but are they art? (June 24)

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Former Disney head Jeffrey Katzenberg led the DreamWorks effort on "Shrek," which is credited with displaying lifelike emotions and expressions through computer recreations of actual facial muscles.

"This is state-of-the-art for right now," said Andrew Adamson, who co-directed "Shrek." "As Jeffrey likes to put it, it's probably state-of-the-art for two and a half minutes, until the next film comes out that's state-of-the-art."

Other groundbreaking films due this summer: Sony's photo-realistic "Final Fantasy" and Warner Brother's mix of live action, animation and computer animation, "Osmosis Jones."

"Shrek" is an example of how DreamWorks is competing with Disney using three-dimensional computer animation  

Drawing talent still necessary

On the flip side, Jules Engel, the founding director of the California Institute of the Arts and a contributor to Disney classics such as "Fantasia" and "Bambi," argues that true animated art should not be discolored by too many digital effects.

"If you take a master painter -- Degas or Picasso or any of those people -- you're looking at art and this to a degree could disappear if everything goes onto a computer," said Engel, 85.

Engel says you still have to know how to draw to make it in animation.

"Generally, you still have to do a storyboard, and a storyboard is all drawing," he said.

However, in this business there is the constant movement forward toward new technologies. And some, including Anne Thompson of Premiere Magazine, feel two-dimensional animation has finally met its match.

"I think there are cycles in the film business," explained Thompson. "Two-dimensional animation is coming to an end in terms of what was the height of Disney storytelling."

But for now, there's this summer, with a mix of styles of the past and future.

• Atlantis: The Lost Empire - Official Homepage
• 'Shrek' - official site
• Walt Disney Pictures - The Official Homepage
• DreamWorks SKG

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