Thursday, May 7, 2009

Basic equipment for hand-drawn animation

We'll go into more detail in other posts, but what are the basics you need to get started with traditional hand-drawn animation ?

1.) Animation desk with animation disc , or a lightbox with pegbar. (get the disc if you can , it's better.)

2.) Extra ACME peg bar for scanning or video testing your drawings. Get a thin, metal tape-down peg bar if possible because those are the most versatile. Lightfoot Animation or Cartoon Colour Co. has them .

3.) ACME punched animation paper. Lightfoot Animation, Chromacolour, or Cartoon Colour Co. can supply. (see links in sidebar) .   Ingram Bond animation paper from Lightfoot or Cartoon Colour is recommended.   Chromacolour Prograde Plus 23 lb paper is also recommended.   These brands of paper are more expensive , but you'll notice the difference between this and the cheap photocopier-grade paper.   Ingram Bond or Chromacolour Prograde erases better, lasts longer, holds up to repeated flipping, the surface is better for drawing, it scans better.

4.) Pencils, various. Col-Erase red and blue.  Various brands of  Graphite pencils , HB, B, 2B .    Recommended graphite pencils include: Tombow Mono  and  Palomino Blackwing 602.

5.) Erasers:  Soft kneaded eraser (grey) , and "Magic Eraser" (white) .

6.) Exposure Sheets (free , printable X-sheet templates from  Pre-printed Exposure Sheets from Cartoon Colour Co.

7.) Animation frame capture software. Two are particularly recommended : TVP Animation or Digicel Flipbook Studio.  Also good for pencil testing are: Toki Line Test, MonkeyJam (freeware , but for Windows PC only) .

8.) a scanner for scanning your animation drawings into TVP Animation or Digicel Flipbook


8 a .) a digital video camera mounted on a down-shooter (tripod or ideally a copy stand) to capture your drawings via video feed.

I'll talk more about these items in the posts below, but in the meantime check out the Traditional Animation Materials List and these two downloadable/printable PDF resource booklets:


Purchasing an Animation Desk or Lightbox

One of the basic items you need to animate is an animation desk or a lightbox.

There are many different configurations of desks , some of which I have shown in the web album Animation Desks gallery in the sidebar links. You can peruse that album for ideas on how you might set up your own workspace.

There is also a PDF booklet that I have prepared called "Animation Student's Guide to Animation Desks" which may be downloaded by clicking on the link.

While it is possible to purchase or build a large professional studio-style desk such as this example of a Disney Studio desk ---

(click on any of the images to view them larger)

most of use don't have the space or the funds to purchase such a large desk for our home studio. (these desks are wonderful, but take up a lot of space and are very heavy to move).

A good , portable animation desk is the one made by Colin Johnson of Vancouver, BC , available through his web site

This desk is very good value for the money as he includes the white plexiglass animation disc , and a fluorescent backlight unit with the desk itself ( similar desks from other companies typically have the desk/lightbox unit and the animation disc as separate items which cost more.)

There are similar portable table-top animation desks available from Chromacolour , Cartoon Colour, and Lightfoot Animation , though they are more expensive.

I will mention that the Lightfoot portable lightboxes do have a smaller "footprint" (only 24" x 24" compared to 36" x 24" on the Colin Johnson table) , so if space is an issue you might want to consider one of the compact Lightfoot Easel Design Animation lightboxes :

(these compact animation lightboxes from Lightfoot Animation Supplies cost about $100.00 more than the Colin Johnson desk, and do NOT come with the animation disc included. The white plexiglass animation disc is about $70.00 - to - $80.00 extra, so the Lightfoot model would actually cost about $180.00 more than the Colin Johnson animation table.)

Even more compact would be a simple lightbox with animation pegbar (no disc).

Lightfoot Animation sells the Artograph LightTracer II 12 Field lightbox (12" x 18") with an Acme peg bar pre-installed for about $100.00 .

Some online art dealers such as Dick Blick Art have these Artograph LightTracer II lightboxes for less , so keep your eyes open . Dick Blick currently sells the 12" x 18" model for only $58.18 (compared to list price of $99.00) . Add a thin tape-down Acme peg bar from Cartoon Colour for $25.00 or Lightfoot's thin aluminum peg Acme peg bar for $20.00 and you'll have a functional animation lightbox for about $80.00 to $85.00 dollars. (the Lightfoot thin peg bar 1/16" is not quite as thin as the one from Cartoon Colour Co. , 1/32", but is thinner than the usual cheap plastic peg bar which has too much of a raised edge.)

Cartoon Colour Co. also sells a similar Light Box (with larger work surface of 18 1/2" x 15 1/4" ) for $135.00.

Very compact, these lightboxes will work ok for your animation, but overall it is much better to have the rotating animation disc if possible. It also doesn't have much of a raised slant , but you can prop it up with some books to raise the angle.

Cartoon Colour Co. sells a compact Plexiglass Lightbox unit
(21 1/2" x 21 1/2" ) with a hole precision cut to take a standard animation disc (16 1/2" diameter hole) for $175.00 .

A white translucent plexiglass animation disc would cost an additional $70.00, so one of these units from Cartoon Colour would be $245.00 complete, more than the Colin Johnson Animation Desk, but the only advantage would be if you were pressed for space and needed a lightbox with a rotating disc that occupied a smaller footprint (only 21 1/2" x 21 1/2" compared to 36" x 24" on the Colin Johnson desk)

Traditional Drafting Table adapted to Animation Table:

A step-up from a portable table-top animation desk would be to have a hole cut into a standard wooden drafting table so you can mount an animation disc on it , with a backlight unit mounted underneath. What you would give up in terms of portability and compactness you would gain in flexibility and comfort. A drafting table can be adjusted in both height and the angle of the tabletop for the maximum in drawing comfort. You can adjust the table to whatever angle is best for you. If you have the space this is really the best option for a traditional animation set up.

The Alvin Pavilion model , 42" x 31" or 36" x 24" , is a good basic drawing table. These tables are available from or other art suppliers.

If you have the proper tools to make a precision cut 16 1/2" hole in the table top then you could cut the hole yourself , or hire a local woodworker who has the proper tools to make the cut for you . You may have a friend or family member who has the proper tools to do this. Be very careful when cutting the hole. It must be smooth and perfectly round so the disc will turn smoothly.

You can purchase a table like this with the hole pre-cut from Cartoon Colour Co. or Alan Gordon Enterprises for about $250.00 . The animation disc and backlight unit is sold separately. The custom-fitted backlight units sold by Cartoon Colour Co. and Alan Gordon are nice to have , but expensive . You can do fine by mounting your own fluorescent light unit under the table or use inexpensive clamp-on metal shop lamp reflector with "Cool Bulb" spiral fluorescent bulbs as a backlight unit.

Besides being able to fine-tune the height and angle of the drafting table it also gives you more space to pin up notes, model sheets, and X-sheets , especially if you use an extension panel as shown below. (the extension panel may also be used on the Colin Johnson desk to add space to clip on an X-sheet to the right or left side of the table.)

(click any image to view it larger)

(notice most of the artists have a corkboard on the
wall in front of their desks to pin up model sheets and
other notes)

If you have the extra space an over-size table top gives even more space to pin up your model sheets and other notes as shown below:

You will also find it useful to surround your drawing space with a folding table, shelves ("scene stackers") and/ or some sort of side-table unit to have a place to stack your drawings , blank paper, pencils, and other supplies, to keep them organized and close at hand.

Notice the tall scene-stacker to the right of this animator's work space. The drawings from various scenes can be kept organized in a shelving unit such as the one shown below:

This Winsor-Newton artist's tabouret shown below makes a good compact side-table unit for an animation desk. Paper can be stored in the lower shelves, while the interior drawers can be used to store pencils, erasers, peg hole reinforcements , and other supplies.

Here is another view of a typical animation scene stacker unit filled with animation drawings bound between chipboard panels and rubber-banded around the outside to protect the drawings and keep everything neatly organized. Below is a shorter scene stacker unit:

Anyone looking for ready-made Scene Stackers (for 12 field animation paper) take a look at these cube stackers available from Target:

Cube Shelf Stackers
There are other similar stacking shelf units available from different office supply and home decor stores.

The one linked to above is 15" x 15" , which is big enough for 12 field paper (12.5" x 10.5") , not quite big enough for 16 field paper (16.5" x 13.5" ) . Most people use 12 field so that's no big deal. But if you expect to use 16 field you'll need to find slightly wider shelves.

These (also from Target) are wider and you could add multiple shelves to it:

Another "Scene Stacker" available from Target

Scene stackers might not be the most glamourous item on your equipment list , but you'll be surprised how handy these are for storing and keeping track of your animation drawings.

An inexpensive , functional scene stacker can be made from large size stacking file crates available from various office supply stores:

This economical file crate scene stacker could be further sub-divided into individual shelving compartments using sturdy cardboard or lightweight masonite panels held in place with wire or glued in place.

Do-It-Yourself- Animation Desk

As I mentioned in the previous post you may purchase a standard wooden drafting table and cut a 16 1/2" hole in it to fit a standard animation disc.

This is probably the easiest "do-it-yourself" animation desk if you have the right tools to make a precision circular cut like that. (it's trickier than it might seem at first, so "measure twice, cut once" and be careful.)

(you can also purchase a wooden drafting table with the hole pre-cut from Alan Gordon Enterprises  or Cartoon Colour Co.)

If you're skilled with woodworking you may also want to build your own portable animation table. Here is a link to some plans:
Do-It-Yourself Animation Desk plans

Here is a link showing Sheridan College animation student Brock Gallagher making an animation desk very similar to the one shown in the plans above:

Building a Do-It-Yourself Animation Desk

Here is another do-it-yourself animation desk project with photos and detailed instructions:

How To Make An Animation Desk - Part 1 -4

The finished product from the project linked above:

(click on images to see them larger)

Here animation student Dan Caylor shows the portable desk that he refurbished and added a backlight unit to:

UPDATE: I'm happy to say I recently heard from animation student Marty Walker who built an Animation Desk using the Jim McCaulay plans I posted above. Check out the results :

Marty was also good enough to list all the Materials and Tools needed for the project . See the link to his blog for the materials list.

By the way, for those of you who may not recognize the name of Jim McCaulay he was a great teacher of animation at Sheridan College in the 1970's , 80's, and into the 90's. Jim is retired now, but he influenced many of us who attended Sheridan's Classical Animation Program during those days. Here's a photo of Jim with a student :

(teacher Jim McCaulay with animation student 
Cathy Parkes at Sheridan College , about 1980.)

Jim also co-authored a book on storytelling in animation called "And Then What Happened?" with another Sheridan professor , Zack Schwartz.

Purchasing an Animation Disc

As I mentioned earlier a standard flat, rectangular or square lightbox with an Acme peg bar attached will do as the bare-minimum for animating, but it is best to have a lightbox or drawing table with a hole cut to mount a rotating animation disc. Believe me, it does make a difference. Rotating the disc gives you much more control over your drawings.

In years past when animators were expected to calculate their own camera/pan moves for their scenes , metal or wooden discs with sliding , ruled peg bars were the norm.

These peg bars were ruled in 20'ths of an inch to allow very close pan moves to be calculated by the animators and notated in the Camera column on the Exposure Sheet.

A precision, metal animation disc such as this deluxe model made by Mechanical Concepts is still a worthy tool, but not as necessary as in days past.

Nowadays when most camera moves are done within a digital ink & paint or compositing program (such as TVPaint, Digicel Flipbook, or ToonBoom, etc.) it is not as necessary to have the sliding peg bars on the disc to figure out the moves.

Many modern-day animators prefer to use a lightweight, relatively inexpensive white, translucent plexiglass disc. These type of discs originally became popular at the Richard Williams Animation Studio in the 70's and 80's and have since become widely used in the industry.

Here is Richard Williams animating on a plexi-disc at his studio in London in the late 80's :

Sylvain Chomet animating on his film "The Triplets of Belleville" :

The white plexiglass disc has the advantage of being much less expensive than the traditional metal disc with sliding peg bars , as well as being light-weight enough to carry around and use for animating in casual situations such as using ambient light to shine through the back as the animator rests the disc on his knees or on the edge of a chair or table. Richard Williams mentions in his book "The Animator's Survival Kit" , page 83, how he animated some of the first scenes in the film "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" in a hotel room in Wales with a plexiglass animation disc propped up on his knees.

A white plexiglass disc from Cartoon Colour Co. costs $70.00 . It comes with an embedded plastic peg bar. (a tape-down metal peg bar is probably better overall in the long run , but the plastic peg bar will work ok) . Most of the white plexi-discs sold by other companies are basically the same.

That said , if you can afford to purchase a traditional disc with sliding peg bars, such as the wooden animation disc made by Alan Gordon Enterprises , or the popular hard plastic molded model from Chromacolour International , or one of the various metal discs still available from Central Tool Co., Cartoon Colour Co. or Mechanical Concepts then those can still be quite useful.

Alan Gordon wooden disc with sliding peg bars costs about $300.00 -

Chromacolour hard plastic 16 Field disc with sliding peg bars costs $480.00. Smaller 12 Field version is $425.00.

Mechanical Concepts 16F metal animation disc is about $550.00 -

Here is a typical animator's workspace with the popular black Chromacolour animation disc -

Typical animator's workspace with white plexiglass disc -

Either type of disc will work , but the less-expensive white plexiglass disc is sufficient for almost any type of traditional animation job.

More on Build-It-Yourself-Animation Desk

I saw a question posted on an animation forum about the type of hardware needed to make an adjustable light table, such as the one shown in the DIY Plans posted above

The hardware is available from specialty hardware and woodworking stores . The name of this special type of hinge is a "lid stay" or "flap stay", or "lid support" .

See a variety of different kinds here:

Specialty Cabinet Supplies - Lid Stays

and here:

Rufkahr's Lid Supports

This kind available from Rufkahr's is called the X-70200/05Z Lift Up Ratchet Support.

Another kind of table support used is a Pneumatic Spring Stay :

In these photographs you can see how the Lift Up Ratchet Support is used to make a portable animation table:

In the following photograph of animator Børge Ring's animation table you can see the Pneumatic Spring Stay used to hold the table top at the proper angle: