Monday, January 20, 2014

My Animation Trainee experience (part 3)

Eight weeks come to an end...
Grasping the basics of animation in a few weeks is only the tip of the iceberg. The steps to becoming an animator are not automatic. From this point, I could become a career inbetweener, breakdown or assistant animator. I went through all these phases and learned what I could from each and moved on. There are those who found their comfort zone in one of these steps. I would soon learn the importance of each.

(example: rough animation drawing from Disney Fox and the Hound)

  I was being trained to be a 'rough' animator. The rough animator draws the character(s) on model, with proper volume, proportions and with enough structure that a clean-up artist could 'follow' and make a clean version of the drawings in your scene.  The animator would be concerned with the 'key' drawings in a scene leaving the 'inbetween' drawing to be done by an inbetweener to complete the action.

(example: clean-up animation drawing from Disney Fox and the Hound)

 The lead clean-up artist is concerned with the same key drawings as the animator. Checking with the animator  to make sure the drawings are 'on model' etc. Other clean-up artists fill in the drawings between the main keys to complete the action.

In the weeks that followed I was doing inbetweens for the animators working on The Rescuers. I was eventually assigned to a room downstairs and given a desk. I took that desk with me wherever the department went. I drew at that same desk for the thirty years I was in animation.

My knowledge of  the history and mechanics of animation started my first day on the studio lot. Now it continued as I became a part of the process in making an animated feature.

  It was not all serious business as we continued to have rubber band fights and do caricatures of each other and ourselves as this (below) attests to. Randy Cook's caricature of himself on animation paper (notice the peg holes).

The feature I was assigned to was being done the "Disney Way". What is it that made Disney so unique at the time? (and not just the peg holes:) :The Rescuers released in 1977 was only the 22nd feature released since Snow White in 1937, forty years earlier. That averages about one feature every two years.

For every second of film seen, it takes 24 separate cels. Hand drawn and color painted. A 90 minute film has about 250,000 hand drawn cels. At the time one of the Saturday morning animation studios turned out about 7,000 feet of animation per week. Disney did about 6,500 feet in four years.

Costing millions of dollars with a staff of hundreds of people from the various departments, it took over 4 years to complete. Forty animators contributed about 330,000 drawings. I remember reading that, laid end to end, the drawings would extend about 40 miles and it would take one animator 16 years averaging 8 feet of animation a week to accomplish all this.

This is the "Disney Way" of animation I was about to be taught.

I was assigned to do inbetweens for animation legend, Frank Thomas. There are a thousand and one questions I wish I'd have asked him back then, but I was so inexperienced and I just wanted to do a good job of inbetweening. To do the job assignment properly you have to keep track of the scene, all the drawings in the scene, draw on model, capture the arc between the extreme drawings, read the exposure sheet properly, listen to the dialogue track (on the moviola track or 78 rpm record), send the scene out to camera, thread it up on the moviola for viewing when it comes back and more.

In time Frank gained trust in my inbetweening abilities. Wanting to see me advance he entrusted me with scenes from the production. This accomplished two goals, it helped Frank with the amount of scenes he was expected to do and it accelerated my learning. Frank's inbetweens were my priority so lunch breaks, after hours and weekends were spent in animation. I did about fifty feet of animation for Rescuers. In those days it took a hundred feet of animation to get screen credit. I was not disappointed, I knew the rules going in.

I listened to Frank as he flipped my inbetweens between his extremes and explained why this worked and this did not work. or his critique of the scenes I animated. These experiences were invaluable to me as a young animation hopeful.

Training continued through my early years: Lectures( Tex Avery among others), films sessions followed by discussions, sculpting (taught by Blain Gibson), classes in acting, action analysis ( taught by Ward Kimball), drawing classes (taught by Mark Davis, Walt Stanchfield, Glen Vilppu and others) and more.

(Updated animation recruitment brochure)
After about a year on the job, we were handed a three inch thick notebook called, The Disney School of Animation. Divided into sections it contained a wealth of information and blank pages to take notes. Everything from Thoughts on the Unit System, Orientation, Terminology, Materials, Standard Procedures, Production Planning, Music Room, Layout/Background, Scene Planning, X-Sheet, Camera, Simplification, Life Drawing, Animation, Clean-Up, Effects, Ink and Paint. The Animation Enrichment Program section contained a memo from Walt Disney to Don Graham outlining the formation of a training program on which this training program was patterned.

My trainee experience continues to this day.

(All images are shown for encouragement and inspiration only.)

Monday, January 6, 2014

My Animation Trainee experience (Part 2)

My first day as a animation trainee:
All trainees were on the second floor of the Animation building on the studio lot in Burbank.

I was assigned an animation desk in a room large enough to accommodate four, maybe six desks. Across the hall to the north was Eric Larson's spacious room. To the east of Eric's room, separated by a door, was another large room that housed animation desks and trainees. These trainee rooms made easy access to our mentor.

That day I met Glen Keane, Tad Stones, Jerry Moeller, boy wonder Jerry Rees (I think he was still in high school) and a few others. Several of the others I don't remember are those who didn't make it through the program.

RIGHT - a caricature I did of Jerry M . We did a lot of caricaturing of each other, which in years to come would lead to the yearly Caricature Show. At first the show was held in the Animation building library and has since grown to the hallways of whatever building housed the animation group.
(Jerry ended up leaving after a few years.)


I was called into Eric's office and he explained the program to me.

Pick a character of your choice to animate.
You have four weeks to animate a scene or scenes.
At the end of that time your piece will be shown to a review board that consists of seasoned animators and management.
If you do not pass that test period you are let go.
If you pass, you are given another four weeks to animate another test; again to be shown to the review board.
You are dismissed if you don't pass the second four week period.
Should you pass the second four weeks, your training as an inbetweener (for a real animator) will begin.
He (Eric) would be available during working hours to discuss what you planned to do, go over drawings and share his enormous wealth of knowledge.
In addition, your training will continue (and never end). There would be lectures from Eric and a host of guests that included cinematographers, legendary animation director Tex Avery, screening silent films of Laurel and Hardy/ Charlie Chaplin etc., film makers, and anyone associated with film or filmmaking to stimulate our fertile minds.

My fellow trainees helped me with the terminology and told me of the materials I would need to get started:
            An animation desk and disk with Disney peg holes. Disney had their own peg bar spacing which differed from all other animation studios. You could go to a store which sold animation supplies and order standard pre-punched animation paper, but it would not fit on a Disney animation peg bar. This uniqueness has been phased out the way yards and inches were replaced with the metric system in U.S. track and field.

 Also needed: 12 and 16 field paper- Faber-Castell Polychromos 9201 #144, Kobalt hell-Light Cobalt Blue pencil for ruffs ("the one's Frank and Ollie use") and Eberhard Faber 'Blackwing' pencil  #602 'half the pressure twice the speed' to tie down the drawings.

I was shown a Moviola, housed in a darkened closet, where our filmed tests would be viewed when they returned from the camera department.

Camera fields, pans, light board, exposure sheet, blue sketch, layout, inbetweener, breakdown, special effects, multiplane, dialogue, timing, staging, anticipation and more would become a part of my new vocabulary.

I was introduced to Leroy who was in charge of what was called the morgue. The morgue was connected to the Animation building by a tunnel which ended beneath the Ink and Paint building.This underground treasure depository was where all drawings, ruff and cleaned-up, were kept from every animated Disney film. We were able to research characters and check out actual ruff animated scenes and their backgrounds. Imagine being able to flip drawings done by the hands of Freddy Moore, Milt Kahl, Marc Davis, Bill Tytla, all the greats and more.

To get started required a trip down stairs to Joe Morris who dispensed supplies. Joe used a machine that punched the peg holes in blank animation paper. Not that peg hole placement made a difference in animation, it was a way of thinking in depth about the craft, seeking excellence for self, those around you, paying attention to detail and a lot of intangibles that set this studio apart from all the rest.
  This memo (below) from Eric impressed upon the trainees the rich history on which the present training is based. Don Graham's original training program in the 1930's, patterned after Walt's vision of infusing his artists with broader knowledge in order to push the boundaries of entertainment in the field of animation. (The highlighted items are things that impressed me at the time.)

My test...
 I knew a bit about sports. My choice of a character was Goofy, running with a football.
 I assembled paper, pencils, character model sheets and a thumbnail plan of action. I sat down at the animation desk and started to work. I can not truly call animating work. I think you could ask anyone who has animated what the animation experience is like and I doubt they would describe it as work.

 I was amazed to see lines/drawings that move. It was truly the illusion of life as Frank and Ollie described in the book they were to write after their retirement.

 The highlight of my day (and I'm sure all the other trainees) was to go into Eric's room. Look over his shoulder, as he sat at his animation desk. He would put a piece of animation paper on top of my pitiful drawings and explain the acting, action and mechanics of what potential this drawing or series of drawings held. He was extremely patient with me and all others. Eric used a metronome that he kept handy to explain timing. He seemingly kissed the paper with his pencil as he made a drawing over mine. Some of the things I remember him saying were:"the arc could be fuller," "change the shape without changing the volume,"  "more squash, more stretch." He corrected and taught, all the time with a smile and an infectious attitude that made me feel I could grasp an understanding of animation. As crude as my drawings were, progress was being made daily.

 I was excited seeing my drawings come to life with movement by the simple act of hand flipping the drawings. With enough drawings to make up a scene they were placed between two pieces of cardboard and rubber bands were used to secure them (the rubber bands were also used for 'rubber band' fights). The drawings were then taken to Joe Morris to deliver to the camera department.
The feature that was being worked on at the time, The Rescuers, had priority in the camera department. Consequently, trainee tests could take two or three days before being returned.
  The drawings were returned in a 35mm film loop. The loop was threaded on a moviola, dialogue was synced up if needed. In my test, it wasn't needed:). I was officially initiated into the group as everyone gathered in the little darkened room to see the my test. Suggestions were made, questions were asked and lively discussions ensued all contributing to my and everyone's growth as animators/entertainers. Another step in the learning curve toward understanding animation.
 After the trainees had their say about my test, it was shown to Eric who gave his experienced critique. Needless to say, 'back to the drawing board' to incorporate his input to make it better.

 After four weeks of fine tuning with Eric, my Goofy test was ready to be shown to the review board. The date was set. The test was deliverd to Ed Hansen, the department head. All was set in motion.

  The day of the review was somewhat stressful. Not only for the one up for review but for the other trainees too. Trainees who had passed the two review boards were awaiting assignment down stairs on The Rescuers. They tried to calm my anxiety. There were those who came in after I had started, knowing they would be in my place in a few days or weeks. They all wondered just what to say to a to a person who you may not see again after today. Tension was usually eased by a rubber band fight.

 After waiting half a day or more for the results, it was not unusual for the board to be called off for the day because- 'could't get enough people together', 'called story meeting' etc.  Sweating it out would have to continue on another day.

  The review board saw potential in my test. Time was extended for another four weeks. Relief and celebration was short as I immediately started thinking about what the next test would be.

 This time I chose Mr. Toad. He is sitting on a wall as a girl shaped and dressed like Tinker Belle, carrying an open umbrella, walks by. Toad does a take, pulls out an eye glass to get a better look. All shots of her are from the rear. She turns toward camera, umbrella revealing a smiling frog face.

  I again await results of the review board. Potential is seen. My eight weeks training is over I am now a permanent employee and can join the Animator Union 839 in ninety days. My  training in the finer points of animation is about to begin. (To be continued...)