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March 2017 | Amy Young

Animator Danielle Bethel chats to Amy Young about her upcoming projects and her journey into the film industry.

From Disney to DreamWorks, Pixar to LAIKA, animation studios are producing some of the most critically acclaimed and commercially successful films of the year. With innovative creativity, challenging narratives and loveable characters, it’s no wonder that so many aspiring artists want to work in animation. Amy Young sat down with Junior Assistant Animator Danielle Bethel to discuss her artistic inspirations, her current projects, and her plans for the future. 

Why did you want to become an animator? 

Our parents bought us an N64 when I was six, and I became obsessed with drawing Yoshi over and over again. A few years later, seeing the animators listed in credits of shows like Powerpuff Girls whilst watching Cartoon Network, I discovered I could get a job drawing cute characters over and over again. At school I was always making little comics for my friends, and outside of school, I would be working on projects of my own, which I dreamed of turning into animations someday. 

What qualifications/training do you need to become an animator?

You don't need any specific qualifications, but a firm grasp of the basic principles of animation is extremely important - these are described in depth in The Animator's Survival Guide by Richard Williams, as well as The Illusion of Life by Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston.

For hand-drawn animation (e.g. the films of Studio Ghibli), you need to learn classical drawing techniques like anatomy and perspective. If you don't like to draw but still want to animate, there is always 2D puppet animation (e.g. South Park), 3D animation (e.g. Zootopia, How to Train Your Dragon) or stop-motion (e.g. Wallace and Gromit, Kubo and the Two Strings). These types of animation involve animating a pre-rigged model. 

I would highly recommend attending an animation course at university, which will give you access to industry-standard animation software (such as ToonBoom, TV Paint, & Maya). There is also the potential to gain industry contacts, and to receive professional critique. Universities often invite professional guest speakers, and the tutors themselves often have worked in the industry, which makes them great mentors. 

What is a normal working day like?

Currently I am working on Bear Hunt, a short film based on the children's book 'We're Going On A Bear Hunt' for Channel 4. We work digitally using the animation software TV Paint, and a Wacom Cintiq, which is essentially a huge drawing tablet with a screen, which allows you to draw with a stylus directly onto the monitor.

My current role is as an "Inbetweener": ‘Inbetweening’ is the final stage of animation before colouring. The Key Animators create the rough animation for a scene to determine the timing of the action, and the poses of the characters. Next, the scene will go to the Assist Animators, who clean up the major character poses of the scene and give the drawings the final line; since the character drawings in the rough animation don't always have the right proportions, the Assist Animators use model sheets of the character to keep the characters consistent throughout the film. Inbetweeners complete the scene by doing all the clean drawings in-between the main character poses. 

There are twenty-five drawings per one second of animation, so in other words, a normal working day involves a lot of drawings. Being an Inbetweener takes stamina and focus, to make sure all the characters are on model and the line quality is correct. Since the work is so visual, I listen to podcasts and music while I work, and take breaks in order to stay focused.

The average deadline for a scene is three days, so a normal day involves a lot of self-discipline - especially considering people frequently bring in cake for the studio to share. 

Can you tell us about some of the projects you have worked on?

I was a Trainee Assistant Animator on Ethel and Ernest, at Lupus Films in London. It will be airing on BBC One at Christmas, and is a 2D animated film adaption of the wonderful graphic novel by Raymond Briggs. The story centres on the lives of Briggs' parents, who lived through many dramatic historical events such as World War Two. It is an extremely heartfelt and personal film which I was so grateful to be a part of.

Another project I worked on as an Animation Intern was the TV series Tobar An Cheoil, as part of a team at Cartoon Saloon in Ireland. Each episode of the series was based on a different traditional Irish song. It was a great experience to work for multiple directors, each of whom brought a unique style and mood to their episode. 

What is your favourite animated movie/television series, and why? 

This is a tough question! I'm a huge fan of Princess Mononoke - like every Studio Ghibli film, the animation, layouts and soundtrack are all stunning. I also love the moral ambiguity of the characters. Even the film's "villains" have redeeming qualities, and the "heroes" themselves don't get through the film without blood on their hands. 

Who is your greatest inspiration? 

It is impossible to single out one person, as I've learnt so much from the teams I've worked with. I've been lucky enough to work alongside incredibly talented and motivated people, who inspire me to give it my all every day.

What has been your favourite project to work on and why? 

That's a hard choice, but I would have to say being a trainee on Ethel and Ernest at Lupus Films. Not only does it have a heart-warming story, but our Animation Supervisors worked on The Illusionist and other high quality features, so there was an extremely high standard of work. As trainees, we were taught how to use TV Paint, and given both assist and inbetweening animation to do. 

Within a few months, the quality of our work was pushed to an industry standard thanks to the critique and advice of our superiors.  I couldn't have asked for a better experience on my first feature film! 

8) What's the highlight of your job?

I am paid to draw characters all day long - so essentially I am getting paid for what I used to get told off for at school... 

9) Do you find anything with your job particularly difficult? 

Contracts for working on feature films tend to be short term, so often you have to complete job tests outside of working full time if you want to stay employed. You need to be able to look ahead in order to maintain a stable income. Making contacts at different studios helps, as once people know that you're reliable and hard-working, they'll be more likely to employ you. 

10) What's next for you?  

In my own time I have been developing projects of my own, including a videogame - animation techniques are cross-disciplinary and can be carried over to other media, and there's so much I want to try out. Otherwise, I'm hoping to keep working on projects with inspirational people at the helm!

Ethel and Ernest is due for cinematic release 28 October, with a premiere at the London Film Festival. We’re Going on a Bear Hunt will air on BBC One Christmas 2016. 

You can see more of Danielle’s work here:

Watch Danielle’s short film HERE.

Follow Danielle on Twitter: 

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