Animation is not just a series of funny drawings strung together in movement. At its most creative, it is a truly beautiful art form. Yet the tradition of drawn animation is a relatively short one compared with other visual arts. It has only been in this century that the technology to produce any film—let alone an animated film—has been available. Indeed, I have often thought that many of the Old Masters, from Leonardo da Vinci to Rembrandt to Hokusai, might well have committed themselves to animation, had the knowledge of filmmaking been available to them in their time.
Animated filmmaking, in its widest expression, is not, however, traditionally an art form of individual genius. A large team of dedicated, talented, and cooperative artists is required to complete a high-quality animation film. Successful animation demands a collective creative approach, within which each individual, no matter how talented, must harmonize and communicate with others for his or her work to be given its fullest expression on the screen. Problems can arise when the methods and terminology used by any one individual on the team are not compatible or familiar to the others. Although it is impossible to demand that all individual creative artists work in an identical manner one objective of this workbook is to offer a standard terminology and method of approach for all beginning animators as well as existing practitioners to work with confidently.
Admittedly, no one person can have a perfect understanding of animation. As in life, the animation artist may come to view only one or two facets of the greater whole. Style, taste, content, and objectives are many and varied, and this book cannot and does not provide all the answers. It is a guide to the accepted, traditional animation techniques devised over many years, and strives to be no more than that.
At its best, animation is a wonderfully varied art form, which potentially has no limitations on imagination or technique. Sadly, exciting ideas are often spoiled by inadequate animation ability and fall into a pit of undisciplined sloppiness. In addition to being an art, animation is a craft and, as with any craft, it takes time for apprentices to master it. The rudiments of the craft, however, can be taught relatively quickly. What is then needed is patience, commitment, and effort, to make the basic principles come alive with new life and fresh ideas. In the early days of animation, Walt Disney established a fine tradition of craftsmanship, which we can only look up to, from our more humble position of expertise. What has been achieved once, however, can theoretically be achieved again if the will, the financial support, and the working knowledge are there.
This workbook is designed to give you the necessary basic knowledge to start on the path toward becoming an animator. But it is only your commitment and effort that will prove, in the long run, whether or not you are capable of becoming a great one. To be a great animator is to lead a life of concentration, observation, dedication, and inspiration—as well as many long hours of perspiration. It is not an easy life, and often it is only when the work is up there on the screen that it suddenly, somehow, all seems worth it.
he first step in learning about animation is to understand the procedures involved in making an animated film.
Animation, at best, is a costly procedure, in both time and money, and anything that eases its birth process should not be ignored. If audiences only knew all that is involved in any animated production, their respect for what I consider one of the most creative art forms would increase.
On a large-scale production, it is important that the team function efficiently. A typical team for the production of a large-scale animated film includes a lot of people: a director; a producer; a number of animators and assistant animators; possibly a team of inbetweeners; a whole assortment of cleanup artists, tracers, painters and Tenderers, and special-effects artists; plus several checkers, editors, and rostrum cameramen. In addition, there is the production and administrative staff. Considering all the personalities involved, it is often a miracle that any animation films get made at all.
Whether the film being produced is a 30-second television commercial or a full-length animated feature, the process of animation should follow certain structured procedures. If these procedures are adhered to at the outset, then all will be well. But failing to respect these guidelines can prove extremely costly in time and money, regardless of the individual skills of the personnel involved.
Script. The first stage of any film production is the creation of the script, and, as for any other production, the script for an animation film is extremely important. This film script differs, however, from the live-action film script. With live action, dialogue is of great importance to the actor's performance. With the animation film script, on the other hand, dialogue is less important, and, indeed, complicated dialogue should be avoided as much as possible. It is the visual action in plot and performance that is paramount. The best animation is achieved through a form of mimed action, where dialogue is nonexistent and the visual invention captures the imagination.
Storyboard. From the script, the director produces a storyboard, a series of drawn images that graphically portray the action described in the script. Often, while producing the storyboard, deficiencies in the structure and format of the script are detected and corrected by the director. The storyboard, then, allows the writer, director, producer, and animation team to see and appreciate the content of the project. If the project is more ambitious than a 30-second television commercial, often a think tank, comprised of all the contributors involved, is set up and the story, content, and ideas are finely polished.
Soundtrack. After the script and storyboard are completed, the recording of any dialogue or key music is undertaken. Since animation relies totally on perfect synchronization of the picture to the soundtrack, the animator must receive the final recorded track before beginning to draw. Without it, the animator cannot time the action accurately. When the action is in sync with music, it should be possible to record a simple guide track, with a minimum of musicians, to indicate the essential beat and the basic melodies. A click track—which has a predetermined click, or beat, overlaid onto it—serves this purpose.
Track Breakdown. When the soundtrack has been made, an editor assembles it into the precise working length of the film and then breaks down the track. Basically, the breakdown is a simple process of analyzing the dialogue phonetically—by sound rather than by spelling—and documenting the precise position of each sound in relation to the film frames. If, for instance, a character begins to cough after one second of film time (35mm movie film is projected at 24 frames per second), the editor marks the beginning of the cough on the 25th frame and then indicates the subsequent frames through which the cough continues. The entire track breakdown is transferred to the bar sheet, a preprinted sheet designed to allow every frame of soundtrack and film to be identified and analyzed visually (see page 132).
Designs. While the soundtrack is being broken down, the director selects one or more film designers to produce visual interpretations of all the characters featured in the film. When these interpretations are approved, each character is drawn from a multitude of angles and placed on a single sheet of paper, called a model sheet, for all the animators to use as a reference. In addition to the character designs, at this stage, ideally, the background styling for all the principal sequences in the film is produced.
Leica Reel. Using the bar sheets and storyboard, the layout artist (under the supervision of the director) proceeds to produce a Leica reel of the whole film. A Leica reel is, in essence, a filmed storyboard, which can be projected in synchronization with the final soundtrack. Rather than filming the storyboard drawings (which are often merely scribbles), the layout artist carefully draws each scene to the size at which it will eventually be animated. In addition, the layout artist draws the characterization in the precise style created by the film designer and describes, perhaps in more than one drawing, the action in that scene. When all the scenes of the film have been completed in this way, the director—using the bar sheet to obtain the
Wearing white cotton gloves helps to prevent smudges in the drawings.
Color is painted on the hack of the eel drawing.
Wearing white cotton gloves helps to prevent smudges in the drawings.
relevant timings—has each scene shot on film. The director then views the finished Leica reel to get an impression of the way the film is shaping up. At this point the director can, of course, still make changes in the visual content of the film, before any of the costly animation work is undertaken. Indeed, the Leica-reel viewing is often the last chance the director has to change the film without affecting time and money costs on what is normally a tight schedule and budget.
Line Tests. When the Leica reel is acceptable to the director and producer, the animators finally become involved in the film and begin to produce a line test of each scene. Line tests are the animation drawings, produced in pencil on paper, filmed to the precise timings of the scene, as indicated on the bar sheet. Sometimes it is necessary to alter the animation several times in a particular scene, if the line test shows that the action is not quite working. Usually, however, the line test works the first time and the scene can be cut into the Leica reel by the editor, thus replacing the drawings originally produced by the layout artist. Gradually, as each pencil-animated scene is added, a line test of the whole film becomes available for viewing and for fine adjustment. Any major changes from this stage onward may prove extremely damaging to the overall film budget.
Cleanup. On a major production it is ideal to have a team of cleanup artists on staff. They take all the animation drawings and clean them up, to give them a consistent visual style. This is important because, when many animators are working on the same character, there is an inevitable variation in the look of the character. After the entire cleanup is completed, it is best to line-test the drawings again, just to check that no additional mistakes have slipped in.
Trace and Paint. When a cleaned-up line test is finally approved, each drawing is transferred to a thin sheet of celluloid or acetate—a eel—and painted in the colors of the original design. In the early days of animation, transferring the drawings to eels involved large teams of trained artists, who carefully traced each drawing required in a varied range of line techniques.
Today, however, it is possible to quickly photocopy a drawing on the eel or for the cleanup artists and animators to draw directly on the eel itself, avoiding the pencil stage altogether. After the animated image is on eel, and in preparation for the final shoot, a team of artists paints the eel in opaque colors on the reverse side to the drawing, thus keeping the paint from going over the lines and producing flatter, smoother colors.
Backgrounds. While the animation is being traced and painted, another team of artists produces the backgrounds—everything behind or, sometimes, in front of the moving characters that does not move. Each background artist must achieve a continuity of style by producing work identical to the original film design style.
Checking. As the finished animation eels and backgrounds are completed scene by scene, they are passed to the checker, who makes sure that everything is correctly drawn, traced, painted, and prepared for the cameraman who is to finally film it. It is essential that the checker be efficient; incomplete or incorrect work discovered during the final shoot results in wasted time and money.
Final Shoot. When the checker is satisfied that all the artwork for each scene is right, the artwork is passed on to the rostrum camerman, who shoots the completed scene. As its name implies, the final shoot is the final stage in the actual filming procedure related to the artwork.
Rushes. After the final shoot is completed, the exposed film is sent to the film laboratories for overnight processing. It returns the following morning, ready for projection as rushes. The rushes are viewed for possible errors. If any are found, the problem must be identified and rectified, and the scene reshot. If, on the other hand, everything is fine, the rushes are cut by the editor into the final film, replacing the existing line-test scenes.
Dubbing. When the whole film exists in final form, and the director is satisfied with it, the editor, with the director, proceeds to choose sound effects (SFX) to go with the action in the film. After all the sound effects are chosen and laid in perfect synchronization with the action, the editor and director go into a dubbing theater, where the voice track, music, and sound effects are all mixed on one complete soundtrack. This leaves the film in a completed double-head stage—with the finished picture and the finished soundtrack on two separate rolls of film.
Answer Print. From the double-head, the editor orders an answer print from the film laboratories. This involves merging the sound and picture on one piece of film—after an extensive session of picture grading (checking, scene by scene, that the colors of the picture are accurately reproduced). The sound aspect of an answer print, called an optical track, entails the transfer of all the sound elements of the film to a varying-intensity visual format. There is now a thin, visual strip along one side of the film and, when light is projected through it, the variations in light intensity are converted by the sound system to variations in sound intensity.
Finally, the completed answer print is projected and receives—everyone hopes—a spontaneous round of enthusiastic applause.
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