Building A Better Giant
Allison Abbate had just completed co-producing
the animation on the Warner Bros. hit feature "Space Jam"
when she was brought on board to produce "The Iron Giant."
The pre-production period began in what was to be a tight schedule,
and the filmmakers literally started with only Bird's treatment
and a few preliminary pieces of art. Abbate began her duties as
producer by assembling a team of supervisors who would actualize
Abbate remembers, "Once we were given the green light to
begin pre-production, Tim McCanlies and Brad started writing the
script and working simultaneously with the story board artists.
We began with just a treatment and Brad would bat ideas back and
forth with the story board artists-it was an amazingly dynamic
time, and it really allowed all of us to get into Brad's head.
We hammered away at it and by August, we had about 30 minutes
of the film story boarded and we were given our green light to
go into production."
The conscious decision had been made to create the majority of
the main characters using the classic two-dimensional animation
process. But even at the earliest stages of development, filmmakers
were using technology to push the envelope of the classic animation
process. Scenes begin to unfold during the story boarding phase
as still pencil sketches; however, on "The Iron Giant,"
the artists enhanced the story reel (the filmed compilation of
the pencil sketches) by adding camera moves and simple effects
to the drawings, giving them the look of rough animation. Much
of the mechanics and dynamics of the shots were worked out during
this early stage.
From these early sketches, characters began to emerge.
Head of animation Tony Fucile was in charge of assembling the
team of animators who created the characters and their world.
He explains, "Once design begins on the characters and the
look of each is approved, we wind up with something called model
sheets, which function as blue prints for the character. Basically,
character designs are taken and then rotated in space so animators
can figure out how to draw them from all angles. We experiment
with various emotions, facial expressions and body positions.
This gives the animator more freedom, because he has studied what
shapes are underneath the skull, how the ears are attached, that
sort of thing."
The model sheets would prove even more valuable on this film,
as Bird had chosen to give artists entire scenes (or chunks of
the film), rather than assigning one head animator the responsibility
for a particular character (as has become customary in recent
films). Bird and Fucile worked side-by-side with the staff drawing
the characters "on model," ensuring that the animators
draw the characters in a homogenous style, downplaying their own
differences in personal styles or ability.
"Everyone is trying, especially at the beginning, to figure
out 'how do I draw these characters?' We have about 50 animators
and 75 or so clean up artists [who literally 'clean up' the animator's
drawings], so we'll have about 125 people working on the same
character. We didn't want Hogarth to suddenly turn into somebody
else," comments Fucile.
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