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The Drawing Board

kawaiidaigakusei at 12:00AM, April 24, 2023

Photo: “Animator Desk Belonging to Frank Thomas”. Taken at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures (by me). Los Angeles, California. (October 2021).

The mid-twentieth century animator studio has always held an aura of mystery to any mind that has ever wondered how hand-illustrated animation is created. Anyone who has drawn comics on the Duck, has probably seen the short films that play before a feature-length animated film; the ones that would show animators flipping stacks of white paper on a desk like a flip-book, showing a moving drawing in the process.

Former animators who were once part of the nineties hand-animation industry, and left, can have very strong opinions about the experience (and some, unfortunately, remember more thorns than roses).

Today, the vintage animator’s desk still holds a special fascination for the budding illustrator that they are the put on display in museums. During a visit to the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles, California, a desk belonging to Frank Thomas (Sleeping Beauty, Peter Pan, Snow White, Bambi) was the exhibit. The hand-cranked, manual pencil sharpener; the mechanical pencil holder on the upper left hand corner of the table; the retractable bending lamp hovering above the desk were all part of the details that proved a human being who shared the relatable love of drawing sat at this desk to create incredible works of art.

Imagine the day when all of the current technology used to create webcomics—tablets, stylus, phones, desktop computers, flat-screen curved monitors—are displayed in a museum next to a tiny plaque describing twenty-first century technology in a few lines.

One can only dream.

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rickrudge at 9:04PM, April 28, 2023

There was a great documentary about Fleischer Studios and how they created the Popeye cartoons, including their patented system of panning background system. This isn’t the one that I was thinking of but it does show the hand drawn animations.

plymayer at 11:32PM, April 26, 2023


Avart at 2:51PM, April 24, 2023

I'm a 100% digital artist now, because of time/job/family. Analog art is amazing, but it requires time (more than digital IMO). I still have many tools since the mid 90's and sometimes I like to spend time looking at them, or just looking at my old drawings. Nice article:)

dpat57 at 1:52PM, April 24, 2023

I both admire, and cannot comprehend, any human being who has the patience to work in this process. Takes focus, commitment and sheer will. Which I have none of.

skyangel at 12:23PM, April 24, 2023

I saw a documentary on Disney ages ago and that's when I realised that they painted on 'Cells' instead of sheets of paper which meant they only had to do the backgrounds once. Seeing some of the original background art was fascinating too as it was often shaped in different ways depending how the camera was directed to pan across it. Lovely desk though and I can just imagine how nice it must have felt to have everything so easily to hand.

J_Scarbrough at 9:45AM, April 24, 2023

John R. Dilworth, who created COURAGE THE COWARDLY DOG, was one of the last hold-outs when it comes to hand-drawn animation - he was always so reluctant to use technology to animate his films (although he has done films in Flash before), but I think even he is finally coming to terms with digital being the way to go for the future. His current film he's been working on since 2019, HOWL IF YOU LOVE ME, started out being animated by hand, but eventually he had to concede to digital, and I believe he's using Harmony now to finish the film. But either way, whether hand-drawn, or digital, animation in general is very taxing and tedious work. I took a couple of Flash courses during high school (back when Flash was still exclusively for webtoons like HOMESTAR RUNNER and such), by the end of that seoncd year, I was done with animation - didn't have the patience for it (and never completed my student film). This is why I have nothing but respect for those whose passion is animation.

Andreas_Helixfinger at 7:19AM, April 24, 2023

I once created a small flip-book as a high-school project featuring a guy catching a dragonfly in his mouth while yawning. And to answer Lothar's question. No. I use a digital drawing pad on my dinner table, where I also have my laptop (I don't have a stationary computer), and that is my working station for ya':P

lothar at 3:52AM, April 24, 2023

That desk! It reminds me of the days I had shelves like that in front of me when drawing. Or a bulletin board for reference pics. And a bulging filling cabinet. I still draw on actual paper and have one of those bending lamps but the bulletin board has been replaced by a monitor. Now I'm curious what other people's desks look like. Do you even use a desk?

FlydiscDude at 1:47AM, April 24, 2023

And I can't say I blame ya! I like it too - grainy & digital ink and paint! (↓)

kawaiidaigakusei at 12:44AM, April 24, 2023

I love film-grainy hand drawn animation, ThrisbyDude! :)

FlydiscDude at 12:09AM, April 24, 2023

Ah, yes - good ol' film-grainy hand drawn animation. Looks good on the outside, painfully back-breaking for labor on the inside. The idea of creating "cels" and "backgrounds" seems like an... interesting (in a good way) thought to say the least. Maybe as a bonus?

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