Chapter 5: The Great Footage Fallacy
So my new, GDA, inc. exposure sheets had every twenty-fourth line be a heavy line; a heavy line for every second of running time! Thus, my New York studio and the Prague studio could work in synchronization, with no need for elaborate calculations. It only took a short while for each side to adjust to this, because it was entirely logical. I never attempted to patent my seconds-measured exposure sheets. I'm sure that the original, footage-type exposure sheets design are in the public domain. They were most likely developed at the Disney studio in the thirties, and spread throughout the industry. But of course in those days international co-production didn't exist, and so no one ever questioned the logic of the system. I suppose that my idea of 1960 must have surely occurred to everyone else by this time. My type of exposure sheets were in use here, but I actually haven't seen second-oriented sheets anywhere else. I must admit that in the ensuing 40 years, the subject never came up in any of my discussions with fellow-American animators... but if they have come around to the idea on their own, I propose an "anti-footage" crusade as of now! Who will "second" the motion?
Here illustrated are the two types of exposure sheets, side by side.
The traditional, "footage" type sheet accommodated three and one-third seconds of running time. In order to get four complete seconds onto one page of my new sheets, I had to have them printed on somewhat longer sheets of paper, but that was never a problem.
One of the arguments, I suppose, for the footage-type sheets was that 8 and 16-frame increments they were marked with were convenient musical beats or tempos. In traditional animation, it was common to animate to one of those arbitrary beats, and then force the composer of the music to strictly follow the mechanically precise tempo. They often made a "click-track," so the orchestra conductor could hear the tempo in his earphones and hold the orchestra tightly to it. To my mind, this "mechanized" the music, and disallowed any flexibility. I much preferred to allow the composer to work freely, and have the animators follow the music.
When our music was recorded and copied onto a 35mm worktrack, we would simply let the track run at normal speed, and then tap the tempo directly onto the soundtrack with a grease pencil, tapping as close to the moviola's sound head as possible. If I did this two or three times, I could be sure I had the beats on the proper frames of film. Then the sound editor moved the film slowly through a frame counter, and noted the exact frame numbers of each mark. When this information was written onto the exposure sheets, the animator knew exactly how to move his characters to the beats. In this way, the rhythm was natural, and so was the animation! As I progressed in my work, I recorded more and more of the soundtrack in advance of animation, ultimately giving the animators the entire mixed track in advance, so that they would be aware of the entire atmosphere of the soundtrack. Dialog, of course, was nearly always recorded in advance, as a guide to lip-sync, but I felt that also the background music, and the sound effects were also important for the animator to feel.
Along with my emphasis that animation exists in the dimension of time, I wanted it to follow the entire soundtrack, which obviously exists in the time dimension. But trying to create an entire mixed soundtrack in advance of animation was hazardous, and required a great deal of discipline and ability to imagine all of the action and effects, at a stage of production when the film only existed in the director's head! For me, the answer to the problem was the stopwatch. I would act out the film in my head, and with a certain amount of pantomiming, timing each fragment of the action over and over, breaking it down and noting the timing of each fragment. This was noted first on our Bar Sheets, which are analogous to an orchestra conductor’s score, showing all of the elements together - in our case, action, dialog, music cues, and sound effects.By working in this way, constructing the entire soundtrack in advance of animation, I was assured that my film would truly work in the time dimension, and I never gave the slightest thought to "footage."