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.)


  1. Wow! Beautiful memoirs from the period when the great masters were still in the studio. Just to read about films like the "Rescuers" and "Fox and the Hound" is simply incredible for me.
    Thank you immensely for the rough / clean versions of the SAME drawing! Believe it or not, the example shown here is very rare, a wealth of information is contained in these two drawings for those who love this art form.

    Thank you again for taking the time and sharing with us your experience! I was very exited when checking your blog, thinking "I can't wait to read the next chapter", somehow I could fly back in time to 1977 or 1980, to see how these last marvels of the first generation of animator masters were created.
    Thank you for sharing, you are an excellent storyteller!

    PS: if you have rough / clean up drawings of the same pose, or few seconds long scenes containing rough keys, all the rough inbetweens, and clean-up, and if you cordially take the time to share parts of your collection with us, that would be invaluable, and endlessly appreciated.
    Thank you again, best wishes: Alessandro

  2. Mr. Ron Husband, This Is Pretty Ex-Cel-Ent to Learn About Your Animation Trainee Experience at Disney -- This is Michael Igafo-Te'o saying that I Have Autism, I'm an American Samoan-Caucasian Animator that lives in Michigan and was born on September 9th, 1994, I Love Disney, I Love Chuck Jones, I Love Aardman, I Love Don Bluth and, yes, I Love Hanna-Barbera! :)