Contents | < Browse | Browse >
%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%
%% Amiga Animation at Disney                  by Douglas J. Nakakihara %%
%%                                                 dnakakihara@bix.com %%
%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%
-------------------------------------------------------------------------
NOTICE: This is the originally submitted text for an article that
appeared in the December 7, 1992 issue (#103) of MICROTIMES magazine. 
(There are some slight edited differences between the published
version and this one.)

This article is freely-distributable as long as it remains unchanged
and this notice and the copyright remain included.

This article may not be re-published in any magazine, newsletter,
or similar media, including those electronically distributed,
without obtaining prior approval from the author.  This provision
does *not* apply to USENET or BBSs.

Specific permission has been granted to Amiga Report.

Copyright(C)1992 Douglas J. Nakakihara.

The author can be reached thru Internet at dnakakihara@bix.com.
-------------------------------------------------------------------------

Amiga Animation at Disney 
By Douglas J. Nakakihara 
 
	Disney has always been known for top quality animation.  Nearly 
everyone has been touched in one way or another by a Disney creation and 
we are all familiar with their cast of classic characters.  To some of 
us, they are almost friends.  It only seems fitting that the Amiga, a 
powerful animation tool, would find a niche at Disney, specifically at 
the Television Animation arm of Walt Disney Pictures and Television. 
 
	In an environment where artists have painstakingly created 
animation masterpieces by hand, the Amiga is revolutionizing the 
process.  The man behind this revolution is Kelly Day.  He has managed 
to convinced the powers that be that the Amiga is a viable and usable 
tool for doing what has traditionally been--and still pretty much is--a 
totally manual process. 
 
	Kelly has been with Disney for about four years.  Although, his 
name may not be familiar to you, his work might.  His credits include 
such movies as the Rescuers and Duck Tales, as well as the made-for-TV 
cartoons Talespin, Dark Wing Duck, and Goof Troop.   He is currently 
working on a new animated cartoon series called Bonkers. 
 
	Kelly's computer set-up consists of an Amiga 3000 with a 1950 
multiscan monitor and an Amiga 2500 with a 1084 monitor.  Both computers 
are equipped with Syquest removable media disk drives, IVS's Trumpcard 
SCSI controller cards, and Ethernet cards.  The Amigas are connected to 
a Novell local area network using the netware product from OXXI, Inc.  
Additionally, the two Amigas are networked directly together via the 
SCSI controllers using the SCSI-SHARE product from IVS.  This allows 
direct file sharing between the two computers.  Talk about connectivity! 
 
TRADITIONAL ANIMATION 
 
	To really appreciate the benefits the Amiga provides, it is 
important to understand how animations are created traditionally.  
Before an animation can be made, a storyboard must be created.  A 
storyboard is a series of black-and-white hand-drawn pictures, called 
"panels," depicting important moments (also known as key frames) in the 
animation.  The full dialog and other direction notes are written under 
each panel. 
 
	Animations are created assembly-line style and there are basically 
three types of people who work on the project at this point: character, 
prop, and background designers.  The character designers are in charge 
of anything that is living, and the prop designers cover non-living 
objects that move.  The background designers draw the static elements in 
a scene.  For example, say the animation was to be about a man picking 
up a stick in a room.  The background designer would draw the room, the 
character designer would draw the man, and the prop designer would draw 
the stick.  Get the picture?  Of course, some lines may be crossed if 
you have a talking broom or chair! 
 
	The Disney designers study the storyboard and then draw black and 
white line art pictures called "models."  For instance, if one of the 
main features of the animation was a car character, a designer would 
draw the car from various perspectives.  This gives the actual animators 
a three-dimensional idea of what the car looks like.  There is one other 
designer called the color designer, who creates colored models of the 
characters, props, and backgrounds. 
 
	What is interesting is that the Disney designers don't draw the 
final animation, they only provide the "look" of the cartoon.  That's 
right, the work the public actually sees is not technically the actual 
work of Disney designers.  Because a 20-minute cartoon requires nearly 
29,000 frames to be drawn and painted, this work is usually farmed out 
to animation studios located in other countries where labor is cheaper.  
Normally, an army of animators is used to make the final product.  These 
studios are sometimes independent and not related to Disney. 
 
	When the animation is actually being created, the animators base 
it on the key frames in the storyboard.  In other words, they are only 
given specific information as to what certain frames should look like.  
However, they must also create the frames that are needed in between the 
key frames.  This is sometimes called "tweening."  The designers' models 
that are provided with the storyboard are used as reference information 
to help these animators tween. 
 
THE AMIGA'S ROLE 
 
	So how does the Amiga fit into all of this?  Well, Day basically 
uses a 3-D rendering program to create characters, backgrounds, or 
props.  Once all of the objects are created and properly oriented, he 
can position the camera and print the model on a laser printer.  He can 
literally print the scene from any perspective by simply changing the 
camera view!  For one project, Kelly had to create Goofy's living room.  
Once the room was created in the 3-D program, he printed multi-
perspective background pictures of the room without ever having to draw 
it.  This saves tremendous amounts of time.  The traditional method 
would require each model to be drawn by hand. 
 
	Though Kelly has used various 3-D rendering programs in the past, 
he now relies on Playmation from Hash Enterprises.  Playmation's spline-
based objects are ideal for the output needed.  All scenes are rendered 
to high resolution IFF files.  If you watch cartoons you will notice 
that things are usually a single color outlined in black.  As a result, 
in contrast to the normal 3-D rendering objective of photo-realism, 
objects cannot have any shading--they must be a flat single color.  To 
achieve this, all of the objects are set to reflect 100 percent of the 
ambient light.  Color selection is also very important as objects that 
overlap or are connected must be different colors.  Each side of a cube, 
for example, would have to be a different solid color. 
 
	The rendered picture is then run through a program called Trace.  
Trace is a utility program that comes with Gold Disk's Professional 
Draw, a structured drawing program.  Structured drawing programs are 
used to create high quality output, usually using a Postscript output 
device.  Output quality of structured drawings is determined solely by 
the capabilities of the output device.  Output quality is significanlty 
superior to that of bit-mapped graphics whose resolution is normally 
tied to the display resolution and usually contains a lot of jaggies 
when printed. 
 
	Trace turns the picture into a ProDraw clip that is an outline of 
the original picture.  Trace only draws lines where a color changes from 
one to another.  This is one of the reasons it is important not to have 
any shading.  So if you had a red teapot with a blue handle, Trace would 
separately outline the teapot and handle.  If the handle and teapot were 
the same color, both objects would be outlined, but there would be no 
separation between the pot and handle. 
 
	Once Trace is finished, the clip is loaded into ProDraw for 
printing on a Postscript printer.  This may all seem rather complicated 
but since ProDraw finally supports ARexx, Kelly has written an ARexx 
script to handle nearly everything.  Once all of the frames are 
rendered, Kelly can trace and print each frame automatically with no 
human intervention.  The final printed product is virtually 
indistinguishable from it's hand-drawn counterpart. 
 
	Kelly is also very proud of the fact that he is one of the only 
designers that sometimes includes fully-animated frames for tricky 
sequences.  As discussed above, this work is normally done by the 
animation studio, but any help that he can provide will obviously make 
for a better final product.  Since the scene is already defined in three 
dimensions, all he has to worry about is the path of the camera and the 
timing.  Playmation has a very unique and powerful way of accomplishing 
this using a time-line metaphor. 
 
	When previewing an animation on screen without background, he 
often draws various references directly on the display screen using a 
wipe-off marker.  He indicated that this was much faster than trying to 
genlock the animation over a background .  In other words, it's a quick-
and-dirty way to get the job done.  I've always said that laziness is 
the mother of invention! 
 
	Normally, computer-generated animations are not directly used in 
cartoon animations.  However, a cartoon episode he worked on involved 
the characters playing a video game.  In this case, the lower resolution 
computer output was required.  As a result, an actual Amiga generated 
animation was mixed into the cartoon. 
 
ANIMATIC STORYBOARDS 
 
	The above process is not the end of the Amiga's abilities.  Kelly 
also uses the Amiga to create "animatic storyboards."  Normally there 
are three acts to a 20-minute cartoon and the traditional storyboard for 
each act is several inches thick.  Although, great effort is made to 
include as much information as possible in the storyboards, much 
interpretation is left up to the animation studio as to what the final 
cartoon should look like.  Since each panel in the storyboard represents 
various amounts of time, it is non-linear and the "feel" of the cartoon 
is absent.  The animators are missing the timing of the events and this 
can affect the cartoon's humor. 
 
	An animatic storyboard is a video of the storyboard synced with 
the cartoon's soundtrack.  This gives the animation studio much more 
information about what is desired and how events should be timed.  The 
result is remotely similar to the old slideshow with sound presentations 
they used to show us in grade school. 
 
	To digitize the soundtrack, Sunrize Industries' AD1012 12-bit 
sound board and their Studio 16 software is used.  The storyboard 
pictures are brought into the Amiga using Progressive Peripheral's 
Framegrabber.  Once the sound and pictures have been digitized, the two 
elements must be synced together. 
 
	Gold Disk's Showmaker is used to control when pictures are 
displayed.  However, because he was working with so many frames, Day 
found that Showmaker's input method was very tedious and time consuming.  
As a result, he wrote his own customized input program that saves data 
files in Showmaker format.  Kelly's program not only shows the SMPTE 
time code, but also the film length in feet, a reference methodology 
used by many animators. 
 
	By multitasking Studio 16 with his own program, Kelly can view the 
graphical representation of the soundtrack's soundwave and sync up the 
frames accordingly.  If he needs to know what is happening at a 
particular point in the soundtrack, he can just highlight the portion of 
the soundwave he wants to hear using the mouse and play it. 
 
	When the storyboard is ready to be recorded, the Amiga 2500 runs 
Showmaker to display the frames, and Studio 16 on the Amiga 3000 plays 
the animation soundtrack.  The two computers are kept in sync using an 
independent SMPTE timecode source.  The SMPTE signal is fed 
symultaneously into both Amigas.  The AD1012 in the Amiga 3000 has a 
built-in SMPTE connector; however, on the Amiga 2500, the timing signal 
must be fed into a MIDI interface, so an external SMPTE-to-MIDI 
converter box is used.  The show is recorded onto videotape in real 
time. 
 
	It is important to note that although Day is using two Amigas, 
Showmaker and Studio 16 could be multitasked on the the same computer, 
accomplishing the job using a single Amiga!  Moreover, except for the 
lower sound quality, the Amiga's internal 8-bit sound could also be used 
in lieu of the 12-bit sound board.   
 
	Though the animatic storyboard is not animated per se, it does 
provide timing and give the sense of movement that the traditional 
storyboard lacks.  This makes the communication between the Disney 
designers and the animation studio more effective.  Costly mistakes that 
could require things to be redone might be avoided.  As most computer 
users will attest to, it is infinitely easier to have someone show you 
how to do it, rather than having to read the manual. 
 
	What is really impressive about what Kelly is doing is that all of 
the hardware and software is off-the-shelf stuff.  Moreover, he believes 
that the day for full production of cartoons using only computers may 
not be too far off.  After seeing what he has been able to accomplish, I 
don't doubt it for a second.  Kelly has discovered a more effective way 
to tackle the huge task of animation.  When animation companies start 
realizing the profit potential with using Amigas, look out--the flood 
gates will be opened.