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Investigating: Using Technology when creating 2D Hand-Drawn Animations

As you might have guessed from my other blog posts I am a huge Disney fan, so I thought back to what I already know about the processes involved in making their animations. Something I’d read in ‘A Brief History of Walt Disney‘ by Brian J Robb came to mind. It mentions that for Disney’s 101 Dalmatians and subsequent films, the Studio created a new way of animating called the ‘Xerox Process’ by adapting the Xerox printing machine to transfer drawings onto cells, cutting costs through cutting time and, unfortunately for Disney Studios staff, jobs.

The extract below (from an article, published at: which, incidentally, is a brilliant film blog which is well worth a look for its variety of topics…anyway…) detailing a little more about artist Ken Anderson and Disney’s use of Xerox process:

This drawing comes from the artist Ken Anderson, one of Walt’s most loyal artists. He worked for Walt from the 1934 short Goddess of the Spring all the way to the day Walt died just before the release of The Jungle Book (1967).

Anderson came to Disney as a student of architecture. Walt called him a man of all trades. Indeed, through out his career Anderson worked as a writer, architect, animator, character designer, and art director for Disney. Anderson was one of the first people to help Walt plan out Disneyland and work on some of the attractions, far before anyone thought Disneyland could be made. Anderson said he did not just want to work in animation. His contributions are seen everywhere in Disney’s history – live action film, animation, Disneyland, and Walt Disney World – however, the place he was given the most responsibility in was 1961’s 101 Dalmatians.

Anderson was both the art director and production designer for 101 Dalmatians. The movie represented the first time Disney Animation used what was called a Xerox process. This allowed the artists to bypass inking and painting the animation cells for the final picture. What this meant is you would see the actual line drawings projected on the screen rather then drawings painted over. The main reason for this change was to bring down the budget. And though there were a lot of people who lost their jobs because of it Ken Anderson tried very hard to embrace the new style. The new style of animation actually went well with Ken’s style of drawings. There is a sketch quality to almost all of Ken’s art. In the drawing [at start of page] he embraces the business of the line and throws us into an extremely lush detailed world."

That Disney Studios in 1961 started using technology to enhance the effectiveness of their animation process, is important to note as it was the main pre-curser to animation styles changing. Both in the artistic style of the 2D hand drawn animation (stronger black outlines to characters, more solid than the pencil markings) but also in that animation now is mainly made using technology with hand drawn work as a minority.

For example, contemporary 2D animations are made using Adobe Flash or similar software on computers, as opposed to drawn on paper like Disney’s earlier work. And 3D animations are more common, mainly because (as was the reason for Disney working with Xerox machines) it is far more time and cost efficient than 2D work. Drawing in animation after the success of 1961’s 101 Dalmatians changed to become more reliant on cost cutting measures, than the artistic style it had once marked as extremely important during the time Disney was developing it’s style (e.g. in Silly Symphony short films – see below). However, as the audience didn’t pick up on the corners Disney cut for this film, they could continue to refine the Xerox process in subsequent features, so the artistic integrity of the drawn process could be better represented in this alternate form.

I don’t think it was particularly detrimental to the hand drawn style of Disney’s work that 101 Dalmatians used this process to cut corners, as the softer slightly washed out toned backgrounds created by Ken Anderson do even out the harsher black outlines on the figures. The end result looks pretty balanced between these 2 elements, and shows that Anderson understood the importance of subtlety in drawing to balance the boldness of the lines. The more sketchy background details also help to bring the principal characters forward from the rest of the drawn images (see example below).

You can see on circled areas, the background features aren’t even painted within the drawn lines, so it’s immediately clear the the audience that this is not the main object of focus in the scene.

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