The Princess and the Frog


Rough Inbetweens / Antennae Animation (click to play)

Rough Inbetweens / Toon Boom “Harmony” Ink & Paint (click to play)

 
  • Client: Walt Disney Animation Studios
  • Work Performed: Rough Inbetweens, Followup Artist (“Tiana’s Fantasy Sequence”)
  • Project Date: 2009

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What a treat. This one was a lot of work, but worth every single effort.

“The Princess and the Frog” was Disney’s first traditionally animated feature since the company’s 2004 decision to officially retire their hand-drawn feature efforts, and I was one of two veteran rough inbetweeners brought in to help the animation department meet its deadline on this film.

I’d never worked at or for Walt Disney Animation Studios until then, and I couldn’t believe I was actually being paid to work in the world’s coolest  art gallery.  In many ways, I felt like I was re-starting my career.

I spent a total of six months on this project, and happy to put in more hours than the studio initially asked for. I did a lot of different things for a lot of different people, and it was my extreme honor to follow up the work of some honest-to-goodness animation legends (click on their names for their IMDB resumes):
 

Eric Walls

My duties on this project were to quickly complete all the secondary drawings in these rough animators’ scenes so the final line drawings could be executed at the offsite studios in Toronto, Orlando and São Paulo without much guesswork.

And because I had to meet some very strict departmental deadlines, the ability to gather “before and after” examples of my work was almost next to impossible. This, unfortunately, accounts for the relative lack of material in this post.

But there’s one scene in particular—and it’s a very short one—that I’m really proud of.  I’d always been in awe of Brian Ferguson’s talents, and I was really excited to be assigned at the last minute to follow up his work on two scenes featuring “Ray,” the firefly.  Both of these scenes were being rushed for same-day approval: it was a Friday, and the department needed the footage counts from the scenes to meet its weekly goal.

Toward the end of the day, Brian stopped by my desk and asked me to hurry with my work on the second of those two scenes so he could complete the animation on the antennae, as Ray’s head was doing a whip-like 180° turn and the overlapping action needed some special attention.

So I offered to do that bit of animation for him.

I remember sensing a kind of shocked “Are you serious?!”  vibe from him, and it was completely warranted: we’d never worked together before that day, and he certainly didn’t know any more about me beyond our occasional “hellos” in the halls. Regardless, it was more than obvious he was really under the gun to meet his deadlines, so he quickly gave me the go-ahead and rushed off on his way.

I finished my work and gave the scenes to him just in time to have them shot for approvals.  I didn’t see him for an hour or two after that.

When he came by my desk later that evening, he had a much more relaxed look on his face.  He told me his scenes were approved, and that my animation on Ray’s antennae came out great and didn’t need any corrections.  Then he totally and completely shocked me by offering one of the most honest, genuine and heartfelt “thank you’s” I’d ever received, and we spent the next several minutes asking each other about our careers and families.

Rough Inbetweening and Antennae Animation for Brian Ferguson (click to play)

 

It’s things like this that make my life complete.  Brian’s one of those impossibly talented, incredibly well-mannered, true-to-the-core people you sometimes hear about (but rarely ever meet), and anyone who spends five good minutes with him can tell he’s been that way since birth. I really appreciated the extra time he took beyond his expressed gratitude to want to know me a bit better as a person, and the ultimate “thank you” came a week or so later when he asked our production coordinator if she could assign me to follow him up again.

After the bulk of the film’s rough animation was complete, the show’s producers asked me to help out with “Almost There” (Tiana’s Fantasy), a song sequence toward the beginning of the film based on the style of Harlem Renaissance artist Aaron Douglas and directed by Eric Goldberg.

This animation wasn’t meant to be cleaned up in the traditional sense. Instead, the rough animation had to be clean and clear from the beginning, and then scanned into the pipeline “as is” to help give it a special look.

Rough Inbetweening and Ink & Paint for “Almost There” (Tiana’s Fantasy) (click to play)

 

I was given a double-duty on this sequence:  inbetweens on portions of the rough animation, and helping out Eric Daniels, Lorelay Bove and Joe Pitt with inking, painting and assembling the scenes using Toon Boom’s “Harmony” software.  There were two cubicles set up for me — one with a traditional animation desk, the other with a PC and a Mac — and I really enjoyed the opportunity to work simultaneously in those two worlds.

And for the first time in my career, I actually made it into a cartoon I worked on.  It doesn’t get any better than that.

(L to R: Joe Pitt [Caricature Artist], Lorelay Bove, Eric Daniels, Todd Jacobsen)

 

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