The Dangermouse series was a good training ground for new animators. At first you were placed with an animator, cleaning up their drawings, then you progressed to in-betweening, then you got scenes of your own to do, and usually within three months you were expected to start on production, working with the animator and on scenes of your own. After six months you would be on full production by yourself, taking your share of the film alongside two other animators.
You were thrown in at the deep end?
That is the quickest way to learn. You had to transfer off the bar sheets on to your dope sheets, work out your own tracks and pans. You virtually directed your own scenes.
Meanwhile you picked up the feeling for timing from the experienced animator?
From the animator and from looking at videos, freeze-framing as you went, analysing action, both cartoon and live-action, counting the frames and cribbing the work of the famous. We haven’t had the benefit derived from working alongside Art Babbitt, Woolie Reitherman or Ollie Johnston. We learn first by copying, and then by using that experience to take us a step further. Learning from cribs is the justification for so doing.
We would all benefit by videoing a live-action version of the movements before animating them. We have the equipment to take the pictures and to analyse them afterwards, although time is a limiting factor on series work.
Once, when I had a lightning sequence to do in a Dangermouse episode, I remembered the Don Bluth film Banjo. It has a really effective lightning sequence where Banjo is seen running. You might depict lightning with a black frame followed by a white frame, and although it works, it seems boring. When I freeze-framed Banjo I found it quite amazing, Bluth’s animators had made a very complicated job of the effect. They started with a black silhouette against a white background, then a yellow silhouette against a white background, a black frame, and finally a black silhouette against a bright background with some detail showing. You don’t actually see it all but you get a gut reaction. It has more of a kick.
You might not use such examples right away, you draw it up in storyboard form and keep it for reference, working out your own variations. Experience is simply building on knowledge, and cribbing is an essential part of one’s apprenticeship.
It is unfortunate that animation continues to be regarded by the general public solely as a children’s entertainment medium.
I never think, “Cartoons are for children.” When I’m making a cartoon, I don’t think about the children – I think about the audience. Whether they are 3 years old or 90 years old they are going to look at the film. So I wonder, can I get a laugh out of this, or that, or can I get them feeling sorry for the character. An audience is a mass unit which you are out to manipulate, to make it laugh or cry, to get a reaction out of it by what you are animating, or how you are animating, or whatever you are doing with your pencil. It is entertainment, but not by age group.
All I want to do is animate. I don’t think, “Oh, this is for children.” I think, “This is for me.” It may be selfish, but I enjoy it, and it is all I want to do.
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Printed in Animator Issue 17 (Autumn 1986)