Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Summer Reel

My favoritest thing is updating our demo reel.

It's important to be harsh on your own work and pragmatically demanding on your collaborators -the flip side of that is knowing what looks good and why.

In putting together a quick cut montage like this, you don't always get to show the best work.  You're making a little film that gives an idea of what the best work should look like.  This field, animation, requires more than the a few seconds to demonstrate exceptional work.  The trick here is use material which builds on surrounding cuts in some sort of graphic, dramatic fashion.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Great Reference

We picked up THIS BOOK for $40 at the Strand.  They still have several copies.

It may not the great resource for posing, but in terms of physiology and just pure art it's extremely worthwhile.

We were mainly interested in the scientific value of the illustrations.  Body parts drawn to perfection.

Forgetting the medical value, the aesthetic worth alone is triple the price tag.

J. M. Borgery & N. H. Jacob's "Atlas of Human Anatomy and Surgery" was originally published in this form in the 1850's with some plates published as early as 1831.

This edition by Taschen is about 16 inches x 11 inches and 500 plus pages with color plates on nearly every page.  A worthwhile investment for anyone serious about drawing.

Monday, June 28, 2010

You Know You've Made It...

...when your DVDs show up in flea markets...

...with the likes of three feet mice and anthropomorphic dogs.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Animator #68 - December 10, 1943

Issue number 68 answers the question "how were these newsletters produced?"

Answer: "Collapsing under the strain the mimeograph machine exploded.  It was not till week that working order was established.  Excelsior!"

State of the Union

Schlesinger: In a test case which will set the method of assimilating the returning service men the Commissioner for the Labor Department was of the opinion that the WLB would agree withour proposal that the space be created by stepping down thru the classifications rather than by a discharge in the immediate level occupied previously by the returnee.  This precedent will undoubtedly be binding thru the Producers Association on all cartoon studios, it will be our effort to write this solution into our new contracts.

The sick leave question is still unsettled.  A broad commitment in our contract with this studio makes our position a bit awkward.  Mr. Heffron, the new Schless labor relations man, has agreed to arbitrate.

The boys and girls war very happy -for two reasons.  One -they are getting their second weeks vacation starting December 19; two -this is really the big reason -while they are on vacation the management has promised to clean the place (will a week be time enough).

GEMS: There are several cases involving wage increases which went to the WLB on last Sept. 8.  They have been sent directly to the San Francisco office but it is not likely that action will be taken until December.

WOLFF: Reply from the WLB on the contract is still waiting.  They requested some additional information which we supplied.

PALS: The management is playing a now we want it... now we don't game with the Business Agent over a wage range solution for their new classifications.  Tired of jousting the windmill the BA is insisting that all further original proposals be in writing.  Their written confirmations have, so far, had only coincidental similarity with their oral commitments.  A proposal has finally been worked out on six of the classifications and three are ready to be presented to the unit for approval.

DIZ: The long awaited approval for the Scene Technicians classification came through.  All requests were granted including retroactive pay from August 23.  Merry Christmas.

The next and last vacation is set to begin the week before Christmas.


There are two new puppet studios getting into production.  Lewis Bunin a well known puppeteer, has moved onto the MGM lot. John Sutherland has contracted for release through United Artists.

Bunin brought five people out with him from the east...

The Sutherland group is recruited from local talent and boast fourteen...

Dave Fleischer is out at Screen Gems.  The beginning of the end started for him when he fought his employees in New York.

At Diz the studio cops voted 100% to join the AFL Local 193. The contract is pending...



Bill Melendez and Manuel Parez both fathers of baby boys...

This issue ends with a piece on food subsidies by Bill King.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Animation Budgeting - Part 4 "Prep"

As I've noted in past posts, our budget process comes from the AICP (Association of Independent Commercial Producers) guides.

Those are geared explicitly for live action.  Their budget only contains a single line item for "animation".

In expanding that line item, we took our cue from their budget form which has categories "A" through "K" (plus director as "L").  Animation is complicated process, but it's hard to break it into that many smaller pieces.  Drawing based animation, at least.  Mixed media projects, stop motion, under camera techniques all require varying amounts of alternate costs.

So here's our "Category B" PREP/RECORD

You'll note there are blank budget lines.

It's hard to predict what costs will come into play, there's often something completely unexpected.  These can fill with those.   Usually we'd rewrite this section for stop motion fabrication on those projects.

More often these lines will fill with multiple artists at the same position.  For instance, 222 and 223 might both be for "Layout Artist".

201 Casting:  A casting director typically gets a flat fee.  They'll read the script, give you a cost.

From there you discuss your casting thoughts.  They give you theirs.  Typically you'll cast by "types" -say, "For the lead I'm thinking someone like Bruce Campbell."   A casting director will usually call Bruce Campbell ('s agent) and see if he wants the part with all the caveats.

Very often "celebrity" talent will say yes.  Animation voice work is viewed as pretty easy by most actors.  It's seen as a cool part of childhood's magic by even more.

If your actor doesn't want the job, the casting director will bring in others with similar styles to audition.

You can always do the casting yourself.  Post an ad on various casting sites, call up talent agencies, scout local comedy clubs, or even have your friends do all the voice work.

Even if you do the casting yourself, it's still a cost.  It's your time -which is considerable if you conduct a thorough hunt.  The cost is less than professional, but sometimes the results can be less than professional.

With "name" talent you often can't ask them to read for the part (unless you're doing a big budget/high profile profile production).  You offer them the part and that's it.

Once you've got your talent cast, you've got to pay them.

202 Voice Talent.  This is one of those lines that typically expands into several.  Actors' rates are determined by their guilds: SAG and AFTRA and their respective agreements with producers.  Their rate tables can be found on their websites.  SAG is the screen actors guild, AFTRA is TV and radio.

Even when paying the lowest rate ("scale"), the cost is usually scale plus 10%.  That 10% goes to the actor's agent.  No, you don't HAVE to do that.  It's just customary and makes working for the minimum more palatable.

If you're Joe Schmoe animator making a film you won't actually be able to pay your actors.  You'll need a "signatory" to SAG/AFTRA agreement to be your paymaster.  There's a lot of paperwork involved with paying union workers and you need be able to pay into their fringes (P, P&W).  Also union actors need to demonstrate a certain amount over work over a period time to keep their benefits.

You can always bypass all the guild stuff and hire non-union talent or ask a professional actor to do the job as a scab.  Many voice actors will have stage names that don't appear on the union register for this purpose.

203 Voice Director.  It could be you.  It could be a professional.  Either way, somebody's got to be in there with the actors letting them know what to do.  It's not unheard of for someone besides the animation director to devote themselves to getting the right voice performance.

Actors are like animators.  They have their own language and methods of achieving their goals.  Sometimes a voice director is the best idea to help them get to the right performance.

205 Sound Editor.  The person who strings together the best takes.  Sometimes animatic editor will do this.

207 Animatic Editor.  This is the "creative" end of editing animation.  Timings are determining, shots deleted, recalled, rearranged.  After this is all file management and fixing mistakes.

210 Track Analysis.  Frame by frame reading of the track.  We used to pay by the foot -different rates for lip sync vs. soft sync.  It's been a long time and I'm not sure what the rates are.

It takes me about an hour to lip sync :60 (in English).  I'm fast.  So I base our costs on that.

211 Sheet Timing.  This is really for overseas animators.  We'll do it a bit, but it's usually just transposing things learned from the animatic onto the exposure sheets.  It's generally the director's job, but will often be handed to a specialist.

212 Storyboard Conform.  Somebody's got to make sure the video board in the animatic exists on paper.  I've heard rumor of software that does this, but I don't believe.  It's the worst job on earth.

214 through 216.  Fairly self-explanatory.  You can add prop designer too.

218 Designer. This is DESIGNER, designer.  Like the guy who nudges it a bit and changes all your default Arial to default Helvetica.  Yes, he may be a monster -but sometimes his talents are needed to capture Troy.  Like making logos and presentation books.   If anyone is overpaid in production, it's this line.

220 PreVisualization Artist.  When an animatic isn't enough.  These are mostly used in 3D projects.  In 2D it's an expensive intermediary step before actually animating.  In 3D its an inexpensive way of figuring out logistics.

222 Layout Artist.   Layout artist

224 Researcher.  This is the fun part of any project -digging up the material to base the film on.

225 Photography.  For reference.

226 Reference Models. If you need to hire figure models.

228 Roto Shoot.  Rotoscope preparation falls in pre-production.  Roto artists are in the next catagory.

On the right side we'll just pull a few specifics and discuss generalities.

This deals mostly with recording and music.  You can break these line out in the left hand column if you're doing the recording in house.  We typically subcontract recording and music.

251 Scratch Track.  Did you read the track into Final Cut so you could get timings?  Congratulations you recorded a scratch track!  How much time/equipment did it take?  That's your cost.

252 Record.  Ballpark $300/hour for a professional studio and go from there.  You can get something as low as $75 in New York or as high $500 -especially if you need fiber optic connection from another part of the world.  Book rates for audio facilities are usually negotiable especially if you're flexible with your time.

260 Style Guide.  If you're in the world of licensing, you'll need to make a style guide for how the characters are used.  Often design firms like Landor or Pentagram will do these.  It can be pretty well paying.

261 Character Bible.  The practical version of a style guide.  Animators will use it.  The expense of producing it is always far less than the expense of not having it.

270 Permits.  New York has recently announced permit fees for shooting.  Many other cities have these costs.  If your doing outdoor shooting -reference, roto, et c.  you'll need to keep this in mind.

272 - 278.  These are "pre-production" music costs.  Rough mixes, stock, sound effects.  Audio costs come up again post-production

Friday, June 25, 2010

So I Can't Find The Video

of that TeleTV spot Maciek directed.

I know it's around here somewhere.

On top of that, I don't have the wherewithal to put much effort into a post.

Fortunately, the talented people who keep me from looking like a constant idiot have some good things to share.

First, Carlos Aponte (who designed our logo) has produced a graphic which sums up a lot of people's disappointment with the Obama Administration.


Next, the lovely and talent Doug Compton has begun daily posts of his drawing.

His website already has terrific lessons for animators.  We've been fortunate to see a lot of his work up close, this is a great opportunity for everyone to see a animator's masterful drawings.

Here's a direct link to the page.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Color Models

After the client bought off on Maciek's storyboard which was posted yesterday, he designed models for each scene.

These are scans of color copies of his layouts.

The conceit was to follow the make of a film from inspiration through premiere.

This is the most important step in the creative process.

I have a vague recollection that these were painted in Photoshop, but I think that's a false memory -conflating this with a later project.  Most likely they're acrylic on paper.

The ultimate project was shot on film.


We'll be starting up a project using Hirschfeld illustrations soon.

I mention this because we were discussing the Disney Hirschfeld recently.  As everyone knows, they "improved" on the master so much that the style is almost unrecognizable.

For us, it's a point of pride to reproduce the illustrator's work as closely as possible.  Even in something as idiosyncratic as this.

Sure, sometimes we fall short.  But c'mon -Hirschfeld.  You can't do any better than that.

So tomorrow we'll post the final (if I can find it.) And we'll how successful Maciek was in applying his illustrative vision to film.

This production process is obviously for live action if the score is coming this late in the timeline.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Old Days of Future Television

Way back in the 20th Century a bunch of now-defunct phone companies got together with some snazzy Hollywood agents in an effort to create an on-demand television service over phone lines.

That venture, TeleTV, was ahead of its time in many ways.  We're now seeing increased on-demand through cable and most notably Netflix.

In more ways, TeleTV hit at the wrong time. The Clinton Adminstration's Telecommunications Act of 1996 opened up long distance services to regional carriers (the "baby Bells") which effectively forced the regional companies behind TeleTV to focus on new markets instead of new technology.  It also created the atmosphere which merged these regional phone carriers back into Bell Telephone sized megaliths.  The late 90s advent of the internet also threw the business for a loop.   Individuals gravitated towards this new medium and had little interest in the futuristic expansion of the old.

The good thing was that they still produced graphics packages.  We pitched a bunch at The Ink Tank.  We'll post some of the unsuccessful ones later.

First, here's a board which was produced.  Designed and directed by Maciek Albrecht.  We'll post the color models and final spot later.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Animator #67 -November 12, 1943

Over the past week or so, I've had several (that's between 6 and 11) people mention their interest in these Animator newsletters from the Screen Cartoonists, Local 852.

It's good to know that I'm not alone in my enjoyment of these little time capsules.

I have a dozen or so left in the run Ed Smith gave me, and then a full run of Top Cel -the East Coast newsletter.  If I don't find an online archive for Top Cel we've start posting all of them too.

Here's Vol 2. No. 67 of Animator for the Week of November 12, 1943.

Schlesinger: The unit me and elect their new Executive Board representative.  A nose count showed that they were entitled to three members by terms of the new representation ratio established last general meeting.

MGM: Two of the vacation claims have been settled.  One has been paid and the other will be, the third is going by mutual agreement to the Conciliation Service.  It involves a question that both parties are anxious to have settled.

Disney: The new Scene Technician classification is still at the WLB.  The studio complied with a request to furnish further particulars.

Gems: The question of getting war work is still undecided.

Pal: Agreement on the Technical Directors is not set.  On the other two matters the management has jumped back and forth across the fence too often for us to give you any particulars of the situation.  The matter has gone to the Conciliation Department.  A meeting was held Wednesday last and another will be held on Tuesday.

Universal: With roll of drum and clash of symbol, the girls received their retroactive checks.  What is sweeter than retroactive retribution?

General: All units should take a cue from the swiftly moving Schlesinger unit and determine the number of, and elect the additional representatives to which they may be entitled under the new representation ruling.  The machinery for obtaining a more equitable delegation has been established, the individual units are responsible for its achievement.

The remainder of the front page is dedication to the discussion of the 48 hour week.

Inbetweens include: Tex Avery and Claude Smith classified in LA in new draft reclassification.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Animation Notes 12/7/89 - Everything You Do Must Be Believable

Here are notes from Tissa David's lecture of 12/7/89.

Page one discusses rotoscoping.

Most of the lecture is on weight (and on page one it's relation to rotoscoping) and timing.

Every 5 rotoscope drawings
Trace movement action

Live action constantly moving so you can not have poses.

Click images to enlarge.

6 frames is hesitation.  8 frames - 12 frames (hold).

Don't add extra unnecessary actions that have nothing to do with your purpose of telling your story.  Subtleties and sensitivities that add to your purpose are fine.

Anything for 2 frames is invisible unless you hold it for 6 frames.

Everything you do must be believable.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Black Hole

Here's the latest of our pieces with Steve Brodner for PBS' "Need To Know".

Watch the full episode. See more Need To Know.

This one was pretty simple in concept and execution -except for Steve's hand never clearing frame! -We need clear frames in order to present the illusion of seamlessness. To make up for it, we used a lot of cross-dissolves.

Typically, I don't like to cut with dissolves but for these pieces it's a necessity.

The conceit behind the single camera, single point of view shoot is that you're in real time conversation with the subject. Since we're constantly speeding up and slowing down actions through time remaps and animation it's necessary to preserve a visual seamlessness. That's the number one editorial priority.

In any event, this was a pretty simple concept. Steve and Gail got an approval on the concept Monday after a couple days of quick research. We shot it on Tuesday. Loaded in the footage from the P2 cards and had an audio cut by early evening. Wednesday we fixed up the picture and we delivered Thursday at noon.

The broadcast version, again, is much superior because of the soundtrack. PBS has carte blanche to use any music royalty free for broadcast and we take advantage of that. That right doesn't extend to the web so we deliver a music free version. Another day and another few grand in the budget we could do a royalty free stock online delivery -but that's the news business. No time, no money.

Sounds like all production these days.

In any event, click through to the PBS site: HERE and leave them a comment.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Rocket Man

Here are frame grabs from the first of three Banco Popular commercials that were produced at The Ink Tank in 1997.

A few days back, we posted the agency storyboards.

The agency's four panel plus logo thumbnail board was transformed into an epic :30 space journey by illustrator Carlos Aponte and animator Doug Compton.

I think the final film is a little busy. There are something like 15 shots, some very dynamic in the 27 seconds you get before the logo.

This could be an example of pushing it too far. But the film works because of the cool design and, believe it or not -the Elton John soundtrack.

The impact in frame 9 here is literally 2 frames on the film.  It's easy to miss, and if you miss it the stuff that follows doesn't make sense.

An action like that needs to be telegraphed.  At the very least it should be in close up so we see it happening.

Sure, the idea is that the guy is in the middle of Nowheresville, Milky Way and that it's a lonely crash.  But what does that matter if we don't know he's crashed because we can't see it.

Doug also did some strong dynamic animation.  These characters are difficult to move because they're so stylishly rigid.

All the major camera moves are animated.

Airbrush on cel.  Most likely Tom Hachtman's handiwork.

The shapeship morphs into the card for the final frame.

Here's the video:

Friday, June 18, 2010

Troubles Models

Anezka Sebek called the other day to let me know I had some binders in her office.

I thought they were just photocopies of readings, but it turns out one was a model book we sent to the Poland animation facility for the second season of Troubles the Cat for Sesame Workshop (then The Children's Television Workshop).

The book contains turnarounds for all the characters and painted color models for all the characters and props.

This was painted on cel and the Chromacolour numbers are indicated. We used Chromacolour because it's cheaper in Europe.

For those who haven't had the "pleasure" of working on cel.  This (above) is what the back looks like.

Inking is done on the front, color on the back.  Dark colors are painted first so they don't show through lighter tones.

This (above) is three 8 1/2 x 11 pages combined.

Note the lack of "anatomy" in the right most drawing.  After the dailies for first episode of season one, CTW pointed out a little black dot just below the tail.  We had animated the cat a little too realistically.

This was corrected with the first use of After Effects in any production we worked on.  Mike Turoff framed through the transferred video and removed the bit of biology.

In designing characters, pose drawings are more important than turnarounds.  Sure, animators will ultimately want to see the character from every angle but it's more important to see how the character moves.

These are idiosyncratic designs.  The poses demonstrate how the line contributes to the character -it's expressive and loose.

The cat was then used as a unit of scaling to all the other characters.

You can do that with a grid, in this instance we didn't want to be so rigid.

These characters were designed by Santiago Cohen. The color styling was Elli Albrecht.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Strand Price: $3.50

Here's a little gem of a book from 1984.

Susan Rubin, Animation: The Art and the Industry

The book is similar to Kit Laybourne's "Animation Book" from around the same time.  It walks through techniques and process in a cursory manner.

Two things set it apart.

First, it's illustrated by the great Joey Ahlbum who must have still been at SVA.

Second, the last chapters are devoted to interviews with animation artists and producers.  Some were up and comers -"assistant animator/former in-betweer" J. J. Sedelmaier, "animator" Candy Kugel, "airbrush artist/illustrator" Mark Kaplan.  Others were veterans whose names are seldom mentioned today -producer Harold Friedman, director Stan Smith, cameraman John Rowholt.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

New York Stuff

There are some weeks in New York when you can fill your social calendar with animation events.

The first of a few good ones was last night at SVA.  Frank Mouris presented some of his films under the auspices of ASIFA-East and Women in Animation.

Also this week, Tale at Galapagos in DUMBO on Thursday.  I haven't been to Galapagos (in any incarnation) since they were assholes to us on the shoot for Dr. Worm around 1999 but if you don't hold grudges over unwarranted professional hassles you should attend what looks to be an interesting show.

Then Friday, Patrick Smith is showing his new film at the 93rd Street Y in Tribeca.

Frank Mouris' talk reminded us how animated film, at one time, was closely connected to experimental film.  A short could have festival success, community acclaim and an appeal to the avant garde.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Agency Boards

Sometimes advertising work boils down to executing the agency's ideas.  Those are usually the crummy jobs.  Creatively crummy, that is.

The best advertising work happens when everyone involved understands and respects everyone else's expertise.

Here's an example of how some great advertising work began.

In this board the agency laid out the basic idea.  We'll post the final film in a few days.  You'll see that the idea remains consistent but it becomes a well designed film.

Again, you get the plot points but not a shot breakdown.

The agency uses these boards to sell an idea to their client.  Hopefully, they've managed their clients expectations so they know these are rough ideas and the final film will look much different (and hopefully much better).

This will be the most dramatic transformation of the three.

In all of these the illustrator Carlos Aponte was instrumental in creating a cinematic dynamic.  In this third he and Tissa David reworked it so that it became a :15 second drama.