Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Final Touches and the Forever Rule

Finishing a film is a great big pain in the ass.  All the wild enthusiasm for what the film could be has yielded to a mottled view of what it has become.  By the end, you've spent so much time with every little nook and cranny of the film that you can't tell if it is entertaining anymore.
First released still from Steve Moore's  "Chief, Your Butt's on Fire".
I am experiencing this right now on a short I started in 2000 (!) called Chief, Your Butt's on Fire.  It's a cautionary tale based on my life in animation.  I animated the entire five minutes, full on, on old-school 20lb punched Cartoon Colour stock in my spare time.  It took years.  My wife, Donna, scanned it all - rough, not cleaned up - and figured out a way to paint it in Toon Boom in her spare time.  It took years.

As I prepare Chief for output to film, I pick over each scene invoking what I call The Forever Rule.  If there's something that's not quite right, fix it, it's forever.  Usually, it's a small fix - a color pop, a drawing out of registration.  Easy fixes, but still time consuming  pulling everything up, combing through, then re-outputting.

Working independently forces you to sweat the technical stuff.  Toon Boom was a completely new software for me when I first opened it up in 2004.  The interface was different,  the icons were confusing, and the instruction books seemed written in pig latin.  I fumbled around with it,  Donna fumbled around with it some more, and between the two of us, we figured out Toon Boom well enough to move forward.

The first scenes were a bit of a scene planning disaster.  They worked, but there were way too many pegs working independently of each other.  Eventually, like staring at a Magic Eye puzzle, it became clear.  Ohhhhhh!  That's how it works!

I dreaded submitting the film to a film output company, for fear that I botched the specs.  Yep.  I did.  They sent me a file of how it would look, and it was a blurry mess.  When I first set up Toon Boom, I used their default setting.  I needed to set the format for HD.  A very dumb oversight, but one that has me resetting every scene, doing a few layout tweaks, then re-outputting.  Rookie!  But it's forever.

This is not my most tedious task in keeping The Forever Rule.  That "honor" goes to A Goofy Movie.  Goofy takes his son on a road trip, tying a massive camping kit to the top of his car.  The car - computer animated. The kit - animated by hand.  In the last months of production, in an all hands on deck effort to complete the movie,  I went from sequence director to in-betweening that freaking kit.  I spent entire weekends in-betweening ropes and bags on a couple of the really tight scenes, where the car moves subtly and without flaw thanks to the magic of computers. My job was to do such a tight job on the kit that you didn't even notice it.  It was a massive pain in the arse, but I can look at it nineteen years later and thank The Forever Rule for making me do it.

That's the irony of in-betweening: you only notice it when it's done wrong.  In-betweeners are the unsung craftspersons of all great animation.  Not only are they unsung, they are generally harangued, overworked, and disrespected.  And now they are obsolete.  But that's another post.

The Forever Rule, like those last ten sit-ups on a workout, really hurts.  But it's always satisfying when it's done and done right.  I once heard a gym trainer say, "Work out like a chump, look like a chump."  Same applies to filmmaking.   

1 comment:

  1. I remember on Roger Rabbit someone posted on the wall the stages of film production. They were:
    1. Wild enthusiasm
    2. Disillusionment
    3. The search for the guilty
    4. Blame the innocent
    5. Reward the uninvolved