Animating in Turkey

You really have to love your job to take all this punishment, writes Tahsin Ozaur from Istanbul.

“Daha bitmedi mi?” (“Isn’t it finished yet?”) The gentleman wearing a suit, necktie, and a smug, condescending grin, peering irritatingly over my shoulder, is one of my bosses. Being employed by an advertising agency means my bosses are all advertising execs, and know as much about animation as an African pygmy knows about Alpine skiing. The clincher is that the scene is Istanbul, Turkey, land of rampant capitalism, booming (and collapsing) businesses, a veritable cornucopia for advertisers, but a land of total apathy towards the animated film.

Incredulously, the gentleman moves away, taking his condescending grin with him; he just can’t believe that a simple cartoon can take more than three days to finish. Meanwhile, I wrestle with the drawings, flipping wildly to get just the right dose of squash, stretch, follow-through, and all such refinements that no one will ever notice or appreciate. (How could they, with senses blunted by Turkish TV’s offerings – “He-Man” and “Voltron”?) Having no assistants or inbetweeners to share the load, all drawings must be drawn by me, and be clean enough for inking. A crew of one inker and two painters, on loan from the agency’s graphic department, work between sips of tea, sometimes pausing for crossword puzzles. I dare not contradict them; too easily they say: “This isn’t my job, you know,” and walk away. A third painter is a friend giving free help. He applies one colour on one eel then waits for half an hour “to let it dry”.

“Isn’t it finished yet?” Well, what do you know, it’s the boss again. Back so soon. Oh, it’s been three days since last time, has it? Well, we’re doing our best here, sir. (I’ve got thirty seconds of animation on my hands here. What does he take me for, a computerised inbetweening system?)

Paint! We’ve run out of ultramarine and grey, and the carmine red has come out bad. It will take too long to order them through the agency, might as well run downtown and get them myself.

A sweltering hour on the bus later, I am paint-hunting in shops ranged along a steep bill. Managed to find ultramarine and grey, but every single bottle of carmine red has turned out defective. The pigment refuses to dissolve in water, and ends up in little chunks on the eels. Too late to change colours now; I hope I find one decent bottle before I have to walk all the way up the hill.

Another sweltering hour on the bus, with no good news concerning carmine red. We will have to make do with what we’ve got. But applying the red is going to take overly long. Oh, there’s my boss now. “Isn’t it finished yet?” Somehow I thought he’d say that. Might as well grin and pass it off, I need the salary.

Pencil test this afternoon; unfortunately, the camera technician is nowhere to be found. I’ve been trying to get him to set the camera up for the last four days. I’ll leave him a note and get back to help with the paint.

“Still not finished?” No, sir. Fifty more cels to go with this horrible, flakey carmine red.
Phone! For me. The technician is ready. Run for it.

I’ve lust shot the test. The technician says he’ll process it immediately, and I can see it in the morning.

Five days later, I’m still waiting for the line test to be processed.

This is getting dull and repetitious. Let’s take a leap forward in time. A week later: “Still not finished?”

“I’ll be shooting in colour as soon as I find the technician, sir.”

Unfortunately, the camera has been dismantled to be used by the live-action crew. So let’s take another leap forward in time. The film has been shot. I am preparing for a well-deserved holiday. Quitting time is early today, people are cheerfully leaving the office at noon while yours truly loiters contentedly with the inner peace of a job well done. Shooting has been long and difficult. I wish we at least had a platen, and I didn’t have to lift and place a plate of glass before each exposure. I knocked the edge off the plate this time round, it was bound to happen. Should replace it before someone cuts himself. Well, all that’s in the past now. Might as well get ready to go. Sunny Mediterranean, here I come. “Oh, hello boss. What’s that you say? An objection? Have to re-shoot part of the film? What was the objection? What?!? But that means at least several frames of new animation. When do I have to re-shoot? Today?!?! But there will be new inking and painting, not to mention new eels to be cut from the roll, and everyone has left!”

Four hours later, I am blow-drying freshly painted eels, with a solitary helper to keep me company. Some time after that, we are vainly trying to get the camera going, with fuses blowing and sparks flying out of the sockets. After finally getting down to the actual shooting, we notice the safety shutter outside the lens (attached to prevent light leakage during long pauses between exposures) is malfunctioning. We decide to start over, disconnect the safety shutter, and hold a black card before the lens while changing cels. We are well on our way when the technician pops in and decides to fix the shutter, so we wait around while he does it, and then start over.

Things seem to be going well, but not for long. I serape my thumb against the broken edge of the glass. I’ve never bled so profusely in my life. Blood on my shirt, blood on the glass, blood on the eels. I end up spending half an hour in a local pharmacist getting my thumb treated and bandaged.

My partner leaves. He has to meet a friend somewhere. The technician has long since gone to do lab work. Two hours of solitary shooting, and the work is finished. The bandage is bright red and feels soggy.

A week later, I phone from my sunny vacation spot to ask how the film has come out. Incredibly the safety shutter malfunctioned; the film came out black, except for a round area in the middle of each frame. A friend has had to re-shoot it, using the black card method.
Audience reaction when it hit the TV screen? Ho hum!

And people ask me how come I have an ulcer. This has been a true story.

Printed in Animator Issue 22 (Spring 1988)