Tradigital Television:
Digital Tools and Saturday Morning

by Sylvia Edwards

CG or not CG...that is the question. Or is it? What is the place of traditional animation in a world where the rapid and ever continuing upgrades to digital mediums make equipment for animating in a 3D format more and more user friendly? The late Shamus Culhane was once taken to task by a fellow director for the following statement, "Computerized animation is going to give us films of such complexity and beauty that cel animation will become a thing of the past." He made this statement back in the '80s after visiting a digital facility and seeing the possibilities of what CG could do. Shamus Culhane was a man with prophetic abilities. A little over ten years later, his statement rings even truer today. Animating for television series has evolved a great deal over the past twenty-five years and the incorporation of digital equipment and procedures is a huge part of that evolution. The number of animation stages that fall into the digital realm continues to grow.

In the not so distant past, traditional animation meant that the pre-production and production elements were drawn and registered on animation paper, transferred to cels and colored by hand with liquid paint. The material was shot, frame by frame, with an animation camera onto 35mm film. The animation process today is impacted by the digital world in such a way that one feels that a new definition is required of what "traditional" animation is. This article will provide a brief overview of traditional animation for series television as it was, as it is currently produced and for CGI series production.

The animation production process at a traditional or a CGI animation studio covers some stages that are exactly the same, some that are similar and some that differ a great deal. While the stages to be discussed are distinct steps in the animation process, a number of them overlap each other. These stages fall under the overall categories of: pre-production, production and post production. The folks interviewed came from traditional and "CG only" backgrounds. All had experience working on high end, high quality animated series. Creative Capers was founded in 1988 as a traditional facility and 7 years ago moved into the CG realm. They've produced several interactive games for Disney and other clients. Currently, they're producing Sitting Ducks, a CG series for Universal. Mainframe Entertainment was set up as a CG studio and has been in the business for 8 years. They've produced several CG series including Reboot, War Planets and Weirdos. They're currently producing Action Man for Fox and two videos for the Cartoon Network. Nickelodeon Animation currently produces several traditionally animated series, among them Dora the Explorer and Oswald the Octopus for Nick Jr. in New York. They're also producing a CG pilot called Jimmy Neutron, which will support a theatrical release. Sony Animation produces traditional shows such as Jackie Chan Adventures and Men In Black: The Series and CG shows such as Max Steel and Roughnecks: Starship Troopers Chronicles.

Pre-production originally involved the generation of all the material needed to create a blueprint of the episode that various departments within the studio would use in completing the various stages of the process. This included all designs and key color material for the episode, voice recording of the dialogue, creating a storyboard and drawing the production layouts of each scene. The director met with the layout supervisor and crew. Once layouts were complete, the director prepared the exposure sheets for the animators, working out all timing of the episode so that once production started, time wasn't wasted working on scenes that had been cut from the picture. Pre-production covered everything up through the start of animation. These days, in traditional animation, pre-production serves the same purpose. Only now, the blueprint is created for the overseas studio to reference. A typical schedule for pre-production is 12 weeks.


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