Lecture 15: "SCENE 08"~ Emile Cohl was a jolly old soul...

Title: Drawing straight-ahead

Original inspirationIt is accepted by many that the Frenchman Emile Cohl was the father of motion picture animation. He was not the first to conceive the notion of moving images on film but his work certainly caught the public’s imagination and has maintained the longest lasting impact. Cohl’s major, ground-breaking contribution to the world of animation was his inventive technique of drawing directly onto film, frame by frame. This, when projected, created the illusion of animated movement - a process that had never been seen before. It's popularity with the public suddenly launched the feasibility of an commercial opportunity that was based on the exhibition of moving pictures created on film. In 1908, Cohl released his major work, ‘Fantasmagorie’, a film’ that magically combined cinematic movement, drawing and painting into one unique artform, offering the idea that slightly changing images, captured on film, can bring life to art. It is for this early, innovative work that Cohl’s inspiration is rightly honored as the first recreated piece of classical animation in "Endangered Species".

How it was done traditionally: As indicated, Cohl drew directly onto the film surface, frame by frame, to create animated movement. It can only be assumed he used regular pen and black ink, with the blank film stretched over a lit area beneath, to do this. His approach was therefore an entirely intuitive and spontaneous one… no ‘keys’ and ‘inbetweens’ in these days… and yet a very precise process, in view of the very small drawing areas he had to contend with. The technique of drawing directly onto film soon fell into disuse as other methods began to evolved however… at least until the 1930’s when the technique was again brought to prominence by certain innovative, filmmakers such as Len Lye who worked with the Canadian Film Board at the time.

How it was re-created digitally: The entire "Endangered Species" film was created entirely in a digital environment. The character animation was traditionally created with pencils and paper. Then, when the pencil animation was moving fine, the drawings were next "cleaned up" using ink pens and the "clean-ups" were scanned into the digital software environment where everything else was produced.

In the case of this particular scene, I was in some doubt how the Cohl originals were actually created - specifically what tools and paper he used. However, to achieve the same feel as his technique achieved, I decided to animate "straight ahead" on a "coarse" grade of white paper, drawing with a large, modern "Sharpie" pen. I did this as I found that the Sharpie gave a thicker, and less controllable technique that a pencil or a fine fiber tip normally. Then with the Sharpie drawings complete, I scanned them, reversed them from "black line on white" to "white line on black" in "Photoshop" and assembled them for a final video render in Adobe "Premiere". 

Special animation techniques of noteTo obtain the visual effect of the baby’s pencil actually drawing the character onto the screen, I animated the Cohl action first - making it move in a way that would suggest that it was being drawn by an invisible pencil. I then digitally applied a film grain & scratches to the line drawn sequence in "Photoshop", so as to give it the illusion of age and authenticity. I finally superimposing the vector-based, hard-edge pencil/hand material on the top, using a "cut out" animation technique in the "ToonBoom Studio" animation software I was using. To get the hand and pencil material, I created the hand/pencil images with a transparent backround as a ".pdf" file, then positioned it on top of the animation layer in "Studio" - enabling me to position it on any part of the screen, as required. Then it was simply a frame-by-frame process of aligning the pencil tip with the line ending on the animation. This perfectly gave me the effect of the pencil appearing to draw the line when it was finally rendered out onto video. 

To create the combine frame (left) I separated the animation (middle) with separate hand & pencil artwork on a clear background (right). I then matched, frame-by-frame, the tip of the pencil to the line animation to give the illusion of the hand drawing the action.

To ensure that there was more of a natural feel to the hand and pencil movement, I resisted the temptation to have just one cut-out hand/pencil image. Instead I animated a simple "up and down" pencil/finger movement - so that as the pencil tip was aligned to the line animation it actually had more of a true sense of the hand actually transforming as it drew.