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What Does an Editor Actually Do on an Animated Movie?

What Does an Editor Actually Do on an Animated Movie?

Many an animation aficionado has had the same thought. What exactly does an editor do on a cartoon’s crew? More to the point, what can an editor do? It’s easier to understand how this role is relevant to a live-action production.

The director hands over the raw footage that’s been shot on set, along with some notes, and the editor starts making a plethora of decisions about how it should all be assembled. There’s obvious stuff like cutting out clapper boards and the director’s off-screen shouts of “ACTION!” and “CUT!” And there are more involved choices, like deciding which takes have the best line readings, or where reaction shots can be inserted into a scene most smoothly.

Presumably, though, animation doesn’t have as much of that. Bloopers must be cut from voice acting sessions, sure, but there can’t really be “takes” for what’s seen on screen. No shot should be longer or shorter than it’s supposed to be, because every frame has to be created. More importantly, every frame costs a lot of money to get to the stage of looking presentable. Considering how much more pre-visualization must be done, you’d think most decisions would be locked down at the storyboarding phase, wouldn’t you?

Well, as this video essay from the Royal Ocean Film Society details, editors actually do a whole heck of a lot in an animated production. In fact, they’re involved from the very beginning of the process, and maybe even wind up making more decisions than their contemporaries in live-action. Watch and learn.

The talk of a contrast between a more modular approach to filmmaking in animation, versus the linear train track laying of live-action, is an interesting puzzle piece. When Finding Dory director Andrew Stanton discussed his frustrations with the release of his first (and likely only) live-action project, John Carter, in an interview with the LA Times, he actually ascribed some difficulties to him being used to making movies the Pixar way. The axiom there is “fail as fast as you can,” meaning that staffers are encouraged to go out on a limb with creative decisions early on, so there will be plenty of time to refine the material throughout the rest of the production.

Circling back to a point in the above doc, a full animated film can essentially be made by the editor years before the movie is actually released. Storyboards can be cut to scratch recordings of dialog so a person can see a “rough cut” of the movie before a frame of finished animation is even completed. When animatics are edited with audio of actors from the actual recording sessions, said person can have an even fuller sense of what the movie looks like, and there will still be room for major revisions. As Stanton says elsewhere, an animated movie is effectively made several times over throughout its production schedule, and that’s a luxury he didn’t have while filming John Carter.

Another video essay, from Every Frame A Painting, explores other luxuries afforded to animation editors that really don’t work in live-action. The late, great anime director Satoshi Kon fully exploited the extra degrees of control he had while cutting together striking films like Paprika and Perfect Blue. Not only could he design and shape insert shots down to the most precise cels, he could also apply a lot of purposeful style to almost every shot transition, and in a way he’d have a lot harder of time trying to pull off on set. Peep this clip to get another piece of the puzzle, and hopefully the question in our headline will be answered in full for you.

Have any other video essays enlightened you about filmmaking? Share you recs in the talkback.

Featured Image Credit: Disney Pixar

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