A mistake some people make is to think they can do every aspect of film production on their own. They should realise some people are better at story writing rather than animation. Or good animators are bad story writers, or don’t know anything about sound, or even don’t recognise bad sound, bad story writing or whatever it is. It is very hard to pre-judge yourself in certain aspects of the animated film. Maybe it is better to collaborate with someone else.
Sound is important in my films. Very often in my films things happen outside the screen, which saves a lot of animation, that is why I do it. What you do is give a hint of something and then the sound goes on and establishes that hint in the picture and the image, and then the sound would go on and take over while the picture might stop. It is an interesting game, for one thing you have to be aware of the part sound plays in the animated film. If you do not have any sound there must be a good reason. It is the same if you do not use an image, for example in my film David, there is a guy who is so small you cannot see him. It saves a lot of animation. In order to have the audience look at the screen you have to introduce this small person by the use of sound. They keep staring at an empty screen, which is stupid, but they accept it because the character is talking. If you eliminate an image or sound you have to be aware why you do it. It is very much a gamble.
The film I am making now took me about a year to animate, the sound recording is planned for the beginning of March and I am really looking forward to it. We will have two days in the sound studio. I take boxes full of toys and gadgets and we go and play for two days and make these beautiful sounds and it is so much fun. A lot of it is in your mind. The sound is never the way you think it is, like if you make footsteps they are really matchboxes or whatever.
I made a film called Spotting the Cow where I wanted the feeling of cow shit, a sort of loose, juicy material. I cooked macaroni and left if for two days so it got juicy. When I stirred it with a spoon it made a beautiful sound. It looks and sounds like cow shit, but it is macaroni cheese!
You have to prepare yourself. It is not a case of going into a sound studio and trying to find the noises and effects you need. It takes preparation, this is what makes it so interesting. You need a good ear and training to edit sound for animated films.
Last year I was in the studios in Vancouver to add sound to my films for the Expo. The films were commissioned but I was quite free to do what I wanted. It was a very advanced sound studio, completely computerised, CD’s and so on, but they did not seem to know about synchronising for animation. They put spot sounds on the animation that were up to six frames out. I was expecting them to correct it but they just didn’t notice. When they asked if it was OK I had to tell them it was completely wrong. Good sound is something you must insist on.
You will see your films time and time again over the years, it is horrible if there is something wrong with them. You see the same mistakes and they grow stronger and stronger. I get that with my old films. I regret certain things so much I don’t want to see them any more, although nobody else seems to notice the faults. You have to be sure that the finished film is exactly the way you want it. It is not that you have to do it over and over again so you never finish a picture; at a certain point you have to stop and say “That is as far as I can go, now I must make my next film.” That is how animators live and work.
Printed in Animator Issue 25 (Summer 1989)