Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Pierre Speaks: The Animation Process - part 1

An animated series.... not unlike most comics.... is produced with many people each working on specific tasks.

In the case of comics, you have the writer, penciller, inker, etc.

It's not so different for an animated series.

You have the writers, character designers, location designers, storyboard artists, layout & posing artists, animators, in-betweeners, clean-up artists, and various colorists, and various others that I won't bother to mention.

Unlike comics, each production step is handled by a team of people. There is wayyyy too much work in producing an animated series. So you litterally have a small army of people working to produce an animated TV show.

I will try to explain how various steps of an animated series work. In some cases, I have a lot of first hand experience to explain the process (for example the design part), but in other cases (like the writing), although I never wrote an animated series, I have worked on enough animated series to understand how most of the writing process actually works.

In animation, understanding how the other steps of the production works helps you do your job.

For example, when you design a character, you have to also understand how the character you design will affect the animation because a bad design can be hard to animate.

I knew next to nothing about animation when I started up. So I went to the bookstore and got a book called "Animation from script to screen" by Shamus Culhane. That was my starting point in learning about animation.

Later on, some people would introduce me to various other books that would help me understand the animation process. Books like The illusion of life by Frank Thomas & Ollie Johnston, or the various Animation books by Preston Blair.

Those books are a must for anyone aspiring to work in animation, as well as people already working in the industry.

The first TV series I worked on was The busy world of Richard Scary doing character designs (although on some series the character designer also design the props). I also was part of the design team of various other shows (Bob Morane, Heavy Metal 2000, Marsupilami, Arthur). I also worked on "layout & posing" (Bob Morane, Fantomette, Arthur), storyboard (Pig City), and I even did artwork for licensing (Arthur, Ultimate Spider-man).

Usually on a project, the writer writes a first draft of the script. Then a second draft. Then a third draft and so on (I once saw a seventh draft). Until the script gets approved for the FINAL DRAFT.

Then the script is given to the various designers (character, props, location). Then the designer can analyse the script and make a list of the various elements he will need to design.

In an ideal world, the design people would receive the FINAL DRAFT of the script before starting to work on the designs. But wayyy to often, we ended up doing our designs from a not final version of the script because the FINAL DRAFT was not ready/approuved yet.

What that means is that you may very well end up designing a truckload of stuff that will not be in the FINAL DRAFT.

Heavy Metal: 2000 is a good example of this. I have stacks of designs that were no longer in the script in later versions of it.

Heavy Metal

When you work on an animated TV show, you have a truckload of restrictions. You have to keep your design fairly simple so that the animators can do a good job animating your design. But you also have to please a truckload of people.

Your design needs the approval of whoever is supervising the design process, then the director, then the broadcasters, and sometimes you also need the approuval of the creator of the series, or even worse.... when various producers decide to get involved in the process.

I have seen projects where various producers could not agree on what they wanted. Not fun when that happens.

Animation is the very definition of working by commity. There are people at various levels who all want to have their say in the creation process for some reason.

The DVD "Justice League; The New Frontier" has an audio commentary track with Bruce Timm and various other producers/directors. That is a perfect example of the "commity thinking" behind an animated project.

In future Blogs, we will explore in more details the various steps of an animated project (writing, design, storyboard) and the various series I have worked on (Bob Morane , Heavy Metal:2000, and yes Frank.... I will make a Blog about Arthur specifically ;) ).

Until next time.

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