Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Xerox


When you study Disney cels from the Xerox years, from 1960 until The Rescuers, it’s amazing to see how much of the animator’s rough drawing was left untouched and made it to the screen. Particularly scenes by Milt Kahl, but also some by Frank, Ollie, Eric Larson and Lounsbery maintained that wonderful unfinished, sketchy look. Some people in the audience might find these loose drawings less pleasant to look at than the previous inked cels, but I am not one of them. The rougher the better!
It’s like seeing the animator’s personal handwriting in motion. Even though Disney had the best clean up artists as well as inkers in the business, when replacing a sketchy line with one thin contour, you are bound to loose some of the drawing’s liveliness. 
Milt said:” It’s too bad that Xerox happened so late in life. I was talking to Walt on Peter Pan and said, why don’t we just reproduce the animators’ roughs. But he responded, no, no, you want that nice, fine line around the characters. He eventually changed his mind though.” 
I believe Walt had no choice but to accept the Xerox process, since inking contributed to the ever growing production budgets. Moviegoers in those days embraced the new look and accepted the idea that rough drawings could become engaging characters and tell a compelling story.

When the studio produced The Rescuers, it was Milt again who championed the use of a Xerox line, this time in grey, which softened the drawings somewhat. 
I still prefer a black loose line around the characters though. If the drawing is good, why not commit to it and be bold with it?!

The cel above was signed by Milt during my first get together with him. 
The other ones are from his scenes as well ,and show his wonderful uncompromised line work.






25 comments:

  1. "It’s too bad that Xerox happened so late in life"

    It would be an interesting experiment to take scans of an animator's drawings from an earlier film and colour them as if they had been through the xerox process and compare the final result with the inked/painted version from the film. There you go, a project for you Andreas!!

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    1. I would love to see that. Someone get on it! :)

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    2. No doubt that would be interesting to see Pinocchio that way.

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  2. I am a huge fan of this style of animation, where you can see the animator's lines. I prefer it to the super clean look of today (or... a few years ago as 2D hasn't been big in theaters as of late). One of my favorite "recent" 2D animations that did this sort of thing in a beautiful way was the promo test for Emperor's New Clothes: http://vimeo.com/groups/151110/videos/31031410 I would adore a full film in such a style, so filled with soul and life!

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  3. So it was natural grey on the cels we see in "The Rescuers", "The Fox and the Hound" and "The Black Cauldron"!!!!
    I always thought that was just an exposure problem when the cels and backgrounds were filmed together!!!! When you look at the Xerox cels in "The Jungle Book", "101 Dalmatians" and the "Winnie the Pooh" featurettes just to name a few, the animation lines are solid black, and it always confused me looking at the cels from Cauldron, Rescuers and Fox and the Hound. You learn something new every day!!!!

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  4. There was a newer xerography process introduced for Black Cauldron that differed in many ways from earlier cels. The line was more grayish and transparent, almost dying the cel without any thickness, rather than being a hardened substance that could be scraped off on top of the cel. This made the painter's task less forgiving, as when they puddled their paint it might be to the inside, middle or outside border of the line, and it showed on screen. They abandoned this, and went back to using the earlier approach, although with additional colors, up to 16 of them (as used earlier on NIMH which relied on red-brown lines for many of its characters), until CAPS let painters apply digital "color holds" directly on the scanned pencil lines for the "inked" look that could use any color in the art director's palette.

    When animators rightly fell in love with seeing their construction and built-up sketchiness moving on screen, the results betrayed a hint of the process to young students of animation paying keen attention, as the sketchiness pulsed on the screen once an inbetweener had no exploration to do to find the pose, and simply put the line where it belonged for the action, highlighting the drawings that defined the acting in a way that hand-inking could disguise.

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  5. I really enjoyed the somewhat recent John Henry short that Disney did- they REALLY embraced the animator's construction.

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  6. I think it depends, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty made fantastic use of inking and it suited the subject matter, but the Xerox look works fantastically well with things like Jungle Book. I've read the Milt was pretty strict about NOT having his drawings cleaned up. Your film Mushka looks like a step further in that direction, though I think that softer pencil lines will come through better in the process you're using.
    It's such a shame that it's almost unthinkable that a mainstream American animated film could look like this today. I guess Bill Plympton's stuff and some of the French features use a similar look, though.

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  7. I have never quite understood the correlation between using rougher cleanups (or no cleanups) at the same time as abandoning inking in favor of Xeroxing. Could not they be cleaned up in pencil as meticulously as always, THEN Xeroxed? I used to assume the Xeroxing itself created the "sketchiness" but have been learning otherwise. (I'm not dissing the beauty of roughs, this is a technical question.)

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    1. Yes,this was the process over at Bluth's.

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  8. Both (inked and xeroxed) appeal to me in their own ways, but the great thing about the xerox features was that they had this feel of drawings coming to life (while the older films looked more like living paintings). I know many animators reject the notion of "drawings that move", but that is exactly what I love these films for, drawings that move and live and feel. It's amazing :)

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  9. I think that you can't use xerox if you have allready a messy rough, you must have a very strong ,almost clean scetch.Xerox can't fix your design,you get exactly what you drew...

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  10. As one of Milt's clean up guys on Sword in the Stone, I tried to leave as much as possible untouched. Milt's stuff was awesome, but our job was to give it somewhat of a "touch up." That meant you tried to retain as much of the animator's original pencil as possible. In any case, it was a great experience to work with a Master.

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    1. It must have been daunting, in any case!

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  11. this is kinda sloppy but here is a quick photoshop coloring of pinnochio from a gif of an original drawing: http://angryjim.com/storage/Pinocchio.jpg

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    1. Looks OK, though I kinda wanted to see one of Honest John myself, but thanks!

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    2. Well it's certainly different! I don't know how I feel compared to the original style. Hmm...

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  12. At Sydney's Artransa Studios we began experimenting with Xerox in 1962, but at that stage the only device we had was a large vertical copy camera which photographed an animation drawing on a pegged board onto a similarly pegged selenium coated plate, which had to first be sensitised. After exposure, the plate was placed in a lightproof box full of tiny glass beads and carbon powder. It was then rotated several times to allow the carbon particles to adhere to the electrically charged plate; a cel was laid over the plate and the image was electrically transferred to the cel, which was then heat fused and the plate cleaned off ready for recharging. Even with several plates being used like a production line with two operators, the whole process was slow, clumsy and dirty. We liked the Xerox line, but in the end we only used the process to reduce drawings to produce tiny images or to zoom slowly in to successive drawings for a perspective effect.

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    1. Thanks for sharing your experiences with Xerox way back.
      I appreciate it!

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    2. I appreciated it as well! That part about using the machine only for perspective animation kinda reminded me of that shot at the end of Robin Hood with the coach moving towards the horizon. That was obviously one benefit of the Xerox process in that they didn't have to keep drawing the same vehicle and characters to be smaller and smaller for every drawing if they could simply use this machine for the same effect.

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  13. These are stunning I can't stop staring at them

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  14. Oh my gosh that was on purpose?! I always thought that there was just so sketched-in-detail that the clean up artist threw their arms up in the air and just let it go. Can you imagine if that happened to Beast? I remember one pencil test where he's confronting Maurice and he was like a silhouette. How's Mushka going by the way? I have to ask because I'm in desperate need of seeing 2d animation with an awesome story!

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  15. whoa, did someone forget to paint Wart's other ear?

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  16. I like a little bit of rough line work to show through. It somehow makes the animation seem more alive. I read that Walt didn't care for it, however. For a relatively recent example, watch John Henry.

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