Monday, June 30, 2008


This is a little spin-off post from the recent Chase post. I was trying to find out who animated the leaves for this scene:What follows is a little back and forth email conversation I had with F/X animator Graham Bebbington about the technique used to create the shimmering leaves in this and two more scenes:

I animated a few of the shimmering leaf scenes and may have had a hand in the one shown. Basically they were painted panning backgrounds with sections of animated leaves repeated to give the impression of movement.

Could you explain that in more detail for the blog? I'd like to understand how that worked.

Basically it involves animating leaves moving very slightly as if in a breeze from say left to right, fixed to the same spot on a painted tree BG. Then gradually layering the same drawings slightly offset until you are happy with the amount and feel of the animation. Then you can experiment with the colours to enhance the shimmering effect and if they need to react to something, i.e the Thief falling into the branches, you can have bigger movements and showers of leaves falling down from the branches to enhance the effect as secondary animation. Above all you need patience and attention to detail as it is the repetition and variety that creates the illusion of movement and any large movements would distract from the main focus. As Dick said at the time you should “feel the wind”.

I talked to Dietmar about this. He told me about some scenes where he reused OneEyes in the same scene by using different pegs and offsetting the numbers in the x-sheet. Since you mentioned other leave scenes I had a quick look and found 2 more in the Polo game:
WOW, you found two scenes I definitely did… you’ve made an old man very happy. (Just kidding!) Below should clarify it a bit more and added to the previous e-mail give you a better idea. Obviously being in the same room and drawing them for you would be the best way. But this is the next best thing.

For example I don't understand how you would use different pegs if you just want to shift the drawing an inch or so. Floating pegbar, bottom pegs?

OK--- I meant the Bg was painted over A, B and C pegs. With the leaves animated separately on paper as a cycle of 12, 16, 20 or? drawings … whatever works. In Dick’s case more… more… more!!!. Then once they worked they could be repositioned in paint and trace SEPARATE from the pegs BUT registered to the painted tree Background. The trick is to hide the join between the separate cycles of leaves and to start the cycle animation at a different number for each section. E.G. TREE One below start on frame 1 of cycle, TREE two below start on frame 3 of cycle etc.etc.
When you said “then you can experiment with the colours” - that would be done in T&P? Would you linetest this by shading leaves in with colored pencils?Graham:
Yep, you guessed it. That was how I did the one in the rainbow scene above. Again animating sections and changing the start point of the cycle. (this time it was on smaller sections and it meant the tracing had to be pin point or the animation would jump)

In this scene with the Thief I also can't find any obvious repetition:Graham:
I think this may have been animated as seen and used as a basis for the other ones, as the leaves are larger and would be harder to hide cycles in. Although the longer the cycle the easier it is. (i.e a 36 frame cycle would be more convincing than a 12 frame one)

Monday, June 23, 2008

Chase Part 2

Here we have the concluding scenes of the Chase sequence. A lot of question marks. Please leave a comment if you know more...

Left: Thief and crowd by Andreas, glass f/x ?
Middle: Thief by ? glass f/x ?
Right: Thief by ?
For some reason my first guess for the leave animation on the right had been Margaret Grieve, but it's possible that F/X animator Graham Bebbington worked on this. He definitely animated similar leaves in other scenes and I'll do a little spin-off post about this next.

Left and Middle (same scene): Dean, courtiers by Andreas
Right: Dean

Left: Dean
Middle: Dean
Right: Andreas

update by Paul Dilworth:
With regard to the backgrounds, I remember doing the big palace window scene (many many golden stars to paint!) Inga did the beautiful trees, (and the rest of the Polo Scene.) The maps on the wall in Zig Zag's room were Roy's original drawings for the Golden City. Oh to see them large and in a movie theatre! I may be wrong but the blue radiating circle behind Tack's head as he was pinned to the wall was a total fluke. He just happened to end up right in the middle of it.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Guest Blogger: Monika Kremer - Paint and Trace

It is really unbelievable, how much has changed since we worked on the thief.

I didn’t belong to the animaton crew, I worked as a painter in the paint and trace department.
It was my first and only experience at working on an animated movie.

I became interested in the film, because my husband Dietmar was one of the animators. Lacking the talent to draw or animate, but fascinated by the look and story, I applied for Paint and Trace and got the chance to work on the Thief. Thanks a lot to Maggie Brown, the head of Paint and Trace - it was an experience I will never forget.

In 1990 it was impossible for me to imagine that 15 years later it would need only a couple of people and some computer to do – not only our work, but the work of the camera department, too. We were about 20 painters and up to 15 tracers - and I always thought, we needed more. But soon the space that we had rented for the Paint and Trace department was filled to the last place with people and free-lancing painters were employed, too.

The tracers worked with special tracer pens. They traced the pencil drawings, which came from the animaton department, with their pens and in different colours onto the cels. For this they needed a lot of skill. I wasn’t able to do that at all and so I had the biggest respect for our tracers. Some very complicated drawings took over an hour to trace.

Nearly every drawing was traced; only bits from the war machine were photocopied. The brigands were animated on frosted cels with special pens by the animators. These cels were called “frosted” because they looked like a window covered in ice. This enabled the animators to draw straight onto them and a special spray was used afterwards to make the cels transparent and then being painted on the backside as usual.

We painters worked with several different sized brushes, depending of the size of the area that needed painting. We used uncounted litres of paint not to forget the many white cotton gloves to prevent fingerprints on the cels. I still left a lot on them.

With cels the size of up to 60 x 30 cm, it felt like painting walls at times. And if there were special effects like lights in a scene, there had to be a black matte and a counter-matte for every single cel where an effect was to be created in the camera department.

Just to give an example, Zig Zag’s rings had already fifteen colours. Today that is just a mouseclick, back then, every single ring needed to be painstakingly painted with brushes. Here is also a colour model of “Your average crowd scene”

And of course these colours were not all readymade available, most of them had to be mixed, some had to be adjusted to compensate for cel level jumps under the camera. This effect can still be witnessed in old TV animations. When a character was on a held cel and just an arm moved, this arm would be on a cel above the held character. And if you didn’t adjust the colour for the arm on the level above, that colour would look different, because the cels are never truly transparent.

Some paints weren’t easy to handle, The colour of the Thief’s robe on the inside had to be stirred very carefully, otherwise it dried with spots and stains. If that happened, the paint would have to be scratched off again and re-applied. Obviously, today’s computers save a lot of time and hassle here.

Sometimes it wasn’t easy to stay inside the trace lines. For example, there was a scene were the Thief had spiraly vines around the body and then makes them into springs on his feet, which were incredibly fuzzy to paint. No “Animate at 300% and reduce in compositing”. This I would have loved to paint only with a few mouseclicks.

After the cels were traced and painted, they went to the checking department before they could go to camera. It was always a nightmare if a mistake was discovered on a cel. If somebody mixed up the two colours on the hem on kings garment for example, it meant that the paint had to be scraped away and the cel painted again. When you work from 8 in the morning to 10 in the evening, a lapse of concentration like this could happen easily.

Finally an example that was mentioned in an earlier blog, how the animators loved to add incredibly small details to their scenes. The "Stainless Steel Solingen" blades in the War Machine:

Monday, June 9, 2008

Dick's upcoming DVD

The website for Dick's upcoming DVD version of his book has just been updated.
Here is the link for the SITE and a link for a PROMO CLIP. It's different from the one posted on Cartoon Brew, although it starts out the same...

Update: further discussion HERE and HERE

Saturday, June 7, 2008

an outward and visible reality.... or The Crew Jacket

Picture this... London, 1991 , a place bustling with Feature and commercial animation ( I know, hard to picture, but try)
Amblimation has a studio in Acton, Disney is at Kings Cross and Henson is busy on several projects. And we see something we hadn't seen before... crew jackets. We all felt deeply proud to be working on ' Once ' , as it was called then and really wanted to join the throngs of artists wearing their pride on their sleeves...or better yet, on their back. Disney had jackets, Henson had jackets.. but we had a very limited budget and crew jackets were out of the question... until they weren't. Dick decided one day that not only would we get jackets as well, but ours would be the best of them all.
Lacking any official merchandize, I had taken to painting t-shirts with whatever took my fancy...and so I made a t-shirt using the Once logo and one of the images from the Thief brochure.( fashion maven I wasn't).

Caricature by T. Dan Hoffstedt

Dick saw me wearing the t-shirt one day and, in his no nonsense way, asked me to strip off, so he could xerox it... which I dutifully did. Thankfully that was before the middle age spread set in.
By that time, the film had already been re-titled as The Thief and the Cobbler, so Dick took my T- shirt design ( which, let's face it, was just his designs reused anyway ) and adapted them to the new title logo... a crew jacket was born!

We were ecstatic when the finished jackets were finally delivered, and Dick hadn't promised too much. The stitching was very intricate and on the front , for all to see, was a badge of honour we had all dreamed of from the time we fell in love with our chosen profession :

Sunday, June 1, 2008

The secret Xerox conspiracy!

Well, a blog entry has to have a flashy title to grab you by the throat and pull you right in. In reality there was nothing secret, no conspiracy and only Xerox.

During the time, when Dick funded the film privately, many of the greatest war machine scenes had been animated. And they had all been traced on cels. As Holger has written earlier, these cels were gigantic. The Layout for the scene “Kettle” for example was 66 x 30 cm.

It was quite clear early on that there would be no war machine cel tracing any more. Time and monetary constraints forbid that. So it was decided that the animation would have to be photocopied (or xeroxed) on cels. But of course, with a film shot in glorious 35-mill cinemascope and to be presented on big screens, there was no way, we would animate these awesome battle scenes on A3 or even A 4 paper. That would be like watching Picasso’s “Guernica” on a stamp. And it would wobble and shake all over the place.

Luckily a shop that did A3 laser Xeroxes with brown toner on cells was found after extensive research. In the meantime Roy cooked up a clever scheme. We would use irregularly cut Overlays that would also add depth to the picture and hide the cell edges. Then the animation would be xeroxed on separate A3 cels and the cels cut to fit under Roy’s Overlays. Instead of one big cel, we now had up to 4 cels placed next to each other, but cut up like mosaic pieces. To avoid colour jumps, blank cels would be placed where no animation took place and nobody in the audience was the wiser.

But there was after all a little problem to the whole idea: The Xerox machine would distort every copy ever so slightly. And it would distort it always in a different place. So it was not just a matter of placing the xeroxed cel over the original drawing and pegging it. We literally had to make 3 Xeroxes of each drawing and then peg the keys first and afterwards re-peg all the in-between Xeroxes according to the Xerox keys. Staring on 3-5 transparent levels of cels, each loaded with many little one-eyes does mess with your eyes and brains after a while, I can tell you that. So if you fail to grasp the concept behind the “secret Xerox conspiracy”, it is not your fault, but clearly an after effect of me working too many hours on these scenes.

To add insult to injury, let me quote Neil Boyle “Give Dietmar a Xerox machine and he gives you three feet of animation a week”