Drawing Animated Cartoons for the Movies (Oct, 1924)

Drawing Animated Cartoons for the Movies

MAKING laugh-creating animated cartoons for the movie screen in which grotesque clowns, misshapen animals, and caricatured people with funny faces and funnier habits go through their pen-and-ink performances requires not only skilled drawing by artists who “cast” the parts but careful work by the camera operator as well, to insure each scene its proper sequence on the reel. Unlike the studios where the dramatic plays are acted out, the animated cartoon is made up on an ordinary drawing board amid the familiar implements of the ink craftsman. And at times the creator of the characters is called upon to take
part in the play, performing with a group of the queer figures that seem to be balancing on pencils or bobbing about on top of a desk or table. When such human characters are combined in an animated cartoon with “sketched” characters, the exposures are made in two sections. The first is generally made up of the scenes and action of the human players with one – half of the film masked to prevent it from registering, leaving it free to include the inked figures in the second exposure. In the average cartoon picture, about 700 to 800 feet of film are required, and the artist is called upon to draw from 2,500 to 3,000 sketches. The only opportunity he has to save labor and time in the preparation of a picture is in instances where the same scenery or settings are used continuously for long periods of action. Then by transferring the background to trans parent surfaces, it can be used repeatedly, the position of the figures alone necessitating continual redrawing. With this method, the background is centered over each figure sketch as the camera takes the picture, guides on the sketch sheets holding the transparent piece in exact position to insure the appearance of fixture on the reel. Sometimes, a pen-and-ink character is depicted as running or walking, and then only the legs and arms need to be redrawn for each stage of the action, the body generally being kept in the one pose. For instance, where a figure is drawn to appear as though moving past a hut, the hut is drawn only once on, transparent material but the character must have every motion repeated until the entire movement is carried out. This means that there will be not less than sixteen sketches for every foot of film, each one an individual drawing posed in sequence with the preceding picture, for when these strips are finally thrown upon the screen they must perform the movement smoothly without any fluctuating or “bouncing” from the direct line on which the first one started. Scenarios for animated cartoons are not written as are those of ordinary features, but instead are drawn in series of from forty to sixty sketches roughly done by the cartoonist to illustrate only the principal action of the characters. They are arranged for a straight camera “shot” taken in the ordinary way, using human actors and animals for a complete cartoon picture, or a combination of both. When real actors are employed they go through their entire parts playing with imaginary characters which are absent from the first reeling, but which are later filled in at positions left blank to accommodate them. All action is timed with absolute accuracy, almost every turn of the camera crank being counted and recorded and the distances of the machine from its subjects measured closely. Then, without moving the camera from its original position, the cartoon “actors” are introduced and “put through their parts.” Instead of shooting the cartooned figures while they are in a vertical pose in front of the lens, the camera is placed above the drawings and the lens is directed at the sheets as they are passed one by one over a strong light in the top of the table. Each sketch requires a separate exposure. For this purpose specially constructed machines are necessary. The camera action is controlled by a pedal and worked in perfect unity with the speed at which the cartoonist places his sequential pictures in position for photographing. To prevent the lines of the background from showing through the outline of the figure posed against it, a corresponding space is blocked out of the setting to permit the character to appear each time in a different place without coming in contact with the lines of other objects. Often, to illustrate a figure running a considerable distance, the scenery is placed on a long strip of paper and the figures continually drawn for each movement as it is passed before the camera. This gives the effect of having the camera follow the movement of the character as it speeds along its way.

Some animated-cartoon actors are depicted performing their queer tricks amid the surroundings or interiors of ordinary houses or offices, annoying by their antics human players who seem to be actually registering their actions at the same time the “cardboard” stars are going through their parts. By the simple process of taking the entire picture without the “inked” figures and afterward inserting them on the drawing board when the film has been enlarged, the missing characters can be easily shown in the final film, as vividly as though they had actually been present in the first staging of the play.

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