Introduction

While Czech animation is considered one of our showcases, not many people really know what animation is and how it works. Most people are familiar with TV bedtime stories and a few classical and contemporary films but do not see the difference between a cartoon, stop-motion or a computer-based animation.

But animation is an immense universe full of astonishing nooks and crannies and colourful worlds, inhabited by a myriad of the weirdest characters. And in the background of these worlds, a number of invisible giant creatures – animators – toil slowly and patiently, trying to connect pure fantasy with technology and craft. In their hands, an ordinary pencil or a mouse turns to an omnipotent tool of the creators of new universes. Hidden even deeper in the shadows of their studios, directors, screenwriters, editors, sound technicians, cinematographers and many other strange human beings supervise everything what is going on.

Let’s set out on an expedition to the depth of this universe, to discover its magic worlds, both hidden and clearly visible. We are overjoyed when, right in front of our eyes, static, or even dead things suddenly come alive in a wonderful illusion of movement, an illusion created by a series of many static images changing at a cosmic speed to become a single living unit perceived by the audience as a story.

We will show you different ways to animate drawings, puppets or computer data and tell you what the Gods of this animated world – animators, or people who bring everything to life – need to be eventually able to say, “Get up and walk.” Would you like to hold a camera in your hands? Go on, take it. Would you like to learn more about that weird rhythm of a world where it is not a second but rather a quarter of a second which makes a difference?  This is your chance.

Jan Bubeníček, curator of the exhibition

Karel Zeman

(1910-1989)

A classic of Czech animation and Czech trick film.

He is the author of a number of stop-motion and cut-out films (e.g. The Christmas Dream; Inspiration; the series about Mr. Prokouk; Krabat  ̶  The Sorcerer’s Apprentice; and The Tale of John and Mary).

He became famous for his trick films (Journey to Prehistory; Invention for Destruction; The Stolen Airship; Baron Munchausen, etc.). In them he combined a range of optical, camera and animation tricks in a completely unique way. He used every technology known at the time. He combined live-action images with cartoon scenery, doodlings, puppet and cut-out animation. Even today, his work inspires many international filmmakers (e.g. Tim Burton, Terry Gilliam and others).

Animation and special effects

Animation is widely used to create film tricks for live-action films. Nowadays, it is usually computer animation; before its discovery, filmmakers used traditional animation.

Traditional Animation in Live-Action Film

Here are some examples of the films you might have heard about:

Czech Films:

The Octopus from the Second Floor; Lucie, the Terror of the Street; The Visitors; The Mysterious Castle in the Carpathians; or Karel Zeman’s films – Journey to the Prehistoric; The Invention for Destruction; and many more

Cartoon Animation

Stick, Stick, Start Beating (CZ) or Who Framed Roger Rabbit (USA)

  •  The period or realism focused on people and the depiction of unembellished reality

Stop-Motion Animation

American Films:

King Kong; The Adventures of Sinbad; Clash of the Titans; Star Wars; Terminator; Robocop

CG Animation in Live-Action Film

The most common technique used today for producing tricks in live-action films. Characters are either animated by hand or animated using Motion Capture techniques.

Czech Films:

Little Witch on a Broomstick; The Blacksmith from Woodham; Micimutr; Murderous Tales; and many more.

Foreign Films:

Harry Potter; Narnia; Hobbit; or any other superhero film or a sci-fi film you can think of.

CG techniques

CG = Computer Generated

2D = two-dimensional = flat / corresponds to cartoon or cut-out animation

3D = three-dimensional = spatial / corresponds to stop-motion (puppet) film

2.5D = semi-spatial / corresponds to relief film

Just as in traditional techniques, characters, props and assets are created based on the artist’s designs. The only difference is that computers are used instead of tangible materials. The principle, however, remains the same and the work is just as laborious.

3D Animation (digital stop-motion)

The animated character is given an animation skeleton. The animator animates in a similar way as in traditional techniques. The difference is that in a puppet animation, one frame after another is animated, but in computer animation, the animator first animates the so-called extreme poses, then tunes the animation flow between them. A similar process is used in cartoons. The final image is created by rendering, where the computer calculates the illuminated shot frame by frame.

2.5D Animation (digital relief film)

It is animated in virtually the same way as 3D animation, but the image is intentionally flatter, objects are not animated in space, figures move from left to right and up and down, but not to and from the camera.

2D Animation (digital cut-out and cartoon film)

Animation is done in the same way as in traditional techniques, but instead of a glass table, a camera, pencils, paints, papers and cels, computers are used. They allow for more control over the result.

Motion Capture

Similar to cartoon rotoscoping.

Using a set of multiple special cameras and a suit with lots of markers, the real movement of a live actor, animal, or human-controlled puppet is captured by a computer. It is then applied to an animated character, which must have a similar skeletal structure to the actor who was recorded. However, it can look completely different. The animation is further modified and fine-tuned in the computer.

It is usually used to create tricks for live-action films or animations for realistic computer games.

Animation techniques II.

TECHNIQUES IN FRONT OF THE CAMERA

In these techniques, the camera stands on a tripod, similar to live-action films. Its movements are generated devices that allow for the animation in tiny steps. The original solution was camera heads animated by rotating cranks, today movements are initiated by stepper motors controlled by a computer (called Motion Control).

Puppet Animation

Puppets with animation skeletons stand in front of the camera. This allows the animator to set the puppet in the desired pose so that it stays in the pose until the image is captured by the camera  ̶  on a filmstrip as in the past or digitally using a computer as it is done today.

The puppets are made from a variety of materials – from wood, leather, fabric and fur to plastic, latex and silicone or plasticine. Karel Zeman even animated glass puppets for his Inspiration – the animators heated them up with glass blowers and then arranged them just as they would have done with regular animation puppets.

The puppets’ faces were originally still, but today they are animated. Either the puppet’s head is fitted with an animation skeleton like the body, or the whole or parts of the head are replaced to create individual facial expressions.     

Pixilation

Similar to puppet animation, but instead of a puppet, a live actor is present. The animator arranges him or her in static positions and then records them on camera. The process is repeated over and over again until an animated sequence is created.

Animation techniques I.

TECHNIQUES UNDER THE CAMERA

These are techniques where the camera hangs suspended, looking down at a table on which the animator animates or takes pictures of finished pre-prepared images (or phases). The camera can zoom in and out (getting closer or further away), and the whole table moves sideways.

Cartoon Animation

The animation is drawn on papers or transparent foils, or cels. These allow for the use of painted backgrounds or multiple layers with characters.

In order to ensure that the individual images remain in the same place and that the movement drawn on them is smooth, they are fixed with metal pegs.

If the individual planes (layers) with characters and backgrounds are arranged on several layers of glass (multiplane), the camera movement can create a partially spatial impression.

Today, cartoon animation is created in the computer. Instead of pencils and brushes, artists use graphic tablets, the individual layers are no longer taken under the camera, they are animated in the computer. But the principle remains the same.

A specific discipline of cartoon animation is called rotoscoping. It is created by tracing characters filmed in real time with a normal camera. The most famous examples are Disney’s Snow White or the Czech film Alois Nebel (dir. Tomáš Luňák).

Cut-out Film

A character is painted on carboard or other flat solid surface (sheet metal, plastic, wood…) and is divided into parts. The animator moves them directly under the camera and the individual phases of movement are recorded by the camera  ̶  on a film strip as in the past, on the computer as it is done today. As with cartoon film, layers can be used, spread over several planes of the animation table, to achieve spatial effects.

Relief Film

Animated in a similar way to cut-out film, but the objects are partly spatial, so that light and shadow are reflected on them; the resulting impression is reminiscent of puppet film.

The puppets have a so-called skeleton – a mechanism that allows them to be adjusted to different positions.

Paint-on-Glass Animation

The animator paints with oil paints on the glass directly under the camera, slightly adjusting the painting for each frame. The glass is illuminated from below. Some parts of the image are painted on cels in advance and the animator uses them as they are. Several sheets (planes) of painted glass are used to achieve spatial effects (out of focus, movement of each plane in perspective, etc.).

Other Traditional Techniques

Almost anything can be animated. All sorts of objects are animated – from dishes to cars, flowers, modelling clay, ceramic clay, stones, beads, cotton yarn and many other materials; the imagination has no limits.

Sand animation is a very effective technique. The sand is poured on the light table and the animator animates it with his or her hands, pouring the sand or using brushes. Different layers of sand, when illuminated, produce different shades from black (where the table light does not shine through the thick layer) to white (where there is no sand).

A very specific technique is pin-screen.

It is a frame with a fine screen. Countless pins are inserted into its holes. By illuminating it from the side, a shadow is created, the intensity of which can be changed by sliding the pins in and out. Various objects such as rollers are used to this end. After each exposure, the composition of the pins changes slightly, thus creating animation. The result is a monochromatic image with soft hatching.

Some animators in the age of film cameras experimented, achieving rather strange and impressive results by not recording the image, but by drawing the image frame by frame directly on the film strip (a film frame is only about 20mm wide), by engraving it or by etching it using various chemicals.

Production

PRODUCTION OF AN ANIMATED FILM IN NINE STEPS

1 – Story

Story is at the beginning of every film. Its form reminds us of a short story.

2 – Written Script

It has a prescribed form. The plot (or action) and the dialogue are outlined separately in several paragraphs. Everything is written in such a way as to give a clear idea of what the final film will be like.

3 – Storyboard

The narrative is translated into pictures, just as in a comic book. The storyboard shows how many shots will be in the film, from where and from what distance the action will be taken by the camera. It includes dialogues, instructions for the composer or the producer of the film’s tricks.

4 – Animatic

The images from the storyboard are lined up in the editing room according to the length of each shot. Rough recording of dialogues is made and soundtrack roughly set to the film completes the whole. The result is a simple film that gives the filmmakers an accurate idea of how the film works as a whole, what needs to be changed or even cut out. The animatic is used as a reference for filming.

5 – Artwork

Every character, prop and asset must be designed by an artist before production. For large projects, the artist has a whole department of assistant artists working in his or her style. This results in a lot of images, sketches, model kits and computer models.

6 – Animation Studio

In the animation studio, the entire film is animated frame by frame. It results in a huge number of shots without sound (a feature film has a lot more than 1000).

7 – Editing Room

In the editing room, the finished footage is arranged in the correct order, the length of the shots is fine-tuned, and the final rhythm of the film is determined. At the same time, assignments for the production of film tricks, music and sound are conceived.

8 – Trick Post-Production

If tricks are needed, they are prepared for the film. There are a number of these, the vast majority of which are produced using computers. These include retouching what should not be in the shot, adding backgrounds, adding effects such as explosions, fire and smoke, or adding computer-generated animated objects and characters. The film will also be given end credits in digital post-production.

Finally, the film is given a final colour finish, the shots are matched to each other in terms of contrast and brightness, and the colour mood of each scene is completed. This process is called colour grading.

And with that, the film image is finished.

9 – Sound Studio

In the sound studio, the final dialogue (character voices), music and foley effects are recorded. The foley effects are the sounds of footsteps, rustling grass, creaking doors, etc. Among Czech filmmakers, they are also known as brunclíks in honour of the legendary sound designer Bohumír Brunclík.

All the sounds are put in the correct place and their volume is adjusted (which is called sound mixing). The final soundtrack for cinema or television is created.

Final image + final sound = finished film

Beginnings II.

The Forefathers of Film

It is said that in the 1870s two horse race aficionados made a bet whether a horse lifted all four legs off the ground anytime during the gallop. They hired photographer Edward Muybridge to see who was right. Using multiple cameras arranged in a row, Muybridge was the first photographer to capture a horse in motion through a sequence of images, laying the foundation for the invention of film.

In 1892, the Lumière brothers were able to present their own invention  ̶  kinematograph  ̶  due in no small measure to Muybridge’s invention. And the invention of kinematograph launched a great development of cinema, including animated film.

ANIMATION + FILM = ANIMATED FILM

Let’s embark on a journey of discovery with the forefathers of animation and the forefathers of cinema to find out more about the development set in motion by their inventions.

Beginnings I.

The Forefathers of Animation

Some 35,000 years ago, prehistoric hunters already adorned the walls of their caves with painted images of animals with multiple pairs of legs and multiple heads set in various positions as they attempted to capture their movement.

4,000 years ago, ancient Egyptians produced murals depicting warriors engaged in battle in stop motion.

Ancient Greeks decorated their vases with numbered images of women captured in sequences of dance postures.

Two hundred years ago, a persistence of human vision was discovered.

This phenomenon gave rise to a number of simple optical toys that were given rather elaborate names such as thaumatrope, phenakistoscope, stroboscope, zoetrope, kineograph (these days known as a flip-book) or praxinoscope. All of them were based on a rapid change between images that created the illusion of continuous movement.