Directing TV Animation Part 3

It’s rare in TV animation these days for the director to be in the same location as the animators. On Monster By Mistake, we were lucky to do the first 26 episodes entirely under one roof. For the second 26, I was able to keep the animation local, though the modeling and lighting were done elsewhere.

When working with a group of animators, a director soon learns their strengths and weaknesses. Some are better at dialogue than action. Others are better at comedy than emotion. Ideally, each sequence should have a reason for being in a show and the director’s job, through casting animators, is to put that reason across to the audience as strongly as possible.

There are live action directors who claim that casting is the most important part of their job. If you get the right performers for a role, you’ve solved most of your problems. Sadly, in TV animation, casting the animators isn’t seen as a priority. Usually, when an animator needs more work, the animator is just handed whatever is ready to go.

When the director and the animators are not in the same country, the director has no input into animator casting. It may be done by an overseas supervisor or by a manager of the subcontracting company, but it might be ignored. The director is left trying to create performances by remote control, using various methods of pre-production.

Poses come from the storyboard and layouts. More poses may be added on the exposure sheets by the sheet timer. The problem with this approach is how poses are timed. Because animation has been going overseas for so long, many sheet timers actually have no experience animating. They tend to play it safe on timing. Also, there’s a lag between timing the sheets and the animation coming back. Often the sheet timer is already off the production when the animation returns, so there’s no chance to learn from mistakes and improve timing for later episodes.

There’s no question that when a director is able to work in close contact with animators you get a better result. It’s a shame that this has become a luxury in the TV animation business.