with Richard Bazley
Lead Animator for The Iron Giant
Richard Bazley was a Lead Animator for Warner Bros. animated feature, The Iron Giant. In this interview he gives us an inside look at his work with The Iron Giant.
Animation Artist: We understand that about eight years ago you pitched to Don Bluth the idea of turning Ted Hughes book, "The Iron Man" into a movie, but had your idea turned down. Tell us a little bit about that and how years later, you became involved with The Iron Giant under the direction of Brad Bird.
Richard Bazley: In England, where I'm originally from "The Iron Man" by the Welsh poet Ted Hughes is a very popular children’s book and I always believed that it had great potential to be an animated movie. Whilst working as a Directing Animator at Don Bluth Studios in Ireland, I decided to run the idea pass Don. I worked out a ten point step outline (the ten major points of the film) and did some character designs of the boy and the Iron Man. My version was different to the book , which as great as it is is very short and minimal, it would need a lot of expanding on to make it a feature and Don turned it down on this basis. His feeling was that it would only make a featurette (a 20 minute film) and I can understand why he thought that, but I always felt that the relationship of the boy with the Giant would be a gold mine of entertainment...little did I know how right I was!
About five or six years passed and my drawings for this idea were relegated to the bottom of a pile of ideas I had for animated movies. Whilst working as a Lead Animator on Hercules at Disney I got a phone call from a fellow animator at Warners. "Guess what, the next film they are making is The Iron Man!” After the initial shock I decided to go and check it out. I was a huge fan of Brad Bird's "Family Dog" and was interested to see his take on the idea. He pitched a couple of boards to me and the idea of "a gun with a soul" and I was blown away by it all. Never before had I been so excited or sure about how good a project it was going to be. However at this stage very few people were aware of really how good this was going to be, so when I turned down Disney (a place I had wanted to work all my life) to go to Warner Bros. it raised more than a few eyebrows...."What is that film you are going to work on?" people would ask.
Animation Artist: As a Lead Animator, what were your primary job duties and what scenes were placed in your care?
Richard Bazley: As a Lead Animator on The Iron Giant it was my job to supervise and animate on three sequences assigned to me, 19.7 "Hogarth teaches the Giant,” 19.9 the second part of that sequence and Sequence 27 "The Interrogation." I would animate key scenes and cast out scenes to animators on my unit, Marcello Demoura and Craig Valde did some great work here.
Animation Artist: Can you explain how "sequences" are determined in animated films and the process of numbering them? For example, one of the sequences you were in charge of was 19.7 (Hogarth teaching the giant). Some of our readers may not be aware of what the 19.7 stands for and how the sequences are determined. Can you explain this process?
Richard Bazley: Sure. An animated film is made up of a number of sequences, it could be 30 or more. Each sequence consists of a number of scenes, for example when Hogarth says "Do you talk! You know words Blah! Blah! Blah!.." that is one scene, when the Giant reacts that is another and so on.
The film, for example, may consist of 30 or more sequences numbered from 1 to say 30. Now as things develop in story we may want to insert a sequence between sequence 19 and 20 so we will call it 19.5 (i.e. nineteen point five). Now maybe we want to put another sequence between sequence nineteen point five and sequence twenty... we could call it sequence 19.7 (so the seven is not a scene here but just a way of numbering a sequence). This sequence is also given a name (to avoid confusion) and in this case was called "Hogarth Teaches the Giant".
Animation Artist: Describe a typical "day in the life of Richard Bazley" as it relates to your work with The Iron Giant.
Richard Bazley: Most Supervising animators would have a sign-up sheet outside their office where animators could put up their names so that they could be seen after lunch. This is to help work flow so that the Supervising animator would have time in the morning to animate their own scenes. However I preferred not to do this because I know what its like to be an animator and have a scene ready to be shown in the morning and having to wait until the afternoon to show it, so I preferred to be more accessible. The price you pay is that you are constantly disturbed, so quite often the most productive time for me would be after six o'clock when people left.
At Disney when you show a scene you go into the Director’s office and discuss it with just him. This film was so collaborative that we would all gather together in a screening room and show it to the Director in front of everyone else. Your scene would be projected on to a large screen and Brad would get out this large black marker and draw his ideas/corrections and any other thoughts onto the same screen. Other animators may make suggestions as well. On this production this system worked very well because there was such a sense of camaraderie, but on other productions I could see other problems arising.
Animation Artist: What type of problems arising?
Richard Bazley: Well there was such a sense of unity and purpose on this film that we all wished to get every scene as good as possible; so input from all artists were welcome, the competitiveness that you quite often see in the business was put aside for a common goal. Now we are all human and not everyone is going to get along with everyone else so there have been some productions where I think that this would have caused friction between certain artists and it would be better that they deal purely with the Director as they do at Disney.
Animation Artist: In each of the sequences you were in charge of, what did you find the greatest challenge to be and how did you overcome that challenge?
Richard Bazley: The greatest challenge always for an animator is bringing the character to life, not just moving him in a polished way from A to B, which often happens even in the best of films. However there is no magic formula that you can always follow. One thing that helped was observing the recording sessions with Eli Merianthal and Brad directing him. These sessions were recorded on video tape for us to observe and provided a wealth of material in expressions, mannerisms and personality that we could put into our animation. Hopefully we succeeded.
Animation Artist: What, to you, was most rewarding about being a Lead Animator on The Iron Giant?
Richard Bazley: The most rewarding part about being a Lead Animator on The Iron Giant was having been a substantial part of one of the most best animated films made; one that breaks the mold and hopefully leads the way for other kinds of animated movies. I've worked on more than ten features and have never felt so proud as I have on this one.
Animation Artist: How many Lead Animators were there on The Iron Giant?
Richard Bazley: Lets see, I don't want to leave anyone out, the leads included Greg Manwarring, Mike Nguyen, Dean Wellins, Wendy Purdue, Tony Fucile, Stephan Frank , Chris Sauve, Bob Davies, Steve Markowski (The Giant) and myself — so that's ten leads. I would just like to point out that all these artists made very substantial contributions to the movie but some, for some reason or oversight not all have been acknowledged in either "The Making of The Iron Giant" Television special or Animation magazine's article on the movie. As well as Brad's great leadership, all of these terrific artists help make this film what it was.
Animation Artist: In your opinion, is animating a production getting easier to accomplish than say, several years ago? What tools or equipment are now available for the animator that weren't available before? The Iron Giant was completed in half the time it takes other animated features. How was this accomplished?
Richard Bazley: In some ways it is getting easier. For example, when I first started the pencil tests that the animators carry out to see if their animation is working would shoot their drawings on a Lyon Lamb system. With the introduction of computer systems this process became quicker and easier. To see a test with the sound , with a press of a button you can call up the sound and have it in perfect sync. Before we had to stand in front of the Director with sweaty palms and try and press the play button of a tape recorder at just the right time so that it would match the line test of your animation — it was very hit or miss. Of course as things get faster, productions seem to get tighter, so you don't actually seem to have any more time to do your animation, it's just expected faster. In the old days animators, after finishing a scene, would have to send it off to film and wait a day for it to be developed before they could see how it was working....and just look at how good that old stuff was!
The reason The Iron Giant was done as quickly and as well as it was, was due to the sheer commitment everyone had to the project from every department to every level. This was also due to Brad's enthusiasm and drive which really rubbed off on the staff.
Animation Artist: Many of our readers are interested in breaking into the animation industry. How did you do it and what are your words of wisdom for those who want to become an animator?
Richard Bazley: Well I got into the business at the time of Who Framed Roger Rabbit before the animation boom. It was not the obvious career choice back then, but I got into it because it was something that I had always been interested in and wanted to do. Although there is good money to be made, you can make more doing a great deal of other things with less work; but if you have a passion for the medium and art form and get into it for those reasons then you will be well rewarded. I actually studied Graphic Design and went to work in London as an Art Director at a couple of advertising agencies. Until then, working in animation didn't seem an option; there was a tight nit group of animators that work on TV commercials but it was a world I knew little about. I was tiring of doing ad after ad for products. I had no interest in so I started looking around the animation companies in London. I bought myself the Preston Blair book and began practicing animating on my glass coffee table with a light held underneath so I could see how to in-between. I had two lucky breaks — meeting Eric Goldberg who had a company called Pizazz and he showed me how to in-between his animation drawings and meeting Jill Brookes of Stuart Brookes animation who helped arrange an in-between test at the newly formed Walt Disney UK company to make Who Framed Roger Rabbit. I didn't tell her that I had already been up there about a month earlier and been told ‘sorry we're looking for experienced animators only.’ When I turned up at the Disney building in Camden again, the Producer made some comment about me looking familiar. I shrugged my shoulders and she went ahead and gave me the test.
Lesson one NEVER GIVE UP! Seven years later I was to work with Eric Goldberg again when he was Directing Pocahontas.
Animation Artist: Are animators more of a freelance career where you go from studio to studio or would you say that most stay with a particular studio as a regular employee?
Richard Bazley: You can do either. Many of my friends have worked at Disney for years. Some even got unexpectedly laid off after almost ten years of working for them. I did a four and a half year stint at Don Bluth Studios and a three and a half year stint at Disney. I've been here at Warner's for a couple. Each studio offers different things and the reason I've moved each time has been for a better opportunity and a chance to grow. My rule of thumb is "Follow your instincts", because they are usually right. Don't get too attached to any one company because as soon as a new Director comes in on a new project, chances are he's worked with other people before and will give those he knows the first and best positions. However a good Director will recognize talent and we were lucky enough with Brad in that he just wanted the best person for the best part even if he hadn't worked with them before.
It seems that in London that most animators work freelance, but may work in-house retaining their freelance status for tax reasons. In the state, many artists used to work on contract basis. For example, when I first came here to work for Disney I was under a three and a half year contract. Now the tendency is toward a "per picture" deal which lasts for just that film. Personally I prefer the later because it gives you the freedom to move on if you don't like that project or the role you have been offered in it. The studios prefer it because they can lay everyone off at the end of a picture cutting costs! So you do loose an element of job security, but it is a trade off.
Animation Artist: So how do animators go from studio to studio and project to project? Is it by sending out resumes, making contact with specific people? How do you know what your 'next' animated feature will be?
Richard Bazley: Quite often, whilst working on a film, you really have no idea about what film that you are going to work on next right up until you have almost finished the one that you are working on. Even if you are working at the same studio, for example lets say Disney, when you finish one film and have built up a relationship with the Directors, they will not have a film ready to go in production right away so chances are that you have never worked with the Director or Directors on the next movie. You will submit a showreel of animation to them and then they will decide where you would best be cast on their film. It's almost like applying for a new job even when working at the same company! Of course, if there is a film going on else where (and you've sent your reel around the various productions at the other studios to see what is on offer) and you are offered a more interesting role and if you are lucky enough and more money then you go for the better offer ,weighing up all these factors. To contact the studios you can either talk to recruitment or if you have been in the busines for a while you can contact Directors that you have worked with in the past.
Animation Artist: Who has been the greatest influence to you in your animation career and why?
Richard Bazley: Well the obvious one is Walt Disney. As a tenth birthday present I was given a book on Walt Disney by Leonard Maltin. It was all in black and white, but I would still pour over the illustrations. Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought that I would come to the USA to work for Disney. When I was eleven I saw a program on the BBC called "The Do-It-Yourself Animation Show" hosted by Bob Godfrey and it featured various animators and film makers from Monty Pythons Terry Gilliam to Richard Williams. They showed a clip from a film of Richard's called The Thief and was enthralled by what I saw. Some twenty five years later I was to see it completed all be it not the way it should have been. These two things were the greatest influence on my animation career.
Animation Artist: Referring to The Iron Giant, CNN has stated, "Warner Brothers' The Iron Giant is not only the best animated feature to be released this summer, it's the single best film to hit our screens so far this year." Critics everywhere have given it rave reviews as have those who've seen the movie. Even so, The Iron Giant has faltered at the Box Office with very disappointing results. What are your thoughts on this?
Richard Bazley: Well obviously in animation having a great film in itself is not enough. Disney has such name awareness that they could release any number of animated films with their name and they would do substantially better. They also have that huge marketing machine behind them. Any company that decides to make an animated film should also realize that they have to at LEAST do the same amount of marketing or MORE. The fast food tie-in appears to be a must. Iron Giant had Johnny Rockets and as great as it is there really aren't enough of them to have any impact.
The other problem with animated films is that they are often perceived as just kids films. The Iron Giant is a great film that happens to be animated. Adults will enjoy it in a way that they would enjoy seeing any other movie. The problem is getting them into the theater to give it a chance. I guess that this wasn't really addressed in the advertising. It's such a shame. My only hope is that word of mouth will help pick it up.
Animation Artist: We understand that you're now going to work on Warner Bros. Osmosis Jones. What can you tell us about your duties on that film and about the film itself?
Richard Bazley: We are going back to the system of character Leads on this film which means that each Lead Animator will be assigned a character. There are two main characters — Osmosis Jones the streetwise cop (Blood cell), voiced by Chris Rock; and Drix (or other name to be determined), voiced by David Hyde-Pierce, the multi-symptom tablet which is a kind of a Robocop character. That's probably as much as I'm allowed to say on this movie at this time, but it looks like it's going to be an incredibly entertaining film.
Animation Artist magazine is very appreciative for the time Richard Bazley took to share his excellent insight with Animation Artist readers.
All images on this page are ©copyright 1999 by Richard Bazley and used with permission
Animation Artist magazine is grateful for the time Mark Whiting took to share his excellent insight with Animation Artist readers.
All images on this page are ©copyright 1999 by Warner Bros and used with permission