Here's how they make a cartoon
When we last left Arnold, he was getting ready to be shipped to South Korea. Arnold the cartoon character, that is - the star of Nickelodeon's "Hey Arnold!" show. For three months, workers at an animation studio in Seoul will work on the cartoon episode begun in Burbank, Calif. And when it comes back to America, it'll be time to make some music - and noise.Skip to next paragraph
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In last Tuesday's Kidspace (Nov. 2), we told you how a cartoon begins with an idea. Writers turn the idea into a script. The script is recorded by "voice-over" actors. Cartoonists listen to the recording and decide what the characters will look like and do. Artists make lots of sketches, called poses, of the action.
The poses are tacked on a wall and presented at a storyboard meeting. Then it's time to refine the black-and-white sketches and get them ready for their trip overseas.
In Korea, the poses are colored in, either by hand or by computer. Artists there also draw and color the frames in between one pose and the next. (Remember: It takes 16 pictures to make one second of an animated TV cartoon. That's 5,720 images in an 11-minute cartoon.)
The animators don't redraw everything for every frame. Instead, each frame is built from layers of drawings. The bottom layer is the background. (Background paintings may be saved and reused in other episodes.) The cartoon characters are drawn on clear film, so the background shows through.
The part of the character that is moving - the mouth, the arms - may also be drawn as a separate layer. Other things that move (a basketball, a baby carriage, or a boomerang, perhaps) may be additional layers.
A 6,000-mile journey takes some preparation
Back in Burbank, Nickelodeon artists figured out what the characters' mouths should look like in each frame to make it look as though they are speaking their lines.. Artists assign a letter code to each frame. The letter corresponds to a particular mouth position.
How do the artists know how quickly a basketball should bounce, how slowly Helga should walk, or how to make sure the episode is exactly 11 minutes long? Each cartoon is carefully plotted out by a timer before it goes to Korea. (We won't try to explain it here. Cartoonists go to graduate school to learn how.)
So when the Korean artists get the "Hey Arnold!" episode from Nickelodeon, they know exactly what to do: how many frames to draw between each frame, what each frame should look like, even the exact color everything should be.
The frames, formerly called "cells," are still hand-drawn. The backgrounds are hand-drawn and hand-painted. But the characters and other movable items (props) are colored by computer.
"It used to be a bunch of people sitting around painting cells," says Ryan Slater. He's the production manager for the show. "Now they sit around clicking mouses at computers," he says of the Korean studio. Why Korea? Drawing cartoons is labor-intensive. Labor is cheaper in South Korea. (This is a common practice for cartoons. Watch the credits at the end of "The Simpsons" sometime.)
Why not use a computer to do all the coloring? Hand-painting gives scenes a different look, Mr. Slater says. Hand-painted backgrounds have a "deeper texture," he says.