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Friday, 21 March 2014

10. Animation: casting the Animators

I looked through at least two hundred showreels before I found the right animator for Phil. Why his reel stood out is simple, when I first saw Sylvain Chomet's “The Illusionist” the animation in three shots specifically stayed with me afterwards. Two out of three of those beautiful shots were on Jose Antonio Cerro's showreel.

Like other members of the crew Jose worked remotely, which meant all of our conversations took place over Skype. Even so, Jose's passion for his work and for the film was clear in our first conversation, I felt that this guy was the one we'd been looking for

We spent alot of time throughout the production talking about Phil's motivation and body language, in the same way you'd talk to an actor about any character driven performance. At the start especially I'd write a very detailed outline for each shot, where i'd write out every breath every eye flicker every blink, not as a list of things for Jose to do but to help him see the character through my eyes, and then interpret it.

I wasn't worried about characters being perfectly on model it was about finding an emotional flow and letting the design bend and break where it needed to. When I felt the character had gone too far off model, (as above in the first rough) that the poses could be pushed further or the performance wasn't true to Phil i'd do a redraw over the animation poses, and then myself and Jose would talk about how we could make it better. It was always a two way conversation, whether in words or artwork.

The videos in this post show the different versions of the first shot we tested for animation. You can see Jose's beautiful rough's as we explore the character. How much Phil hesitates, how he uses his hands, and how out of his comfort zone he needed to feel was all in his characterisation in this shot and was an important one for us to get right.

We animated The Ledge End of Phil using TVPaint. It was a software the studio (Cartoon Saloon) were using for their upcoming feature "Song of the Sea". When i saw how the software
allowed the animator the same expression as a hand drawn line, I couldn't go any other way. 

The general consensus at the time was still that the quality we were aiming for was going to be unachievable within our timeframe and budget. I knew having Stefano and now Jose on board was a big step in the right direction. Another string to our bow on the production was that i have worked as a compositor for the last 3 years. So I was always there, I was always available, and it didn't cost a penny more to the production for me to do tests. So just like writing a script it came down to making our mistakes early and getting them out of the way. Whatever material we had I tested as soon as it came in.

One thing that helped greatly with tests was that we had an intern, Alex Bernas, who happened to start at the studio at the same time we got our first animation test in. Because we had Alex at hand all of a sudden it meant that the first tests that came in from Jose went straight into ink and paint. So on Jose's first piece of rough animation we tested the colour model, a coloured line, an invisible line, a rough pencil clean-up line, and a digital clean-up line. Having even partially coloured animation this early meant i could composite it with a blown-up panel from the colourboard and get an idea of where we were headed. (as you can see in the video below)

It also gave me something to show Stefano and Jose to spur them on to creating even more beautiful work. The excitement of seeing that first test and realising what our team of so few could be creating together was a great feeling!

Next week more ANIMATION line tests!

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