Avid Blogs - "Editor Judith Allen Illustrates the Difference Between Cutting Animation and Live Action Films"

By Wim Van den Broeck

 in Filmmaking,Timeline Tuesday

April 5, 2016

Having previously worked as VFX Editor at Aardman Animations on the Oscar® nominated stop-motion feature The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists, editor Judith Allen has a keen interest in animation, VFX, and drama editing—but above all, storytelling. She’s currently working at Blue-Zoo in London, where she edited the successful CG animated series Q Pootle 5, which is now broadcasting around the world.

But what better way to illustrate her work than a few clips from some of Judith’s recent work on Q Pootle 5Mustn’t GrumbleCherry on The Cake, Brixton 85, and The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists:

Miffy's Adventures Big and Small, copyright Mercis BV

Miffy's Adventures Big and Small, copyright Mercis BV

“The difference between animation and live action film editing is that we don’t get masses of footage that we end up not using, but we do get a lot of different versions of the same shot.”

—Judith Allen

Judith explains how an animation film production workflow is quite different from feature film. “Editing in animation is a job that spans pre production, production, and post production. ‘Production’ I define as the actual animation— moving the characters and the props around, adding lip sync, and the like; that’s the filmingpart.

Before the animation, there is the animatic, which is mostly seen as putting storyboards onto a voice track, but really it’s where the first stages of the performance come in. The voice actors are recorded separately on different days and a connection between the characters has to be forged, or sometimes we record them together making sure that their lines of dialogue don’t overlap.

Miffy, Copyright Mercis bv 2015

Because of the process of going through the animatics and getting the timing sorted before animation even takes place, we typically don’t end up with a lot of content in the same way that live action does with their ever-increasing shooting ratios. We usually don’t aim to get handles on shots when we send them off to be animated. Moving from 2D storyboards into a 3D environment adds additional complexities, and the animators are often the best people to say how long that action should take. Having to fit in with the rhythm of the scene and any dialogue, it’s a back-and-forth process between animator, editor and director. While we don’t get masses of footage that we end up not using at all, we do get a lot of different versions of the same shot.”

“On ‘The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists’ at Aardman, we had a family day where we could bring people around to look at the sets and see some of the models. Being able to give our family members this unique experience after working for 5 years on the film was wonderful.”

“At present, I have a trainee editor who performs the role of an assistant, but with an additional focus on training her as an editor. She does a lot of the initial assemblies after which I fine tune the cut, maintaining the show’s style and animator’s requirements. Later on in the series, I’ll start giving her feedback on the edit and having her make the changes herself.

For both of the series that I’m currently cutting, we’re going at a rate of one (10 minute) episode per week. Schedules vary, but I’d usually be working on between 10 and 24 episodes for each series in any given week, as they’re all at different stages. It’s a lot of work to keep track of, and we rely heavily on both note keeping for internal progress, and our wonderful production manager who makes sure we stay on track for reviews by animation directors, clients, or any other parties.”

“I find a great deal of joy in my work when I feel like I’m part of the team that’s solving these creative puzzles and working together—to me, that’s what editing is about.”

To illustrate the difference in workflow between an animation and feature film project, Judith took the time to share the following timeline screen grabs. The first timeline is from a 10-minute episode of the children’s animation series Digby Dragon. “The colors of the video tracks help me show which stage those clips are in right now. The colors from the audio clips show if it’s dialogue, temp fx, temp music, mixdown, temp mix, etc. Each character has a separate (blue) audio dialogue track. This is useful for applying separate AAX track effects, finding my place in the scene, and for sending off the final timeline to the company that mixes our sound effects.”

“For comparison, the second timeline is from a feature film project I’m currently cutting in my spare time called ‘Don’t. Stop. Running.’ directed by Alex Richardson. Bear in mind we’re still working on the basic structure so the sound effects work is minimal. My color coding scheme here is mostly to differentiate media types and sources, on-camera mic or boom, and notes about FX or ADR.”

Working with sound on an animation film has a unique workflow process, according to Judith. “In live action filming, every action on set is accompanied by the corresponding sound. Often these are replaced or enhanced, but the sound is there and used within the rhythm of the cut whether consciously or unconsciously. In animation, every single sound needs to be purposefully placed – and often created from scratch by a foley team. It’s often a delicate balance between knowing which temp sound effects are best to place during the animatic to help tell the story and do the best cut, and which ones should be saved until after animation so as not to restrict the animators.

At the moment I tend to make my sound choices based on how the characters need to respond to them in their headspaces more than how the final sound should be, because I know that the sound’s going to be completely replaced once we have the final picture, and because it will help the animation before that.”

Digby Dragon, Copyright Fizzy Productions Ltd

Digby Dragon, Copyright Fizzy Productions Ltd


“I get my inspiration for stories from the articles and podcasts I read online and the discussions we have on Twitter about ‘successes and failures’ in the wider world.”

“When I watch a show and the edit is good, I can really get involved in the story. I’d much rather be taken along for the ride emotionally than force myself out of it. After a few times of watching it all over again, I mostly turn off the audio and start to take it apart. I think if an edit’s really exceptional, then there’s little point in going through it and analyzing every editorial decision. What made that edit work was that storyline with those performances and this set of shots and compositions and sound.

If I find something jarring, and I’m already out of the world the movie’s set in, thenI’ll start analyzing to find out why I’m not accepting the scene the way it’s presented. I’ve caught myself mentally re-editing scenes in the past when I’ve given up on getting back in to the narrative, but again, it really is an impossible task since you never know what material the editor had to work with. That’s the magic of animation— it’s created for you, to your requirements.”