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May, 2007

Lifestyles of the Hunched & Goofy

When I told my prep school guidance counselor, Fr. Nick, that I wanted to do Character Animation for a living, his first question was "What's Character Animation?" (I still get that.) His next question was "What do Character Animators get paid?"

"Uh.......I dunno." I said.

Fr. Nick said, "You should try Villanova, you could get a scholarship there."

"But they don't teach Character Animation at Villanova." I said.

Fr Nick shrugged. Next! My time was up, he had other students to "advise". What people like Fr. Nick never understand is that Character Animation people do it because they WANT to. It is the artistic medium that suits us best. Who are animation people? They are kids in grown up bodies. They are actors with pencils. They are geeks. They are average, middle-class family people. They are craftsmen. They are storytellers. They are young brats and bitter old men. They are na´ve, sensitive, callous and egotistic. They are loyal and easy to manipulate. They are a colorful mish-mash of personalities with a creative energy capable of moving an audience to tears (and sometimes boring them to tears). They have a common desire to make their mark, to make films and tv shows that will be loved for genreations to come.

In the twenty-seven years since I ignored Fr. Nick's advice, I have met hundreds of great animation people from all over the world . Some are great talents, some are just great PEOPLE. My largest memories in the industry have not been about the artwork, but of the people I've worked with. With all the hands it must go through, a project can be derailed at any time. It takes great (or lucky) leadership to maneuver through to a successful end. With such limited control over the final outcome of a project, the experience making it becomes very important to an artist. The production becomes our lives.

I've often been surprised to see what my animation peers create after hours, or to learn about their unusual side interests. The unassuming in-betweener in the corner has a heavy metal band. The effects artist animating bubbles restores antique cars. The production coordinator doing piles of paperwork writes hilarious short stories. And you should see that background painter's REAL artwork. It's with these people in mind that I created FLIP.

FLIP aims to strike a friendly tone, much like going to a casual animation party, where studio status is left at the door, and people are people, away from studio politics. There won't be any publicity pieces on the new movies, no gossip nor conspiracy theories. There's plenty of that sort of material around. FLIP's focus is on the craftsmanship of animated filmmaking, the people who make the films, and issues that are relevant to them. FLIP is for the small, yet global animation community.

Each letter in the word "FLIP" corresponds to a differently themed web page.

The F page has articles on animation specifically.

The L page has creative writing by animation professionals.

The I page has non-animation art done by animation professionals.

The P page focuses on animation people and their extracurricular interests.

There is no blog section because I don't care for them. FLIP itself is an extracurricular activity for me, so I've done it on a scale that I can hopefully keep up with. Please bear with any technical glitches as I am a novice with Dreamweaver.

I would like to thank my wife Donna for supporting this little experiment. Without her, none of the links or buttons would work (that applies to my world in general). I would also like to thank Dave Pruiksma and Tim Hauser for their honest creative input during the conceptual stages of this site. And thanks to my friends and colleagues who allowed themselves to be guinea pigs for the first issue. All artwork, writings, photos and music on this site are the property of the respective artists.

I am trying to cast a wide net with the people featured in FLIP. If you are interested in taking part, contact me at

Steve Moore
King Flip

"Go to Villanova, kid."
-Fr. Nick

c.2007 Moore Studios, Inc

Five Questions (+2) with


Nancy Beiman is a director, animator, story artist and teacher.
Her first book,

Prepare to Board,
is a comprehensive primer
for storyboarding

1. What drove you to write a book on storyboarding?

Since I no longer drive, someone else had to do it. Actually, I was teaching storyboard, character design, and layout at the undergraduate and graduate level at RIT (Rochester Institute of Technology). I wrote dozens of story handouts for my students based on my own college notes and experiences in the industry since there were no suitable textbooks for the classes. Existing books on storyboard were either aimed at live action people or designed to facilitate television series production. THE ILLUSION OF LIFE is the best book on character animation production out there and probably always will be. It brilliantly deconstructs short films as well as features-- but Frank and Ollie worked with stories that were more or less set; they talk about developing characters and stories, not creating them out of whole cloth.

There is a good deal of misunderstanding about how animation boards are done. Most schools have the students write a script that contains detailed camera moves, descriptions of location, character motivation, and lengthy dialogue, without a single sketch attached! This method of working is appropriate for live action but not for animated films. The results tend to be talky.

Short film boards are far more similar to feature boards than to television boards. Both have a long schedule that allows the artist to develop pantomimic acting rather than tell the entire story in dialogue to minimize the need for actual animation.

The first things I do when advising a student is toss their script aside and tell them to start drawing. A short outline consisting of a couple of sentences is illustrated with thumbnails and atmospheric sketches. That is all that is needed to create the skeleton of the animated production. Drawing, not writing, is its flesh and blood.

There was another weakness to the existing storyboard books: none dealt with content. This section was the hardest part of the book for me to write. Technique is much easier to write about since you have recognizable guidelines for what works and what doesn't. Good story can't be prepackaged. And most story men and women I've talked to can't actually describe what they do--they FEEL it, they don't codify it.

I've always maintained that if the story and character creation don't work, you're just moving stuff around on screen. This principle applies to live action as well as animation. Acting is "movement with a purpose". The story point provides the purpose. The character design chapters of PREPARE TO BOARD! are intercut with the storyboard chapters. Sometimes both are discussed in one chapater. Originally the book was written in two distinct sections. Director Yvette Kaplan read the original outline and insisted that story and characters had to be developed together since this was the way it was done on a professional production. To my knowledge, this is the first time a book has covered both subjects in simultaneous detail.

2. Who taught you to storyboard?

My original storyboard teachers were T. Hee and A. Kendall O'Connor at Cal Arts. Interviews with them appear as Appendixes to the book. When I was a student I started interviewing animation professionals outside the classroom (following the lead of fellow classmate Darrell Van Citters.) Ken Anderson's interview, which is also in the Appendix, is terrific and deservedly ends the book.

When I graduated from Cal Arts I worked at a Zander's Animation Parlour, a famous New York commercial studio. I was thrown in the deep end, drawing commercial storyboards and designing characters from Day One. You do more varied tasks in a small studio than in a large one, out of necessity. Character designer Dean Yeagle taught me a lot about design. I did a stint with writer/illustrator Mercer Mayer and learned a lot about how he constructed his stories. I worked in European studios that had a 'loose' structure more like commercial houses than an established feature studio--all the animators helped out with storyboard and design as well. I directed a film for Warner Brothers for which I was the entire 'storyboard crew'. I've drawn storyboards and designed characters for every studio that I ever worked for, and boarded everything from New Media to television series and specials to feature films. I immediately saw the similarity between the short film and feature boards. Television boards were the hardest since the layouts and models were locked down at the start.

3. What's your pet peeve with storyboard artists?

I have none with any artist. They have a difficult time nowadays dealing with producers who insist on putting films into production before the story is tied down. The shoals of animation are littered with the wrecks of entire studios whose producer decided that he was the 'creative' and the storyboard artists were mere machines working day and night to put his brilliant thoughts onscreen--and who then refused to change the script when the story did not work! Sometimes they blamed the story mistakes on the director who just did what the producer demanded!

Good producers hire good people and let them do their jobs, then make judgment calls when the director shows the stages of the project in development. Animation budgets skyrocket when story changes are made after the show has gone into production. It's so much easier to make changes when you are still boarding. That's what boards are for! But many productions lost sight of this.

Ken O'Connor told me just after I interviewed him, "Why are you talking to us ? They don't make films like this any more. We're dinosaurs. Go interview your classmates, or yourself." The artists' removal from the story process was apparent even when we were studying with Ken and T. Hee and the others, thirty years ago. It doesn't have to be this way.

Pixar's studio philosophy is 'the story is king.' They do not seem to have done too badly as a result. Coincidentally John Lasseter and Brad Bird were both in my class at Cal Arts. We were all indoctrinated with the theory that the character actions had to be motivated by a believable story. Not realism, but BELIEVABILITY.

Animation is best at portraying things that COULD happen. It is not live action. It is fancy, not fact. One great thing about working with student filmmakers is that they are allowed to make films without interference from management. I'm able to teach my classes in the way I see fit. It's just like working in Zanders', or the old Warner studio.

4. What's your pet peeve with directors?

Most animation directors are now at the mercy of the producer who overrides the director on creative matters. Good directors work with their staff and allow them to suggest story and character bits, providing final approval. Feature Animation is not a one-person show unless you are Bill Plympton. Bad directors don't accept any suggestions and don't ever change their approach based on the realities of the production. I guess you could say that they are like bad politicians.

5. Regarding your process: you're given script pages what?

If there is a Story Head, I ask what the approach to the story should be. If I AM the Story Head, I determine what the most visual situations are in the script, which characters lead the action, what the story point is and how it fits in with the rest of the picture. You can't work on story sections in isolation or it will 'boxcar' (an old Disney phrase describing features that break up into discrete or unrelated sections like a series of railroad boxcars). I talk with the other story men and see how they are developing the characters. I research specific periods for interesting prop and background suggestions, consider settings that will help put the story point over best.

Characters should show, not tell, the action. It's called animated film for a reason--the storyboards should suggest good action bits than an animator can get their teeth into. I draw thumbnails of possible action and staging on the actual script or on Post-its. I then work up 'beat boards' to help pace the action. Rough boards are done next. You'll have to read the book for more. Yes, I talk about scripts in one chapter. But if I'm making my own film...I don't USE a script--just an outline!

+1. Have you ever put someone you know into your work,
by way of a character's behavior?

Oh gracious sakes, yes. I have written a whole chapter on that. It's one of the secrets of animated acting. Live action acting too, I think. The pitfall is that you should never rely entirely on yourself. Art Babbitt told me "If you rely only on yourself for inspiration, you will never get outside yourself." So I've used family members, friends, the dog, the cat, actors in live action film, total strangers, as acting and action reference. Most of them don't know it yet. But they all started as notes in my sketchbook. It's the primal reference for all animators. Your viewpoint, the artist's eye, is what you should put into a film; not your literal body movements.

I'm surprised that you have not asked me about Motion Capture. I feel that this has the same relationship to animation as paint-by-numbers kits to the original artist's painting. We all had those kits when we were kids. Well, I never painted them; I used the cheap oils to customize my toy plastic animals. Paint by numbers did not contain any challenges. Art comes from interpreting reality through the artist's subjective lens. Mo-capped animation anchors the characters firmly to the physical movements and limitations of the human body. Worse yet it turns animation artists into machines.

+2. If there's an afterlife, what past animation artist would you like to meet?

What a strange question. I only get to pick one? I was lucky enough to meet Chuck Jones, Tex Avery, Shamus Culhane, Bob Clampett, Emery Hawkins, Selby Kelly, Ken O'Connor, Friz Freleng, Lillian Astor, Retta Scott, T. Hee, and many others who have passed, while in this life. Some of these people became my good friends.

I'd want to meet Wilfred Jackson of Disney and ask him about how he came up with barsheets and musical synchronization for animation. That process revolutionized animation forever. David Hand is another one I'd like to speak to--he was a marvelous director. Bill Tytla and Freddy Moore would be the ultimate animation teachers, along with Ken Harris and Benny Washam. I'd ask Treg Brown how on Earth he did some of his crazy sound effects. And I would be sure to thank Winsor McKay and Walt Disney for making the development of animation as an art form possible. Mary Blair and Lotte Reiniger would be on the list for sure. I wanted to study with John Hubley at Yale years ago, but my SATs weren't high enough for me to get in. Maybe I can take lessons from him, later on. Believe it or not, I always wanted to speak to Dr. Osama Tezuka. He was such an influential animator and his interview (on John Halas' MASTERS OF ANIMATION series) shows him accurately predicting the development of the 'home animation studio'. Tezuka's last two films (JUMPING and BROKEN DOWN FILM) show what marvelous creative work he could do with the right budgets and with time. Maybe in the afterlife we will all speak the same language. I say, animators already do! Visual stories can be universal!