Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Walt Disney's Key Steps in Animation

Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books for teens in lots of weird genres like, fantasy (Blood of Kings trilogy), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). Find Jill on FacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website.

A few weeks back I went to Chicago for a marketing event with my literary agency. My husband came along this time, and when the event was over, he and I were tourists. Chicago is a fun city with lots to do. And we hit the museum circuit. Hard. In two days we visited the Field Museum, the Art Institute, Willis (Sears) Tower, the Shedd Aquarium, the Hancock Tower, Ed Debevic's, and the Museum of Science and Industry.

It was at the Museum of Science and Industry where we saw the special exhibit on the life of Walt Disney and the studio he created. My husband is a huge Walt Disney buff, so he was so excited. The event was called Treasures of Walt Disney Archives, and there was lots to see. If you live near Chicago and love Disney history, it might be worth the visit.

I greatly enjoyed a section of the exhibit which showed 11 key steps in animation. I instantly knew I wanted to share them with you all, as they have much in common with the steps one might take to create a novel.

A picture of the section of the exhibit I'm talking about.
1. Visual Development
This is the initial period in a film's development. Long before any characters are drawn or scripts are written. In this stage, the film's director and production team determine the look and feel of the story, the mood, relationships between the characters, costumes, layout, architecture, and the film's overall visual style. Hundreds of concept images are created as the team seeks answers to these questions. If I were to try and compare this to writing a novel, this would be my storyworld building stage. I'd draw my map here and do a lot of research on things for my book as I'm seeking to define the story I want to tell.

2. Story Development
Walt Disney loved storyboarding. This is where the concept images are arranged into a plot and analyzed. Sequences are changed, key scenes might be acted out, and the plot and storyline are chosen. I storyboard my books. It helps me see the story all at once. And it's easy to rearrange scenes or see holes in the plot.

3. Character Development
Here Disney set out to create memorable characters in both design and personality. Walt always sought to put lifelike movement into all his characters. He hired actors to model and act out movement for the animators to capture realistic attributes in each character.

4. Character Voice Recording
The right voice can make an animated character come to life. Disney searched hard to find the perfect voice actor for each character. Once an actor was chosen, he or she would record several pages of dialogue for the animators to listen to as they drew the characters. I have a period in my brainstorming where I seek to learn who my characters are, find out about their past and their dreams for the future. This is usually where I find their voice.

5. Animation Maquettes
A maquette is a miniature three dimensional model of a character. Maquettes are given to animators so that they can see their subjects in three dimensions. The only 3D things I've made of my characters have been clothing. I did make a necklace once too. But I almost always find pictures of actors or people I know to model my characters after.

6. Action Analysis
In the 1930s, animation was done frame by frame. But Disney was a pioneer for putting cutting edge technology into everything he created. Action analysis is animation in motion. It involves timing, spacing, staging, and depth. Actors were brought in to show how movement really looked so that the characters would be even more realistic. Have you ever recruited a friend into acting out a scene from your book to help you be able to describe it? I have. Lots of times. My kids get very hyper helping me too.

The cover of the book from Snow White is carved wood. The
inside is thick pages with hand-printed text and color illustrations.
I wanted it!
7. Photographic Pencil Tests
In order to see how well the character was coming along, Disney had pencil drawings filmed in what is now known as a "pencil test" that he would watch with his team. The animators called these screenings "sweatbox sessions" due to the heat the projector made in the small room and to the fact that Walt was reviewing and critiquing their work. This sounds to me like getting edits on the first draft of a book.

8. Backgrounds and Layouts
Animated backgrounds provide the backdrop on which a story unfolds. The setting. They create a time and place for the character to live in. Disney backgrounds vary per picture from the simple and fun brightness of Dumbo to the gorgeous medieval setting in Sleeping Beauty. It's kind of fun to think about your own setting as an animated background to give mood and scope to your story. Give it a try.

9. Inking, Painting, and Checking
The Ink and Paint Department added color to the animators cells. Once they were done, they were placed with their corresponding background. Soon after, a checker went through, looked for missing details, and added them when necessary before they were filmed. Sounds like proofreading to me.

10. Animation and Multiplane Cameras
Walt Disney knew that for audiences to enjoy an animated movie-length feature, he would need to create the kind of depth and realism that live-action pictures offered. So he had his staff build a multiplane camera. This kind of camera takes pictures of a collection of images at various depths. And each layer can be moved or not to create the appearance of movement and perspective. Here's a link to a video where Walt explains how it works. It's fascinating.

11. Music Scoring
Once the rough cut of the film was complete it would be sent to the scoring stage where the musical score and sound effects would be recorded. This has always been a dimension that books lack. However, with ebooks and tablet technology, some have released books with sound effects. I'm intrigued by this new type of storytelling, though I will always like holding a physical book in my hand as well.

So what do you think? See some similarities in the animation process and writing novels? Some differences? Did anything here spark an idea of something you might try and add to your own storytelling?

25 comments:

  1. My thirteen-year-old brother helps me act out fight scenes. He is a bit rougher than I like. I get the idea of what it's like to get pummeled on, and he is not even trying hard.

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    1. LOL, Michaella! I have yet to try that with MY thirteen-year-old brother (or even the ten year old), but I understand completely :)

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    2. That sounds dangerous, but perfect! LOL

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  2. Lucky you, Jill. :)
    I found the first one interesting. I'll have to try that sometime.

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    1. I had lots of fun. It was a cool museum.

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  3. This is so cool! I really love animated films, although I must admit, I love Pixar the best.
    The last one, music scoring---along with being a writer, I play guitar, piano, ukulele, and I sing. I also songwrite. Whenever I get the initial character development idea, I immediately write a song from their perspective, and write music to it. These usually become my favorite songs, and they are so much fun! It really helps me 'hear' my story. Sometimes I'll record the songs so I can listen to them as I write.

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    1. That is so awesome, Anastasia!!

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    2. Agreed with Whitney! I play a little violin and piano, but I don't think I could do that yet. I try to find other people's songs, but it's not the same.

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    3. Very cool! I wrote a couple "songs" for my Blood of Kings series. It was fun, but it's effeminately not my calling in life. I think us creative types can get easily distracted by other creative things because we like expressing ourselves in different ways. My agent is often reminding me to just get the book written, Jill. But sometimes doing these creative extras help us get deeper into our stories.

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  4. This video shows the whole process for Bambi! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dP3ElTbrSBc

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  5. I've got to say, that's pretty neat. It's really fascinating how Disney went through an entirely different process to tell a story to enthuse his viewers and yet is still using a "writing process" of sorts.

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    1. Yes, Disney was a fascinating guy. I often wonder what he would think of his company and theme park today.

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  6. This whole process sounds so interesting, especially since I really like several of Walt Disney's movies. Thanks for sharing, Jill!
    As I was reading the last one on music scoring, I realized something. At some point on the GTW blog, a guest writer shared about incorporating the five senses into your novel. I had never really thought about doing that, so with sudden excitement I began to try it. Somehow, sound missed my radar in the writing. Perhaps it would be a good idea to show what the character heard, as much as what they felt, smelled, saw, or tasted.
    Thanks again, Jill!
    ~Whitney

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    1. Yes, Whitney! That was Morgan Busse who shared that. Sound is a great sense to incorporate into your storytelling.

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  7. Wow, that's so cool! I completely agree that books lack an amazing soundtrack. I don't know about sound effect, but just the music to set the mood...

    Anyway, this was really interesting to read. Thanks for sharing. :)

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    1. It does set the mood. I wonder if I put music on while I was reading if it would bother me...

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  8. Such a cool and original post! I'm so jealous -- I LOVE Disney. It's nice of you to share it here :) Especially interesting for me since I'm going to study film next year. I can't wait!

    And regarding the soundtrack, I don't know about you, but I sometimes find if there's a particularly beautiful or emotional scene, I will get a random backing track playing through my head as I read. There was this instrumental piece we were listening to in the car awhile ago that made this vivid montage of scenes from my next idea play through my head. It was so weird! But very cool. So that may be just me, but either way, I think musical ebooks would sell very well. It would also give Nook, Kobo and Kindle an excuse to release a new model! I agree with you about the physical books, though. As much as I adore my Kindle, it can never compare to that old-paper-and-vanilla scent of a well-read, well-loved book.

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    1. Yes. I love paper books. But sound in books would be very cool.

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  9. Sometimes I make playlist full of different songs that go well with my book...It doesn't do anything for my readers, but I find it fun compiling it and then playing it whilst I write.

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    1. I do that, too! And it could help your readers. In Give Up the Ghost, author Megan Crewe has "the unofficial playlist of Give Up the Ghost" at the back with some songs that go with the book. It was a really cute touch :)

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    2. Good point. I've seen many writers do that and publish the list in the back of their books. Travis Thrasher did it in his Solitary books.

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  10. The steps and keys about animation in a big company like walt disneys it show that how it was big in there works. i also like the way add the information in that. Thank you so much for sharing a such nice info.

    http://www.vindiaservices.com

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  11. YES!! I see the relation!! :D This is totally cool!! Who knew Disney's steps would one day relate to novels?? ;) Super cool, thanks for sharing, Jill!!

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