Thought You Had Animation Pegged? Not For Much Longer !

The drawing/image registration process is a fundamental aspect of film animation. If the images that are animated don’t have a shared foundation with each other, the movement that’s created by the animator has no common relationship with the background or the viewer’s point of view—it just doesn’t work. It was John Randolph Bray who established and patented the peg system of registration in 1915. For almost a century, folks working in animation production have used paper, pencils, various designs of lightboxes, and pegged drawing discs to do their craft, and within this world of registration there were several standards. In New York there were pegs by Acme (a small round hole with two thin slots on either side), Oxberry (a small center hole with wider slots on either side), Signal Corps (close to Oxberry but closer to three round holes) and Fleischer/Famous/Terrytoons (three round holes). California/Hollywood seemed to hover in the world of Acme, but Disney (which switched over to Acme 20 years ago) had paper that was also punched with two sets of holes—one for the animator and one for the Ink and Paint Department. This allowed for less stress/damage on the holes and thus better registration. It’s only been within the past decade that this conventional process and this sort of equipment has proven to be on its way out.

With the advent of CGI and digital drawing tablets like Wacom’s Cintiq, actually drawing the sequential images on paper and either filming or scanning the drawings is becoming a rarity. I happened to be in our storeroom recently and saw all the old discs and lightbox wedges unused and stacked in the corner. It seemed like a natural subject for a piece here—especially since many of the pieces of equipment have interesting backstories to them. And not all the material and items have been sitting in the dark the past few years—some of the pieces are on display in the studio here and were also a part of the Westchester Arts Council exhibit I curated with Howard Beckerman in 2009 on the history of New York Animation, titled “It All Started Here”. Hopefully, this successful exhibit will find a home at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, Queens, in the near future!

Two pages from the first book published to exclusively address the craft of cartoon animation, Edwin G. Lutz’s “Animated Cartoons” (1920 – Charles Scribner’s Sons). Here’s a link to an article on the book.

So—here are some vintage and current examples of a mainstay of the animation production industry that will soon be obsolete. (Sniff . . .)

One of the typical animation desk setups used in our studio for 20 years. These lightbox “wedges” were built for the studio when we did the launch season of MTV’s “Beavis and Butt-head” in 1992-93. They’re made of maple-veneered plywood with solid maple trim. A simple fluorescent light supplies illumination from underneath; Luxor “Luxo” goosenecks supply overhead light.

Straight-ahead view of the lightbox with a 12-field Chromacolour plexiglas disc

Animation artist Don Poynter at work on one of the JJSP maple wedges and Chromacolour discs, circa 1993

Drawing station utilizing a 16-field Chromacolour disc. The larger field was necessary for larger artwork. Most animation was produced at a 12-field size, however.

An example of a 12-field Oxberry disc. This is an aluminum disc with brass panning pegbars with painted increments. The pegbars slide left to right (west to east) and allow for animated pans to be planned/plotted by exposing the increments frame by frame. The cameraman would translate the animator’s instructions when filming the prepared artwork. This particular disc happens to be the first disc I ever purchased: $265.00 direct from the Oxberry company.

A close-up of the Oxberry disc. This one uses the Acme peg system. Every project I ever worked on, and that my studio produced, used Acme pegs.

My animation desk (built by Jan Svochak) with Oxberry, Acme pegged disc. This was Tom Warburton’s home for the several years he worked at JJSP. This happens to be in the third-floor penthouse space (circa 1994) where “Beavis and Butt-Head” was produced.

An earlier Oxberry disc utilizing inscribed increments on the pegbars. As hearty as the printed versions were, there was always the risk that the printing would wear off.

A Richmark disc (Richmark later purchased Oxberry) with inscribed pegbars. This disc also has straight vertical plates installed on either side of the glass to allow for a straightedge rule (makeshift T-Square) to be used to draw perfectly straight lines.

Here’s an Oxberry disc that shows what happens when the printing starts wearing down to the brass.

Animation artist Fred Eng’s disc from the 1960s. Say bye-bye to those increments. . . The lack of a sliding pegbar on the bottom means it wasn’t necessary for plotting top/bottom pans, and as a result was used by an assistant animator/ink-and-paint production person.

Same disc as above showing Fred Eng’s name, perhaps used at Carlton Reiter Studio

Rose Eng, Anne Eng (Fred’s wife), an unidentified man, and the artist Fred Eng. April 1952. (From the amazing “Splog” of Michael Sporn)

An Oxberry ink and paint disc

This lightbox wedge came from R. O. Blechman’s “The Ink Tank” animation studio. It’s made of plywood and painted black with black linoleum on the face surface. The Ink Tank produced wonderful projects, including the Emmy Award winning film for PBS “The Soldier’s Tale.” I worked there from 1984 through 1990.

A Richardson Camera Company disc. This was one of Jan Svochak’s discs, which means that there were undoubtedly endless images of Punchy, (of Hawaiian Punch fame) that danced across this Plexiglas surface!

A FAX-Richardson “Magnabar” animation disc. The pegbars are magnetized.

1970-80s advertisement for the above

This is a planning board made exclusively for veteran animator and Zander’s Animation Parlour studio head Jack Zander by John Oxberry. It’s solid aluminum (painted silver/grey) with brass-inscribed pegbars and a screwed-on lip that allows it to rest/hang on any bottom-lighted drawing surface. A nice profile on John Oxberry is here in another installment of Michael Sporn’s wonderful “Splog.”

This is a lightbox from the Bray Studio. The disc is squared off and rimmed in aluminum for use with a T-Square. The Bray Studio was one of the original professional animation studios of the industry. Founded in 1914 and closing in the early 1980s, it had made a transition from character-based cartoons in the 1920s to filmstrips and industrial educational films. This drawing setup seems to straddle the two worlds . . .

Made of wood and painted grey, the “disc” is covered with linoleum with clear glass taped within the recessed opening. A pegbar was screwed in under the glass.

Good luck getting a replacement bulb for this fluorescent fixture! A piece of reflective sheetmetal (having lost its sheen long ago) spans the interior.

This is John Whitney Senior’s (1917-1995) animation disc from when he was a director at the California UPA studio circa 1955. Whitney was one of the pioneers of computer imaging and an important experimental filmmaker. His son John Jr. was the founder of Digital Productions (later USAnimation), the studio that did all the digital ink-and-paint and compositing on the first season of “Beavis and Butt-Head.”

Reverse of the above

Animator Willis Pyle working on a UPA disc similar to the one above, circa late 1940s. Photo from a previous Imprint article by John Canemaker. (My first animation lightbox was a vintage wedge owned by Willis Pyle and loaned to me by Tony Eastman in 1980.)

A drawing disc set-up from the Fleischer Studios circa 1936

This self-contained drawing wedge came with interior and overhead gooseneck light as well as a secured inkwell reservoir and pencil/brush holder/spring. The lever at the top of the disc and the flap above the glass contains a special surprise. The Fleischer Studio had also invented a unique apparatus that could lift drawings off the three round pegs evenly without risking torn holes.

 

A close-up of the brush/pencil holder

The paper-lifting mechanism and the metal flap that holds the paper down on the pegs. Lift the brass tab on the left of the flap, push down on the brass tab on the upper left and a bar effortlessly and evenly pushes the paper off the 3 pegs . . .

There are four rubber-tired ball-bearing assisted wheels that allow the heavy disc and its mechanics to easily swivel in its reservoir.

The wheels on the bottom are within slots.

The wheels on the top are attached with special brackets.

A close-up look shows how the studio was able to utilize pre-existing parts in the construction, along with their tailor-made elements.

Chicago Roller Skate Company ad, circa 1929

A view of the underside of the disc and its paper-lifting apparatus

The cast-aluminum base is embossed “Patent Applied For – Fleischer Studios Inc. – 1936″

A close-up of the Inkwell holder. Place the ink bottle within one of the three slots, slide the plate to the left, and it grabs the inkwell’s neck so it doesn’t slip.

The flap lifted, showing the lifting bar that fits over the pegs. That’s an acetate Famous Studios field guide owned by animator Marty Taras. The little triangles cut out at each right angle of each field would allow for marking the corners of the field on the paper underneath.

The Fleischer Studios disc wedge with field guide and original punched Fleischer/Famous paper

Brass Fleischer pegbar

Close-up of above

A shot from Michael Barrier’s blog showing a 1930s interior of the Fleischer production room and the drawing-disc wedges in use

An MGM Cartoon Studio pegbar — wish I had the disc . . .

An example photographed at MGM, of the above pegbar in use by animation director Tex Avery, while producer Fred Quimby looks on

An aluminum “Animaruler” that slips over Acme pegs and allows an un-ruled pegbar to be used as an incrementally ruled set of pegs

The next three pictures are from 2009′s “It All Started Here”, an exhibit tracing the history of the New York animation industry.

The paper punch used in the Bray Studios, with various examples of pegbars seen above

Various paper punches
In the rear: Signal Corps (left) and Oxberry
In front: Acme (left) and Famous Studios (three round)

An animation disc celebration!

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For more on working in animation, download the HOW Design Conference presentations Beyond Print: Leveraging Your Print-Based Design Assets in Video and Animation and Motion Graphics: Getting Started is Easier Than You Think.

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6 COMMENTS

  1. Joe – interesting that you mention Blechman/The Ink Tank and typefaces. The Ink Tank was located in the original studio/offices of architects/designers Cram Goodhue & Ferguson in the penthouse at 2 West 47th street. Bertram Goodhue designed the Cheltenham font . . .

  2. Incredible post! Thanks very much too, for the glimpse inside the amazing Fleischer Studios and MGM, and also the mention of the great R. O. Blechman and The Ink Tank’s great work. (You know, quite a lot of typeface design for photo and early digital in the ’70s and ’80s often used a pegboard system, too. Pencil drawing, and Amberlith and Rubylith cutting, working on a light table.)

  3. Thanx! I’m still using most of these, on a 16 field Yung Sung disk made in South Korea. It sits in my Disney assistant animator’s desk made somewhere in Burbank, California. And I am only 73 1/2 years old made in West Los Angeles, California.