Thursday, December 13, 2007

Roy Naisbitt, John Leatherbarrow and Paul Dilworth (new update from Paul)

(I could use some help here. I had hoped that when clicking on the image it would show up really big in the browser, so that you can scroll through it. If anybody knows what I'm doing wrong please let me know. Maybe it's just too long, for now I'll post front and end of the pan as a workaround)Here I did a little Hans Bacher style stitching job (what happened to your blogs Hans?) on this pan scene that precedes the first scene with the Thief.

This was the first scene of the Thief I saw on film. I had seen bits and pieces in several documentaries on VHS before. The day Dietmar and I were hired Dick gave us the tour of his little studio in Camden. It was a few months before he rented additional space in the Forum, where they had worked on Roger Rabbit. On the ground floor was the camera room and he asked John Leatherbarrow to show us what he had on the moviola. I was very impressed. The scene seemed to be glowing, especially the water fountain.

The Cobbler in this scene had been painted before the model was updated, apparently it didn't bother Dick in this case. At the end of the scene the camera zooms closer to the wall behind which the Thief will appear in the following shot. All we see are the flies that always follow him everywhere, because he has never had a bath and smells bad.

I think this BG is by Paul Dilworth. I always liked his stuff, very close to Errol's style.
Dick told us the story how he hired Paul. Apparently Paul was walking door to door in Dick's neighborhood offering to make paintings of people's homes. When Dick saw his work he asked him if he would like to paint BGs on his film. I think he liked discovering talent that way.

Here is a story by Michael Sporn about how Dick discovered voice actor Paul Matthews, while working on Raggedy Ann and Andy: (By the way there are some similarities between Andy's design and the Cobbler. I kind of remember somebody pointing out before that the Cobbler was conceived during that period.)

“Dick was in and out often recording and editing the voice track. A lot of time was spent in the rehearsal studios in the Broadway/theatrical of town. (That was about three blocks away from the studio.) In an elevator ride up to the rehearsal space, Dick overheard a large black man in the elevator. I believe he was a delivery guy, maybe a messenger. Dick popped up in a flash. He immediately asked the guy if he had ever done any acting. No? Well, Dick hired him on the spot to be the voice of the leader of the One Eyes. His voice was incredibly deep and dark. Within the week, Dick had rerecorded the lines. (Another actor had done him in England, and Dick was looking for something better.)”

I also like the story about how Dick convinced a bunch of Irish guys to record for the Brigands sequence. He invited them to the studio, made sure they had plenty to drink and had them read the script. He kept the tape rolling as they got more and more drunk. Eventually they started fighting, he got it all on tape and used it in the film.

Returning to the pan scene... you can't see it here but there are 3 levels of BG art moving at different speeds to create a multiplane effect. The room with the cobbler, the walls of the courtyard and the fountain at the end. The levels were actually right on top of each other, just seperated by speed, not like the Disney multiplane camera, but very effective.

There was no layout department, or rather the layout department was a one man operation: Roy Naisbitt. In other studios you also had a scene planning department which worked out camera moves. On the Thief that was all Roy for the most part. Sometimes the animators could do their own layout, zoom and pan under Roy's and Dick's supervision. Here I think Roy did the layout drawing and Paul the watercolor work. Roy told me one of his secrets when designing pan moves. Make sure that the speed is never even. At the bottom of the artwork he would have pencil calibration marks. This is when the BG has bottom pegs and the animation top pegs. Dick loves top pegs. So Roy would spread out the pan layout on his long layout desk and block out the pan maybe on 8s or 16s, very lightly, constantly erasing, changing the spacing. Only when he was happy with that would he draw in the inbetween marks. For the multiplane effect you would only need to xerox these calibration marks up or down.

I remember Roy telling me about how fascinated he was by what he was sometimes observing through the window while driving on the underground train. Shapes zipping by would move up and down, weaving in a s-curvy way. He decided to use that when designing pan backgrounds.
In this BG you can see how he avoids parallel horizontal lines. That makes this very fast pan work really nicely even though there is no motion blur painted in, as it was in Disney movies. Everything is always in focus in this film, just watch the War Machine sequence, no depth of field either.
Roy gave each scene it's unique layout. He really nailed the 2 dimensional, persian look. Floors in perfect downview and parralel perspective, beautiful shapes.

When I grabbed the frames for this I made sure to have a bit of overlap where I wanted to stitch the images. In these areas I noticed differences in exposure, in brightness. That reminded me of the camera tricks that John Leatherbarrow brought to the table. After gaining a lot of experience with mattes on Roger Rabbit. Dick and John decided to use mattes on the Thief in a way that went far beyond the usual F/X like fire and lightning. Making use of John's computerized motion control camera they used mattes on BG elements to expose parts of the BGs differently. They would do multiple camera runs just for that. I think they even used colored lights in the different runs, changing the appearance of the BG sometimes dramatically. That way they could make you forget that you're actually looking at a piece of artwork. It just becomes a world. This effect shows up the most on film projected on a big screen. On a TV even a DVD doesn't show it. On the big screen some of the stuff was just incredibly beautiful.
In this scene I'm pretty sure that John changed exposure as the pan moves from the shadow into the bright sunlight and again towards the end of the pan and at the beginning he might have used blue light on the outside wall and normal light for the inside room with the cobbler.

I think Neil animated the water and flies. All this probably in late 1989, since I saw it in January 1990.


during the 90-92 period there were 2 other camera men on John's team, Allen Duck and Brian Riley. I wouldn't really know who would have done the actual camera work on any scene, but John was overseeing everything. They worked in shifts by the way to be able to deal with the growing footage that came their way.

One time I had worked out a fairly complicated camera by-pack for a scene I had animated on, something I couldn't do on the video line tester. I asked John if I could check if it worked before it would be shown in front of everybody in rushes. He told me there was no time and that he didn't have much sympathy for animators always wanting to make sure that things worked. He said it in a much nicer way since he is a friendly guy, but he pointed out that the camera team was in that scary spot every morning. They worked all day and night and would not know if they made a shooting mistake or chose the wrong exposure or whatever until rushes were shown.

new update from Paul Dilworth:
I didn't do the long panning bg. It was an Errol le Cain bg. I did some close ups of it I think.


Matt J said...

Leatherbarrow's camerawork is mind-boggling. The 'glow' effect also appears in the titles Williams did for the Pink Panther films too-I assume he used these jobs as testing ground for techniques he would employ on Thief?
I'd love to see the workprint projected large screen someday.

Michael Sporn said...

I have to say I'm really enjoying your comments. Any film is a treaure trove of stories, but this film has that added punch to it. Dick's studio was filled with enormously talented and dedicated people who wanted to push the medium forward. Even on Raggedy Ann we all felt like we were working on something valuable.

Keep on doing what you're doing; it's great.

Holger said...

I would settle for just being able to watch some of the reels we would get to see on special occasions, like crew parties.
Undiluted war machine for example, dust free first generation prints. Watching those reels was a great experience.
Dick was always interested in good camera work, for example the 3 frame dissolve technique he used on a lot of the painterly commercials that Russel Hall worked on. Matting things for glow he had done also years earlier in the shot where the Thief gets arrested buy the 2 guards and all the war machine stuff that got finalled in the early eighties. But that's all F/X motivated which had been used in other animated films as well. The new thing was to consider mattes for every shot to make it look even richer. To give John proper credit Dick pushed for a director of photography credit for him.

David Nethery said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David Nethery said...

It seems that Dick was working on the 3-frame-dissolve technique and the varying exposures on the Backgrounds at least as early as on ' A Christmas Carol' in 1971 .

A Christmas Carol
(on GoogleVideo , a shadow of its former self, but still watchable)

There are some quite amazing scenes in that all-too-short adaptation of the Dicken's ghost story for Christmas.

Holger said...

Hi David,
I appreciate your comment on The Christmas Carol. About your video link, I would like to stay away from video links to copyrighted content.
Roy Naisbitt showed me a lot of his original pan BGs from the Christmas Carol.
He had made them as layout drawings, but Dick liked them so much he used them as the actual BGs for the movie.