July 9, 2012 9:08 pm

Cartoon time! A day in the life of an animator

Pasila taustakuva

The art of animation is a lot older than you think. Walt Disney might have brought it to the masses in the 1920s, but the first projected animation came courtesy of a machine called the magic lantern invented way back in 1650.

Things have changed immeasurably since then. These days animated films are breathtakingly detailed and beautifully created. Yet most of us have no idea how they’re made. To shed some light on the magical process, we spoke to Tommy Williams, an animator at Anima Vitae. Here’s what he had to say.

First things first, so how do you kick off your working day?

Well, right now I’m working on the 6th season of the television show Pasila, so it really depends on which stage of work we’re on in a given episode. At the beginning stages I work with the character designer to take her new character drawings from drawings to 3D models. Then the models are given “bones” so they can be animated. After I’ve worked on the characters I usually have a few short scenes to animate.

How do you begin a new animation?

Each show begins with the script, and the recorded dialogue. The scenes are pretty well laid out in lots of detail and the director briefs the crew as to how he wants the scenes played out at the start. Then there are three other refining or feedback sessions during the making of each episode. Once the script has been finalized the character designer works with the director to create any new characters, and from those designs 3D models are created which go to the animators for animation.

And how long does one episode take to create?

Each twenty four minute episode takes roughly one month to complete. There are 4-5 people working on scenes that were either suggested or requested by the animator. Although Pasila appears fairly low tech, simple style, it’s actually a pretty high tech production. For instance, there are computer codes that tie the audio files to the character you assign them to so all lip sync and some expressions are done for you. With such a short time for production this really helps speed up the process. There are also libraries of facial expressions, walks, runs, different movements the animator can dial in at a particular time.

Most people’s impression of animators is that they’re a bunch artists drawing. What’s the reality?

I guess it all depends on the type of animation you’re doing. The show I’m working on is done on the computer, which is called 3D animation, where you don’t draw at all. Some of the animators may draw during the planning stages for key poses they want to achieve, but I don’t think too much during the actual animating.

2D animation is the more traditional hand drawn style of animation. That’s the type that the old Disney movies used. There is also Stop Motion animation, which is done with a camera by taking a picture after each movement. It’s pretty quiet work because you are constantly listening to the dialogue of your scene to get the actions. So it’s pretty much everyone at their desk with their headphones on. If I had to guess the average amount of times you would have to listen to the same piece of dialogue it would be in the 100s.

Finally, what skills do you need to be an animator?

I think really the only “skills” you need is a lot of patience and a good attention to detail. A fairly thick skin and a good attitude really helps, too. When you are working on a show you have to remember that it’s someone else’s vision you are trying to help to achieve. So if you do something that you spent a ton of time on, and you hear that you have to throw it away and start over, you can’t take it too hard!

Has Tommy shattered any preconceptions or is this pretty much what you expected from those wizards of animation? As ever we’d love to hear your thoughts here or @Nokia_Connects.