Earlier this semester as I sat watching the mega million dollar, cutting edge technology film Avatar there was something about the storyline that rang a bell. The monster machine cutting down trees, floating luminescent pod beings, the life essence drawn from the tree of knowledge/life — and then it hit — FernGully! As I looked further into the making of FernGully I found that it was also cutting edge in animation for the time period in which it was made.
FernGully: The Last Rainforest was released by Fox in 1992. The storyline takes place in an Australian rainforest inhabited by a race of fairies that have never seen humans and believe that they only exist in the stories that have been handed down to them from their ancestors. The story line is ecological but predictable with the meeting of Crysta the fairy and Zak the human falling in love with each other, confronting the dangerous Hexxus and finally saving the forest. The secondary storyline characters include Pips, a fairy who competes for Crysta’s affections and a bat that has escaped a scientific testing facility named Batty.
Time reduction for the animators of FernGully was done by using several different computer techniques that were experimental. One of these techniques was digital ink and paint. This required no cells or paint. Drawings were scanned into the computer and colored with a paint program that filled in the colors between the lines. The one drawback to this procedure was that the computer generated lines were not as crisp as those that were hand drawn. The tended to be fat grey lines. FernGully was on the forefront of digital ink and paint — no one was using this in animation at that time! Now most animation is done this way.
A second technique that helped the animator was by building a character, such as Batty, in three-dimensional form on the computer then animating his movements. You could animate a five second scene almost immediately that would encompass 80 to 100 drawings This would free the animator from having to figure out the size, perspective and flight cycle for the character in any given scene.
This also allowed the animator to use technology and still maintain the quality of and drawn animation. The computer would print the generate images on peg hole paper at the rate of 60 drawings an hour. These drawings would be hand inked, painted and then combined with the hand drawn pictures of the animators.
Using these computer generated images on non human figures and machines such as the Leveler saved the animators time and talent for the skilled drawing work on the main characters. Since more than 20 animators worked on these characters, model sheets were created showing the animator the physical body proportions and looks of each character.
FernGully’s blend of hand drawn and computer generated animation was at the beginning of the technology that has ended up on today’s cinema screens as we watch Avatar!
As I was looking for my last piece of artwork for this blog, I found that I was not the only one who thought about the Avatar/FernGully storyline comparison!
Fern Gully: The Last Rain Forest, Family Fun Edition, Disk One and Two