Jerry Hibbert is a director of Hibbert Ralph Animation in London. He gave a talk at Computer Graphics ‘91 entitled The Computer as a traditional animator’s tool.
At Hibbert Ralph they are still fundamentally working on paper and painted cel. However, they have embraced the use of computers to manipulate the hand created images. “Animation itself is a very old art and nothing has really changed over the years,” reflected Hibbert. “The characters have changed and the designs have changed but the craft is much the same. The methods were refined by Disney in the 40s but the craft has not changed very much since then. Now we have computer technology things have begun to change at a rapid rate.”
Until a few years ago, if you were creating an image, the complete artwork had to be put under the camera for filming. Putting together this complete image meant you had to deal with restrictions. The problem of dirt between the cels, for instance, shadows from cel levels, tints from cel levels, all kinds of problems that have to be overcome to get a clean image on screen. With the arrival of digitisers these things have altered.
“We now produce 2-D animation with computer equipment such as digital editing suits, the Harry and the Paintbox,” reported Hibbert. “It has enabled us to put in our artwork element by element and then combine our images. We can put in the background, the characters and the effects piece by piece which gives us much more versatility in terms of preparing artwork. It also makes it much easier for us to produce a clean image.”
Jerry Hibbert is a traditional animator and he does not operate a computer himself. If they require 3-D animation they farm it out to experts in that field, whereas 2-D animation allows a much more hands-on approach. “I sit along side the computer operator and ask them to change this piece round to that, and so on, and we end up with what we want,” explained Hibbert. “In that respect it is much more like a normal piece of equipment.”
Hibbert Ralph produced a commercial, Quakeawake, a hot breakfast cereal, where animation was used in combination with live action. Steam rising from the hot food forms the shape of a man playing a piano. “A few years ago we would have had to sit down with an airbrush and produce quite complicated work,” said Hibbert. A shiny acetate surface with airbrushing on it is very delicate. If another cel is laid over the top, there is a danger of it being scratched. A second take on airbrushed cels is very rarely achieved without finding some damage from the first take; the cel has to go back to be touched up. “With this commercial, quite simple pieces of animation were produced with sharp edges which the computer softened, to achieve a similar effect. More complex images can be built by overlaying one over another and using one as a matte to knock the other one back a bit. All our animation for this commercial was effects roll work,” revealed Hibbert.
A series of Post Office commercials were made in the style of Beryl Cook. To retain the appearance of her paintings, every drawing was rendered on frosted cel. Clear cel has a very shiny surface and normal pencils will not take on it. “When we require rendering we use frosted cel which has a textured front surface and looks like tracing paper,” explained Hibbert. “You can work on it with pencil and crayon. It enables you to add modelling and shadow. Frosted cel is transparent when it is in contact with the background but if you lift it up just a couple of millimetres it goes foggy and you can’t see through it. A scene with many rendered characters would mean animating each one separately and tracing them all onto the same frosted level. If one character had to be changed then all the characters would have to be re-drawn because they are on the same level. It all becomes very difficult.”
However, their work has become much simpler now they are able to animate characters on separate frosted cels. They shoot them individually and then go through a combination procedure using their computers. “Even though we use computers we are not trying to emulate reality, in the case of the Post Office commercials we were trying to get something that looked as if it was hand drawn by Beryl Cook,” said Hibbert.
Hibbert Ralph had to train their staff to produce artwork this way. It was impractical to have large groups at a Harry session so they gave them individual experience. The training programme took a long time, but now the staff know what needs to be done to work with computer post production. “It has transformed the way our art studio works,” reported Hibbert.
In the world of advertising the pressure is always on time as well as quality declared Hibbert: “Every little detail has to be attended to and since they want it to be changed instantly, of course, computers are being used on most jobs, now.”
Jan Carlee is the director of computer imagery at Don Bluth Entertainment, a large studio producing classical animation. He gave a talk at Computer Graphics ‘91 entitled The changing image of the computer.
“If asked four years ago about the future of computer animation I couldn’t see where it was going,” said Carlee. “It seemed to be concentrating on flying company logos. Great imagery, of course, but now there are many films in production using computer imagery, at Bluth, Amblin and Disney.”
Carlee gave several reasons why computers have become financially viable now, as opposed to several years ago: better image storage, good box office returns, ink and paint capabilities, and cheaper equipment. There is a great push in 2-D animation to get the computer to perform inking and painting. That is prompted by the rising overseas cost, it takes hundreds of thousands of dollars to paint an animation picture. That is just to pay people to sit down and apply paint to cels. It makes sense if you can keep that money in-house. The equipment is coming down in price; a computer like the IRIS Indigo gives you an acceptable level of power at a reasonable cost. It is no longer necessary to use a large mainframe computer such as a Cray.
“The other thing is screen thrills; in traditional animation you do not move the camera around in 3-D space a great deal,” observed Carlee. “Some things that would be cost prohibitive using traditional animation can be done very simply using the computer.”
The history of combining 2-D animation with 3-D animation goes all the way back to the Fleischer Brothers, Max and Dave. They built 3-dimensional sets for Betty Boop and Popeye cartoons.