Rational Technology for March 12, 2006
All right, I'll admit it: I have a long-running love affair with cartoons. I've been this way ever since my parents put me down in front of our black-and-white TV so the Road Runner and Wil E. Coyote could keep me company while they worked.
I should have outgrown cartoons, but for some reason, I haven't. I continue to find them fascinating in terms of story, technique, and motion, and moreso now that they've become more sophisticated. Really, I should have taken up animation when I was younger, but since my options were limited where I was, I ended up in engineering.
Some twenty-odd years later, the opportunity presented itself when Entheos/Foundation University and Top Peg Animation offered a three-month animation course in Dumaguete. Was I interested? You bet! I went through the screening program, as I wrote about in an earlier column, and apparently, I passed.
Early on, the folks at Entheos warned me that this would be traditional hand-drawn animation, and not the digital animation that many people were expecting. And that was perfectly all right with me, because that was exactly what I was looking for: old Disney- and anime-style animation, the kind I remembered watching as a kid.
And so it was. I joined some fifteen other aspiring animators from Dumaguete and Manila on the program.
Now, let me explain some things. When they mean traditional hand-drawn animation, they really do mean it. That may sound simple enough, but when you consider that it takes 24 frames to make up one second of animation, you're talking about a lot of drawings.
And you can't just draw any old thing that you want to draw. It has to correspond to a model sheet. Draw a curve wrong or a line of the wrong size, and, well, the character is wrong and it's time to break out the eraser or a new sheet of paper.
The movement also has to be synchronized from one frame to the next. If the position of a leg or a hand is off by a bit, well, time to break out the eraser or a new sheet of paper. It's for this reasons that animators work with a peg bar with three studs and special paper with holes to fit the studs. The peg bar keeps successive sheets in place so you can see what changes are supposed to occur between one frame and another.
Finally, there was also special notations that we had to learn. One notation had to do with the timings of the movement, another with lip-syncing, and yet another with exposure sheets.
Really, what my classmates and I were doing was in-betweening and cleaning: drawing every little bit of movement that happens between the two major poses of a character, and cleaning up so that the line work is neat.
I was always under the impression that in the hierarchy of the animation world, in-betweeners were on the lowest rank. In a sense, they are, but only because all aspiring animators go through this stage to hone their skills before advancing to other jobs.
But as to being rote, mindless work? Not at all! I found that in-betweening taxed my spatial sense and creative skills to the utmost, and moreso because I had to convert the results into neat pencil drawings. I found that I was so drawn (pun intended) into the job that the five hours of class would zip by quickly.
For now, computers would only come in at the end of the process. They would be used to color and assemble the drawings -- backgrounds, characters, and props -- into an animated scene. Really, a thankful improvement over the early days when coloring had to be done by hand on cels and finished frames shot painstakingly on camera.
The last third of the program was by far the most satisfying as the class finally put together a short animation sequence. This was our glimpse of the wider world of animators -- from story idea to character design to storyboard to layout to exposure sheets to frame drawings to assembly and to sound. Top Peg master animator Luis Maranan, jocular and slightly dishevelled but a true trove of animation lore, came to town to take us through this stage.
I've posted a shot of our resulting work here, a 30-second skit set in a gym. It's not top quality, not by a long shot, because our team still had a long way to go. But it was immensely satisfying to see our ideas and our drawings come to life. There are two other shorts, made by another two teams.
I took the course on a lark and because it was something that really interested me. Unfortunately, I'm too set in my ways to take it as a full-time career. My classmates, though, have already started work with Entheos where they do animation full-time.
Is there a future to being an animator? If a quick payoff and a guaranteed job abroad is what you're looking for, you might be better off in another course (I won't mention which, but you know). But if drawing is your passion and you're a kid at heart and you want to follow a dream, here's something to consider: according to the Animation Council of the Philippines, the country needs at least 25,000 new animators in the next five years. It's certainly a job with a market.
As for me, the adventure continues this March 20 when I start with the Digital Ink and Painting program of Top Peg and Entheos at Foundation University. Give it a shot if you're artistically inclined. (Disclaimer: I'm not getting free tuition to the program by plugging this; I'm doing this because I think it would be a good experience.)