Each frame costs a minimum of £25 to produce the artwork, mainly because of the time involved and the artist’s experience. Even so, it would be much more expensive to re-shoot the live action when you consider the cost of the actor and crew. This is something they could not do on video with Paint Box because they could not get it accurate enough frame-for-frame.”
A title sequence using more conventional animation has a cartoon fairy combined with various live-action sets. As she walks she casts magic on the sets with her wand, and optical animation is used to get bright, glistening effects, again using pin holes punched in black card. “The fairy was designed to be solid but you could actually treat it optically to get her shining bright,” says Pearlman. “It is all a question of what the client wants, who originates the idea, and soon.”
A recent shoe commercial made for Adidas is a good example of the combination of live action, opticals, travelling matte, motion control and animation. Camera Effects were involved with the production from the start. The commercial opens with a man entering a futuristic building. He runs up to a glowing cube, picks up a pair of Adidas shoes and puts them on. He then jumps out of a window onto the roof of a cable car which takes him to ground level and he runs off.
In the opening shot the sky is seen through a high window. “We shot the sky separately and dropped it in with travelling mattes,” explains Pearlman. “We used hand-drawn travelling mattes because the camera pans down during the shot.”
Beams of light emit from a table sized, glass cube containing a pair of shoes. These beams are created with optical animation. They are drawn as white artwork on a black background. Two methods can be used to achieve a soft edge; either airbrushing, or drawing with a hard edge and filming in soft focus. “The film is traced frame-for-frame and we physically animate it. We use a lot of animation in that context.
“We have given the cube glowing edges by drawing them on. There was an actual glass cube on the stage but the lines were not bright enough so we had to make them brighter. Where the man’s hand enters the cube, the fingers began to soften so we had to rotoscope the fingers and drop in a new exposure around them.
“There is a split-screen optical as he jumps out of the window. The buildings seen though the window were done as a model shoot, while the man jumping through the window was done as a live action shoot. We built the models in our studio at Camden and we had to blend the lighting of the models to the live-action shoot of the man. There are a couple of live action close-ups of the man on the cable car roof and then a model shot showing it from a distance.
“The incredible thing is we made enough models to fill a thirty foot room to give it depth and perspective.” The model cable car was about a foot in length and the action was set at night so all the lights had to work.
One of the cable car shots of the car coming towards the camera position was shot in live action. The take was perfect but unfortunately the cable car lights on the front of the car were left off, so here again we added them optically using frame-for-frame animation.
And there is an optical at the end where we drop a repeat of the first scene onto a TV screen.”
“Most of our work is tailor made,” Pearl-man says with satisfaction, “it is not just a push of a button; we have the hard graft of designing it and putting it together technically and correctly. These days Joe Public are used to seeing Star Wars and Superman and projects with very good billion dollar effects. Just compare the space effects in Star Wars with those in the BBC programme Blake’s Seven. It is a great series and I am not knocking it because I enjoy it, but if they had had the budget of Star Wars their effects would have been better.
“We are still using much of the same equipment and the same lenses that were available when I joined Camera Effects eighteen years ago. The thing is we have learned a lot of new ways of using the technology without losing the basic principles of photography.”
Printed in Animator Issue 18 (Spring 1987)