The Sullivan Bluth Studios in Ireland – Page 4

In the animation department the story is divided up scene-by-scene and distributed among the character animators. The animators’ task is to bring movement, personality and life to the character he is drawing. Those of you who are mathematically inclined might like to work out how many drawings there are in the average ninety-minute feature. Whatever figure you come up with add many many more for the ones that were not up to standard. If you include backgrounds, layouts and animation, roughly one-and-a-half-million drawings will be made for a full length feature.

The animator draws the key drawings or extremes of the action in a scene. Then the Breakdown and In-between artists make the drawings of the action between the key drawings so the animation flows smoothly. When the animator is allocated a certain scene he also receives an exposure sheet and a character sheet. The bar sheet contains details of the dialogue and music for the scene which is given frame-by-frame phonetically, which means the words are written as they sound rather than as they are spelt. The character sheet illustrates the design of the characters in the film.

Scenes from An American Tail.

As the animator proceeds with his drawing he fills out the exposure sheet. This contains frame-by-frame instructions, but this time from the animator to the cameraman. The sheet has headings for camera moves, cel levels, dialogue and visual reminders for the animator. Camera moves are situated on the right of the sheet and include pans, truck pans, fade-ins, fade-outs, field sizes etc. Cel levels are noted on the left of the sheet. There are columns for five cel levels and the background. The animator might use the levels for various characters or for breaking down one character. For example if there is a scene where the characters’ body is stationary with only the arms and legs moving then a lot of re-drawing can be eliminated by splitting the character over two or more cel levels. The characters’ body could be put on the lowest level, the arms on level two and the legs on level three. Now the animator only draws the new positions of the arms and legs while the body remains the same. The exposure sheet instructs the cameraman which cels to change and which to leave.

Dialogue is included on the exposure sheet written frame-by-frame phonetically as on the bar sheet. Visual notes are in a flap on the back of the exposure sheet and contain the personal thoughts of the animator on each scene and are solely for the animators’ benefit. Finally, to index each sheet it contains the title of each scene and its number in the sequence. To sum up, the exposure sheet is a comprehensive guide to the contents of a scene.

The paper used in animation is of a light grade, usually 60 grams. It is punched with three registration holes which fit over pegs on the animator’s desk. As the paper is held in a fixed position by the pegs a rotating disc is used to enable the animator to turn the paper through 360 degrees. The disc has a glass window and a light shines from beneath to allow the animator to see through several drawings and check the progress of the movements. This can also be achieved by flicking the drawings backwards and forwards.

Some animators specialise in effects animation. This is the animation of the elements rather than people, ranging from wind or rain to shadows or fires. All these are details which enhance the art of classical animation.

When a scene is completed the animator can check its fluidity by doing a pencil test. This involves photographing each drawing with a special video line tester. It is then played back and if everything runs smoothly it is ready for the next stage. The animation drawings are put into folders which also hold the exposure sheets and so on for a given scene. The names of the people involved in the scene are noted on the outside as this is useful for rectifying any errors discovered later.

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