Saturday, November 14, 2009


Last week I bumped into a friend who asked about my book.
    “What's it about?”
    “Oh, what fun, how charming!”
There it was again, the assumption that anything to do with animation is automatically fun and charming. The patronising tone also suggested that animation might be frivolous fluff not to be taken seriously. Not that it isn't fun now and then, but there's more to it than fun and jokes.
     Although cartoons are mostly made to amuse, (with exceptions like PERSEPOLIS and WALTZ WITH BASHIR), it’s the end product that’s funny, but the work required to get it on to the screen is challenging, difficult, painful. Anything but fun.
    Nothing fun or charming about working eighteen hour days, producing high quality images at supersonic speed while diplomatically dealing with people you often hate with a passion. Animation is a cold-blooded, cutthroat business, where it’s every artist for himself. It’s an industry, a business, not a joke, not fun. And, although artists may have a reputation for being weird and crazy, how many films would be finished if animation artists were so nuts that they couldn’t do their job? And their job is tough. It requires not only artistic talent, but discipline, endurance, stamina, courage and nerves of steel, not to mention buns of steel.   
    Artists race against time to get those funny gags and cute, charming characters on to the screen. They may enjoy the challenge of moving a character in a funny way, painting a background with a specific atmosphere, but not for long. In animation, there’s no time for artistic indulgence, it’s all about deadlines. Daily, weekly and the ultimate deadline, the film’s release date which can't be changed. So, even though the average animated feature film, from concept to screen, takes about four years to make, it’s always the animation department that bears the brunt of the pressure to finish on time. The writers and designers take up a lot of the time making the film the best it can be before animation can start and, since there’s still a lot of work to do after animation, it's the animators who are under the most pressure to work fast.
    Animation is also team work. Artists have to work together, sometimes for decades, so they get to know each other intimately, they get on each other's nerves, get in each other's face and business, gossip, fret, fight and befriend each other, but always there’s the common thread that makes these disparate individuals function like one big multi-armed organism, the animation.  Animation artists would walk through fire for their art.
    And don’t get the impression that they are a humorless bunch. Artists skewer each other with biting caricatures, chortle about each other’s peccadilloes, pull stunts and pranks, but mostly they just don’t have time for fun.   
    What IS funny about an animation studio, is the way it takes itself so seriously.  It has to, to get the work done, but people taking themselves seriously are always funny.  It’s the banana-peel school of comedy.  One slip and you’re hilarious.
    And the urgency is funny. It’s just a movie, for heaven’s sake, but artists can get caught up and carried away by the artificial urgency of a deadline to the point of slapstick. All this high drama and hilarity provided fodder for my book.
    So, while the business of animation is not much fun, writing and reading about it is.        


paris parfait said...

Looking forward to the book!

Nora Lumiere said...

Oh, thank you! I'm struggling with the technical bits of animation right now; whether to put them in and risk glazed eyes or leave them out and risk a superficial book.
I think I'm going to risk the occasional glazed eye in the hope that others will be enlightened, enriched and elucidated.