Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Little Island... on Google Video. I love how well sound and music are used in this film.
Info on the guy who did the music and sound effects. Click here.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Throne Room, Part 3

Left: King by Tim or Dick
Middle: Alyson
Right: Tim

Left: Alyson
Middle: Tim
Right: Zigzag and Cobbler by Neil, don't know who did the crowd

Left: Tim or Dick
Middle: Dick
Right: Neil

Left: Alyson
Middle: Alyson
Right: Alyson

Left: Zigzag and Cobbler by Neil, don't know who did the crowd
Middle: Alyson
Right: Dick

Zigzag by Dick

Cobbler, King and Yumyum by Alyson
The left linetest image is from an early workreel. The final image doesn't have Zigzag in frame anymore. To me this makes sense. In terms of screen direction and continuity it would feel wrong to have Zigzag on the right side here. I don't know if this was changed under Dick's direction or later.

Left: Tim or Dick
Middle: Dick
Right: Dick ( see earlier post for more details about this scene)

We don't know who animated the Cobbler for this scene. The linetest is in an early Williams workreel. Ink& Paint was most likely done under Calvert.

Left: Cobbler by Art/Dick
Right: Dick

Tuesday, February 26, 2008


Yesterday somebody left a comment on "Throne Room, Part 2". A friendly comment along with a few points that I wanted to respond to - only I couldn't because the comment was very quickly removed. Here is the comment (without the reader's name): "Cool Post ! Some of the characters remind me a lot of Jafar and the Sultan in "Aladdin". Looks very similar, well for me at least :o) Anyways I like it a lot".
I think it would be fair to say that both "Aladdin" and the "Thief" were influenced by "The Thief of Bagdad", which also featured a Grand Vizier and a Sultan. The Grand Vizier Zigzag and King Nod in the "Thief" however had been designed many years before Aladdin was made. A few scenes with them had even been shown in a TV documentary in 1982. After Dick moved into the public spotlight with "Roger Rabbit", a film that Disney had been very involved in, it was also no secret when he finally got the funding to finish the "Thief". I don't know when Disney decided to make "Aladdin", but they where able to release their film first. I'm not familiar at all with the version of the "Thief" that was released here in the US, but I believe that some efforts had been made to make it similar to "Aladdin". But this was after it was taken away from Dick. The scenes we discuss here on the blog were animated before "Aladdin" came out. I hope this clears up this point, but I would appreciate your comments if you'd like to add that might be helpful to people who find this blog and who might have a similar reaction as the reader who posted the above comment.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Ice Age 2

The sequences with the Thief work brilliant as short bits of entertainment on their own. The Pole Vault and Tightrope sequences for example progress like a short film, there is a beginning, middle and an end. I have to admit though, that at times I had doubts about the general concept of using such “comic relief” sequences as framework for a feature film. This has been part of a lot of criticism of the “Thief” even while we were still working on it. After the film was taken from Dick, most of the footage that ended up on the cutting room floor were Thief scenes.When I watched the Recobbled Cut, it worked a bit like a time machine on me, re-awakening a lot of memories and thoughts about this, my first experience on a feature film. Around this time I also watched Ice Age 2. I might have been a bit Thief-centric at the time, but I noticed some similarities between the two movies. I felt that with Ice Age 2 they were very successful in the way they used their Scrat sequences - in my mind similar to how Dick had intended to use the sequences with the Thief character. Like the Thief, Scrat also seems to be very much inspired by the Coyote of the Roadrunner cartoons and as in the “Thief” they use 6 or 7 sequences with Scrat to frame their main story. Where the Thief is mostly focused on getting the Golden Balls, Scrat is always focused on getting the Nut. Similar to the “Thief” there is also a prophesy early in the story promising “doom and destruction”. In addition to the structural similarities you can also find a number of scene specific similarities, for example in the sequence where Scrat is pole vaulting.

One difference that made me feel that Ice Age 2's use of Scrat was more successful then the Thief is that Scrat's scenes, while quite spectacular, don't outweigh the main narrative. The audience cares about the main characters and the challenges and threats they face. In Ice Age 2 I quite enjoyed the back and forth between the main story and the “comic relief”. A good balance. There also is a better connection between what Scrat is doing and how that relates to the main story. Scrat's efforts of taking the Nut always reinforce the main threat of the ice walls breaking and flooding the little world that the main characters live in.
I think Ice Age 2 showed that a concept that didn't fulfill it's potential on the “Thief” (at least the “Thief” was never finished properly) could actually work. In my mind it validates Dick's approach in regards to the Thief scenes to some extend but also highlights some of the problems of our film.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Throne Room, Part 2

I had help again for this post as I'm not that familiar with this sequence. From what I remember the studio concentrated during 1990 on scenes with action, long shots, crowd scenes, scenes with a lot of effects. I remember Dick talked often about our learning curve and that he was saving the acting scenes for later. My guess is that a lot of this sequence was animated during 1991. In some versions of the "workreel" there are some scenes that had not gone through T&P, they might even have been done early in 1992. I think the studio got closed down in May 1992.

Left and Middle: Dick
Right: Zigzag by Dick. Andreas animated the courtiers. The Palanquin and the Eunuchs were done by Bob Wilk (see recent photo). Paul Chorley usually assisted on Bob's scenes.This is the same scene I talked about in my Conrad Veidt post.

Left: Dick
Middle: Zigzag by Dick, Palanquin and Eunuchs as usual by Bob, Yumyum - not sure, Dick or Alyson.
The Courtiers (by Andreas) come in for a few frames at the end
Right: most likely Alyson.

Left and Middle (same scene): Dick
Right: Alyson

Left and Middle (same scene): Dick
Right: Dick
I think these pencil roughs were done during the time when Dick was pressured to fill in the gaps of the film with storyboards. The storyboards he did in color on small cards without registration holes to force himself "not to animate". In this case he apparently preferred to pose out the scene as animation roughs, maybe with the idea to give it to somebody else to tie down.

Left: Alyson
Middle: Zigzag and King probably by Dick, Yumyum by Dick or Alyson
Right: Andreas

Left: (see Throne Room Part 1) Courtiers by Andreas, Guards by Neil, Cobbler by Art/Dick
Middle: Alyson
Right: Alyson
If you have a chance to watch this, look at all the stuff falling off the Cobbler. Cool secondary animation. I also love the use of reflections in the Throne Room sequences. The BG design is still completely flat, but all reflections are dimensional, not just flipped versions of the drawing. It's a lot of work because you have to draw things as if seen from underneath. The first film that did this as far as I know was "Three Orphan Kittens" in 1935. Dick and Roy paid homage to this film in the Maroon Cartoon at the beginning of "Roger Rabbit" not only in regards to the use of reflections but also with the nice perspective camera move that Roy animated.

Left: Neil
Middle: Alyson
Right: Neil
I remember Dick at the video penciltester, figuring out the rhythm and timing for these head tilting scenes. I think it must have been during the "storyboard phase" because I remember the little color cards. Initially I had some doubts about his choices. When Yumyum leads with tilting her head to screen left, Cobbler follows with also tilting screen left. Then they do the same thing to screen right. Imagining the situation, them looking at each other, I felt that the Cobbler would actually mirror her action, which would result in him countering her screen left with a screen right. (If I'm not being clear here just ignore this, it's not important). I came to realize anyway that Dick's choices were the right ones, as proven by the final sequence which works beautifully. Intuition wins over logic.

Left: Alyson
Middle: Neil
Right: Alyson
Nice again the secondary animation on the ear rings, they just have the right weight.

Left: Zigzag by Dick, Cobbler by Neil, King and Yumyum (not sure)
Middle: (see Throne Room Part 1) Cobbler by Art/Dick, the rest by Neil
Right: Tim Watts

I have one more installment coming up to wrap up this first Throne Room sequence.

Gort or How I almost ended up in deep Sh&%#

Picture this... Camden 1990 or there abouts.Dick comes to me with a folder in his hand, saying: Here's a scene by Art Babbit, it's not very good, can you make it better? In my mind I imitated Munchs Scream and ran the other way, but I blushed, as usual and tried to look confident. The scene was of a tall servant, who had to smack his huge hands together like cymbals. Dick had done a new design since Art worked on it and he explained to me how to achieve the decelerating stagger for the hands. I was very green as an animator and totally terrified, but set to work.
Testing the scene in the evening, I knew it was not up to scratch, but had a pretty good idea where I went wrong. So I decided to fix it the next day. Which I did, and I showed it to Dick, who liked it, thankfully. What i didn't know, was that he took my tape that evening and looked at the miserable first take and apparently had a fit, ready to take it off me. I'm glad I didn't know about this when I fixed the scene, or I''d have been too mortified.After that I animated the little guy with the gong in the next scene, referencing Alex Williams take on him in an earlier scene.
And by the way, I still blush when I have to show a scene. Some things don't change.

Photo ScrapBook Part 4

Tim Watts, Genius

Monday, February 18, 2008

Static electricity

I remember having to do all the flying weaponry on the afore mentioned shot animated by Roy and Raymond, a scene that ended up being nicknamed: Starwars, due to it's plethora of flying objects.
It's funny now, remembering the lengths I went to, to make sure things didn't look repetitive or predictable. Seeing the finished item, it zips past you at such a clip, that even I hardly see any of the stuff I animated into it.
I guess it's what I now refer to as the Maple syrup concept.
You have to distil a lot of maple sap into a thimble full of syrup but only the concentration of vast amounts of input into a tiny amount of output will make it taste as sweet as it ultimately does.
The 18 foot long background for this shot hat to be stuck with sellotape to the walls of the camera room, and unstuck and held by assistants for the motorized move between frames and then restuck to the walls.
I remember John explaining the process of 8 or ten camera passes on this monster of a scene.
Needless to say, that meant that the film in the camera had to be rewound those 8 or ten times to be re-exposed again and again.
After almost a week of shooting the shot finally turned up in the moviola and lo and behold, Dick spotted something...
The film, passing through the felt lined slots in the reel housing, had built up enough static electricity to start sparking inside the camera, and those sparks were visible as thin blue lightning on the exposed film.
Luckily, Dick deemed it mild enough a fault, not to warrant a reshoot, which probably saved John and Grahams life...

And here is the proof...

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Conrad Veidt

Next week I will post more about who did what on the Throne Room sequence. For now I just have another instance of Dick using thermo prints, as a basis for the beginning of this scene:Zigzag's walk into the throne room and his hand gestures are based on a scene with German actor Conrad Veidt, probably from the 1940 film “Escape”. Veidt is playing a German general. The film is not currently available. It would be nice to have an image for the scene that Dick used. In the prints he looked just like he does in this image from “Escape”:In 1940 Veidt also played Grand Vizier Jaffar in “The Thief of Bagdad”, which was an inspiration for both the Thief and also “Aladdin”.
In 1942 he played Major Strasser in "Casablanca". He died in 1943.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Photo ScrapBook Part 3

Simon Downes, Runner and later Roy's assistant
and Dave Cockburn , Animator

Bob Wilk , Animator

Ian Cook, Production Manager and Dee Morgan, Render Artist

Roy Naisbitt, Production Designer and all around Genius

John Leatherbarrow, Director of Cinematography

Photo ScrapBook Part 2

Barbara McCormack , Color Design

Margaret Grieve , Animator

Brent Odell , Animator

Neil Boyle , Animator

Photo ScrapBook Part 1

The Animation Floor at the Forum, Camden Town

Holger Leihe , Animator

Dietmar Kremer , Animator

Andreas Wessel-Therhorn , Animator

Michael Schlingmann , Animator

Muqaddar Ka Sikander

The first Princess scene that Dick animated and that was mentioned in the last post was drawn over thermo prints from a VHS copy that Dick had taped off TV and saved for later use.
It's actress Rekha in the 1978 film Muqaddar Ka Sikander.
(Thanks to my friend Sanjay Patel and his buddy Chiraag Bhakta for verifying this).

Throne Room, Part 1

This came in from a trusted source and I made some minor edits with the author's approval:
"Here's some stuff I remember about the 'Throne Room' sequence (not sure what it was actually called in the production). The scenes of the Princess first seeing the Cobbler as he's dragged across the drawbridge, and the following scenes in the 'Throne Room' sequence have some history behind them.
For many years the various drafts of the script for The Thief featured the twin Princesses Yum Yum and Mee Mee, one of whom was in love with a reptilian beast called Bubba. A few inspirational watercolors were produced by Dick and Errol le Cain which suggested early ideas for the look of the Princesses.
Later on, during the mid-1970s, Dick was working with the New York animator Tissa David on the production 'Raggedy Ann and Andy' and, impressed by her sensitivity animating Raggedy Ann, he hired Tissa to produce some rough animation of the two Princesses bathing and talking in the palace bathroom. Some of Tissa's rough pencil animation can still be seen in the various rough cuts of the film.In 1988 (after Dick's success with 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit') Jake Eberts became the Executive Producer of The Thief. Jake (or rather his company) invested some development money in the film and then he and Dick got Warner Bros interested, and then signed up at some point in 1989.
Jake encouraged Dick to pare down the script which was running at 160 pages plus. Two of the casualties of this process were the Princess Mee Mee and the beast Bubba, both of whom were removed from the story entirely.

Later in 1990 or 91 Dick was under pressure to produce color shots of all the main characters in the story, possibly for a presentation of the film at Cannes, so that distributors and possible merchandising partners could get a sense of how they would work on screen. Although there were already plenty of color sequences featuring the character of the Thief, as well as some color footage of the Witch, the King, Zig Zag, and the single 'Laughing Brigand' shot, there were no final shots of either the Cobbler or the Princess. Dick set about animating a shot of the Princess stepping away from the camera and looking demure, which had been inspired by a shot from a live action film (the name of which escapes me). Dick also animated the patterns of light and shadow moving over the Princess, and these drawings were traced into mattes and used by John Leatherbarrow to create a dappled, multi-colored light playing over the figure of the Princess. This single shot remained the only color example of the Princess for quite some time and was eventually used as the final shot of the Princess in the 'Throne Room' sequence. If you look closely you can see that the Princess has slightly different, slightly more naturalistic proportions in this shot, compared with any others, and this is simply because it was an early attempt to find the final look of the character. As Dick drew more scenes he refined and simplified her.Once Dick had animated several Princess scenes (the Princess at the window, the Princess waking the King, and her laughing at the end of the 'Throne Room' sequence) he assigned Alyson Hamilton to work on the Princess, keen to have a female animator develop her character. Alyson animated most of the remaining shots in the 'Throne Room' sequence.

About the same time Dick was exploring the design of the Princess he took some rough animation of the Cobbler that Art Babbitt had done as a movement test several years before, and began to develop it as a full color test. Dick had initially based the character of the Cobbler on the 'baby faced' silent comedian Harry Langdon, and taking this as his cue. Babbitt had animated a test of the Cobbler waddling about with a slightly sped up, silent film feel. Dick took this animation and refined it, drawing over it with an updated design. This was traced, painted and used as the test shot to show potential investors how the Cobbler would look on screen.

A couple of years later, when the film was fully in production, Dick gave the artwork used in this test sequence to Neil Boyle, who had to build two shots in the 'Throne Room' sequence around it. The first section of the animation was used to show the Cobbler entering the Throne Room, and Neil added some animation of the guards moving up behind him, while Andreas Wessel-Therhorn added the courtiers looking on. Then, in the next section of Art/Dick's Cobbler animation the Cobbler scuttled around erratically before turning back to the camera. Neil had to create new animation of Zig Zag producing a telescopic wand from thin air and hooking it around the Cobbler's neck as if the Cobbler was being pulled back towards us by Zig Zag.In this way, both the test shots of the Cobbler and the Princess were integrated into the final production footage."

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Gigantic Cels

This just came in from Brian Riley in regards to yesterday's post and the palace gates:
“I dimly recall those scenes - I do remember John and I having long discussions about the water ripple reflections in the moat, doing multiple tests as always and I remember that he came up with a solution (as he always did) that satisfied Dick. Don't ask me exactly what that solution was, certainly some sort of double exposure with panning mattes, probably with a back lit, diffused and gelled reflective surface beneath the table but I could be completely wrong - I may be recalling a method we tried and rejected.
As to the gates, you're right, they were one of Roy's gadgets I think. In fact virtually all the larger* bg layouts had some sort of mechanical element that Roy had devised and constructed that could be reliably hand-animated under the camera over and over again. The rollercoaster scene in the War Machine you mention in your comment on Roy's city drawing for its gigantic cels was one such. But again, don't ask me for specifics as to what part and how it moved. I assumed you were talking about the scene where he crests the summit and the steep slope of the track back down opens up beneath him - he goes belting down it, the camera screaming after him to keep up, follows him in a sort of traveling down shot, then the track disintegrates and he slowly rotates in mid-air up towards the camera and then away into the distance back down into the disintegrating machine.
*When I say 'larger' - I mean larger in Thief terms, that is to say absolutely frighteningly huge in the terms of a normal animated feature - there were no small backgrounds on the Thief.”

Here are some images from this part. The animation of the cart rotating was first done in rough miniature drawings by Roy Naisbitt and then blown up to their final gigantic size and meticulously re-drawn by Raymond Guillaumet. He might have even traced it onto the cels himself. It was in his office that I saw the cels.
As I said in my comment, this part was used as a wipe to link 2 scenes together. David and Michael worked on a part of the scene before the wipe and I hope they will talk about it more.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Cobbler into Palace

I think this Zigzag scene was animated by Tim Watts...

...but I know that he animated this Cobbler scene. I was very impressed at the time with his drawings for this scene. I also like the subtle sense of depth he created with the head getting smaller as it recedes back in space.

Image 1: Here we have the first of many uses for Roy's setup for the palace gates. I've talked about this in an earlier post. It was a cardboard setup with the BG art in cut out animation style. Under the hood he had card board mechanics similar to a jumping jack that gave the camera man one “lever” to move along spacing calibration marks on the side as he shot the scene, allowing him to open and close the gate frame by frame always in the same pre-determined spacing. Repeatable maybe for multiple exposures.
(Brian, let me know if you have anything to add here.)
I think Dean Roberts animated the characters for this and the next closer shot (image 2) with the Cobbler being dragged across the drawbridge.
The scene with the roses by Margaret Grieve and Dee Morgan Andreas discussed already (Dec 27). I would like to know who animated the wall for the animated camera move of the next scene. Andreas thinks Margaret might have done the Wall too. She definitely did the flowers.
Here some more work in progress images from Margaret for the Princess arranging the flowers.

I think the next 3 Cobbler scenes are also Dean's.The Princess at the window was animated by Dick. I'll try to find out who did the birds in the long shot. Andreas thinks it might have been Dave "Squeaky" Cockburn.

Probably Dick was working over Ken's animation for the next 3 scenes. The first one is the scene where the Thief sees the 3 Golden Balls for the first time. A really strange and exaggerated stagger for the head. A daring choice, but it works for this moment. Ken – a master of staggers.

Next a nice back view of the Thief's head before the camera zooms close up to the balls.

Here the scene where the balls are “reflected” in the Thief's eyes. A nice surreal choice. The scene was reused later when he sees the balls again on top of the War Machine. The idea of the reflection in the eyes was used again in the Ruby Idol sequence.

Last scene in this sequence, the closing gates. Roy's setup again. I don't know who did the Thief.

Next up I'll have a guest post about the Throne Room sequence.