Chapter 5: The Great Footage Fallacy
Here is something that few animators seem to think about, but which has bugged me for years: Are we animating foot-long strips of film, or are we animating increments of time? If we are all into globalization, let’s work in a global standard. I would like to foment an animation revolution in the dimension of time!
Footage. We were all weaned on it. Every American filmmaker, certainly every American animator, is trained to think in terms of feet of film. How many feet of film an animator can turn out per week is often his measure of productivity and measure of pay.
When I first arrived in Prague, with the initial purpose of developing co-production with my New York studio, I ran into an immediate snag. Czech animators measure their output in meters! One meter of film equals 3.2808 feet. But what the hell does that really mean? I saw the promise of endless complications and calculations in the process of co-production. I began to realize that the whole idea of measuring animation in terms of the length of a strip of film was meaningless and madness, and I wondered why we in America had never realized this before?
Look. Movie film goes through a theater projector at the rate of 24 frames per second. So how many frames of film are there in a foot? 16! 16 frames equals two-thirds of a second! No one watching a movie is at all aware of feet of film whizzing by. If one is interested in the length of a movie, or the length of a scene, and wants to measure it, they will use a stopwatch. They will measure, minutes, seconds, and increments thereof. As I constantly point out in lecturing about filmmaking, we have a medium that exists in the dimension of time. Footage is especially nonsense in digital computer animation, where there is no such thing as a reel of film or even spool of tape. There is not a physical length of anything! The only length is time. Nearly everyone these days has a VCR at home, and perhaps a DVD player. Does anyone know how many feet of the reel of tape inside the cassette, or of the spiral groove on a DVD, is needed to record one minute of action? How many are aware that the tape in the same VHS cassette spools out 30%faster when recorded in the American NTSC system than in the European PAL system? But who cares? The important thing is that the action produced on the TV screen plays at the exact same speed, and that is what counts!
Time in Your Hands
If most of the world outside of North America measure film lengths not in feet but in meters, what is it that every filmmaker on the entire planet has in common? Seconds, minutes, and hours! - TIME! Movie making exists in the dimension of time.
So I had printed up a new type of animation exposure sheets. The traditional exposure sheets have horizontal ruled lines down their length, each line representing a frame of film. The numbered animation drawings for the various levels are entered on the lines representing the frames of film they are to be photographed upon. Every 16th line, representing a foot-length of film, is usually a heavy line. This is an arbitrary measurement, as it actually represents just two-thirds of a second. We certainly don't measure our work in three-quarter seconds. Of course not. We measure our scenes in whole seconds, and increments thereof.