Sachi showed me into a small office and gestured vaguely towards the work piled upon an animation desk.
“Take a look at the scene,” she said. “See if you can figure out what it needs. Nobody’s touched it since the animator left this morning. We’ve got to finish it by 10am tomorrow and get it to camera. Okay?”
“Okay,” I answered, sitting down at the desk.
“I’ll be back in a minute,” said Sachi. “Want a coffee?”
Show business, there really is no business like it.
That morning I’d been at the right place at the right time and showed up with my demo reel, looking for a job. Now here I sat, at another man’s desk to finish his scene.
A scene urgently needed in a timely manner.
Aha! It’s always better to be lucky than good!
I rolled through the scene. It was an action scene of a big, burly guy throwing a body into the trunk of a car. I rolled through it repeatedly, trying to visualize it, get familiar with it, seeking its essence. It was quality work. The drawings were solid… the animation smooth and fluid.
I breathed a sigh of relief. It was a good scene to show what I could do. The animator had used a system I could understand and the drawings were interesting without being too difficult.
By the time Sachi returned with the coffee I was feeling confident I could finish the scene before the deadline, provided I could work all night.
“Well, what do you think?” asked Sachi.
I sipped my coffee. “Yeah,” I said. “I think I can handle it. It’s a fun scene, and it’s mostly done. All I have to do is not mess it up.”
“Good,” said Sachi. “Anything you need?”
I mentioned working all night and asked if that would be okay. Sachi nodded, saying, “Sure, a few of us will be.”
“Mind if I use the telephone?” I asked. “I’d like to call my wife and let her know what’s up.”
Sachi left me to it, and after telephoning I began working on the scene. It was interesting in that the drawings were done straight onto frosted cels with colored pencils. Not graphite on paper, as I was used to. One had to be precise and clean with the drawing, rather than my usual scratch and search technique. I had never seen a frosted cel before and I quickly learned I had to be careful, as any erasing would leave smudges, destroying the drawing and meaning time lost in making another. Also, when handling the cels, soft cotton gloves had to be worn to avoid fingerprints, but I had used gloves before and was used to that.
I got down to work. After a while, I fell into a rhythm and began enjoying myself. I love animating. More than that I love making movies. And if you love doing something, it’s hardly work, is it? When I first started my working life, back at the Ministry of Works in New Zealand, we worked in muddy ditches at the ends of picks and shovels with our muscles and our backs and the sweat of our brows. Physical work! Dangerous and manly, with plenty of cursing! I wondered what the ghosts from my past would think of me now, sitting here in New York drawing little drawings in a Broadway film studio built to resemble a child’s playroom. For sure I knew, wherever they were, my ghostly workmates wouldn’t think that sitting on your ass drawing little pictures with colored pencils was anything remotely like working.
Rest in peace, brothers. Your work is through.
I stopped for a late lunch, ducking out for a slice of pizza, a bottle of Rolling Rock and a cigarette. The beer was a most appreciated luxury, but I was working now and could afford it. A further luxury was a second cigarette, sitting on a bench in the sunshine, resting my sore leg and watching people go by.
Funny how much friendlier New Yorkers looked after I’d had a meal, with a full belly and a job to go back to.
Back at the desk working, I had an idea. The action by the burly guy when preparing to throw the heavy body into the trunk of the car (in animation, this preparing type of action is called anticipation) could be exaggerated more, or ‘pushed’ as we call it, to good effect. The body that was supposed to be heavy would have a much better chance of looking heavy this way, and the viewer would have slightly more time to appreciate what was happening. It would mean making the scene longer to accommodate the extra time that the action would take (a few tenths of a second), something that wasn’t always possible in a tightly edited film, so I would have to check with Sachi about it.
“Okay,” she agreed. “Let’s try it and see what it looks like. But, for now, don’t throw out any drawings and don’t change the original X-sheet. We can shoot it both ways and see which we like best. We’ll change the sheet later if it works out.”
I got down to work again and the hours flew by. I couldn’t see the day ending and the night beginning from the windowless office, but the tempo and noise of the busy studio during the day was gradually replaced by an eerie quiet.
Around five in the morning, that dreadful hour after working all night when everything is gray and uncertain, including the animator, I struck a drawing I couldn’t get right. It should have been a simple drawing, too, making it all the more frustrating. I tried over and over, wasting cel upon cel, but still it wouldn’t come. I was tired. I decided to take a break. It would do me good to get up and stretch my legs for a bit, to focus my eyes on something further away than the end of my arm, maybe have a cigarette and another cup of ...
“Coffee! Hey, Rusty, wake up! Fresh coffee.”
I had fallen asleep at the desk.
“Huh? Who?” I lifted my head from my crossed arms on the desk, blinking in the strong light of the Luxo lamp, which I had neglected to turn off. “I wasn’t asleep,” I lied, and I heard Sachi laugh. My mouth tasted of pencil shavings and pink erasers. The side of my face was hot where it had been exposed to the drawing lamp.
“Coffee?” repeated Sachi.
“Oh, yeah. Thanks.” I accepted the hot coffee with gratitude. “It’s been a while since I’ve pulled an all-nighter,” I said. “Working, that is.”
Sachi smiled and asked how it was going. She looked fresh and awake.
“What time is it now?” I asked.
“Two more hours, no more,” I promised.
“Perfect!” she said.
To be continued…