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Animating The Characters
Bringing the colorful cast of characters from "A Bug's Life" to the screen required the collective talents of more than sixty animators

Bringing the colorful cast of characters from "A Bug's Life" to the screen required the collective talents of more than sixty animators. Unlike traditional Disney features where one supervising animator and a team are assigned to work on a particular character, animators at Pixar would typically work on many if not all of the characters during the course of production. With a large cast of bugs that included 13 main characters and six supporting players, each one posing its own set of challenges, and scenes often involving as many as eight or nine characters, this was an extremely difficult film to work on from an animation standpoint. Contrary to popular belief, computer animation is not necessarily any easier or faster to produce than its hand-drawn counterpart. In a good week, a top animator at Pixar is likely to draw just 3-5 seconds of completed character animation.

Supervising animators Rich Quade and Glenn McQueen were responsible for overseeing the animation team and helping to make sure that the characters were consistent in terms of their looks, movements and personalities. Quade joined Pixar six years ago as the fifth animator ever hired by the studio's fledgling feature unit. McQueen, a five-year Pixar veteran, began experimenting with computer animation in 1984 and has been involved in the medium ever since.

A traditionally trained animator, Quade found working with computers to be just the thing he was looking for. "I'm a competent draughtsman," he says, "but the draughtsman aspect was really kind of holding me back in some respects. I was spending more time trying to get good drawings as opposed to motion. I like what the computer can give me and what it can do for my work, in the sense that it allows me to really concentrate on the things I want to - movement and acting."

McQueen considers computer animation the medium of choice because it gives artists the freedom to explore. He observes, "You can attempt a lot of different things and take more chances. If you don't like it you can always go back, as long as you've saved the previous version. It's not like stop-motion animation where you're totally walking a tightrope worrying about some weight shifting or an arm falling off a model."

Helping to make the animator's life somewhat easier on "A Bug's Life" were new advances in Pixar's proprietary animation software. Controlling movements became more intuitive and macro commands were used in some cases to simplify and consolidate a group of movements or dynamics. Balancing the more complicated character models with the need to keep the controls simple and practical enough for the animators to use was one of the film's main challenges. The animators worked closely with the technical directors and the tools group to give the characters the broad range of movement and emotion needed for the story. Flik, for example, had more than 707 avars (or animation controls) custom created to meet the demands of his role.

In fact, computer animation has gotten so user-friendly at Pixar that animators without any previous computer training are increasingly becoming involved in the medium. McQueen notes, "When I'm interviewing someone for a job, the last thing I ask is if they know how to use a computer. It's far more important to have people with a great sense of acting and timing and who know what's appealing. Those things are much more difficult to learn than how to use a computer."

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