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You are currently browsing the MotionArt blog archives for March, 2010.

Mar

5

“Piano-Forte”: Fluid, Hand-Made, Low-Tech Animation, Inspired by Robert Breer

By Pell Osborn

As a graduate student in 1973-74, I first watched the animation of Robert Breer, most memorably his wonderful 1957 abstract short, “A Man and His Dog Out for Air.” The playful changes of direction, thrust and scale, the abstract elements in constant transition, the brief but riveting appearances of the titular Man and his Dog, all left an indelible crease in my brain.

Reared on the raucous action of cartoons by the Warner Brothers and Fleischer Studios, and amazed by the technical heights the Disney studio scaled, I found in Breer’s “A Man and His Dog Out for Air” a great draught of freedom, a scruffy, energizing revelation.

“In addition to everything else, animation can do this, too?!” I thought…

My animation teacher, Eric Martin, introduced the class to Breer’s highly effective, low-tech approach: Breer used 4”x 6” index cards with a minimum of technical clutter. For maximum smoothness and minimal expense, I’ve championed this approach ever since.

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Mar

5

Rotoscoping: a Race with Time

By Pell Osborn

The Clark Collection of Mechanical Movement Models, one of the great exhibits at the Museum of Science in Boston, was built in the early 1900’s. Designed by American engineer William M. Clark, the Clark Collection of Mechanical Movement Models, according to the Museum’s website,  was “… displayed as the Mechanical Wonderland in New York in 1928 and at the Century of Progress Exhibition in Chicago in 1933. Today, 120 of these mechanical models remain in excellent working order,” in the basement of the West Wing at the Museum of Science. The collection is about a hundred years old, still going strong, and well worth a visit.

The Clark Collection of Mechanical Movement Models is a group of beautifully machined wooden cases, each about six feet high, each containing sixteen examples of gear drives, constructed of wood, each gear drive brightly painted.

Pressing a single button on each case sets every gear drive inside whirring and pounding, each repeating its cycle as long as the button remains pressed. The movements are rollicking, the motion delectable for anyone to observe – especially an animator.

One of my first freelance animation jobs was to translate the movement of these gear wheels into a thirty second TV spot for the Museum, titled, appropriately, “How Many Ways Can You Put a Wheel to Work?” I spent an entire eight-hour day examining these cases, and the wondrous, analog (of course!) fan-belt linkages inside, which drove all the gears in each case simultaneously.

I isolated the most interesting examples of the mechanical movement models and filmed them, head-on, with a 16mm hand-cranked Bolex. My favorites of these I rotoscoped, frame-by-frame, into animation drawings, then had free reign to choose the most lively colors for each. The rotoscope set-up was about as primitive as could be: I rented an ancient Bell+Howell sports analyst, single-framing projector, and just ground out all the artwork. The projector was unbelievably noisy, but the process worked.

Of course, it became a race against the clock to finish the spot on schedule and hit the deadline. But once it was all done, and I’d caught my breath, I had one of those moments one fantasizes about. I was sitting with a colleague in a swank bar on Newbury Street in Boston. Suddenly, at the end of the room, my Museum of Science spot appeared on the big screen TV’s. Everyone stopped talking, as the music and voiceover began, “How many ways can you put a wheel to work?” The colors were luscious, the movement magical. In thirty seconds, it was over. My friend said, “That looked great!” and everyone started talking again.

So pleased was I at that reception, that I sat, speechless.

The rotoscope race was over (for the moment), and it finally felt worth it!

Lesson learned: animation projects take time; but once they’re finished, no one cares how much time they take! That’s the price the animator pays to create the magic.