the Fleischer Studios’ “Standard Production Reference”

I have been looking back at the work I’ve done on my film over the previous three months, and I am struck by two things: the chaos and the order.

When I started out committing to make this film, I glibly plotted out a sequence to produce it – all in a very linear, sequential, hierarchical way. Efficient. And totally undo-able. It fell apart almost immediately, because I hadn’t gotten even close to having the story laid out, even though I thought I already knew what the story was. I’ve been telling and retelling it for many years now. Switching from oral storytelling to a visual medium was difficult. I haven’t been able to really plot out how much time it’s taken me, because the story just percolates at odd times, sometimes when I’m actively trying, and other times, it just pops out totally unpredictably. This doesn’t lend itself well to scheduling, although my experience tells me that co-authoring is easier in that regard: making a date or deadline to hand the work-in-progress over to the other person, or teasing things out together, bouncing ideas off each other.  So I haven’t really had this in writing this film – a few people to talk to, some more insightful and helpful than other, but still not a collaborator, and I feel that is a drawback.  I think about how many great animation duos there have been out there – Ub and Walt, Joe and Bill, Frank and Ollie, Max and Dave, Hugh and Rudy, Trey and Matt – and I wonder if some of the chaos could recede with collaboration.

The order has been interesting in a different way.  I do feel like when I go at each piece to work on it, I have specific goals, and I can keep polishing it in very specific ways.  I realized the other day when I wrote my post about the pig flip that I had every drawing and sequence for that small scene, and I pulled them all out and looked at the progress I’d made, starting with one small doodle, and where I’d gotten with it over time. I also looked at where the pig flip was, and that although I know that it still have some details to go, I already have my list in my head of what still needs to be done – figure out the padding at the beginning and end, and make the piglets slightly more piglet-y at those points, maybe add a head-flop to the sow in the end.  But I have a clear sense of what I want it to do.  And each revision gets closer and closer. I also noticed that I made a decision to change the “camera angle” on the sow at one point, which changed how the flip read, but it also introduced the piglets, and that complicated the scene. A two-second scene got complicated. This was when having people look at the bit was really crucial: I hadn’t really thought about how people might be horrified by the prospect of the mama squishing her piglets.  But I was able to figure out a solution by thinking it through and actually drawing all my arcs for their individual trajectories and vary the landings. And this was a bit of a revelation to me: that this was possible.

I look at my storyboards – mostly drawn quickly on blank 3×5 index cards – and I can see a sequence, but I don’t think they necessarily communicate a whole lot to other people until after I’ve animated them. In some respects, even I don’t know what it will really look like until I start animating it.  Watching the pig flip develop over time has been encouraging to me, to trust my judgment. Now that I’m working on the scene with the cow choking on the turnip, and I’m still with the storytelling drawings and it looks all choppy and unfunny, that the chances are increasing that I will be able to make that scene funny, too. The cow’s tongue has special potential.

So how does this fit with the title of my post, the Fleischer Studios’ Standard Production Reference? I came across a digitized version of this typed document on-line through a link on the “Support Hand-Drawn Animation” FaceBook group – I’d heard about The Bible a while ago, and had been really curious to see a copy, and lo and behold, there it appeared. What I was struck by as I flipped through the various pages was that it was probably really necessary when having so many people collaborating on each cartoon. One of the comments even said something to the effect of “If you take drawings/layouts/sheets off someone else’s desk, leave them a note to tell them where they are.” Just rules for making sure that people communicated and were all on the same page.  But there were also recommendations for how to achieve efficiency.  One note recommended putting scenery overlapping crowds to reduce the need to draw so much detail. Some of these struck me as just good business practice – to reduce the time and expense of a picture for the business, but it also seemed to help reduce tedium, which is ironic when discussing a medium that is already pretty tedious to produce in the first place!

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