Sheila Graber sent me a copy of her latest book Animation A Handy Guide with a request to review it. The book came at an opportune time, as I was just off on holiday to warmer climes, to escape our cold winter weather. It made excellent holiday reading.
The book comes complete with a DVD. When I got home from holiday I popped this into my computer player and was amazed to find, not only the complete book reproduced page by page, but now the pages were interactive so that many of the examples in the book could be brought to life and the movies mentioned were there to view. More on this later.
Early on in the book Sheila Graber tells us of a valuable concept she learned at teacher training college. It was that everyone can be an artist in their own way and it was her job as a teacher to provide an environment in which the individual could find their own level. This is a philosophy she has followed through out her teaching career and follows in this book.
Sheila writes about animation from three different perspectives; the history of animated film making, advice for the student animator and Sheila’s own experiences as an independent animator. They are grouped together in a way that brings the subject to life and makes it relevant to the budding animator of today.
For example, in a section on animating to music Sheila starts by illustrating the way a 1933 animation by Oskar Fischinger, showing marching cigarettes, was similar to the 1979 animation of marching hammers, for Pink Floyds Another Brick in the Wall. She then sets a couple of exercises designed to demonstrate how visual sound patterns can be interpreted and that abstract scribbles can represent emotions. Finally she explains, with words and illustrations, how this approach helped her animate a film about the artist Mondrian set to boogie music. The resulting animation runs to this day in the Mondrian museum in the Netherlands as an educational introduction to his work. Sheila’s Mondrian movie is on the DVD that accompanies the book.
Sheila took up animation as a hobby as well as a means of encouraging her pupils to express themselves in an artistic way. Her early films won awards in the Movie Maker magazine 10 Best competitions and her later films won many professional awards, from the London Film festival to Cannes.
For a while Sheila worked at the FilmFair studio in London, animating drawings for the Paddington Bear TV series. These drawings were then traced, coloured, cut out and mounted on card to be combined with the stop motion puppet animation of the bear. However, I get the impression from the book that Sheila is happiest when working on her own creations.
The book describes how she has used many techniques over the years. She embraced the use of computer animation as soon as it became within the budget of an independent animator. Sheila shows how one of her recent animations produced on a computer, called Tyne Cargo, was very similar in style her 1976 cel animation called Moving On. She concludes that whatever materials you use your own style will emerge.
As mentioned earlier, the accompanying DVD is the book brought to life. This triples the information given in the printed book. There are such extras as Student Stuff where extra pages of practical advice are presented in a comic format. On the history pages there are buttons to Dave’s Data. This opens extra pages where David Williams expands on the historical facts and gives Internet links to even more information. There are buttons labelled Graber’s Guide that lead to instructional movies. There are buttons labelled Big Movie and Small Movie that lead to clips from the movies discussed in the book. There is also a built in program called Flip Book. This is a simple drawing program that allows you to create your own animations, frame by frame, play them back and save them to your computer.
Not only does this book tell the story of a remarkable independent female animator it serves as an inspiration to us all to get animated.