There comes a day when the animation drawings have been completed. The scene works in continuity, the character acts as he should, his expressions communicate strongly, the layout supports his actions, and the details of costumes and props are all accounted for. On that day, a big check goes up on the production chart. But the drawings are far from finished. They only have been approved as working correctly. Now thev must be put into their final form, the way the audience will see them.
In the twenties, the drawings were inked directly on the papers they were drawn on. with no shades of grey except for textures, dots, and decorations that could be done with a pen. Celluloids were used only for the background and "held" objects that did not move. This saved the tedious work of redrawing everything in the picture for every single frame. Winsor McCay had fell that this constant tracing brought a breathing effect and a life to the total drawing that was an integral part of the art form, but few who followed shared his diligence and dedication. He rightfully accused them of making a commercial trade out of the art he had developed.
Unmoved by this criticism, the men in the studios continued to search for easier and quicker ways to get their films completed. As long as the background was on a eel on top of the drawings, the action of the figures was restricted to the open areas, and this limited the types of gags that could be used. Then one artist wondered why the figures could not be on the eels while the backgrounds were drawn on the paper underneath. Instead of being done as simple ink drawings. both the characters and their locales could be painted in all the shades of grey as well as black and white. As long as the paint used was opaque, the painted figure on the eel would block out the parts of the background he was covering, while the clear eel had little effect on anything else in the scene. Earl Hurd is credited with this discovery, or invention, and there has been no essential change in the procedure in fifty years.
It is one thing to say that the drawings were traced onto the celluloid, but quite another to do it. Anyone who has tried to draw on glass with a pen will recall that nothing might come out of the pen at all. except a long, fine scratch. You draw slowly, you draw fast, you make little strokes, you use sweeping lines, then suddenly, for no reason. Ggrbloob! a huge splatter of ink comes out all at once. The same is true of tracing onto a cel. It seems the ink must be "floated" on rather than etched in to be successful.
In New York, it was felt that only men could master this difficult art; in Hollywood Walt assigned two women to the job. and when he could not pay them he married one and made the other head of the Ink and Paint Department. The two ladies in question never denied the story, although they exhibited knowing smiles as they listened to Walt's retelling of it over the years.s
Mary Tebb remembers the days that followed because she inked all of The Skeleton Dance by herself, ribs, skulls, and vertebrae. She asks herself now, "How did I do it? 1 don't know. I was young. I see it now and I'm amazed!" But it was simpler then with a heavy, untapered line around everything and none of the refinements that would make each eel such a work of art in only a few more years. It was Walt, as in all the other functions, who gradually raised the quality; he asked in a way that showed he expected the girls to be able to do it. In Mary's words, "That's what made him great, I think, because he brought out from us more than we thought we had."
Painting is not as difficult as the inking, but it still takes patience, organization, and considerable skill. Mary explained the job this way, "You have to learn how to do it right first: learn how to mix your colors, read your model, put the right paint on the right thing—how to dry it—and be sure you don't do it on the front side of the eel instead of the back. It sounds easy, but it's amazing how many people can't do it!"
On drawing after drawing there are little areas that could be anything: part of the flowing hair, the skirt, a tail, a ribbon, or even a hand behind the back in the middle of an action. Looking at the drawing by itself, there is no way of telling what it might be. or what color should be put on it. Sometimes a check of the drawings in sequence will reveal the identity, but often a full conference must be called. "What is this thing showing through here supposed to be?" To avoid this kind of confrontation, the animator's assistant usually
For o more natural look on Snow White, the artists in Ink and Paint suggested a delicate tint of rouge, carefully rubbed on top of the eel, and a little dry brush on the black hair to soften its contrast with creamy w skin.
Example of drybrush is shown on Geppetto's hair in this sample eel from Pinocchio.
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