Friday, September 26, 2008

Thief climbs up Witch Mountain, Part 5

This is the concluding post for the climbing scenes in sequence 10.3. I will pick it up sometime soon with the remaining scenes of the sequence, which I also worked on, where the Thief is flying.

This scene was not based on anything Ken had done and it didn't have a scene number. It had a name: Hunter. 9-04 feet. I worked on it from June 13 to 16, 1991.
Dick did 2 or 3 drawings, which meant that this scene was pretty much done. Recently I listened to part 1 of Eric Goldberg's interview on Animation Podcast (LINK). He did a very good impression of Ken Harris, with Ken being all modest about his animation and saying that Dick did all the drawing work. Dick had the highest regard for Ken's abilities. It was a pretty unique working relationship with Dick as Ken's boss and student at the same time. He did poses for him before Ken started his scenes and refined the animation after Ken was done.

seq. 10.3/ sc.9x, by Dick/Ken

seq. 10.3/ sc.10x, by Dick/Ken, redo coat by Holger
These scenes had been finished in color and had been on film for years. It's an hommage to Bill Tytla's work with the Devil from Fantasia, even using the same music. I always loved this part of the film and was thrilled that I could be involved a little when I was assigned to add wind animation to the coat, as an overlay to the original cels. It's also interesting how much Dick sometimes disregarded continuity, more thinking about what was right for the scene. If it would work and nobody noticed it was good. Do I care that the palm trees from the previous scenes disappeared, or that the angles of the rock changed? No, I don't. I like the hightened drama that Dick created by these choices.
I remember some Ken linetests that Dick decided not to use, where the Thief is elaborately sticking the palm leaves into his coat sleaves. I think all that had been part of sc. 5x.

I also got to do this longshot, which hooks up directly to the next scene 11x, where the Thief is flapping his wings, trying to fly, but I save that and the following scenes for another post. I think we need to post else for a while. All the recent images use the same set of colors and maybe you had to look closely to realize that this was a new post.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


Michael Sporn writes about the MoMA event. (LINK)

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Thief climbs up Witch Mountain, Part 4

In my notes I found that Roger Waters was at the studio on one day while I was working on these scenes. I remember peeking over the desks when he was talking to Dick. I think they were discussing him doing some music for the film, but that never happened. Paul McCartney and George Martin were also visiting at another time, talking about writing the music, but that also fell through.

seq.10.3/sc.2x, 26-02 feet, I worked on it May 13 - 31, 1991Here is a rough sketch Dick did for this scene while he was explaining to me what he wanted. Most of this scene was based on Ken's work, but Dick asked me to add some business with the Thief feeling dizzy after getting up and almost falling off. Dick wanted to know the German translation for the word "dizzy". I wrote it down for him in the top right corner: "schwindelig".I also did the BG layout drawing, referencing an Errol BG for 10.3/5x (see below), the hand just at a slightly different angle. I think Margaret Grieve animated the palm leaves moving in the wind. On this scene and on the scenes that followed Hilary Denny, who assisted me on this sequence animated the flies. I was really happy about this as it allowed me to start on another scene instead of going back in to work on flies. Up to that point I had not only animated flies for my own scenes, but also for a lot of Dick's scenes. I think Hilary adopted my color coded method (see Sept. 5 post). Dick and Neil used another approach when they animated flies. They did them all at once in graphite and they didn't worry too much about following through on the individual flies as long as the overall shape was moving properly. We all used the tip of the heart shape to help with the direction they were flying in.

seq.10.3/sc.3x, 4-05 feet, I worked on this June 1 and 3, 1991These were pretty much just 3 keys with lots of inbetweens. Apparently I did the layout, too. I probably just xeroxed the Ruby Idol from another scene.

I'm not sure about the scene number for this one. I think I did a drawing of the Thief for a held cel.
In connection with this sequence I have from an earlier post:
"Roy later told me about times when Ken Harris was about to arrive for his seasonal stay in London and having been busy on commercials Dick sometimes had not prepared any work for him. In a hurry they would whip out BG and character layouts for the Thief character. Dick would just say "Let's make him climb up the mountain..." and that would keep Ken busy for a while." (see also this LINK)

seq.10.3/sc5x Redo 23-10 feet
This scene was considered a redo which meant that the footage could not be counted towards our weekly studio quota as it had been counted already. This reminds me of our production coordinator Ian Cook and how he would come by every week and ask "What is your footage?". This might only mean to my former colleagues, but the way he said this every week was funny. Ian has a very dry sense of humor. Dick had done this scene years earlier working over Ken's roughs and it had been painted and filmed, but now Dick wanted wind moving through the coat. So I took his drawings and animated the coat as overlays that were carefully matched to the existing cels.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Hans Bacher returns...

Without him we wouldn't have worked on the Thief. I missed his blogs in recent months and just discovered he is using WordPress now:


Thief climbs up Witch Mountain, Part 3

This is a drawing Dick did for scene 4x:This drawing is from scene 5x:

TB means trace back. His feet in this case did not move, for a while at least. I couldn't put them on a held cel because his leg had to move, so for the linetest I roughly traced them for each drawing from drawing 143, probably in green. TB 143 told the tracer to trace back the foot for each cel to drawing 143, but he had to do it with much more care. Later in the scene there were indications drawn in red pencil: Match BG. Parts of the Thief were going behind the rock in shape of a thumb. Here the tracer had to first trace himself a master match line from the final background and then trace a self ink line in the color of the coat on each cel, "matching" it to the BG. The color red was always reserved for this, so that T&P would know right away what to do.
There were a lot of rules like this. Over the years Dick had streamlined the processes used in his studio to ensure good product.
This drawing appears to be an inbetween by the way. Keys had the drawing number circled and usually a chart on them. Looking at this drawing reminds me of Dick once said about the Thief style. Animation drawings and linetests often look best in the rough stage and sometimes lose a bit of appeal at every stage until they reach final color, while the Thief scenes tended to look best once they were painted. Maybe some of that's due to the 2 dimensional style. The Thief's coat also reads much better as a shape once it's painted. Dick often would shade in the coat on the animation drawings to aid a better read of shape as opposed to lines.

In an earlier post there is an image comparison illustrating the evolution from rough to final. The example is a bit extreme because in many scenes Ken's version was closer to what ended up on screen, but it shows the general trend of scenes improving in final. Click LINK

Friday, September 12, 2008

Richard Williams in Conversation with John Canemaker

MoMA, New York
Monday, September 22, 2008, 7:00 p.m

Click this LINK


Our blog is on Alltop.
Click this LINK

Friday, September 5, 2008

Thief climbs up Witch Mountain, Part 2

For the BG layouts for these scenes I had to look more and more at my own hands as I didn't have direct Errol reference for the required hand shapes. I just tried to draw the knuckles and finger shapes in Errol's style. As mentioned in the last post all these scenes just came with minimal indications of a general rock outline, just enough for a rough linetest.
Scene 5x never made it into the released version, but it's in the Recobbled Cut. Scene 7x was cropped for the released version and in his Recobbled Cut Garrett Gilchrist composited added image information on the sides, from a copy of the work print I guess.

seq.10.1/sc.5x, 10-08 feet, finished on April 14, 1991
seq.10.1/sc.6x, 10-11 feet, finished on April 24, 1991
seq.10.1/sc.7x, 13-01 feet, finished on May 1, 1991
The approach for reworking Ken's Thief was similar to what I described in the last post for sc. 4x. The kicking action for the Thief in sc. 7x was fun to do, a bit different than Ken had it. I did the feet on ones as partial drawings because there was a lot of favoring in the spacing, overlap on the feet and arcs to consider. Hilary Denny who was assisting on these scenes would finish the inbetweens of the head, torso, upper arms and hands according to the charts. When things were moving I would work on 2s, in slow parts on 4s, trying not to leave more than 3 inbetweens between my drawings. Once all the drawings were done I would go back in and animate the drapery straight ahead on twos and give it back to her to finish. Once everything was on ones and approved by Dick I would animate the flies straight ahead on ones, like a flipbook. I used a pegbar with high pegs and could put 16 drawings on there. I color coded the flies and worked in groups of 5, doing maybe 4 passes to get up to 20 or so. I delivered my scenes clean up on ones. The drawings were hand traced onto cel. They could have rough lines from color erase pencil underneath, usually rubbed down a bit as long as there was a clear black pencil line that could be traced. The tracing would reflect each drawing exactly. The tracers worked unbelievable accurate. So on one hand you have more freedom in your work flow. It was OK to have the inbetweened part of the drawings slightly lighter, possibly just pencil and other parts darker with color underneath were I roughed out the feet and the drapery in maybe more than one pass, leaving rubbed down traces of the other attempts. Clean up for digital painting is much more unforgiving in this. On the other hand our drawings were the final statement for the animation. Any wobble, inconsistencies in volume or being slightly off model would show up on screen. The animator had that responsibility and that was not a bad thing...

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...