I accepted Danny Boon’s invitation to visit the School to see for myself the creative environment they have fashioned. There are two objectives: general training and advanced specialist training by means of a number of workshops. Students do not spend their days in classrooms, indeed, after the first nine months there are very few classes. Self-motivated people capable of working on their own and in associated groups are given the opportunity to do just that.
The Animation Department’s Rostrum and Graphics Tutor is Danny Boon, who has a background of art working and shooting cartoon, diagram, medical. industrial and BBC/ITV work. A member of the Association of Illustrators, he taught airbrush illustration and animation techniques at a number of polytechnics and has been at the NFTS since September 1978. Danny is a typographic designer and a considerable part of his time at NFTS is spent on titles, credits and effects for all school films.
He told me: “Some students feel that they have had enough of education by the tlime they leave the Polys – but their practical experience may not be at a level which would ensure work in the industry. Coming to NFTS will bridge that gap. We can’t teach people how to draw – or how to make models – but we can teach people how to do it better. We can offer the experience, research and broader horizon that make our graduates attractive to the industry.
“Although we advertise a 3-year course it really is not possible to learn all the facets of production AND make a worthwhile film, at least not on the general course.
“In the beginning, for the first two terms, students from all departments are involved in pencil and paper exercises, they take out a camera and make short documentaries, they work on scripts, storyboards, it might only be a simple instructional film on changing a lyre but it is surprising how much learning comes out of such an exercise. Everyone is encouraged to be as diverse in their activities as possible. Some know their goal before they come to us, the others are afforded the opportunity to discover their own potential. Ideas crystallise and they begin to look for those who have specialised in allied tasks to form a team, an editor, director, lighting expert, anyone prepared to commit themselves to a worthy project. Creativity and administrative abilities do not always go hand in glove. That is why we encourage them to form a team early on – it fosters assurance when you can talk about your cameraman or animator.
“If we did not get someone coming in each week with a fresh challenge. I would lose interest rapidly but thankfully the challenges keep a-coming. The school boasts some excellent conceptual tutors capable of igniting the fuses of creativity. All of our animators may work on 35mm although not all choose to do so.
“We are well-equipped complete with a superb computerised rostrum camera and EOS video line tester. We hope, soon to add an Amiga test system. Our equipment is quite enviable representing a multi-thousand pound investment. It is primarily new equipment. We strive to be ahead rather than behind with our facilities, but we are well aware that good equipment alone will not ensure a good production. Ideas are what count.
“When ideas are brought to us by our students they may need to be worked on constructively before they become a project. By that time we know whether it is to be a 30-second short or something much longer. The next step is to itemise and cost the production which might be between four and six-thousand pounds. Careful planning is necessary at this stage because they are expected to make an intermediate film followed by one for their graduation. Tony Collingwood was one of the exceptions who came here to make one film only.
“Following script approval and money problems solved, there is a meeting of all concerned to talk about required facilities, on-site, off-site, cameras, lights, cels, paint and so on. Heads of all affected departments will raise their various questions before permission is given to go ahead with initial purchasing up to an agreed sum, and from this point on the spend is carefully monitored.
“In this way the student learns the harsh facts of professional life with no sudden surprises. They will have to know how a Mitchell camera works, how to light a scene, how to ensure perfect sound, etc. That is why our equipment has to be better than or at least the equal of that owned by present-day studios.
“Tony Collingwood has been in Hollywood producing his first children’s series. He keeps apologising for its quality, but like many another he is working to extremely tight budgets and schedules. His animation is limited, though not restricted to talking heads. and he has a redeeming ability to write a good story. With animation, a structured story can be all-important, in its absence, the film content should be affecting, able to change your mood or your opinion.
“All of Tony’s artwork is being processed on the Pacific Rim. The studios in the Hong Kong area are fast, capable and cheap. They are all specialists, one person max’ only ever use red paint but what that person does not know about red paint is not worth knowing, they are expert in colour matching and colour balancing. I’ve been told of one studio where 20 to 30 rostrums are in continual use day and night on three by eight hour shifts. Piles of cels and artwork are distributed to each camera operator. The failure rate is high. They expose at breakneck speed without stopping to check anything. It is considered cheaper to do it this way. then re-shoot where absolutely necessary because it would cost them more to employ people to check, dust, brush and hold up to the light every cel.