Wednesday, September 06, 2006


Story reels have been around since the 1930s. Simply put, they're storyboard drawings synched up to a soundtrack on film and run for the crew and/or director to show how the picture's continuity is shaping up. Is the story clear? Is the pacing on point? Are the gags coming across? Animatics are pretty much the same thing...except they aren't on film but a computer disk or hard-drive, and they're created not for feature animated films as old-fashioned story reels are, but animated half-hours made for television... Animatics have been around for maybe a decade, and they've been all the rage with studio execs and newer directors for the last six or seven years. But when I was up at Cartoon Network this afternoon, an animation director who's done more than his fair share of slugging board and timing exposure sheets thought they were pretty much over-used and over-rated. "Most shows use them now," he told me, "but they just add an extra layer of expense. It'd be better to eliminate the extra position you need on a show to do them, and pay the board artists, directors and everyone else more money." The shows at Cartoon Network with which he's familiar use various production blueprints. "'Foster's Home For Imaginary Friends' goes from boards, to a tight slug of the boards, to an animatic, to animation. We don't do exposure sheets." ("Foster's" is animated at the studio.) "Camp Lazlo" takes a different route, going from boards that are loosely slugged, to an animatic and notes from the producer, then on to exposure sheets. "My Gym Partner's a Monkey" goes from tightly slugged boards to exposure sheets. "I think the reason there are more and more animatics done for t.v. animation is that more people who work as timing directors that don't have have a background animating, but they do know animatics. Looking at how the animatic flows is how they time their shows. It's their frame of reference." Director John Kimball told me pretty much the same thing three years ago at Disney TV Animation. Like the CN director, Kimball believed that animatics were an unnecessary crutch that a director with animation experience wouldn't need. On the other hand, I've talked to directors who come from animation that think animatics are a wonderful tool and quite useful. I come out of a story background, so I've never had a dog in the fight either way. I used to think that animatics were just a useless expense put in place to placate managers who couldn't be bothered to figure out how to read a storyboard, but I have mellowed. Now I think that animatics might have a use when pilots are being produced. They help the creators get a better grip on shaping the show (maybe), and they are certainly useful as a selling tool. But beyond that? I agree with the veteran at Cartoon Network: better to skip the animatic and use the saved expense to pay the crew more money. That, in the end, is a more enlightened way to get an improved product. (And there are no doubt many out in 'toon land who don't agree with me.)


Robiscus said...

i couldn't disagree more.

animatics are essential in establishing a mood with the rhythm of the cuts. timers may say that they can accomplish that abstractly, but i don't believe it. even as an animator you time your sequence out with keys and then look at it to get a perspective. the same holds true for an 11 minute cartoon.
if anything, why waste time with a tight slug of the boards?
if you have a talented editor who has a background in animation, then he can turn a board into an animatic that the director can fine tune. then the sheets get their scene lengths from the that.

i can't understand how anyone would not want to use an animatic. thats the first time i've ever heard that.

Steve Hulett said...

Many old-timers dislike them.

The issue is cost-benefit. A good case -- as you indicate -- can be made for animatics. Bare bones animatics. But explain to me the color, the pseudo animation, the sound effects, the elaborate soundtracks that populate some studios' animatics. Hard to make a case that all the extra bells and whistles (which cost money) are necessary for timing. They are there to please somebody higher up the food chain -- and maybe sell the pilot or episode.

There were thousands of animated shows, good ones, that were done before animatics. Would computerized story reels improved them? Maybe. But a lot of veteran directors don't think they're necessary.

Anonymous said...

I read this and what comes to mine is, you can spend hours, days on a painting and when its finished you have no composition.
Or animation with a bad pose, or a villain that's stupid.

Just my take on this, but i fill that producers, director's must be story people and animators. Everybody puts in a little change to the pot for the finished deal.

You can get alot done fast with a sharp pencil.

Thanks for the use of the hall.

Anonymous said...

Animatics have been around for 25 years. They were first shot on film ,then tape ,now digital. They were used by entertainment and advertising execs. for focus groups. To bad today most of them look like crap because these artists cant draw

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