Chapter 4: Animation Tech-Talk
In our art/craft of animation, in order to truly win our audiences hearts, we should aim not just to make our characters move, but to make them live — or certainly seem to live — to project an inner life, that motivates their actions and make those actions plausible. I wish I could say that I ever truly accomp-lished that... but I was a UPA man at heart. I have always valued strong stories and humanity, but in animation, I had other goals, guided by graphics, symbols, and stylisation. That has its place, and my successes nicely balanced my failures... but I have grown in my understanding of what animation is all about. Our audience is made up of humans, and we must respond to human expectations.
When I first became a director, and even up to this day, whenever I enter a studio engaged in producing films under my direction, I can't escape a certain moment of panic. "My God! All these people are working on something that is my conception! What if I'm wrong? They are all trusting their livelihood to the notion that I know what I'm doing!" Well of course, I must know what I'm doing. What does a director do? If you've sat through the end-credits of an animated feature film, you know that what we do is a (large) group effort. Sure, you would love to think up, write, design, animate, paint, voice, shoot, computerize, and edit your own film... Great! Maybe you will win a major prize in a major festival.... That is, after four to six years of work, possibly being financed by a grant, but more likely from your career as a McDonalds fry cook. But if you actually want to earn a living in animation, you will have to find your place in a studio, and your place in the complex interplay of many talents.
A good animated film IS a deft amalgam of many talents and crafts. But a good animated film must LOOK like the work of one hand. And that is what a director does. The director is the one with the responsibility for the overall vision, and he or she is the one who must know what goes in, and what is discarded, the one who holds the production to a straight line. Without a director's clear vision and firm hand, the movie will wander all over the lot.
A good animation director should basically know how to do, or at least understand the place, of all the elements of the movie, and strive to keep them all in balance, not letting any one thing dominate, and have his or her eye and ear at all times centered on the story being told, the premise being proved, and the point being made.
How to gain the confidence, the support, satisfy the egos of many diverse talents, and draw from them their best work, integrating it all into a seamless unity, is the constant endeavor and challenge of an animation director.
Though I've tried to provide some guidance here for wannabe animators, there's a great new book that lays out exactly how to do it, The Animators Survival Kit by Richard Williams. Richard is a master animator himself, and more than that, he was able to bring into his studio the surviving great old masters, who actually developed the basic principals and techniques of animation as we know it. The great animators from the original Disney studio, Warners, MGM and others came to teach Richard, and now Richard is passing it on to us. In his book Richard has laid out in practical detail all of the tricks and methods, step by step, of how to create convincing and living animation. His book is as close as you're ever going to get to those old masters. It's all there - everything you need to know to become a great animator yourself! If you just haven't got the talent, drawing and acting skills, perseverance, and willingness to work hard, you might as well go into another line of work, but hey, even if you've got just a modicum of those things, The Animators Survival Kit, will notch you up to a higher level than you would otherwise not be able to reach. Study it, and grow!