Often-Ignored Animation Editors Looking to Boost Profile

Some awards shows, including the International Animated Film Society's Annies, don't offer editing as a category, which one industry insider calls an "oversight."

Animated movies have had a tremendous impact on the 2010 box office. Four of the year's top 10 grossers -- Toy Story 3, Despicable Me, Shrek Forever After and How to Train Your Dragon -- are animated, and then there's Tangled, which topped the Thanksgiving weekend's chart.

With all this success, it's about time the often-ignored animation editor received some of the credit. These folks can be thought of as part of the writing team. They work with the director, scribes and other creatives to develop the story and storyboards long before the first frame of animation is created.

Their goal is the same as that for a live-action movie, though the process is different. In live action, scenes are shot and then edited; in animation, there is an edit, followed by a "shoot."

The American Cinema Editors organization has helped to create a better understanding of the animation process through its educational efforts and programs such as EditFest. In 2009, WALL-E faced off against live-action films and won the ACE Eddie Award for best edited feature (musical or comedy). Last year, ACE added an Eddie category just for animated films.

The International Animated Film Society, ASIFA-Hollywood, which puts on the Annie Awards, doesn't offer editing as a category, though it does have divisions for other creative contributions such as music and production design. Animation and editing community veterans would like to see this change.

"Editing is like command central for the whole production. Not acknowledging it is a bit of an oversight," one animation industry insider says.

ASIFA-Hollywood president Antran Manoogian acknowledged that adding an editing category has been talked about. Recently, the editors of Pixar's Toy Story 3, Disney's Tangled and DreamWorks Animation's How to Train Your Dragon and discussed the role of the animation editor with The Hollywood Reporter.

Ken Schretzmann, who edited Toy Story 3 with director Lee Unkrich, said he spent many months recutting, rewriting and reboarding the film.

"Like live action, we put the pieces together, but animation has this extra step of developing the story and storyboards, which can last a couple of years," he says.

Schretzmann notes that in animation, even the dialogue is recorded and edited before the picture is created.

"The actors' lines are recorded individually, sometimes months apart," he says. "I need to cut all those disparate elements together to make it sound as if the actors are in the same room and that they are reacting to each other so that it sounds spontaneous."

In some cases, words from different dialogue takes are combined.

Tangled's Tim Mertens said that because each frame costs money to create, animation editors must collaborate early on with the director, writer and others on the creative team. He cited the dam explosion in Tangled as an example of the process.

"In the storyboards, we had the bare essentials," he says. "When we got into layout, we found the set was so massive and so cool that we wanted to enhance it. So we added extreme long shots of the explosion, we added extra coverage, we put the camera in the water."

Maryann Brandon, who edited Dragon with Darren Holmes, points out that animation editors have a lot to say about a film's pace and movement.

"At the start, the editor is basically cutting together line drawings -- storyboards -- then adding their own timing and performance takes and then deciding how long to make the shots," she says.

In live action, an editor chooses between existing takes and shots. Not so in animation. Take for example the scene where young Hiccup and the dragon become friends.

"You have the set, the looks of the boy and the dragon and the lines, but you don't have a choice between (an existing) medium shot and a close-up. You say, 'I want a close-up,' " Brandon explains.

Whether live action or animation, Brandon notes that it's "the same results, you are telling a story with emotion. The less visible [the editing is], the more successful you are."