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Two illustrations of a cloaked figure pulling the brim of their hat down, their face covered by their long hair. The left illustration is coloured, the right illustration is made up of coloured lines only.

Desirée Scheper – The beauty of unfinished work


  • Student Journal
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  • Animation Production


Have you ever seen one of those sketched animations from old Disney movies? All sketchy and flickering with missing drawings and lines. Those rough versions of what you know became very pretty coloured cartoons. Well, if you haven’t, it might be worth Googling ‘pencil tests’.

If you want to see a particularly good one, definitely take a look at the James Baxter Beauty and the Beast pencil test of the ballroom dance scene. To think that was made by a man with pencil and paper. Nerding aside, I think we can all agree those tests are pretty darn cool. I love watching behind the scenes and seeing exactly how the stuff I like was made. For every frame you see there were probably at least four people involved; someone to animate, someone to clean it all up and colour it, someone to make the layout, and someone to put it all together/composite. Now that is summarising an awful lot, because even just the layout usually is split up in board, layout, and background, but that’s beside the point.

Animation takes a whole lot of time to do. If you’ve ever seen the credits at the end of a Disney movie, you know just how many people it takes to pull a whole film together, and even with that many of them it can take three years. To learn how to animate, you have to learn a lot of things step by step, usually starting with a simple bouncing ball and slowly moving onto characters doing all sorts of things. You can probably imagine, it would take forever to learn anything if you make every test and project completely finished, lighting and all.

A few years ago, when I was studying game making, I would finish every project in full. We would start with an idea, work for a while, and walk away with a grade and a fully playable game. Then I came to animation, and though I would have more feedback to incorporate, I would have to move on to a new project every other week during bootcamp. I found it very frustrating at the beginning. I was so used to finishing projects that leaving them unfinished almost felt wrong. But then, sitting in a Thursday evening screening with a few classmates and one of my tutors, we were watching a work-in-progress version of Beauty and the Beast. There were pencil tests, lined versions, old storyboards that looked nothing like the characters, temp layouts, the works. As we were watching it all play by, I was mesmerised. I remember my tutor looking up at the end of it and calling the whole thing marvellous. He said there was something just so lovely about watching pencil tests, something soulful I suppose. I couldn’t agree more with him. The roughness added to the beauty rather than taking it away. Then it clicked. I didn’t have to ‘finish’ the animation, or any of my work for that matter, to make it beautiful – it was already stunning.

For a lot of my animations, I will block out my keys – the most important and storytelling drawings in a shot – in red. I’d then draw my breakdowns – the drawings that tell you ‘the how’ of an action – in blue, and finally fill the rest of the in-between frames with green. I did it to keep easy track of what was what, but when I’d hit play it would come to life in a vibrant flicker of motion. Not only did it help me spot big errors quicker than normal and make later stages of animation easier too, but something about it, much like the on-paper sketches from old films, just felt so alive.

On the BA (Hons) Animation Production course at AUB, you will rarely ‘finish’ your work. Shots don’t go to clean half the time, layouts don’t get shaded, entire films go unfinished because you have something new to sink your teeth into. Only in final year are you expected to finish a full film.

I used to be terrified of showing unfinished or ‘flawed’ work, but after a few years I have developed an appreciation for the beauty that is in work that isn’t completed. There is a human quality in the flaws and, in the end, there turns out to be a perspective to what constitutes finished. At the end of rough animation, my rough is finished, even if it never gets lined and coloured. Roughs show the idea in a way the final piece can never quite capture.

What I’m really trying to say is that we should all be a little less afraid and a little more proud to show of the beautiful work that is every stage of rough work, even, or rather especially when we know it isn’t perfect. The flaws are what make it ours.

Something to think about

If you liked this post you might be interested in BA (Hons) Animation Production

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