The Sullivan Bluth Studios in Ireland – Page 5

Colour stylist Susan Vanderhomt in front of a vast colour palette.

The studio trains their own animators and this could take anything from three to five years. Another five years would generally be needed to reach a proficient standard as a directing animator. The first few years would be considered to be an apprentiship. An animator progresses up the ladder from in-between artist to becoming a fully fledged animator on the basis of his aptitude and the amount of footage he can produce. If after a short period he is showing potential he may be asked to serve under a specific animator. He is encouraged throughout his training and is given the full use of studio equipment.

The next step in the animation process is the clean-up department. Here the clean-up artists transform the sketchy line of the ‘ruff’ animation into a single line drawing, making it conform with the director’s original model. This also makes it easier to Xerox. A total of forty-one people work in this department. It requires a steady hand to ensure that the drawings are precise, not a job to be done after a heavy night on the town.

Dan Ankney operates the computer controlled animation camera.

The Xerox photocopier produces a faithful reproduction of the pencil drawing on a sheet of transparent acetate or ‘cel’. Originally one could only photocopy in black but now twenty colours are available. Before the advent of the photocopier vast armies of inkers were used, laboriously tracing each drawing by hand. Inkers are now used only when a drawing is particularly complex or when some very important details need to be emphasized.

Now for the most colourful section of the production, the colour model department. It is here they select the correct colour for each character. The task is difficult since the colours must suit the backgrounds. Sometimes they have to portray the change of tone in a scene such as when night falls or day breaks. The artist has a library of over 1000 different tones to choose from and, if new colours are needed to suit the character or scene the paint lab will mix them.
With such a varied and extensive colour library they must produce their own paint.

Dan Molina, head of editing department.

When the stock of a particular colour runs low it has to be replaced with an exact match, which can be a tedious task. The colour match is achieved by painting a piece of acetate with a strip of the desired colour down the centre, while the possible matches are painted either side until an exact match is achieved.

The animation is now entering one of the most expensive stages: painting. The painting of the cels is very time consuming and involves over fifty people, making it the largest department in the studio. If any errors have not been corrected by this stage it could result in the waste of a lot of time and money.

Each cel painter receives a colour model sheet for each character indicating the exact colours to be used. It gives the colour of anything from the outer garments to the shade inside the ear or mouth of the character. The painting itself has its problems. Firstly the cel painter must paint on the reverse side of the cel so as not to paint over the outline of the character. Also the painter must adhere strictly to the outline, painting either over or inside the outline will show up in a finished product, and is sometimes called ‘popping’ or ‘fluttering’. The name ‘cel painter’ might be slightly misleading, as they do not paint with brush strokes, but rather drop a pool of paint on the cel and push outwards to the line. Using brush strokes would create streaks and would lessen the effect of the finished article.

Character sheet from The Land Before Time.

The last step before filming begins is to check every single cel or piece of artwork which will appear in the finished film. Any inaccuracies, such as the characters’ clothing changing colour, would be detected at this stage and returned to the appropriate people for correction. When everything has been checked and cels cleaned it is time to commit it to film.

The cameraman shoots every scene as instructed. The cels are enclosed in the scene folder along with the original animation, the backgrounds for that particular scene and the exposure sheet.


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