Thursday, April 26, 2007

Animation Directors

Eddie Fitzgerald has a piece on how the job of director doesn't seem to exist anymore in TV cartoons. I would agree that's the case.

In live action, the director's job is to decide where to put the camera and to work with the actors to shape their performances. In animation, that job would entail doing the board (or at least thumbnailing it) and timing the cartoon. How many directors in animated film or TV actually do that these days?

This ties into my previous post, "Curious." The animation production pipeline that was created in the 1910's through the 1930's was not, I'm now convinced, the best possible pipeline. However, the way it evolved at Disney and spread to studios like Warners, MGM, Lantz, etc. did provide a director with the tools to control cartoons, though at the expense of the artistic freedom of the crew.

What we've got now, between fracturing production among several studios and with directors who don't direct, is the worst of the old system with none of its virtues. The crew is still handcuffed to somebody else's decisions, but those decisions are now made by people who are ignorant of why the tools were created in the first place.


Michael Sporn said...

To me, a director is much more. I think it should be identical to the job of a live action film director. You work with the writer to get a good script, cast and work with the voice actors to get good performers, cast and work with the animators to get good visual performances. You work with the editor to complete the process after you've worked with I&Pt to color or composite the piece. Then you continue to the absolute completion of the film. It's the making of the animation.

Directors in TV - live action - work with the actors after blocking the cameras and performers, and then they're done. Is much more done with animation directors - or less?

Unfortunately, it's become a non-creative business.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Michael that a director SHOULD BE MUCH MORE. But it seems the job description of director is a little different depending on where you work.

From my experience, a director working on a creator-driven project at an American studio like Nick or CN has much more artistic input and control than someone "directing" a standard project at a Canadian studio.

It seems that for the most part, Canadian TV productions (at least the ones I've been involved with) are directed by committee -- with everyone weighing in at each stage of production. Everything is done to satisfy management and the client with most of the focus being placed on schedule and budget, to the detriment of the "art". Now I wouldn't dare say that season 16 of Whats-His-Name-The-Bear classifies as a work of art, but I will defend the notion that the making of an entertaining and visually pleasing story is -- be it edutainment or not.

I've heard it said that directors on today's shows are more "facilitators" than anything else. They are simply a hurdle in the pipeline -- the approval stamp that pushes a project from one department to the next. They annoy animation supervisors and designers by sending back revision notes. They frustrate producers with their bottleneck as they try to shave the corners off the turds to get them down the pipe. I've seen first hand that they have little or no say in who their artists are or even who their writers may be. They are handed a project, a crew list, a finish date, and a list of people to contact for approvals.

It seems their main function is to be the first person everyone comes to with complaints and problems while at the same time being the last person who'll be listened to.

Maybe it's not so much geographical as it corporational. I'm sure stories abound at U.S. studios where the same complaints can be heard. But in Canada, a place where show budgets are entirely dependant on tax credits and co-pros, where everyone has a finger in the pot, it's impossible to see how one individual is going to be allowed to make all of the calls.

I'm no fool. I know this is a business, and as such things need to run in an organized and structured manner -- with broadcast deadlines and budgets to be met. I know that some artists left to their own devices could work for the rest of their lives on one design, one scene, one episode forever until it met their vision.

The balance between production and art is a struggle that has always been a part of this industry -- it just seems lately -- to be tipping away from art.

Anonymous said...

"To me, a director is much more.."

Certainly the job of the TV animation director should be more(feature and feature short directors still have as much control as they ever did).

But beyond the title and a modest increase in pay it means pretty much nothing save more responsibility with less input. On the shows I directed the producer was the de facto director-all others were mere peons.

As Director, I got to: hand out boards, correct/revise boards, draw boards, slug boards, time the sheets, review farmed out timed sheets, hand out prop and character designs, keep everyone on deadline, delegate BGs, sit with the checkers, answer all questions and make sure the shipped show was complete.

I didn't get to: have final approval of the storyboards(producer), have final approval of designs(producer), direct the voice actors(producer), edit/make any changes whatsoever to the script(writer/producer/story editor/BSP person), cut the film after reviewing it when it returned from overseas(producer), or call for retakes(producer).

As is obvious, all the "fun"-and also crucially important-parts were co-opted by the producers and writers who worked in cahoots with the producer(s). I'm sure those folks made anywhere from 3x to 20x my salary, too, btw. It was truly a thankless job--the artistically creative aspects could fit on the head of a pin with room to spare. And IMHO it explains exactly why so many TV shows made that way are totally unwatchable gabfests.
I think some producers are initally simply greedy for both power and money and eventually most come to truly believe they're as necessary to the process as they've pretended to be--and that's when it gets really futile for an ambitious, creative artist to expect anything more from a directing gig than a paycheck. Remember: for the worst sort of producer type it's not about the actual show, but about the deals they made to work on the show, i.e. how golden their parachutes are. Really, TV animation-with some obvious exceptions-should just be left out of any serious discussion of animation creativity, period.

There are always exceptions to this, btw. Would that those were the rule.

Anonymous said...

I feel the same. I've been working as a director on various animated projects in Cape Town South Africa for about 8 months now, but I get handed a job with a bunch of animators I didn't choose who know that they don't really (in the sense that I could fire them) answer to me and I'm often left wandering around the office looking for something to do, because many of the creative decisions have been made already. I'm glad I read this, I thought I was going crazy and was somehow missing the whole point of my job. I see that what I've got is probably what I'm stuck with until I get to do my own project.