Monday, July 21, 2008

The Dying Messenger, Part 2

Here is part 2 of the interview with Tash. This is the 2nd Dying Messenger scene. It's animated in slow motion to suggest that it's part of King Nod's dream.Holger:
I remember seeing this second scene of yours at the linetester, at normal speed initially. It might have been one of the times where Dick liked a test so much that he called everybody over to check it out. I remember Dick telling you to just throw tons of inbetweens in there to create the slow-motion. Did that work out or did you have to adjust things a bit?

I had to adjust things and I knew that would be the case when I started out. There are always a lot of small, wonderful things that happen that the eye misses in normal speed. Animation on twos naturally glosses over a lot for fluidity; if you want to incorporate some of them, you ought to switch to ones. When you go deeper into fractions of seconds, you find more. Think about all the slow motion live action scenes you have seen. At the time I had in mind some slow motion horse racing scenes from a film with a boy and a horse; I believe it was The Black Stallion.
When the scene reached its ideal slo-mo look, Mr. Williams wanted one more set of inbetweens packed in- to make the whole thing on ones. Slow though it was, Mr. Williams still wanted animation on ones. The hairline inbetweens were indeed carried out. (This scene) was actually assisted by someone else (not Sharon), a girl who came just before I left; I believe she was from Berlin.

On all the scenes I like the overlap on the flag pole and arrows. I remember seeing on some of the drawings faint traces of rubbed down straight versions. Did you animate them rigid on a first pass pose-to-pose, perhaps and then the bending for overlap in a second pass straight-ahead, referencing the rigid version?

I don't remember the details now but I probably would have sketched in the flag in its actual size and shape, taking into account the perspective and all. This would be a precaution against the flag progressively growing, a common trap in flag waves and similar secondary action cloth animation when it is done straight ahead. As for the arrows, they were especially difficult to keep track of because they overlapped a lot in perspective. I kept track of them by giving each a different color.

Did you inherit the BG pan for this 3rd Messenger scene from Babbitt's earlier version?

Inherit I did, but my version was done from scratch.

Did you animate the horse on the spot on the same pegs or did you work locked to the BG, switching pegs every few drawings?

Now this is a scene that doesn't satisfy me that much in its final version: I made the original animation in place and it looked fine. I figured since it is a gallop, the hoof contacts would be so short that it wouldn't be difficult to create a matching pan. What I failed to calculate was perspective- or rather, the absence of it. I have the horse galloping right up to the camera and then away again, seen almost from the back. It would have worked if there was no texture on the ground, or at least something moving in perspective. But the background had to look flat, with these rectangular tiles or whatever they are on the ground. Ironically, this flat oriental style that looks so exotic to Western eyes has always left me, a native of the near orient, cold! I started experimenting by making sketches with patterns of squares in varying sizes, and panning at varying speeds, trying to come up with the ideal combination that would keep the hoof on the spot it landed and not slip. The closer that animal comes, the faster the whole background has to move you see. Then Roy Naisbitt came to me and told me Mr. Williams didn't favor animation "in place" since it meant having the pan locked in, he preferred it done "with the pan" so that he would have the freedom to adjust the pan speed himself. Mr. Naisbitt took my animation and re-pegged it over a compromised background and the result of this re-pegging you can see on screen; the effort to keep the hooves steady has resulted in some jitter and some loss of fluidity.

Let's talk about the scenes in the Throne Room. Did you work on the reflections at all (maybe just on some key poses?) or did you leave that completely to Sharon, perhaps?Tash:
Well, after the (first) scene was done, I was told the whole scene was to be played on a polished floor, and the reflections would have to be put in. I remember suggesting putting a carpet under the horse and rider to hide the hoof and foot contacts; then it would have been a simple matter to flip the drawings and the illusion would be fine. However, Mr. Williams did not want to go for that solution. It was to be polished floor all the way through!
This meant drawing the underside of the horse and all, or else the foot and hoof contacts wouldn't work- not to mention the full body contact when the horse collapses! This was one place in this no-perspective film where we couldn't evade the demands of the law of perspective! I started working on it- it was just before I left- and I believe Sharon was to take over and continue, but when I saw the finished version of the scene, surprise surprise... the carpet! So I figured maybe they did just flip the drawings after all!

I really like these closer scenes with dialogue. Together with the first 2 scenes these are my favourites. It would be nice if you could tell me about your work on them.
These scenes were my only real lip-synch scenes on the film; pity, because I enjoy lip-synch. I get a kick out of seeing my drawings actually talk! The messenger only grunts and moans in the other scenes, here I actually got to animate him saying something. Again, as in the other scenes, the challenge was to make a very slow-paced scene interesting. If you listen to the track alone, it's depressing. Again the solution was to enrich the slow pace with a string of small details, hopefully interesting in themselves. I do regret putting in a stagger though, I did that because Mr. Williams did it in a lot of his scenes, and I thought I would take a page from his book, this being his movie after all! But in general I am satisfied with the scene, his weight when he falls forward and catches himself with his arm, the overlapping bits of his headgear. the discs on his costume that help give him volume, his suffering puppy-dog expression- these were all fun stuff to work with and if not actually fun to watch (he is dying after all!) I hope at least interesting to the viewer!
I much appreciate you taking the time for this Tash. Thank you!

You're welcome! Did Sahin also contribute to your blog? His story is most interesting! He had a difficult time having his own genius (I am using the word in all seriousness) accepted and appreciated by Mr. Williams, but he eventually held out longer than I.

Tahsin ("Tash")

I also asked Mark Williams about the Dying Messenger scenes. Here is some of what he wrote: "I don't remember too much. It was a while ago. I'm surprised that you have so many details in the blog already. I'm also surprised that other animators remember their shots so well. I think Dean Roberts and Gary Dunn did a lot of the background characters. Tim Watts some of the King and Zig Zag but what exactly I don't know.


Rafi animates said...

Once again, a very interesting post. A big thank you to Tash and you Holger, for getting him involved.

Reading this great blog makes me long for the film to get a proper, restored release. Chances are probably slim, right?

Holger said...

Thanks Rafi.

A fellow Thief animator said recently that you can't restore that was never finished. I think he has a point there.
Should it be finished properly? What would that actually mean today? Would there be an audience for a big screen release that would justify re-doing a lot of scenes according to the original high standards, with big field sizes, finding the artists to do the animating, assisting, tracing, painting, doing mattes and camera work?
Personally I don't need to see this film finished. I love the work that Williams was able to do. That's enough for me. I would like to see an official release compiling all this footage, though. Maybe together with existing documentary footage and new interviews that explore the troubled history of this film. I doubt that Williams would be interested in that and without his involvement it would not be much fun.

Andreas said...

this would be a great candidate for a criterion dvd release, since it needs the quality treatment and yet, the audience is somewhat limited.

Rafi animates said...

Completely agree with your points Holger, and if I'm honest, I love everything Dick did with this film, and although incomplete, it is to me a complete masterpiece.

My use of the term was somewhat misleading - I actually meant an official anthology, just as you described it, with all the Williams-related footage in the best possible quality, plus interviews and a documentary or two.

Andreas, a Criterion treatment of this film is so perfect I can't beleive it never occurred to me before!

One thing I can't get out of my head is how devastating it must have been to Dick, to see his baby taken away from him. Tarnished by this, I don't blame him if he never wants to discuss the project or associate in any way with it ever again.

Truly tragic and heart-breaking for an artist to have that happen to their life's work.

Rafi animates said...


"My use of the term RESTORATION was somewhat misleading..."

(2nd paragraph of previos comment)


Nils Poulsen said...

Thanks Tash and Holger! Great animation and great post.

Anonymous said...

I hadn't checked this blog for a few weeks. You've been busy. The two Tash posts are a good read. I'll have to catch up now on the earlier posts. Thanks so much!


Matt J said...

Excellent interview guys-the Messenger was always a favourite of mine too. Fascinating as always to hear the back-story.

Nancy said...

Tash, didn't you once say that you had to keep adding arrows in the Messenger's back?

Tash said...

I had to add arrows from scene to scene; the first had 11, I believe, and the later scenes had 13. Mr. Williams wanted more and said no one will notice" and he was right; no one did!

Annie said...

Tash was my roommate in Dublin in 1988 when he was working for Bluth.

Just doing a little Googling. It's good to see he is still as committed to his art and as talented as he was 20 years ago.

I still have a drawing he did of me for my birthday!