Sunday, 4 December 2011


Tracing is a demanding craft, and one that has practically died out in the digital environment. The skill of the tracer was to accurately and sensitively trace with a dip pen onto cel the pencil lines of the original animation drawing. The lines had to appear fluid, with no stop and start blobs, and the thickness of the line could be controlled across a curve by varying the pressure and angle of the nib. Often the linework on the cels would be made up from several different colours and the final effect could be beautifully painterly (think Pinocchio, or Sleeping Beauty, or the original footage from The Thief and the Cobbler). The best of the tracers were, of course, astonishingly accurate.

Sam Spacey at work on cels of Rosie

Sam Spacey has been involved with The Last Belle since the very beginning, helping to choose colours for the characters and props, as well as painting cels and - most importantly - being the sole tracer on the project. I first met Sam on Richard Williams' feature The Thief and the Cobbler where, at the very young age of 18, she had already become one of the best tracers in the studio. If I'd animated a scene with particularly subtle movement, or a character close up, I would always request that Sam trace it; animators would often fight over who was going to trace their scenes!

One of Sam's jobs on The Last Belle was the mind-numbing task of hand tracing Wally's shirt pattern as it turns and twists through perspective.

Animation clean up of Wally prior to being traced.

The original character drawings were cleaned up in ink using a felt-tip calligraphy pen (if we made a mistake we had to scalpel out the offending area and stick in a new piece of paper). Then the shirt pattern was animated using a non-photocopy blue pencil. Once this had been inbetweened and finished up by assistant animator Bella Bremner the drawings were photocopied onto cel (which reproduced only the black ink lines around the character but couldn't 'see' the light blue lines), and then these cels were handed over to Sam for the tracing of the shirt pattern in blue ink onto the cel.

Another animation clean up, this time from the tunnel sequence
discussed in previous posts...
... and some final traced and painted cels.
A frame from the final sequence, shot against its background.
This was a pretty long-winded process but it gave exactly the look I was trying to achieve. I have no idea though how many hundreds of thousands of individual flowers and leaf fronds were animated, traced and painted to complete all the frames featuring Wally's tasteless shirt. Seemed like a funny idea at the time...

Sam Spacey, tracer par excellence!

1 comment:

  1. I'm really looking forward to seeing this short. Also, I love the blog posts here. Very informative and interesting. Wonderful to have a better understanding of just how much work you all have done too!