Animation is very technical. The essence of it is like Vincent Van Gogh starting out, he goes to life class and draws a woman. His early drawings look as if they have been drawn with a hammer. You can say they look great, but they’re not great. He became great. He had to get the technique. In the end he had enough technique to put his vision down, and he went crazy doing it.
You have to know movement if you’re an animator. It’s your business. You have to damn well know movement. But first you have to be able to draw. If you can’t draw, forget it. As Babbit says, you’re an actor without arms and legs, or without a mouth, or eyes. So you’d better learn to draw reasonably well.
Then you have to learn to make the characters walk instead of float. You see student films where the characters float around. Why don’t they have weight? You have to learn how to give the drawings the weight.
When I asked Milt Kahl, “How do you do it so well?”, he said to me: “I know where the weight is in every drawing; I know where the weight is going to and where it is coming from. On a four-legged animal, or a two-legged animal, or if it’s a hand moving, I know where the weight is.
If you don’t know that, your animation is going to be stilted. If you just copy Disney, and you don’t know how to achieve the transference of the weight it is going to look like it’s thin, it won’t have any believability.
So, let’s say you’re a prolific, fast, facile draughtsman. You are the actor, and you’re standing solidly on the fact that you can draw well enough to express yourself, you know how to get the weight, how to get accents, you’ve got the articulation right. Then you can go for the red meat, which is the performance. Then, if you’re good at that you can tell a story.
On top of that, it’s a business. Because you’ve got six people or six hundred people or – as in Disney’s case when he really got going — fifteen hundred people before the time of the strike, how are you going to pay them all? With animation you have the greatest amount of control of anything I know, you also have the greatest amount of problems.
JC: Maybe there are different starting points. Different people make films in different ways.
RW: I mentioned the drawing first because that’s how I went in. But you can go in like Frank Thomas, who doesn’t draw very well and goes in with his great brain. He goes into everything analytically, very warmly, and works it all out. Whereas I would draw it and then work it out. The whole thing is about illusion. It’s just light flashing on a wall for a while.
JC: Well, that’s film! I’ve often thought that animation is the purest form of film making because it’s images flash successively and you create each one, not like live action.
RW: The public used to think that animation was done by a bunch of gnomes because of stupid articles about animation. Today they think a computer will do it. But that isn’t the case. There are no inbetweens. You have to do at least as much as twelve drawings out of every twenty-four yourself and pretty cleanly done. That means you can only do about five minutes a year. Ten minutes if you don’t sleep. That’s ten minutes per year per guy. So to make ninety minutes using ten guys would take two years – that’s a hundred minutes, but you’ll probably chop ten minutes of that out tightening it up. So you need ten tremendous animators working hard. Then the follow-up, all the wages.
JC: In the marketplace a lot of people shoot on doubles to cut the workload in half. And of course it doesn’t work so well.
RW: Then the bums come off seats. We need bums on seats. I’m known as a freak because I want to do everything on ones. It looks so much better. Some animators – including some of the top Disney people, Art Babbitt among them – have an argument which runs, “It looks better on twos because it gives you a crackly, crispy look. While ones are weak and soften everything.” I never bought that theory, because working with Ken Harris I’d always do everything on ones. Ken would say, “Oh, it’s always better on ones.” I’d say, “Always? I thought it was crisper on twos,” and he’s say, “Nah, it’s always better on ones.
On the Rabbit we had to put everything on ones to fit in with the live action characters. Andreas Dejas, who was the prime animator on the Rabbit from my point of view, knew about me wanting to do everything on ones and he was suspicious of it. He found it a shock to work on ones all the time. We had a theoretical discussion, ending with him saying, “No, no, no, it’s much better on twos.” “You think twos for everything?” “For everything – I think.” Eventually he came to agree with me.
Now, he animates on twos and has his assistant do the inbetweens. We all work different ways, but he just animates every second drawing. So he would test his stuff on twos first. He said, “I can’t stand it. I look at those things on twos and I see them as holds.” So I said, “Welcome to the club.” Because that’s what I do. I can hardly ever look at a Warners cartoon which are mostly on twos, without looking at them as if they are on ones, and see them as holds.
JC: Are they?
RW: Except when they’re running. All the fast action is on twos. But the Rabbit had to be on ones, so finally Williams got his way on a commercial thing, it’s all on ones and it looks great. And it cost a fortune! But it didn’t take very long because we worked like crazy.
Printed in Animator Issue 24 (Winter 1988)