Son of Faster Cheaper: A Sharp Look Inside the Animation Business
Having spent over 50 years in the animation biz — working as a story artist on titles spanning Disney’s The Jungle Book to Pixar’s Monster, Inc. — Floyd Norman knows “where the bodies are buried” … and he’s not afraid to take you to them. The follow up to his Faster Cheaper collection of observations on the biz once again playfully skewers our favorite industry with the bite that only someone who really loves it could get away with.
Son of is a close-to-home cartoon history culled from Norman’s observations on working at the Mouse House under the iron rule of Uncle Walt, the war zone atmosphere of Hanna-Barbera, the Eisner era of the Disney studio, and the day-to-day conflicts of animators, studio bosses and production purgatory. As Norman puts it in his introduction: “There’s nothing profound here. Just a bunch of gags about a crazy business.”
we needed to, but we went down every alley.”
Pitching Until It Hurts Co-director Ronnie del Carmen and head of story Josh Cooley said turning Docter’s abstract idea into a concrete story took a lot of work and discussion among the studio’s story team.
“We would sit across the room from each other and tell stories about our kids and our lives,” says del Carmen. “And when we do that, be involved in?” says del Carmen.
Character designs get simplified down to their essences through this process as story artists produce hundreds of thousands of storyboards for a typical feature, Cooley says.
“A story artist has to draw about a hundred boards a day, and when you’re done with that you hang it up on the wall or post it digitally and you pitch it to the director and the other story artists to see how it would feel in the finished film,” he says.
Pitching sequences with the story artists doing dialog and even acting out the images in the sequence might seem unnecessary, but is actually extremely useful, del Carmen says. “A lot of times, it doesn’t feel real until you pitch it,” he says. When enough sequences are done to have a complete draft of the movie, it’s shown as a movie — and then picked apart to find what works. Inside Out took four screenings before it even began to find a story that worked, says Rivera.
Designing the Mind Eggleston says there were several significant technical challenges in designing the movie’s ever-changing look.
“For a lot of the characters, the design told us what to do,” says supervising animator Victor Navone. “Like when you look at Anger, he’s like this brick, and so you want to treat him like that brick. You don’t want him to be too flexible in his torso.”
Joy’s eyes required a special rig for her eyebrows that could be customized as needed to deliver a calligraphic line. “It was a real struggle to do something in CG that’s so simple to do with a couple of hand drawn lines,” says Krause.
A sequence in which Joy and Sadness enter Riley’s realm of Abstract Thought distorted the characters into — what else — abstract images more in line with a 2D style of animation that required its own team of animators, says Navone.
“That was kind of like a movie in a movie,” he says. “We kind of broke off a whole separate team to take that and research and develop it for six months. ... It was an obstacle to overcome, but it was a place we could be playful in that world.”
Riley was a particularly challenging charac- ter, as her movements had to show her at an awkward stage in life but also keep her appealing.
“We had to build some new facial controls for her to get some of the really subtle emotions that we needed to get out of her and just try to find what’s the appeal of the humans in this movie versus what is the appeal of the mind characters,” says Navone. “It’s two different styles of character design and how do we make each one nice to look at and what’s the style of movement.”
Under Pressure The pressure on the film has been higher than usual, due to the studio releasing no
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