Wednesday, October 18, 2006

One Night Stand

There’s an exchange in a classic episode of The Goon Show where Eccles announces that he is wearing a Cambridge tie. “I didn’t know you’d been to Cambridge. What did you do there?” Neddie Seagoon asks. “I bought a tie,” Eccles replies.

Back in the early 1990s I spent a week at Cambridge on a computer course. The studio had brought in the new Animo computer system and I had to learn how to use it. And quickly.

Mention computers in animation and everyone immediately thinks of computer-generated animation, like Toy Story. With Animo, animators were still employed to draw the animation. Then every drawing would be scanned, processed, coloured, timed and composited into the finished scenes.

It saved time. It saved space. Traditional Ink & Paint Departments which traced and painted the drawings onto cel disappeared. Rostrum cameras became surplus. Dreamworks used Amino for The Prince of Egypt and The Road to El Dorado before it gave up on 2D animation. Before it imploded, Warner Brothers Feature Animation used it for Quest For Camelot and The Iron Giant.

The beginning of the year the system was installed, I sat down with the user manual to figure out how it worked. The producer had booked me on the course run by Cambridge Animation Systems who designed the software. The course wasn’t for a couple of months. Before then there was a commercial scheduled.

One thing to know about the studio: instead of producing simple ‘cartoony’ animation, the end result was more ‘arty’, with levels of coloured pencil shading adding definition to the characters. Animo was specifically designed for clean, dark, sharp line drawings. The upcoming commercial was, of course, heavily rendered. The manual warned not to have any shading at all on the drawings.

I called the Animo helpdesk and explained that I needed to scan and process rendered levels. They shook their heads, telling me it wasn’t designed to handle that style of drawing and couldn’t be done. Which was the last thing anyone should tell me.

Gathering together some archived levels from a previous job, I began scanning them in, modifying the scanner’s brightness and definition values each time. By the end of the week I called the helpdesk back and said it could be done. Did they want to know how?

The first commercial done, by the time I was due to take the course, I was confident, as well as a little cocky. While mentioning the odd shortcut or work-around I had discovered to the instructor, I wasn’t stupid enough to think that I knew everything already.

The hotel the studio producer booked me into was nice. I got a nice certificate instead of a tie. And that was my time in Cambridge. The city was virtually off the radar until last night when I went to see Robin Soans’ A State Affair.

Put on by Cambridge University Amateur Dramatic Club at the ADC Theatre, England’s oldest university playhouse, the play was a marvellous example of Verbatim Theatre. The words taken from real conversations conducted by Soans and director Max Stafford-Clark when they travelled to Bradford in 2000, the seven cast members sat at the front of the stage, leaping-frogging over each other to recount their personal history.

Grim certainly, but incredibly moving and leavened with a streak of gallows humour, the play was part of CUADC’s One Night Stands season. It began at 11:00pm, which, for a school night, was kind of late. But it meant there was time to have a drink and then grab a bite to eat beforehand, even after being held up in slow-moving traffic on the M11 out of London.


At 2:51 am, Blogger wcdixon said...

you tell a good story, good dog - even if it's essentially what you did last its been so long since I've seen a play - but going to see one on Saturday. We shall see if I've been missing anything...

At 10:03 am, Blogger Good Dog said...

Hope you have a great time.

Seeing A State Affair was the first time I had been to the theatre in over a year. Which is quite poor.


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