We in, at my animation school every year we decide to we make a piñata based on a recent so Polar Express made it one year. We made a piñata of Tom Hanks in Polar Express and uh, we were gonna beat the crap out of it but unfortunately they made it out of duct tape so boy it was a long, everybody got a swing. I thought they then ended up having to tear it down and stomp on it and then it ah, why duct tape! Its like thats not even fun! Actually no, it was fun. But Ill tell you what it took us an hour then we were like somethings wrong. [Laughs.] This is, this is a and we had a metal bat. Were like, okay, something is up about this piñata. This piñata is really resilient! Okay. So finally we tore enough away that we realized, I was like, Who made it out of duct tape!? What the heck!? Well, I dont know we wanted to make sure that everybody – because the previous year, you know it was like bam bam done. [Makes grumbling noises.]
The informant is a 25-year-old Story Board Artist and animator who works in television. She is originally from Denver, Colorado and moved to Los Angeles for college and work.
This particular incident took place during the California Institute of the Art’s (CalArts) Character Animation department Christmas party. Before describing this installment of the beating-of-the-animation-pinata tradition she told me she was unhappy when Polar Express came out because It was gross, because the people didnt move and animators are starving thanks to motion capture.” The informant, is an animator, though “not a starving one” but she does “have starving friends thanks to motion capture.” She also was opposed to motion capture on a technical level:
The effect is similar to mascots walking around Disneyland with giant hats. They move natural but it doesnt make any sense with the character shape because you have to if the character has a giant head and is a penguin or something they should not move like a human being! But they do and motion capture looks really gross.”
She then repeated that “animators are starving” because of motion capture.
The year before the pinata was the bee from Bee Movie, though it was not motion capture it was just a bad silly movie. Besides everyone likes killing bees. Theyre an endangered species. You cannot hit bees in real life so we make piñata bees,” the informant told me.
I think this is pretty clearly a cathartic tradition. The animators are frustrated that they are getting put out of the job by this, as they consider it, second rate technology. They cannot take any direct action against the inventor and users of motion capture, but they can make a pinata that represents all of that and beat it with a metal bat.
I would argue that this example of a holiday tradition is an interesting twist on the practice of beating or burning effigies of political figures in order to protest their policies or actions. The same day the informant was telling me about her Polar Express pinata, protesters in Pakistan were burning an effigy of American President Barack Obama as well as the American flag to express their anger regarding the recent US attacks on tribal Pakistani areas (Rodriguez). The anger toward the figure-in-effigy in both cases is clearly there. The bitterness in the informant’s voice as she talked about her friends that couldn’t get a job because of the widespread use of motion capture tells us that her mental state in beating the Polar Express pinata was more akin to that of the Pakistani protesters than a child having fun at a birthday party. Seen in this light, this tradition is surprisingly political.
Rodriguez, Alex. “U.S. drone attack kills 25 in Pakistan.” Los Angeles Times 23 April 2011. Accessed online: http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-pakistan-drone-attack-20110423,0,5711991.story?track=rss.