Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Thief climbs up Witch Mountain, Part 1

I'm always very happy when some of my former Thief colleagues write here on the blog about their work on the film. I can't think of anything else to write about at the moment, so I thought I might as well write a bit about some scenes that I worked on. I recently found some notes I took at the time to keep tabs of the work I was doing. The scene number for this scene was seq10.1/sc.4x, the scene length 10 feet and 14 frames and I started working on it on March 20, 1991. The scene starts close on the Thief and then pulls back to reveal the Ruby Idol in the distance. I worked over Ken's original animation. Dick wanted the proportions much different, less cartoony, smaller head etc. It still is very much like Ken's animation and I feel I mainly contributed effects, animating his coat and sleaves flapping in the wind, the rope and the flies. I think I did the first bits of gravel that he kicks of and Lynette Charters animated the rest. These scenes usually also required some retiming and respacing. The first 2 days I spent drawing the BG layout. Before I started there was only a simple outline to indicate where the mountain was. Dick gave me some of Errol's BGs as reference for how he wanted the hands drawn. The drawing for the Ruby Idol he did himself. I think he did that for all the other scenes with the Ruby Idol as well. It's a caricature of actor Sydney Greenstreet.
I always enjoyed it when I was asked to draw my own layouts, a privilege really. Dick liked us to be involved in as many aspects of our scenes as possible, encouraging us to make them our own and feel responsible for them. For most scenes he liked to do several key clean-ups to keep the style consistent and the drawings on model. It also gave each scene his personal flavor, in the way that a Milt Kahl scene for example is recognizable by his drawing style. Dicks drawing choices were pretty unique and he always came up with the nicest shapes. Maybe this resulted sometimes in a reduced sense of ownership for us and the drawing of our own layouts was intended to make up a little for this. I didn't draw any of the bushes by the way. I think that was all Inga Davelouse who painted the BGs for this sequence.
When I started this scene I had been averaging 8 feet a week for a few months, which usually put me pretty high on the "footage chart". This was a board that Ian Cook the production coordinator kept up to date. It showed how much footage was counted every week for each animator. Counted meant footage that was reported as done in the weekly report to Warner Brothers. In the case of this scene for example half of the scene was counted already on the first day (Friday) I started animating it. These decisions were usually made by Dick in the (click:) ROUTE SHEET MEETING.
In addition to fulfilling his directorial duties Dick also was the studio's most productive animator. Mostly it was him or Neil at the top of the footage chart. At route sheet meetings Dick often made a big deal out of announcing the "footage king" for the week. On the few occasions when I had that honor I felt a mixture of pleasure and embarrassment. Embarrassment because I felt that the scenes I worked on were so much easier to do than many of the ones that other animators worked on and it felt a bit manipulative and not really fair. However I worked hard to maintain my footage average, between 60 and 77 hours per week.
Reading what I just wrote I would have to add that what motivated me even more to work hard was the desire to get as many good scenes with the Thief as possible before work on the film would be completed.

More to come...

8 comments:

Rafi animates said...

Interesting. I'd love to know more about the workflow you employed to reach that footage quota. Or anyone else's methodology for hitting the weekly targets for that matter...

Holger said...

With most of the Thief scenes Ken Harris had done the original animation. We had to reanimate it with different body proportions and sometimes Dick wanted different timing or little pieces of business added, but for the most part the animation problems were solved already so we could concentrate on the drawing problems. This made it much easier to set goals for yourself, how many drawings you had to do each day to be able to do the footage. I also found it very helpful once I had the help of assistants to work on inbetweening (on ones). For one thing they do a lot of the drawings for your scene but also once you start working with an assistant you've come to trust and rely on you try your best to keep them busy so you won't lose them. A constant race that can speed you up a great deal.

Holger said...

Just to put things in perspective, Neil Boyle averaged around 12 feet a week. Maybe it was even more and Dick, I think his average was at least around 15 feet.

Rafi animates said...

Blimey! That's a real eye opener. 12 and 15 feet.

Thanks for elaborating on the process and highlighting the relationship between animator and inbetweener. Working completely on my own as an independent animator in this day and age, I often forget about how it was done in studios of hand-drawn features not so long ago.

I still set myself a high footage (or frame) count on my projects, mainly due to limited time and resources available to me, essential if I want to complete a film at all! :)

On a separate (but related) note - in the CG pipeline at major studios, inbetweeners don't really exist as a separate person to an animator anymore, or do they?

Thanks again for sharing.

edhead said...

Great Post Holger - how clean and tied down was Dick's work? Also I presume on some scenes you could animate on fours+ if the animation allowed you to and give the assistant the i/b's to do and this would count towards your overall ftg for the week, whereas on other scenes you might have to do more drawings which would curtail your productivity and be reflected in your overall amount of ftg achieved which doesn't seem logical or truly representative of how much work an animator has actually done?!

One more thing - does ANYONE know why it's pronounced 'rout' sheet and not as its spelt 'routE'?!!?!? This has bugged me for years! Is it purely the American pronunciation for 'route' (as oposed to the English 'root')!?

Rafi animates said...

Hi edhead. yes I'm pretty sure it's a toMAYto / toMARto situation with "route" :)

Holger said...

Route - root...
If this discussion seems geeky to anybody you might be interested to hear that I actually recall Dick explaining this at some point. It had to do with the american way of saying it. But there was a little story to it. Maybe Dietmar or somebody else remembers?
How clean etc...
I'll talk about that in my next post.

edhead said...

Haha! Geeky yeah! Would love to know Dick's explanation please. Cheers for yours Rafi!