All Movie Talk, Episode 26

Posted in Episodes at 5:00 am by Sam

Show contents, with start times:

  • Industry Trend: Animation, Part 2 (2:36)
  • Trivia Question: Tomorrow Is Another Day (17:19)
  • Series Spotlight: Horatio Hornblower (17:55)
  • Top 6: Guilty Pleasures (27:05)
  • Fact or Fiction: Star Bios (46:28)
  • Closing: Trivia Answer, Preview of Next Week (55:34)

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Show Notes:

Industry Trend: Animation, Part 2

The process of traditional animation starts with a story and a script, just like live-action. Next comes the storyboard, also sometimes used in live-action, which maps out the story in comic strip form. This gives everyone a rough idea of how the story will be told visually, the shots and camera angles that will be used.

Normally, the vocal-recordings are done around this point. Most animation is pre-synched, which means that the voice recordings are done before the animation. Pre-synching gives the voice artists more latitude to perform, because they don’t have to speak in synch with completed animation, which would be called post-synching. Post-synching is still common in Japan; less so in the United States, although there are still exceptions, such as Max Fleischer’s Popeye cartoons, where the characters mumble a lot, because if you mumble, it’s not so critical that the movement of the lips matches the vocal sounds.

The animatic comes next, which entails putting stills of the storyboard on film and synching that with a rough cut of the soundtrack. The animatic conveys a stronger sense of the film’s structure and pacing than either the storyboard or the soundtrack alone.

A pencil test (or line test) is usually the next step. A pencil test involves sketching the major elements in each frame of a sequence, synching it with the soundtrack, and seeing how it plays. This step gives the first glimpse of actual animation, and it helps the filmmakers evaluate the timing of the sequence before committing to the long and expensive process of completing the animation on it.

With hand-drawn animation, frames are usually animated in a staggered sort of sequence. The director and/or the lead animators will draw the key frames, that is, one frame every second or so, depending on how intricate the movement of a scene is. These key frames establish the overall movements in a scene. These key frames get handed down to the animators, who perhaps draw every other frame in between the key frames. This is where the magic of animation happens, turning broad, choppy movements into smooth, evocative movements. Then these frames are usually handed down to the assistant animators or a dedicated team of “in-betweeners,” who fill in the remaining frames.

The final step is to ink and paint each frame on cels, which are essentially transparencies. Cels permit backgrounds to be reused. For example, if there is a simple shot of a character walking from one side of the screen to the other, each image of the character can be drawn on a separate cel, and each cel overlaid on top of the same background cel. Cels allow whole movements to be reused as well, although this is not done very often in high-budget animation, because those same “walking” cels could overlay a different background cel to show the character walking somewhere else. For panning shots, backgrounds can be layered, with each background cel sliding across the frame at a different rate to simulate depth.

Until the 1980s, the ink-and-paint step was done with actual ink and paint. Today, this process is done more quickly and cheaply by scanning the drawings into a computer and painting them digitally.

The above process refers primarily to traditional animation. The process of claymation, or stop-motion animation, is similar, but the practical reality of having to hand-adjust models for each frame makes that the frames must be animated in sequence.

Stop-motion animation dates back a German animator, Oskar Fischinger, who worked in the 1920s and 1930s. Probably the most famous early use of stop-motion was with the character of King Kong in the landmark 1933 film. This inspired Ray Harryhausen, probably the most famous and beloved name in special effects, who created amazing animated sequences for such films as Jason and the Argonauts (1963), One Million Years B.C. (1966), and Clash of the Titans (1981).

Trivia Question: Tomorrow Is Another Day

A book originally titled “Tomorrow Is Another Day,” featuring a lead character named Pansy, ended up becoming this film.

Series Spotlight: Horatio Hornblower

The Horatio Hornblower series of movies consists of eight films:

Each entry follows the career of the young Hornblower character (played by Ioan Gruffudd), who begins as a midshipman in the British navy during the Napoleonic wars. Based on a series of novels by the author CS Forester, the made-for-TV films mixes a somewhat realistic portrayal of naval life with a healthy dose of high adventure.

One of the reasons the films work is because they always take their characters seriously, not abandoning them for action sequences. Though they take liberties with the source material, as all adaptations must, they definitely have a sort of literary feel to them. It’s particularly endearing to watch the characters undergo changes over the course of so many movies, something few film series do (though the Antoine Doinel series we’ve talked about previously is another example).

They also work thanks to some solid acting. Among the great cast of veteran character actors, Robert Lindsay stands out as Hornblower’s superior officer. His quiet dignity and somewhat imposing manner effectively set the tone of the entire series.

Available on DVD, the series is worth checking out, particularly if you’re a fan of other naval movies. If you enjoyed Master and Commander, for instance, these are movies you would also likely enjoy.

Top 6: Guilty Pleasures

See our separate Top 6 entry for more information about our picks.

Fact or Fiction: Star Bios

  1. Was Humphrey Bogart really born on Christmas Day, or was that a Warner Bros. marketing stunt to soften Bogart’s tough-guy image?

    This is actually more complicated than it sounds, sort of a legend-within-a-legend, as Snopes explains.

  2. Was Buster Keaton contractually prohibited from smiling in his movies?

    Once again, Snopes to the rescue.

  3. Did James Stewart ride the same horse — a horse not even his own — in all his movies made within a 22 year period?

    This interview with Jimmy Stewart tells the story best. Also note this audio clip of Stewart discussing Pie.

    This Wikipedia page lists many famous stars of westerns, including their horses.

  4. Was Lee Marvin, serving under Captain Kangaroo, injured at the Battle of Iwo Jima?

    The verdict is easy, but the truth is more elusive. Snopes explains.

  5. Did Jack Nicholson grow up thinking his mother was his sister and his grandmother was his mother?

    Snopes has the short version of the story, and Wikipedia has the long version.

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  1. wintermute (157) said,

    March 27, 2007 at 9:56 am

    My guess for the trivia question was “Annie”.

  2. WarpNacelle (48) said,

    March 27, 2007 at 3:50 pm

    Darn, I really wanted to hear about the genius of Ralph Bakshi. I always wondered why Peter Jackson bothered to make “Lord of the Rings” since we’ve have the definitive version by Bakshi around since 1978.

  3. Aaron (35) said,

    March 28, 2007 at 3:15 pm

    Was the animation segment supposed to end so abruptly? It almost sound like you got cut off by the segment transition sound.

  4. Sam (405) said,

    March 28, 2007 at 3:31 pm

    Aaron: Yeah. As I remember, I didn’t like how I closed it for some reason, so I ended at an earlier point that didn’t necessarily sound as conclusive.

  5. Jeffrey (84) said,

    April 2, 2007 at 11:29 am

    Pleasantly surpised to hear you guys discussing “Hornblower” in the series spotlight segment as I was unaware of its popularity in America. It had high ratings here in the UK and deservedly so, but there was still a lot of people that were unwilling to take a chance. Repeats are currently showing on satellite and cable and I encourage others to watch it. :-)

  6. LaZorra (60) said,

    April 23, 2007 at 1:00 pm

    Catching up again on my episodes! (I have discovered that they make excellent company when I have to go muck stalls. ;-) ) I was all excited because I actually knew the answer about Jimmy Stewart and Pie, heh. (Or was that episode 27? I can’t remember now.)

    I really want to get the Hornblower movies now thanks to you guys. They always looked interesting but I wasn’t sure if they were worth it or not.

    It was, however, quite disappointing not to hear your Top 6 nose-blowing moments. I had mine all picked out to compare to yours and everything.

  7. Sam (405) said,

    May 25, 2007 at 4:41 pm

    Thanks to wintermute, who passed along the link to this YouTube clip to me. It’s an excerpt from “Popular Science,” a popular series of short theatrical documentaries about then state-of-the-art technologies. This excerpt provides a glimpse into the filming stages of animation, specifically with Fleischer Studios’ Popeye cartoons. It’s a great peek at some of the old fashioned equipment they used to use.


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