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A montage of elements
used in shot #149.

Digital Animation

The animation in ARTICLES OF WAR owes a great debt to the brilliant work of a Disney animator and engineer I’ve long admired, the legendary Ub Iwerks. He helped invent the groundbreaking ‘multiplane’ camera system used in all of the traditionally animated Disney classics, a system of shooting through multiple moving background paintings to give the illusion of three-dimensional depth.

I always loved the sense of movement and rich depth of field found in the best multiplane camera setups - when they’re done right, you really do feel like you’re traveling through a painting. Creating shots with multiple layers set at different “depths” felt like the perfect fit for ARTICLES OF WAR, a movie filled with demanding camera moves and ambitious action. Considering one of the ‘stars’ of the movie was a B-24 bomber, I pushed for shots that would not only sell the speed of powered flight, but also showcase the scale and depth of the environment, from vast Allied airfields to the sun-drenched skies found in a pilot’s point-of-view. I wanted a true sense of depth and an ability to move forward and backwards through the different two-dimensional layers of artwork.

A screen shot of Adobe AfterEffects.

Of course, I don’t own a multiplane camera – I remember seeing one on display down at Disney World, and I doubt it’d even fit through the front door of my studio. The Mouse House traded in their traditional film cameras for a digital ink-and-paint/compositing system way back in the late Eighties, and although I shot my first few films under an Oxberry animation camera, I’ve been making movies using computers for over a decade.

I animated ARTICLES OF WAR using Adobe AfterEffects, a software package that let me to manipulate and composite together many individual layers of artwork. Wikipedia describes the software as “Photoshop for video” – it was originally developed for broadcast design and motion graphics – but animators and visual effects artists have been using it as a relatively inexpensive digital camera stand and compositing tool for years.

I used AfterEffects to animate shot #149 by setting keyframes that controlled the position, scale and rotation of dozens of different layers, simulating the sweeping camera move described in my script. I also added a variety of effects, from the smoke and fire in the foreground frame to the rippled surface of the water that reflects the belly of a B-24.

An excerpt from shot #149.


Sound designer Joe Pleiman and composer Ryan Shore both worked miracles for me on a previous production, A LETTER FROM THE WESTERN FRONT, which won a Gold Medal for animation at the Student Academy Awards. Both are back for ARTICLES OF WAR, and they’ve spent months creating an amazing soundtrack for this new film.

Joe created a library of original sound effects and Ryan wrote an original orchestral score to support the visuals (for an in-depth look into the music, check out the article I wrote about our experience recording at Skywalker Ranch).

I’ve rendered the animation as a high definition digital file, which a film lab will use to make 35 MM prints for exhibition. For a taste of the movie in 1080p high definition, check out the trailer.

It’s A Wrap

I’ve always known that no matter what, ARTICLES OF WAR was always going to be two things:

#1. An animated film.

#2. A long, long time in the making.

I chose to make ARTICLES OF WAR an animated film because even though it’s not the most obvious choice, I believe animation is a unique medium capable of telling a wide variety of stories… even historical dramas set during the Second World War. For an independent production armed with big visuals and a small budget, animation was the only way I could affordably realize the images that, once stuck in my head, I absolutely had to see on the big screen.

Of course, I’ve only scratched the surface on what it takes to make a film like ARTICLES OF WAR a reality, and I hope to share more about the production process in the future. I can’t guarantee replies, but if you’ve got questions about the production, I’ll try my best to answer them in my blog.

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