Ward showed me examples from a pile of layouts on his desk. The first had Grandad sitting at the dinner table; he was required to raise his arm and point. “We may not have stock of Grandad pointing in that direction so we use stock for as long as we can and then create new arm animation for him,” Ward explains. “Layouts show the first and last movements, like key drawings, while lip-synch is marked along with the action. It is animation in rough form, the animator will re-draw it, clean it up and add the inbetweens.
“Janet decides which background to use, determines overlay positions, and marks the field sizes for shooting.” I noted the action was taking place off to one side, was this because they were working within the restrictions of a stock background? “Yes, it is an existing background and we are using an overlay to give it a different appearance.” Ward picked up an overlay drawing of a branch. “These overlays are also from stock. This is from the film with the singing jackdaws and was animated by Dick Horn. He has produced four films for me over the past year which have turned out really well.”
The other animators are Richard Cox and Geoff Loynes plus Janet Nunn, who is animating the last two films because she wanted to be involved with the animation once all the layouts were completed. “They are a good team,” says Ward. “They all animate very similarly. Janet animated the stock in the beginning, with a little help from myself.”
“Once the layouts for a film have been completed we give them to an animator together with the stock drawings, this way they know exactly what the finished episode will look like,” Ward explains.
It is important there are no changes in style as action goes from stock to new animation. “The amazing thing is you can study an animator’s drawing and it looks exactly the same as the model sheet, but when it starts animating it might have a completely different character to the stock version, not by the fact that it varies from the model sheets, but just from the way it moves. We’ve had to be very strict with the animators.”