Friday, May 8, 2009

Tools of the Trade

Soon after my father bit the bullet I scooped up a lot of his tools of the trade. These were real cartoonist items, not the sissyfied digital crapola used today. Above is just one scannerfull of a few handfulls of a very large bag of his pencils and other workingperson animator utensils. Well, my wife thinks I'm borderline OCD because I've lugged them around for over 30 years. I tell her, first, "How can you say that? You've only known me for fifteen of those years. " If that doesn't work I say, "You are missing a tremendous tactile experience by not immersing your own hands in the bag and running through it all." Eventually I just ask her, "What's for dinner?"

Below is my second favorite drawing item from when I was an animator's brat: the double-bladed blue and red pencil. You had to be careful not to poke your eye out. But what real animator would care about that? They'd just pop their eyeball back in and keep on going. These days, your monitor blacks out and you cry out for Mama.

You can tell that my dad used to sharpen his pencils with a single-edged razor -- then he'd eat the razor as a parlor trick and wash it down with the pencil shavings. You guys today, with your drawing tablets and all, how do you sharpen your pressure-sensitive digital pen? Shove it in the USB port, wait a while, and then press the Help button? Bah! Get yourselves a big bag of pencils and feel the real!
My dad would be sharpening his pencils with one hand while his other hand held his timer (below) as he worked over an exposure sheet.

You modern guys and gals; all you got is some plastic box with some high-falootin' software that can't even keep track of the correct date to change back and forth from daylight savings time. Bah! My dad would have eaten your Maya 3D helpware for breakfast, and then spat them right back atcha'.

Below is my very favorite drawing item. Generally known as a china marker, my dad and his real animator brethern called them grease pencils. Yeah, grease. Ya got a problem with that, you digital debutantes? When was the last time you got down and greasy with your work?

I used to be totally fascinated with grease pencils. You expose the point by peeling back the string and uncoiling the outer wrap. As a tyke I used to sit on me pappy's lap and just unwind them for hours. But did he punish me? Hell no! He'd pat me on the head and call me "A good wee lad." (Sometimes my dad forgot he was Jewish and thought he was we'd have to remove the Dewars for a spell. Don't laugh you modern animators -- when was the last time you needed to have your frappacinos taken from you?)

One oldtimer who doesn't get enough hand's-on props is John Oxberry. This guy should be enshrined in several of those mutual-backslapping organizations you modern guys got -- and you can make room for him by shoving out the guy who invented the graphic accelerator card. Ox's animation cameras were ubiquitous to just about every studio in the real animation era. Made of metal, flesh and blood, no one had wait overnight for rendering: you shot it, you got it, you shoot the next. Case closed Go over to the Splog and see this amazing post on him.

Below is Paramount's in-house guide on their use of the Oxberry.

An alternative to the Oxberry was the Richardson-Bowlds. The model RB-300 could stand in a real animation studio as if you'd parked your big ol' humpback Oldsmobile 88 inside, and looking like it could have had the the eponymous starring role in Transformers. You modern folk, I'll bet you got Smartcars and drive them in the slow lane, starring in some flick with Hugh Grant and Mandy Moore. Bah! Just look under the hood, man:

Seymour Kneitel sent my dad the following letter when he screwed up some animation direction. That's probably why I have the Oxberry guide -- Seymour must have sent it to him as a reminder.Kneitel addressing my dad as "Irving" is equivalent to Hilary Clinton calling her husband William. In the industry everyone always addressed my dad as either Spec or Irv. The only time someone ever called my dad Irving was my mother when she was pissed at him. So maybe Seymour, gentleman that he was, was annoyed. Around this same time my dad had resumed his brogue so the scotch had to go back into the cabinet. I reasoned hard with my dad that he really was of Russian ancestry -- so out came the vodka. Hence we got Boris the Matchmaker and his samovar. Whatta ya got now? Kimpossible? Bah!


Michael Sporn said...

Great post. Save those tools, they're a treasure.

Unknown said...

Really enjoyed that. Keep them coming!

eeTeeD said...

wow! that letter from seymour kneitel is a real treasure!

J.V. (AKA "White Pongo") said...

Your cane shaking is unsurpassed sir! Wonderful post!

Dave Mackey said...

Paul, your posts are great because they help bring a more human dimension to a man whose name I've read on cartoon credits for some 40 years now.

FYI the particular picture that Kneitel is referring to is "Snuffy Goes To College".

Seymour gettin' in your dad's kitchen! ooh!

I do note that there was one Snuffy job that was actually split between your dad and Nick Tafuri; did Seymour split the workload in two, or was Tafuri called in to do the odd scene here or there or fixes?

I actually read all the pages of the Oxberry guide and actually understood some of it. The Paramount Cartoon Studios legend places this at late 50's-early 60's. Was that prepared by one of the directors?

Anonymous said...

I think reading this post made me grow a bit more hair on my chest...

I'm going to toss my Cintiq in the trash! Lemme back at my grease pencil... big, thick, manly lines!

p spector said...

Hey Anonymous - No need to remain Anon with a comment like that.

Thanks to all who've taken a moment to comment here.

BTW, my Blogger word verification for this particular comment was "Arnold Gillespie". Can ya believe it?

Kirk Nachman said...

You got spirit, man! A delightful and moving biography, really.

p spector said...

Thanks K. In the not too distant future you might expect something in a vaguely similar context, albeit without the tongue-in-check scolding. - Paul

Joel Brinkerhoff said...

When I started out we used a double rostrum Oxberry with an aerial projector underneath so we could do live-action combined with animation. There were only three of them built and everything on the pegs,( North, South, East, West moves), were hand operated, no servo motors. I recall thick books of mathematical equations to figure compound moves and the heat generated from the lights. The main motor that ran the camera and it's up and down function hummed and drowned out all the ambient sound and really focused your attention.

IgnorantBliss said...

oH my lord, that double sided blue and red pencil, I have that exact one in my great grandmothers art kit!and not all artists now use tablets, im a traditional artist ^^

p spector said...

Hey Ig, thanks for coming inside! -Paul

Martin Juneau said...

Great post! You should keep this animator's tools preciously. I have myself a box of 60 Prismacolor pencils (I rid of my Crayola because they make crummy draws) since two years and i don't regret my decision. Even if i don't have many times for draw, (When i'm in need, i worked in my comic by Photoshop but i use the mouse for the lineart and colouring but it's not so attractive!) i liked my action for real artists and cartoonists and not just for my comfort.

Everything here is a real gem!

Ian Andersen said...

What was the timer for? Are real animators hands able to flip pages at 24x a second and you'd measure how long your cartoon was with the watch?

I actually saw one of those double sided pencils at the art store the other day when I was looking for some red and blue animation pencils. Great stuff.

p spector said...

Ian, that's correct. In-betweeners had to a pass a blindfolded sheet-flipping test administered by their unit head...and no cheating.

Of course you know that the watch was used with exposure sheets, and that 35mm film runs at 90 fpm at 24 fps, and 1.5 ps. There are 16 frames per foot. Ergo, 16 frames x 90 feet = 1,440 frames, and 1,440 frames divided by 24 frames per second = 60 seconds. You can see how the different numbers correspond.