While we were working on ‘Three Wombats’ my colorist asked why we weren’t doing everything on paper. ‘Wouldn’t it be faster?’ she asked. My first thought was ‘heck no!’ but after thinking through the entire process, using a simple pencil and reams of paper might not be so implausible after all.
Put the Pencil to the Paper
Back when animation first began, obviously everything was done on paper. It was extremely labor-intensive often taking years to complete one film. The overall process was relatively simple – a group of people would draw the frames, another group would clean everything up into nice neat lines, then the ‘ink and paint girls’ would add color, and finally the cameraman would shoot each frame, one at a time. No too complicated, but oh, it took a long time! It took 300 people 3 years to make Disney’s ‘Snow White’. Not surprising as there were over 60,000 individual frames!
“I (heart) my Apple”
When computers arrived on the scene, most people were using them as huge fancy calculators. It wasn’t until 1961 that MIT student Ivan Sutherland developed the first computer drawing program called ‘Sketchpad’. Since then, computers have played a monumental role in the development of animation – both 2D and 3D alike. Computers potentially enable the production process to move much quicker, with greater flexibility for edits.
There’s no software or technology to learn: You can get started animating right this minute, with no other skills (other than being able to draw, of course!).
The supplies are easily accessible: You can get paper, pencils, ink, paint, etc. all from your local convenient store. It should be said, though, that most traditional animators use pegged paper to help keep all the sheets in proper register. But, with a three-hole punch and the back of an old three ring binder, you’re right in business!
It takes a VERY long time: When you have to draw, cleanup, paint and shoot every frame it can take years to complete one project. Think of every frame as a complete ‘painting’ or illustration in it’s own right. Most animated films run at 12 frames per second – meaning for every minute of film you see, 720 individual ‘paintings’ had to be created.
Difficult to Edit: With a traditional style animation, it can take weeks in order to see how something turned out. And if it isn’t right? Well, then it’s literally ‘back to the drawing board’ for a complete recreation of the scene.
It’s quick and easy to replay a scene and make corrections if needed: With everything right on the computer, creating the frames and playing back your work is a breeze in a variety of software applications. If any changes need to be made, they can be done immediately, right on the computer, saving valuable production time. This is actually a HUGE benefit and is the number one reason why most animation is digital today.
You save the rainforests: Creating animation on paper uses up a precious planetary resource – trees! Moving to a completely digital workflow just makes ecological sense.
Computer Systems can be VERY expensive: If you were to ‘trick out’ your workspace with the latest animation software applications and the hardware to run them, it would cost you well into the range of $10,000 and up. You also need to know a bit about what the system can do – processing speeds, memory, and especially graphics cards – to make the best economic choices.
The ‘learning curve’ can be steep: Unless you have previous experience with digital editing, learning how to work in a ‘timeline’ and setting ‘keyframes’ can be a bit confusing at first. It usually takes a few weeks of diligent use to really get a grasp of some of the programs (but of course, it’s well worth the effort!).
Other helpful links:
Cartoon Supplies – anything you could need for traditional animation
Toon Boom – one of my favorite 2D animation apps
Wacom – a ‘must have’ for any digital animator
Amazon Reading List – ‘The Three Books You Need to be an Animator’