Here's something interesting. Or at least I think it's interesting.
A while back I had a conversation with a (remote) co-worker. Fella named Ken Duncan. Good egg, been around the animation scene a long time. Good Canadian stock, too. Highly regarded in the field for his talent and really, really great animation. You know his work even if you don't know his name. He was the supervising animator for Meg in Hercules, Jane in Tarzan and other fun Disney films. He was at WDFA from nearly the beginning of the 90's rennaissance of animation. He most recently was a sequence lead on Sharktale where he brought his skill to the Angie character, for which he received an Annie nom this year. Anyhow, Ken knows his stuff. His work methods make some Cg animators cringe in fear (that's an entire series of posts in itself!), but you cannot deny- dude knows how to animate a character really, really well.
Anyhow, he was in Dallas for a short animator's training session a while back. We were talking about ways to structure a feature film crew for a potential film project we have brewing at the studio. The interesting thing he brought up was how traditional animation and CG animation have completely different views on the roles of supervising animators. Here's a quick breakdown:
For decades upon decades in traditional animation, the supervising animator was the person who led a team of other animators in animating a single character. A former workmate of mine from Big Idea days, Tom Bancroft, was the Mushu supervisor on Mulan when he was at Disney. (sidenote: Tom's twin brother Tony was the co-director of Mulan. How would you like to have your brother as your boss? Tony went on to be the animaton director for Stewart Little 2. But the weird thing for me was seeing two men, 6'4" tall in their mid 30's who look exactly the same! We're used to seeing twins as kids now and then. But when you see them as adults, it boggles the mind. Well, it boggled this mind.) Anyhow all he did was Mushu. Mushu, Mushu, Mushu. The Mushu Team was maybe 10-15 people (including assistants). In traditional animation the supervising animator is the de facto expert on the character they are in charge of. In essence, they are the character. They define how to draw the character, often times they even design the character (Andreas Dejas designed many of the characters he supervised). They help discover and set forth who the character is, how they act- everything. No other supervising animator is responsible for that character (unless it was a major major character that needed more than one team to do) and except for the odd occasion, no animator who wasn't on the team animated that character. It's a pretty single minded focus. If you're on the "team", you also have this single minded focus of character. You do Mushu. Everyday. Occasionally you'd do another character, but I've been told it felt awkward when that happened. Maybe Tom was expressing the awkwardness of being one of twins who both went into feature animation for Disney. Who knows...
In CG films, it's not quite the same. A supervising animator (in most CG shops) is a person who has a team and they're responsible usually for a chunk of the project as a whole. Or maybe no particular chunk of the film at all. That's been my experience. Here's a team. Here's some mix-mash of scenes, make sure the stuff looks good and is in on time. At best maybe they're a sequence lead or somesuch. But then they and their team are responsible for all the characters in that section of film. The number of animators "touching" a character is much higher. There may be character leads (example: Bobby Beck, formerly of Pixar now of Animation Mentor, was the character lead for Boo in Monsters Inc. and Nemo in Finding Nemo), but the character leads are often just resource guys. They don't focus only on their character. They also animate just about every character in the film. (a quick look at Bobby's reel points this out to be the case).
Now based on the brief explanation of the two systems, which one do you think will yield more consistent character performances?
We'll pick this discussion up again in a bit. There might be something here.