Tools of the Trade

Let’s talk art supplies, shall we? It’s Monday morning and I’ve decided to talk about something so mundane few even give it any thought these days. Animated filmmaking has clearly changed in recent years and along with that change our tools have been revised as well. However, there was a time animation artists worked with the simple tools of pencil and paper, and it might be fun to look back on that time.

When I began my career at the Walt Disney Studios many years ago, the artists picked up their supplies from the supply room located on the first floor of the Animation Building. The small room was across from 1-F, and should you need pencils and erasers that’s where you would pick up your supplies. Johnny Bond was the man in charge of animation paper, and you could pick up reams of punched paper from him down in D-wing. Of course, back in those days the paper was punched to fit “Disney Pegs.” Something our glorious leaders in the eighties considered decidedly old fashioned. I wonder what Walt Disney would have thought of their brain dead decision, but that’s another story. As young animation artists we would naturally choose our pencils depending on what our bosses used. In those days, animators had their preference and you would be wise to know what pencils they were using. After all, an animated scene should look as though it was done by one person and not by a crew of five or six. Drawing with the same pencil your animator and his assistant used only made good sense. Remember, this was back in the old days when the animation drawings were inked by hand so it didn’t matter what pencil an animator would use to complete his scene. Certain animators loved to rough with a blue pencil while others preferred an Orange Prismacolor. Then, there were those who loved roughing out their scene with a grey pencil. In any case, we lowly assistants always matched what our bosses were using.

While art supplies at the Walt Disney Studios were plentiful, I can’t say the same for Pixar Animation Studios back in the nineties. When I arrived at the Point Richmond facility to begin work on “Toy Story2,” I couldn’t believe how meager our supplies were. It all makes sense, actually. Pixar was a digital studio where most employees worked on a computer. Story artists like myself were still doing storyboards on paper back in those days so all we needed were pencils and paper. One day, I pulled open the “supply drawer” at Pixar to glance down at the meager selection of pencils and erasers. After being indulged at Disney for several years, I couldn’t believe how under supplied Pixar was in those early days. Rather than make a fuss, I simply headed to an art supply store in San Raphael where I regularly bought my own supplies. Naturally, things like this still make me laugh today. Our feature film must have had millions of dollars in the budget, yet I was buying art supplies out of my own pocket. I’m not complaining, mind you. I simply find such things hilarious. I look back on those early Pixar days and remember how different it was compared to the massive supply room we had at the Walt Disney Studios. I haven’t had the opportunity to check it, but I’m willing to bet Pixar Animation Studios has a pretty good art supply room today.

And, so it goes. I rarely see pencil and paper today as more and more of our work is being created digitally. It’s very efficient and great work is still being done. Even as I create images on a Macintosh computer and draw with a stylus on my Cintiq Tablet I still remember those trips to the Disney supply room on the first floor of the Animation Building. I remember walking away with handfuls of pencils and knowing there was more there should I need them. Walt Disney was generous with art supplies because he knew his artists needed tools to do their jobs. It was simply good business sense - and good common sense to make sure his artists had everything they needed to get the job done.

Finally, If there are any managers out there, I encourage you to make sure your team has the tools to get the job done. Whether your staff is using pencil and paper or high tech computer equipment, please be advised that pinching pennies is foolish and you’re only hurting yourself in the long run. Your “supply room” should be loaded with everything your artists need. If it’s not, I’m willing to bet the Old Maestro would consider you a moron.

Whether pencil and paper or high tech computer equipment, the wise manger had better be sure his or her staff has the tools to do the job. If not, you're not budget minded - you're dumb.

Whether pencil and paper or high tech computer equipment, the wise manger had better be sure his or her staff has the tools to do the job. If not, you're not budget minded - you're dumb.