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 to 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, was trained to think in terms of feet of film. How many feet of film an animator can turn out per week was 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 threat 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 video player at home. Once it was a VHS tape player, and later, a DVD player. Did anyone know how many feet of the tape inside the VHS cassette, or how long was the spiral groove on a DVD, or how long a segment of either was needed to record one minute of action? How many are aware that the tape in the same VHS cassette spooled out 30% faster when recorded in the American NTSC system, than in the European PAL system? But who cared? The important thing is that the action produced on the TV screen played at the exact same speed, and that is what counted! As I write this, neither tape nor disc is dominant. Movies are down-loaded onto the computer’s memory, and what matters is the length of time needed to play them!
Time in Your Hands
In most of the world outside of North America measure of film lengths are not in feet but in meters. But what is it that every filmmaker on the entire planet has in common? Seconds, minutes, and hours! - TIME! Movies 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 two-third seconds. Of course not. We measure our scenes in whole seconds, and increments thereof.