DJ: How does the amount of work compare with a cel film?
NL: The thing about cel is it can be used in so many ways. You can have limited animation where a body may be static while the head moves. When you do that eel is very quick and crayoning would be phenomenally longer, but full cel animation where the entire character moves for every frame, is probably more difficult and more time consuming to achieve than crayoning. It depends how many figures are moving. If there are two or more then cel is definitely more difficult to achieve because the benchmark for cel is Disney animation. The benchmark for crayoning techniques is a lot more flexible.
DJ: There was one commercial on your reel using a sort of crayoning technique but it was done with paints.
NL: That was the Northern Rock Building Society. We were pleased with the results. It was all painted on white paper and basically had a separate painting for every frame.
DJ: Why was it painted on paper rather than cel?
NL: The problem with eel is that acetate is fairly unforgiving. It is quite difficult to use crayoning or watercolour on standard cel. You can get round the problem with frosting solutions and frosted cel but it is nowhere as nice as working on paper. The Allied Irish Bank commercial was done on enormous 30 field cels to accommodate the camera moves and most of the animation was in a tiny area in the middle. We painted on frosting solution in the shape of the snail or whatever and then we would crayon on top of that. The back is painted just one colour and then the rest is added using crayons on top of the frosting solution. It is laborious but it works quite well and it means you can have a very much more detailed background than you could if you were working entirely on paper.
DJ: Big cels are difficult to handle aren’t they?
NL: They weren’t popular amongst the paint n’ trace department and they are physically demanding at the shooting stage. We don’t have a film rostrum of our own. The Irish Bank Commercial was shot in Manchester at a company called Sprockets. Their rostrum camera is half-way between a model rig and a rostrum camera. It is ideally suited for shooting something like that whereas a rostrum camera wouldn’t necessarily be rigid enough to do the repetition which is involved.
DJ: I understand the sound track on Round the Bend was laid in a digital dubbing suite. How does that compare with conventional methods?
NL: The conventional approach for film dubbing is to have separate magnetic tracks which are the same shape and size as the film it was shot on. There may be dozens, but mostly eight to ten. They are all laced up on separate machines and run in synch with each other as the film is projected and controlled by a mixing desk. This traditional approach is being moved out quite rapidly by video dubbing. Since the advent of convenient timecode locked quarter-inch machines and twenty-four track machines it is possible, for a fraction of the cost of a film dub, to lay-up separate tracks and do the same thing in a video dubbing theatre, to a TV screen. That is fine but there is a problem if you want to change the position of one individual track. The only way is to re-record it in the right position on the quarter-inch or the twenty-four track machine which is time consuming. With digital dubbing all the sounds are stored as numbers in a computer. If I want the track to be moved ten frames back it can be done instantly, which is a tremendous benefit. You can tell the computer you want a sound to last twelve frames longer than it is now and it can extend it.
Then there are emulators, they have been around a long time but they are regarded more as part of recording music. You can sample a sound, record it into the computer and display it on the screen as a wave form. You can then select, say, only the middle bit in the wave formation, so you don’t have the sustain on it. Suppose it was a ruler being twanged, you can cut off the beginning and end bits so you have a brief twang. You can create sound effects that are perfectly moulded to what you want them to do by cropping it down and dropping it in wherever you want. Also you can play it on a keyboard at a different pitch. Even with all these facilities it is still cheaper than film dubbing.