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account for the variety of feelings and characters they can portray on the screen.
The general appearance of the character can be almost any design that fits the story and the overall style of its presentation, but the specifics of how he is drawn depend entirely on what business he has to do, what attitudes he must show, and what expressions he will have. The voice will suggest many facets of his personality, but the needs of the story and his place in it are the major considerations. Once you know what you want him to do, you will know how to construct him so that he can do those things best. His job as an animated character is to communicate story ideas in the most entertaining way, and just being alive is not enough.
We must study the design carefully, questioning the shape of his whole figure, his costume, his head, cheeks, mouth, eyes, hands, legs, arms—even the setting he is in and how he relates to it. Is the scale correct? Is it drawn to give the best advantage to the character? Does it support and fortify his personality so that he feels dominating or timid or clumsy or defiant, or whatever he is supposed to be? This is as much a part of the problem as the type of movements he has, the timing of them, and the acting in both body attitudes and facial expressions.
However it is done, eventually there will be about 75 feet of film animated and projected for all to see and criticize. It is interesting that the reaction always follows the same pattern. If the characterization is weak for any reason, the drawing is criticized. If the business is weak, the characterization is criticized. For some reason, the original business, also being tested at this point, is assumed to be infallible, and only the new figure's appearance is torn apart.
One young animator was quite shaken by the criticism of his scenes. "The best drawing in the world wouldn't have helped because it would still be empty; it was because of the emptiness in the business that they criticized the scenes." He went on to explain, "I can't make a drawing until I know what I'm trying to draw."7
If the business is right and the animator made the right choices on his drawing and acting, everyone is elated. There may be tiny suggestions about details, appearance, or ways of doing something, or, more likely, a way to build to an even more entertaining action, but the main reaction is one of enjoyment and excitement. 1
Walt seldom complimented anyone, letting us feel that sheer perfection was the standard he expected of everybody. Nevertheless, we will always remember his reactions to our experimental animation of Bambi and Thumper. He had been concerned over our ability to make four-legged characters have enough personal- | ity to sustain a whole feature, but when he saw our first efforts he turned to us with tears in his eyes, "Thanks, fellows," he said, "That stuff is pure gold!" I It was one of the few times we can remember his | coming right out with a sincere compliment. Les Clark, one of the earliest animators at the studio, remembered its happening twice in 39 years, when Walt said he particularly liked the Mickeys Les drew; usually his approval was indirect or buried in some other thought. ; He did not like to expose his feelings, and it was j impossible to thank him for anything. He would cough I and scowl and mutter, "Yeah, uh—well, say, we've got to get going on this thing, y'know; it's gonna get way out of hand if we don't pay attention here. . .I With the experimental animation approved, every- j body could go back to work with a new idea of what this story is going to be and how it is going to be told. Once the characters have been seen as living and act- j ing and showing very definite, specific, and, especial- I
Iy, entertaining personalities, everyone knows how to handle them. The story man can now start on the next sequences with more confidence; the layout man can work with more precision; and, also, very important, the "inspirational sketch" man can start exploring new situations that will give these characters their best chance for great performances. The rest of the animators are brought on as suitable work is found for them, although it may be six months before everybody can be working full time on the work each does best.
The animator gets more than just a scene and a pat on the back when he picks up his work from the director. There is a tape or record of the sound track, along with an exposure sheet, which is not only an exact copy of the scene as it appears on the greys, but it also contains suggestions for accents to be caught or certain staging to be maintained. The animator will get a copy of the final storyboards so that he can see how his scene fits into the whole sequence, and he will have the layout showing the size of the characters, their suggested positions, the extent of their movements, and the area in which they are working. In addition, there is a full scene description which reminds him of why the scene is in the picture, what it is supposed to achieve, and what has been considered entertaining about it.
When we were younger, the director and the animator acted out everything for each other, down to how Pluto would eat out of his dish. The handout of only a few scenes could take the whole day because the idea was to pack as much entertainment as possible into that continuity, and we knew it could be still better, no matter how good our last version sounded. Elsa Lan-chester said of the business she had worked out for one of her scenes, 'There's always a better way, you know. No matter how good it is, there's always a better way, and you have to keep trying, don't you?" Back in the thirties, we talked of how Chaplin would do the scene, or perhaps Buster Keaton, or one of the fellows in the studio whom we both knew, and we climbed on the table and over the chairs and all over the room chasing imaginary cats or villains or whatever.
One day Wilfred Jackson was disturbed by violent sounds coming from Bert Gillett's room directly above him. "I heard this terrific music going on with thumping and bumping—I thought they were moving furniture or something." Gillett was the other director, and
Jackson was used to the sounds of a musician working out a pattern as Bert jumped from his table to the floor repeatedly, trying to capture the timing of fleas jumping off Pluto's back, or even the "thump-clop, thump-clop-thump-clop" as Peg Leg Pete ran after Mickey. But this sounded more sinister, and Jackson just had to go up to see what was going on.
His eyes popped as he opened the door. "Here was Frank Churchill over at the piano with his cigarette hanging down, with his eyes closed and his foot stomping away," while on the other side of the room, Bert had Fred Moore up against the wall and was swinging wildly with his fists. Fred was trying desperately to duck and break away, but was doing little to defend himself. Jackson stared in horror, wondering if he should call for help or try to stop the fracas by himself. Suddenly it all stopped, and the three men walked back to the big table and looked at the exposure sheet, marking down actions and timing. They were working on a scene from Ye Olden Days where a big horse has a fight with a donkey.
There was always great value in this process of acting out a scene. The animator even had his assistant do it when back in his room, so he could see how the scene looked and determine the best angle for drawing it. This helped in deciding how best to use the time for putting over the business, as well as noting all the tiny details of the action.
The handout is not finished when the animator takes his scenes and layouts and tracks and readings down to his room. He is still turning things over in his mind. The director has told him that these particular scenes are the most important ones in the picture, with the best entertainment potential, that probably no other animator could do them as well, and that he really will make a name for himself on this picture. The animator listens to a record or tape of his sound track and won ders if they really picked the best take of the dialogue. He looks at the layout and wonders if this is the right way to stage the business. Is the character too small for the expression to read? Maybe it should be two scenes. He makes some thumbnail sketches, studies the photocopy of the original story board, then storms back up to the director's room with a whole new idea. "Hey, wouldn't it be better if we did this in a close-up, facing the other direction and saying this second line of dialogue first? Then we could add a gulp, and maybe a sigh, and then go into that other line. ..." The layout man turns back to his desk muttering something that no one hears as he starts a new layout.
The director must listen because he may get back a scene without any life if the animator does only what he is told to do. Perhaps he is not thinking about the scene in the same terms as the director, and that possibility, coupled with the likelihood of a mechanical performance otherwise, makes the director do some thinking. He has an opportunity, now, to get a scene that sounds different from what was planned, but one that has enthusiasm behind it and a good chance to be just as entertaining; it is worth considering.
A compromise is reached, the track is shifted, the scene description changed, new layouts made, exposure sheets and greys are corrected, and the enthusiastic animator returns to his drawing board. The handout is over.
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