D. J.: On your show reel all the commercials have a different style. Which one is your particular style?
T. W.: We don’t have a style. That is part of the Animus philosophy. Our style is the animation quality. People working here have a strong drawing ability. If you are capable of controlling the co-ordination between your mind and your hand then you can handle any style. Our style is the quality of production and we hope that is apparent to agencies. We hope that they will bring us all sorts of styles. It is better for us because it is so easy to get into a rut, and be type cast as well. We want to be constantly inventive as craftsmen.
We are animating a commercial for Spain at the moment which consists of fashion drawings, black and white with just a touch of colour. One drawing transforms into another and then another to show the range of products the company make. It is not as expensive as say the Lamot but it will be a better commercial. Being inventive and fresh, it will gain more attention.
D. J.: How many commercials do you make in a year?
T. W.: During Cathedral we made the mistake of not taking on commercials so we lost a year-and-a-half contact with the agencies, which we are now having to claw back.
D. J.: Were you trying to make the break with commercials?
T. W.: We weren’t trying to make the break. I made a conscious decision to concentrate on Cathedral with the anticipation that we would come out with enough profit to survive afterwards, but we didn’t, it all went into production values. We came out with a great deal of knowledge but nothing else.
We have been running seminars for agencies; invite them in, introduce them to our work, explain how animated films are made, show them around the studio, give them a general talk, run the show reel, do a question-and-answer session, hand out an extract from the book with details of the stages of the process, and generally educate them about animation.
You do get agencies who have worked in and out of animation for a long while but a lot of people do not have the first idea about animation. They can make unrealistic demands on an animator unless they understand that we can’t do something new overnight.
I once had a client who came in for the animation line tests. He said: “The animation is perfect but when you shoot it again can you use a higher camera angle.” It took quite a while to explain to him that we would have to redraw everything and they would have to pay for it to be redrawn.
We had a lady producer who insisted on being in on the shoot because she always attended the shoots of her live action productions. So on the first morning we wheeled her into the rostrum camera room, put white gloves on her and said you must not touch anything because fingerprints will spoil the drawings. We sat her down by the rostrum cameraman while he laboriously clicked one frame at a time. After about fifteen minutes she said: “Well actually I’ve got another appointment,” and she never demanded to be in on a shoot again.
We are finding that the feedback from the agencies who attend the seminars is very good. We are trying to encourage the writers of commercials to write for animation. If they come to us, before they go to the client to get approval of the script, we can help them create something that isn’t just an animated version of a live action script.
D. J.: Do they ask you to put ideas forward?
T.W.: Very rarely. They may ask you to design it. They have a rough storyboard and we have to come up with designs. We are capable of designing films so that is not a problem. A lot of them like to bring designers in. We did that on the Potterton commercial, the rock and roll boiler doing the Elvis thing. That was the second in the series, the first one was done by Oscar Grillo. It was ‘Ain’t misbehaving’, a boiler with a hat and cane, that was great. He couldn’t do the second one so they came to us. They wanted to keep a similarity to Oscar’s style so we found a designer in New York and flew him over lust to design that commercial.
D. J.: Oscar Grillo has a very fluid style of animation.
T. W.: Nobody can emulate his style. He is a ‘one off. He puts us all at a disadvantage. He is brilliant with clients. He throws out drawings every ten seconds. He has that marvellous ability to draw fast. It’s Oscar’s style and we don’t even attempt to compete with that, except of course when we are asked to, but we think that we did it quite successfully.
They wanted Elvis movements so we got a tape of Jail House Rock and ran the sequence where Elvis was brilliantly dancing to the title song. I put the video player on single frame mode and did sketches of every pose that he went through in the dance, (lust with a sketch pad, I didn’t rotoscope them!) then took them to my desk and started drawing the boiler in those poses. I gradually built up the sequence that way so the movements of the boiler are very close to Elvis’s. That’s what Disney used to do, shoot live action as a guide to animation. That is valid, what is not valid are films like Lord of the Rings where they shoot live action and then just trace it onto cel, paint it and call it animation, which it is not.
The only time I’ve seen it work really well is on a Ben Truman commercial that Dick did. He re-timed it and reanimated it. If he had just traced the live action it would have gone flat.
D. J.: The amount of drawing that went into it must have taken a long time to do.
T. W.: One thing all animators must learn is patience, with hours and hours of hard work, but if you really love something you do it and it’s not work anyway.