How animation paint is made

Graham Beeching of Filmpaint explains the art and craft of making animation paint. The article is based on a taped interview conducted by David Jefferson.

Paint consists of two basic ingredients, pigment mixed with a liquid with film forming properties. Custard is an example of a liquid with film forming properties. You could make paint by mixing powdered pigment with custard but it would not produce very good paint. If you use an egg yoke you do produce a very good paint; that is egg tempera. Vegetable drying oil will produce a very good, very simple paint, just pigment and oil; that is oil paint.

The modern polymers are very much more complicated. For instance, to make an oil paint I would use the two main ingredients; the pigment and the oil. 1 would then add a certain amount of dryers, to make the paint dry at a uniform rate and a certain amount of affixertrote to make it a bit buttery because people expect paint to be buttery. Basically that is all it is. The paint will work whatever you do. It might be a bit thin or it might be a bit thick but it will still work and it will produce a very durable paint. Unfortunately polymer chemistry is not as simple as that. There are numerous chemicals that have to go in and they are very delicately balanced chemical systems.

The process by which paint is formulated at any paint factory is really one of trial and error. They will simply make up hundreds of different samples of formulations that might be all right, they will then subject these hundreds of different samples to test equipment and the one that comes out the best is the one they use. Over the years I have made up many thousands of different formulations.

I have been involved with paint since the age of seventeen, not just from the technical point of view but actually as a user. I went to Kingston Art School for four years, and the Royal Academy School for three years, then I made my living painting pictures. I have shown in America, Canada, Europe, England and all this time I was making my own paint.
When I am formulating I am constantly using the paint to see how it compares with the last batch. I have got a good overall picture in my mind of paint and how to make it and what it should do, and what I would like it to do, so it is really a question of experience. Formulating paint is more like cooking than like science.

Ten years ago I was asked by my cousin, who was doing paint and trace freelance and had a very rushed job on, if I could help him over the weekend. The paint he was using dreadful and told him I could make better. He said “I wish you would. Everyone grumbles about the paint’.

I went round to see one or two studios and make a few inquiries; would they be interested in a new paint; what did they expect from paint? I found that they expected high opacity, good flow and quick drying. Unfortunately these three things can not possibly be achieved; they are the opposites of each other. I could have achieved quick drying by making the paint spirit based but the main thing against this is that people are leaning over their boards painting all day long. It would not be pleasant for them to be breathing in the evaporating solvent, so that left me with water based paint. I then had to start investigating the whole rheology of polymer paint systems; the resins that were available, their flexibility and the sort of pigments that were going to be used.

Graham Beeching in the Filmpaint factory.

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