Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Animator's Team

Historically, the best way of producing animation in terms of both creativity and hitting production quotas was to set up animation units, whereby the various members of a unit could concentrate on certain aspects of bringing a scene to life. This was how the Disney studio set up its animation teams. At its most successful, it made for a great sense of pride and security amongst the team members that they could count on one another to get the job done.

It was also a great way of having an apprenticeship program by which everyone had the opportunity of being trained to go up to the next level; or it became apparent that a person could not handle the next stage and he/she'd gone as far as ability would let them. (The fact there was studio politics that stood in the way of deserving talent does not diminish the validity of this team concept.)

Before there were animation schools, on-the-job training was the only way to learn more than just the basics (which you can teach yourself). Even today, an apprenticeship program would be the best way of developing animation talent. But that would mean a commitment by the studio to keeping its artists employed from production to production.

The following is a basic Old School Unit the way I remember it on the feature Raggedy Ann & Andy:
1) Animator
2) Rough Inbetweener
3) Assistant Animator
4) Breakdown Assistant
5) Clean Inbetweener

Work flow:
The Animator draws the rough keys and eccentric partials. These are shot for a pose test. When the pose test is okayed by the director, the scene goes to the Rough Inbetweener who rough inbetweens the entire scene for the first action pencil test.

Once the director okays the rough pencil test, the Animator may go back in and add the important lip sync (if he hasn't already included it in his rough pass). The Assistant Animator then cleans up the keys, making adjustments so that the character is on model, and checks the exposure sheets to make sure that any leveling of the figures, overlays, etc. are correct.

The Breakdown Assistant then cleans up and completes any eccentric partials and crucial inbetweens, leaving the Clean Inbetweener to finish off the rest of the drawings.

But let's not come away with the mistaken idea that working this way was a bed of roses. The pressure on the artist to produce has always been enormous. The following is a 1976 cartoon by Eric Goldberg showing a bit of foxhole humor during my last few days on Raggedy Ann and Andy. I was leaving to start my first gig as an animator at Nelvana...and there was the assumption that I would be introducing Hollywood animation production methods to that studio in the Great White North.


  1. I guess the best thing we have now are blogs (like this one) and other online social media where newbies (like me) can interact directly with the veteran animators and learn the Old School Ways. I find this far more valuable than paying for classes!

  2. Hi, Brett. I won't speak ill of schools because a lot of those classes are being taught by veteran animators with whom I have personally worked. However, there really isn't anything better than learning on-the-job.

  3. I would like to have an apprenticeship program by freelancing and send through internet, but I don't know how to get it.

  4. This is THE best way to learn the business. The crying shame is there are so few places left where this work-your-way-up-the-ladder apprenticeship system still exists.

  5. Hi, I know this is an old post, but I had a question.. What is an "eccentric partial"? google brings me nothing. Thanks

  6. @G Petre: This is an old school term. An "eccentric partial" is the part of an inbetween drawing that isn't a straight's not a "normal" inbetween (thus behaving "eccentrically"). For example, a character could be raising his arm, but has he does so, he is waving his hand side-to-side. The animator is responsible for putting in the hand portions of those drawings necessary to convey that animation.

    Hope that explains it.