A BUG'S LIFE
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
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