Lecture 09: "ENDSPEC - SCENE 02" ~ "Hokusai" and other friends...
The thinking behind this scene: I have always marveled at the infinite range and diversity of the art of Mankind. Alone of all the species on this planet, the human species have always instinctively sought to "observe", "make sense of", then "bring further enlightenment" to their fellow beings through art.
Ancient Athenian vase depicting figures in action.
Animation has the potential to be the pinnacle of this effort as it involves drawing, movement and sound. At its finest expression animation is capable of examining every aspect of human existence - whether this is in the real world or the fantastic realms of the imagination. The fact that animation still struggles transcended it's "cartoon" tag does not undermine it's infinite potential.
I tried to move past the "cartoon" archetype for animation when creating my
BAFTA-winning short film, "HOKUSAI ~ An Animated Sketchbook".
I saw this opening sequence in the film as a means of defining a sense of creative progression for the art of animation, as the latest all-encompassing link in a vast unending chain of artistic achievement. Animation embraces drawing, painting, choreography, writing and just about every other form or artistic expression in many cases. Hopefully it can continue to explore these avenues in new and innovative ways, where the potential of an animator’s craft can progress and further advance the cause of human understanding in the process.
The culmination of this sequence, to the announcement of the creature known as "Animaticus Drawersaurus", seemed like a perfect means to represent animation through an actual generic species that is currently in danger of being "endangered". The siimplistic "yellow man" character that represents the "Animaticus Drawersaurus" species initially saw the light of day in my first book, "The Animator’s Workbook".
My very first book - attracting sales of over 70,000 copies worldwide.
"Arnie", as I came to nickname him, proved extremely popular with readers and animation students alike - being that he was simple in his charming ways and simple to draw if using it as a character to explore the core principles of animation. I saw him as effectively a fleshed-out stick figure - which those learning 2D animation for the very first time very much appreciated as he was easy to draw. It therefore seemed natural to continue his existence as "Animaticus Drawersaurus", by allowing him to be my animated lead in "Endangered Species", or the featured characters in my other animation books.
"Arnie" even made it into astrological space, in another of my books!
How it was re-created digitally: This sequence was most probably the easiest sequence to create in the entire film. It is essentially a collection of original, illustrated artwork, through which the camera moves as it dissolves to the next shot.
To be honest I had first seen this camera technique used on film at the Richard Williams studio way back, probably sometime in the mid 1980’s. The camera technique they took back then was used to illustrate the huge accumulation of awards the studio had won over a number of years. Shot entirely on 35mm film, using a standard rostrum camera of the time, the technique was impressive as it drew us, the audience, in and through each award certificate - as if passing through time.
This is exactly what I wanted to achieve with this scene - provided the audience with the sensation over very quickly being transported through eons of Mankind’s artistic expression - eventually to arrive at the world of "Animaticus Drawersaurus" as we know it today. The technique I saw back in the 1980's seemed perfect for what I wanted and may even prove an inspiration for animators in the future, faced with the challenge of depicting time and a significant number of images that represent that time.
Additional historic material of interest: "Rostrum cameras" were the primary device used for filming artwork in the pre-digital days of animation. They were essentially a vertically mounted film camera, facing down onto an illuminated tabletop surface. This tabletop contained a hinged, glass platon device that ensured artwork and painted cels were kept flat while they were being filmed one frame at a time.
Basic rostrum camera set-up used at the time.
Below is my film, "HOKUSAI ~ An Animated Sketchbok", mentioned above. Having learned the traditional principles of movement from such greats as Ken Harris, Art Babbit and Richard Williams, I wanted to apply them to less traditional, non-cartoon subjects. I was a great lover of the works of the great Japanese woodblock artist, Katsushika Hokusai. When I saw his printed sketchbook I realized that - were the technology available to him in his lifetime - he would undoubtedly have been an animator! He left us terrific studies of people and animals in movement. So I thought I would take his work one stage further by animating it.
Two pages from Hokusai's remarkable sketchbook.
I changed nothing of his designs. I simply applied the same "principles of movement" that cartoon animators has used since the "Golden Era" of animation in Hollywood. I was soon delighted to find they worked so well in other styles too - so much so that "Hokusai" became a British Academy award winner. On the strength of its success, I was finally able to establish my own studio in London, "Animus Productions". "Animus" survived successfully for over 20 years, until I eventually moved to the USA in 1998. In its time, "Animus" won countless awards for its cartoon and non-cartoon styles of animation.