A lot of preparation has to be done before they start to shoot animation over live-action. First of all the live action company shoot the background. This is then edited and Camera Effects are supplied with the negative. From that negative, an interpositive colour fine grain is made with negative perforations, so there are no jiggle or weave problems when it is projected, or a registration print is made, again using negative perforations to eliminate any weave problems, once the animation is combined with the live- action.
A test is shot for all live action elements and overlays so that the end result will be perfectly correct. The test is made with a series of exposures, varying the balance between the two elements to determine the correct combination.
“When we are shooting animation over live action on the aerial image camera, the camera and the rostrum table cannot be moved because it throws the whole optical system out. Whereas with normal animation you might re-use some of the cels while tracking or panning, this is not possible with aerial image filming. Any movements like that would have to be pre-shot and optically combined later.
“The aerial image camera was originally designed to use animation elements to be combined over pre-shot / filmed live action backgrounds using black and white film. However, we experimented with colour stocks and obtained very satisfactory results. In fact the whole field of special effects and opticals is full of experimentation,” remarks Pearlman.
“Most of our optical combinations are shot onto interpositive stock, which is Kodak Intermediate Duping stock, consisting of a very fine grain, and slow exposure ratings. Eastman Colour stock, on the other hand, has much more contrast and more grain. We use both stocks, depending on the results, blacks, colours or subtle colours, we are trying to achieve.”
An example of the way animation is used at Camera Effects may be seen in a Mintax advertisement where a glowing shooting star flies in and flutters and circles around the pack. It was animated by punching numerous pin holes into black card to give the shape of the star, one card for each frame. “Even with the latest technology available there are times when we go back to the basic methods. The cards are back-lit so the light glows through and even though they start as black and white, there are many things we can do with it. We can diffuse it, make it twinkle, ripple it, use filters to add colour, use various lenses and play around with imagery generally.”
Camera Effects used their artistry to save an expensive re-shoot on a British Telecom Phone Card commercial. In the original version a lorry-load of eggs breaks down in open countryside and the driver goes to a phone box to inform his customers. “The brief changed after the live action was shot, and our client decided they wanted the location to be an urban setting.
“We were asked to add a new background with travelling mattes. When we prepare these mattes everything has to be very accurately designed and drawn. We went out on location and shot new background stills on 35mm slide film. The original film was traced off the aerial image camera, frame-for-frame, and a matte painted to hold back the areas where we drop in the new backgrounds.
“There is a shot in the driver’s cab where the new background is seen through the side window. The driver’s head is moving in front of the window so we animate new mattes for each frame. It took almost four weeks to do.
Each matte is painted on an animation cel in black paint – an art in itself because it has to be very accurate. When you put it over the aerial image glass it holds back the light and all you get is the image coming through the clear areas. The reversal of this, to drop the other image in, has to be exact otherwise you get white edges or black spots.