The making of Life Cycle – Page 2

After each painting operation the cels had to be laid out to dry. It was just as well that I was back home from the far north by this time, since, although my landlady up there was kind enough to let me use the dining room table for drawing, I could not have spread out wet cels all over her living room the way I do at home. I generally paint one colour on as many cels as I can spread out at one time, anything between twenty and fifty depending on the scene. By the time this many are done the first cels are often dry and ready for the next colour. I aim to start the trace and paint work as early as possible in the film, while I still have plenty of stimulating paper animation to work on for variety.

My rostrum has sliding peg bars top and bottom, and I used these to the full in this film. I had two panning background sheets, each three feet long, running on the top pegs with a full field overlap at each end so that an infinite pan was possible. All rocks and background features were painted on cels since they had to move occasionally and the same background had to be used for different scenes. During the first scenes in the film most of the action took place on a stationary background. After the creature had overcome one obstacle he walked on to the next on a panning background.

Where the movements were fairly slow each drawing was shot on three frames for a projection speed of 24 f.p.s. During panning the background drawing had to be moved every frame to avoid jerkiness. Once the pace of the action speeded up and the hero started flying the filming, I had to do 24 drawings for each second of the sequence. Otherwise, as I confirmed by shooting line tests, the movement appeared very jerky. Most of the flying action was shot against a panning background because the hero would cross a Static field of view in only three or four seconds.

Since my lightbox only has one pegbar all the line tests were shot using the top pegs. During pans the edges of the paper appeared on the screen but this did not matter for tests. In some scenes the action would be on cels held on the bottom pegs while the background was panned on the top pegs. In this case I did the tracing by using the rostrum base to register the pencil drawings on the top pegs while the cels were on the bottom pegs. The precise form of the pan had to be worked out and written down first, and then followed during tracing as well as filming. Wherever possible I kept the bottom pegs stationary during the pan, but at one point the heroine was moving from right to left in a cycle on the bottom pegs while the background panned from left to right on the top pegs. The hero therefore had to be animated on double panning cels (on the top pegs). These cels are nearly three feet long which makes them very awkward to handle during painting and filming, and they are very expensive too. In retrospect I think I should have used ordinary cels and redrawn the heroine each time.

At this stage, with all the cels complete and two thirds of the film shot, my new gadget laden Super 8 camera, which had been giving problems ever since I got it, finally stopped working altogether. I had been considering changing to 16 mm for some time, and this drove me to take the plunge. I bought an elderly Bolex H16 from someone I had met at the ANIMA North West Animation Workshop, and shot the whole film again on 16 mm negative stock. This was straightforward, if tedious, with my fully documented cels.

I worked out what music to fit to the film using the Super 8 copy, but I had no access in Edinburgh to facilities for laying a 16 mm soundtrack. I was doing some work in my firm’s Newcastle office at this time, and Sheila Graber was kind enough to let me use her equipment one evening. With her encouragement and advice I was able to build up the track on 16mm magnetic fullcoat. This was then transferred to 16mm magnetic stripe on Sheila’s double band projector, and the labs made an optical sound negative from the stripe. Now that I know more about 16mm I would use magnetic stripe but go direct from fullcoat to optical negative. I wanted to end up with an optical sound track because this is the standard format, and the only one acceptable to film societies and festivals like Annecy and Cambridge.

I am now working on ideas for a film with an ecological message about trees, commissioned by my brother who is a teacher in Australia. Putting across a message is a new problem for me, my films so far have been meant to entertain rather than educate the audience. This new film will have to be different, but I hope to make it entertaining as well.

The illustrations are from Elixiar.

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Printed in Animator Issue 16 (Summer 1986)