Sunday, April 22, 2012

ABOUT INKERS AND OPAQUERS...

One of the great aspects of being part of an animator’s life was being on the receiving end of some very personalized artwork.
(click to enlarge)
The drawing above was given to me as I was leaving for my first year of college after having spent the summer of 1954 working at Famous Studios as an opaquer—coloring animation cells. My dad is the fellow helping me to the door. He never would have hired me … but when I went to an employment agency looking for a summer job  they told me of an opening at Famous Studios. Without telling my dad I interviewed (though surely the person interviewing made the connection) and I got the job. 


Before this I’d had little idea of what it took to make an animated film.  For people who were on the bottom of the ladder—like inkers and opaquers-- it was hard work that involved a lot of sitting over a desk with a slanted back-lit light table for a surface--- lots of eye and back strain. Didn’t take long to notice that just about everyone wore glasses. And everyone punched in and out daily on a time clock. As an opaquer one would get assigned to a series of cells, maybe 15 or so, that had already been inked on the front. The image on the cell was often not even a whole figure—all 15 cells might be of just an arm!  So one never got the drift of what the whole cartoon might be about. After receiving the allotment of cells one visited the paint department, which was right in the opaquing area.  This is where you’d pick up the several colors that were specified on a sheet that came with the drawing—it was so important to use the exact color specified to insure color consistency throughout the film. Next, one sets to work painting on the reverse of the cell—and staying within the lines! As each cell is painted it’s moved to shelves above the desk to dry. Humid days were awful- nothing dried and there might be cells sitting around the room on every flat surface, high and low, with every available fan in service.


Having  performed adequately—the following summer I was hired as an inker—sitting again at the same type desk—but this time laying a clean cell over an animator’s drawing and using pen and ink to draw a black line on the cell to define an animator’s drawing. Inking had a few additional challenges—one of which was making the ink adhere to the cell—since the tendency was for a cell to repel ink. This required putting a kind of talc on the cell—not too much—not too little. Plus one had to develop some skill at making a black line that was consistently the same.


The high points were learning more about the whole process of animation and meeting a fantastic group of people. They worked hard—but when party time came they were ready for a good time. And any time there was a special occasion, when someone left, or was sick, or got married… there would be these memorable one of a kind cards.

5 comments:

  1. Thanks for sharing this one of a kind story!

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  2. One name I recognize on that drawing is that of Dante Barbetta. He eventually became an animator for the studio (he was apparently the inspiration for the cartoon "Dante Dreamer" on which he animated), and later on after your dad's passing, a production designer for Shamus Culhane. I hear that Dante's still around. Was it all that common for inkers and opaquers to move into the animation department?

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    1. Hi Dave-- Dante Barbetta I'm pretty sure was an in-betweener when I was at Famous in 1954-- as was another name on the card, Marty Polansky. A number of the other names I can't identify, but they weren't all necessarily inkers or opaquers. Thanks for the notes on 'Dante Dreamer"-- I'll add to my notes on Famous staff that I try and build on......

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  3. speaking of Shamus Culhane, in his autobiography he claimed that when he was the studio's producer the person in charge of ink and paint (i can't remember her name) played favorites, and gave easy cels to her favorite workers.

    do you remember anything like that going on?

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    1. No, I don't.... when I was there that would have been very frowned on, and surely someone would have complained to the Union, which was active then. People who were head of inking and opaquing needed to get the best work they could from people under them, and as quickly as they could-- production costs were really important. My guess is that distribution of work was based solely on ability and speed.

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