Cut-out Animation with UFOs

Cut-out Animation with UFOs

By Fred Wells

If, like me, you believe that you can’t draw, but would love to do animation, don’t despair, the answer lies in using cut outs to form your characters.

Like millions of people, I was brought up viewing Disney cartoons and from an early age became brain¬washed into accepting total animation as the only way in which cartoons are made.

Subsequently I became resigned to not being able to make an animated film. That was until I was introduced to a small Focal Press paperback book called ‘How to Animate with Cut Outs’ by C.H. Barton (now out of print). About this time also, there appeared on TV such cartoons as Captain Pugwash and Ivor the Engine, making cut out animation acceptable. I therefore took the plunge and proceeded to make my first cartoon film.

Cut out animation as its name implies, relies upon the characters being made from thin sheets of card with the moving parts being separate entities, the animated movements being performed under the camera, a shot at a time.

The process then becomes what has been termed “Manipulation and Substitution’ of parts and/or characters, and as much artistic work is done under the camera as in producing and cutting out your performing players, in contrast to cel animation where all the artistic work is done in producing the cels and the camera work is a routine job.

Cut out animation obeys all the normal animation rules as regards timing etc. but except in the most unusual cases only one set of parts are needed for a particular character and are simply pushed around under the camera to conform to your previously worked out script.

A bonus with cut outs is that if thin blank card of about postcard thickness is used, it can be painted on both sides and you then have a character capable of ‘coming and going’ so to speak.

No real drawing skill is needed; your characters can be copied and modified from all sorts of sources. I have used newspaper illustrations, children’s books, picture postcards and magazines. I have even used projected slides to copy from. This is especially useful to produce backgrounds.

Backgrounds of course can be as detailed or as simple as you wish, but I feel that they should be of similar style to the cut outs, unless of course you are making some sort of satirical point. In one of my films the background was a montage derived from parts of various illustrated calendars. Anything goes.

Cut out cartoons do tend to be a little jerky at times, but I feel that this is acceptable and can be tolerated, and at times can even enhance the film.

As with all animation films, pre-planning is necessary, especially with regard to character movements. There is nothing worse than actually filming away only to find that you need an extra arm or leg or something and have to stop to make one.

Detailed worksheets are not really necessary. The fact that quite a lot of the film is produced by manipulation under the camera means that providing you have the gist of the scene and the timing required for it, detailed breakdown as in cel animation, just isn’t necessary.

Cut outs do not work well where there are a lot of fluid elements such as smoke or where the film relies on facial expressions, but are best suited to action type cartoons.

When it comes to actually filming your epic, a normal animation rostrum can serve, the only main difference being that the two lamps need to be higher than 45 degrees to the artwork as used for cel animation. I find about 60 degrees is about right to produce shadow free lighting. But it is surprising what you can get away with. My first effort was shot on the floor with the camera on a tripod and only one light directly over the artwork!

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