Close Up: Animation (Part Two)
Charlie and the Chololate Factory, The Golden Compass, Harry Potter, Rosie Ashforth has worked on them all. She tells us about her story in animation.
You’ve worked on some of the biggest film titles of recent years, what was your first animation job?
My first job as a junior animator was a miniseries called Dinotopia which came out in 2002. I started on it as a camera tracker and then eventually became a junior animator.
Can you tell us what a camera tracker does?
Camera tracking is for when you have a live action shot with a moving camera, in which CG elements need to be added. The live action camera move has to be re-created in 3D so that the CG element can be lit and rendered the same as the live action plate.
What does a junior animator do?
Junior animators tend to animate back ground characters and fairly simple things such as something flying or walking through shot, not requiring too much complicated animation. It depends though, I've worked with some super talented juniors who've been given shot just as complex as shots that more senior people are doing.
How did you get into animation?
I always loved art and animated films, particularly the Lion King, so when I saw in the UCAS book that you could do a degree in Animation, I set my sights on it! I studied at Newport,hoping to get into 2D animation.... then after realising I wasn't that good at drawing, I got a job as a runner at Framestore.
After my shift I would stay on in the evenings to learn 3D animation software and techniques, eventually I got promoted to Camera Tracker, and then Junior Animator.
Tell us what the scale is like for some of these films? How many animators do you work with, what are the time scales, how does what you do vary across the life of the production?
As a film animator, you basically just animate. There might be up to 50 animators working on the same film at the same company, and possibly more in other companies! You might start off blocking out your shots roughly, and only allowed to start proper "animation" on it when your lead, the animation supervisor, often the VFX supervisor and usually the Director, are happy with the blocking. You go through this review process a lot in the development of a shot.
Depending on the company you're working for and how much of the film they have to do... it might be an entire feature film, it might be one sequence of a film, you might be working on it for up to two years.
Can you explain what blocking is?
Blocking is a kind of roughing out of your shot, where in space your characters/creatures go, what the camera is doing, maybe putting in a few key poses, that sort of thing. It's a bit like a moving storyboard, so your lead and director etc can begin to visualise the shot in 3D.
How much creative input do you have to developing the characters you are working on?
Usually an animator doesn't get much input into character development unless they're on the project right from the beginning. If you're lucky enough to be in this position you get to animate test scenes to help find the right voice actor for a character, and to help the director work out the characters' behaviour and mannerisms.
If you join a film that is already in production most of the character traits are already defined, but you might get to suggest and try little things in your own shots, most directors are open to ideas.
Tim Burton has an extremely distinctive visual style as well as a background in animation background himself did this translate into a more hands on approach to the animation team on Charlie & The Chocolate Factory?
He did come into Framestore a couple of a times but I never actually met him. I wouldn't say it was directed any differently from any other films I've worked on.
The sequence we did (squirrels) was publicised as being shot with real squirrels and animatronics so what we did was kind of kept under wraps. It was really cool though, we got to go on set and see the real squirrels that had been trained to run up someone's body and shell walnuts!
How much freedom to create characters within these big budget productions?
As an animator I make the characters move, I've never created them, that's down to the script writers and character designers
As you’ve become more experienced how has this changed the kinds of roles you get?
What animated features have you enjoyed most recently and which are your all time favourites?
I tend not to watch many animated features any more, I work more in commercials and TV these days because I've moved to Bristol. If I watch animated features I get sad that I don't get to work on them!
My all time favourite is the Lion King, but most recently (not that recently!) I really enjoyed Despicable Me.
What has been the most challenging project you’ve worked on?
They're all challenging in their own ways. Working on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory made me cry several time because it was technically very complex. But other projects have been challenging down to the shear volume of work that needs doing in the time given, or working with difficult directors.
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to get into animation?
The most important part of being a good animator is being able to take feedback. It's sometimes hard to take, don't see it as criticism, act upon it and eventually you'll produce something great!
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