Thursday, May 24, 2007

Six Authors In Search of a Character: Part 4, The Changing Nature of Production with the Coming of Synchronous Sound

The need to synchronize animation with speech and music had a major impact on the way that animation was created. The assembly line approach developed in the silent era was not thrown away; rather, it was modified to take sound into account.

The only way to maintain regular releases while dealing with the added workload of creating and synchronizing to soundtracks was to plan each film in more detail than was done in the silent period. This led to an expansion of pre-production processes that were aimed at pinning down as much of the story, timing and character behaviour as possible before the animator started work.

In the silent era, animators collaborated with each other on the actions of characters like Felix the Cat or Mutt and Jeff. However, in the sound era, animators would not only collaborate with each other, but also with directors, voice actors, musical directors, character designers, story artists, and layout artists, all of whom were focused on behaviour to some degree. These new collaborators attempted to shape a character’s behaviour in such a way that animators would produce the desired interpretation with as little revision as possible. Animators would also rely more heavily on assistants to draw certain details on characters and animate secondary motions. This placed animators in a sandwich situation, located between behaviour collaborators on one side and artistic collaborators on the other.

The expansion of pre-production led to better films and animation. The assembly line in the silent period had focused on efficiency through a division of labour, but it hadn’t focused on artistic control. In the sound period, synchronization was impossible to achieve without control being centralized in the hands of a producer or director. Because of this, the creative role of the animator was significantly reduced. Rather than create a role from a script and with input from a director as a live actor would, the animator was handed a set of parameters that established the limits of the character’s behaviour. Rather than an actor reaching into his or her own experience to find the truth of a role, the animator had to take other people’s experiences and combine them with personal experience and still hope to find a way to create a truthful, consistent character.

This is the nature of the collaboration that an animator faces. An animator is never alone with a character; there are always others who are there as well.
Within the following pages, I wish to examination how the coming of synchronous sound reshaped the methods of animated production and, in particular, the creation of a character's behaviour. To do so, I shall in order examine its impact upon the following distinctive but integrated practices:

Character Design
Sound, Bar Sheets and Timing
Voice Acting
Assistant Animators and Technical Directors
Animation for Television
Rotoscoping and Motion Capture

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