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ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive fundraiser shines spotlight on how modern animated features are actually made

ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive fundraiser shines spotlight on how modern animated features are actually made

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Are you confused about where animation is going these days?

If so, join the club. What with the rise of performance capture, the revival of hand-drawn animation over at Disney, not to mention CG going 3D, animation students aren't sure what they should be doing these days in order to properly prepare for a career in the industry. These kids are desperate for some sort of sage advice.

Which is why several hundred of them made their way to Woodbury University this past Monday night. So that they could then attend a fundraiser that the ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive was holding at Fletcher Jones Foundation Auditorium and listen in on a panel discussion that Don Hahn was holding with master animators James Baxter, Mike Belzer and Nik Ranieri.

To be honest, it was an evening full of great stories. Take -- for example -- Mike Belzer looking back on the production of The Nightmare Before Christmas ."

Master animator Mike Belzer
Photo by Shelly Smith

"It was really guerilla film-making. We had all of these sets crammed together in a tiny little room. If the fire marshall had ever come by, he'd have shut down production immediately. But even then I knew I working on something special."

James Baxter and Nik Ranieri had similiar memories of working on "Who Framed Roger Rabbit ." Where the entire animation team worked in one big room. And the only people who actually had walls & a door were Don and his secretary. Everybody else drew together in this single room that was full of desks where they then attempted the impossible.

Baxter looked back fondly on that time in his life. Which is why -- when James Baxter Animation landed the "Enchanted " assignment, handling all of the hand-drawn animation of that Kevin Lima film, he did everything he could to replicate the look & feel of Camden Town's "Roger Rabbit" studio.

Master animator James Baxter
Photo by Shelly Smith

James had 35 guys crammed into a loft in Pasadena. That way, if he had to suddenly make a change, everyone in that room could hear the sound of his voice. So the "Enchanted" crew could move quickly if they had to. Which is how Baxter & his team were able to handle all of these sequences in LA for as little money as they were given without having to ship any of this animation overseas.

Everyone on the panel Monday night agreed that these are extremely challenging times for the industry. Where you often have to fight for what you believe in. Nik recalled how he battled with his supervisors on "Chicken Little " about how poorly some of that film's characters were designed. Which then made them extremely difficult to animate.

"I tried to explain how -- when a character doesn't have any shoulders -- it then makes it difficult to do things like throw them up against the wall. They eventually said, 'Look, we're not Pixar.' And I said 'Well, you should be.' "

Master animator Nik Ranieri
Photo by Shelly Smith

As for the future of animation, particularly the large number of 3D CG films that are now in the pipeline, Hahn and his panelists were concerned with the way that this film-making process can sometimes overwhelm the storytelling. Especially since 3D CG presents animators with this whole new set of challenges. Given that you can no longer just concentrate on getting the best possible performance out of your character. You also have to keep in mind the space that your character occupies. Which means that you're now animating a space rather than just an image.

Which is why Monday night's panelists suggested -- before leaping in and trying to master CG -- it might be best if modern animation students first tried their hand at stop motion and hand-drawn animation. Which Don & his fellow panelists felt allowed animators to have more connectivity to the artform.

Veteran Disney producer Don Hahn
Photo by Shelly Smith

And those animation students in Fletcher Jones Foundation Auditorium? They hung on every word. Frantically scribbling down notes ("Prepare at the highest level. Practice at the highest level. Play at the highest level") as well as "Oohing" & "Aahing" at some of the footage that Hahn brought along (i.e. the late great Joe Ranft pitching the two Santa Claus scenes that he wrote for "Nightmare Before Christmas," concept art from that "Snow Queen" film that Walt Disney Animation Studios was developing). And after this talk was over, they then all lined up in the lobby to have the panelists sign copies of Don's new book, "The Alchemy of Animation: Making an Animated Film in the Modern Age ."

Monday night's panelists chat with members of the audience and then
autograph copies of "The Alchemy of Animation: Making an Animated
Feature in the Modern Age"
Photo by Shelly Smith

Best of all, thanks to all the money that was raised at Monday night's fundraiser, the ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive will now be able to purchase two 1.5 terabyte hard drives. Which will help greatly with the scanning & cataloging of animation history that the Archives regularly does.

Speaking of which ... If you'd like to make a donation to the ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive, you can do so by clicking on this link.

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  • Nik Ranieri:

    "They eventually said, 'Look, we're not Pixar.'

    And I said 'Well, you should be.' "

    What a great quote !

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