Riffling without Rabbits: A Non-Roger Approach copyright by Terry Schoen

Her car is packed; her good-byes have been said; she should be rolling along Kentucky roads researching for the geography book she is writing. Instead, Molly's feet are still planted in bluegrass near her bird feeder . . and she's wrangling lip-to beak with a smart-alecky cardinal who calls himself Ricky Redbird

Thus begins " Kentucky GeoQuest" , a live action with animation series consisting of four 30 minute programs now broadcasting statewide to 4th grade Kentuckians through the facilities of Kentucky Educational Television, the place where I riffle. As shown in my presentation at our second ASIFA retreat, I have introduced an animated character into a live action environment on film. But having a video character, i.e., Ricky Redbird, interact in a live action video environment called for a new bag of special effects tricks.

One of the many challenges of "Kentucky GeoQuest" was the shift into another animation gear from a familiar speed of 24 frames per second for film, chink! chink!, to the less familiar speed of 30 frames per second for video. And , the use of live action demands that the character animation be as full as possible, otherwise the character loses credibility and OOF!-- there goes the viewer's suspension of disbelief, completely invalidating the relationship between live and animated characters. Twos, or 12 drawings per second, has usually worked for me on film, but twos on video would mean 15 drawings per second, 20 percent more Rickys than other characters I've animated -- a significant difference for the sole character animator on this project. Fortunately, my first tests indicated that threes, or 10 drawings per second , worked satisfactorily for video in most cases.

Having equipment for and experience in sound breakdown at 24 frames per second, an adaptation to video's gallop needed consideration too. Scripted by Guy Mendes, Ricky's dialogue was voiced by actor Joe Gatton

(with cameo support by Deryn Hatcher as Ricky's heartthrob, Claudia Cardinal) and recorded onto quarter-inch tape by Chuck Burgess. A copy of the recording was flapped to Allied Film and Video in Detroit where it was transferred to 16mm fullcoat at 30 frames per second. Migrating back to KET, dialogue on the fullcoat could then be read via the playback head of the Steenbeck film editor for the sound breakdown.

Once the final design for Ricky was chosen, I sculpted him into a full-sized model, freestanding at 9" from claw to cardinal headcrest, using modeling wire for strength and molding him with Polyform, a clay-like material which hardens by baking in conventional ovens at 325`F. On producer/director Janet Whitaker's live set, this figure was positioned and videotaped by videographer Esther Reed at the start of each locked-down camera shot; then it was withdrawn as the videotaping continued for the performance of Tambra Smith , the actress who played the role of geographer Molly. The Ricky model proved useful for establishing his position for Tambra's eye direction, for lighting Ricky's position by Don Dean and Prentice Walker, and for monitoring the depth of field needed for both Molly and Ricky. Even though Ricky would be realized later, these factors were still necessary to provide credibility to the animation when shooting live action.

For the next step in the process, we blew the dust off of our Aurora 125 computer graphics system , a virtual antique to the computer chic among us, but the only system that we could commit to a long-term project. A frame of each video shot of the positioned Ricky model was grabbed and stored onto computer graphics discs. A taped pegbar was secured along the inside bottom edge of the Aurora tablet, and a blank, punched 12-field sheet of animation bond was placed on the pegbar so that it covered the surface of the tablet. One of the stored video frames would be recalled and a one-pixel paint line was selected. Important background elements, including the Ricky model, were carefully traced by the cursor into electronic lines on the canvas monitor. Simultaneously on the tablet, the hand-operated stylus pen imprinted lines from the carbon paper to the animation sheet. This carbon-traced sheet became, in effect, the background layout of the shot and the model tracing provided scale for drawing Ricky. Before leaving the Aurora 125 in the dust, the cursory tracing of the video frames were stored to disk for later retrieval.

After I animated a scene of Ricky in blue pencil on punched animation paper, he was inked by Frank Boyer and Tony Doolin using black fine line markers onto other punched animation paper. Then the pegbar with the carbon-traced background was placed under the copystand and "videoed-in" to the Aurora 125. In addition, the cursory-traced frame of this same shot was recalled. Both backgrounds were switched back and forth on the canvas monitor, while the carbon-traced background was jogged into position by the pegbar and by zooming with the copystand's video camera. Exact registration occurred when the carbon-traced background aligned with the cursory-traced background during the monitor switching. The pegbar was taped into position and the inked drawings of the shot were then digitized and colorized by Martha Chute, Cindy Asher, and Mark Comfort. Colorization also involved applying negative black for backgrounds on these frames. Once a few scenes were completed, each digitized/colorized drawing of Ricky would be recalled from the disks by an animation program for laydown on 1-inch video Tape for later compositing with the live action by video editor James Walker.

Hey folks, it really wasn't that simple! Here are the final tallies for the character animation of "Kentucky GeoQuest": 95 scenes were animated, over 5,200 drawings were inked, digitized, and colorized, and Ricky's screen time clocked-in at more than 9 minutes, 40 seconds. Since I'm probably running out of space in this newsletter, I invite your questions about this project and will answer them in a future issue. As for Ricky's future, he'll be flying the Kentucky airwaves to 4th grade classrooms for years to come I expect.