Xpress, the Coolest Section of the St. Petersburg Times, is the home for features, news and views of interest to young readers. Most of the work in Xpress, which appears on Mondays in Floridian, is produced by the Times' X-Team. The team of journalists ages 9-17 from around the Tampa Bay area is selected every year at the end of the school year to serve during the following school term. The current team of 12 was chosen out of 150 applicants. Watch for X-Team application forms in Xpress during the month of May.
Read the reviews by Xpress Film Critic Billy Norris
A long, drawn-out process
As an animator for Disney, Byron Howard takes time to bond with every character he brings to the screen.
By ALLY SIKORA
Published September 15, 2003
[Buena Vista Pictures]
The animation for Cobra Bubbles from the Stitch movies was supervised by Byron Howard at the Disney studio in Orlando.
[Times photo: Ally Sikora]
Howard has been a Disney animator for nine years. Next up for Howard: the movie Brother Bear, out Nov. 1.
ORLANDO - As he gets out of the jet-black rental car, there is no doubt that Cobra Bubbles is a strong, forceful man.
From his deep voice to his burly physique, the social worker is drawn to tough cases. And when he appears for the first time in the Disney animated movie Lilo & Stitch, you realize that he is drawn that way because he ultimately has to take control and get the family back on track.
Hundreds of people animated the hit, which recently had its sequel, Stitch! The Movie, released directly to DVD and video. It was supervising animator Byron Howard's job to draw Cobra Bubbles, who has a rough exterior but a heart of gold.
Howard, who has been a Disney animator for about nine years, says he has one of the coolest jobs on the planet. As a kid he enjoyed art and liked copying drawings from Peanuts and Mad magazine.
"I drew like any other kid, typical little boy things: airplanes, monsters, superheroes, etc. If you saw those drawings now, I don't know that they would show any particular aptitude for art," Howard said. "But I had very supportive teachers, and that made the difference. (They were) teachers who got me interested in film and art because they were interested in those things, and the spark just rubs off on you."
Although he loved drawing, he decided to study science in college. "For a while I wanted to be a nuclear physicist in a lab and discover something," he said.
In college he got back into art after taking film and art classes at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash. While on vacation in Florida, he saw the Disney animation studio being built and thought it would be a cool place to work.
His first animation job was cleaning up character drawings such as the Chinese soldiers and ghost ancestors in Mulan. "Cleaning up" means "redrawing every frame of animation so that the drawings are as perfect as possible," he said.
Mulan was one of Disney's first movies animated entirely in Florida's animation studio. The animators researched Chinese history for Mulan and looked for information on aliens in Lilo & Stitch.
For Howard, one cool part of being an animator is the different experiences he has. "I get to do something different in each movie I've animated," said Howard, 34. When he started work on Brother Bear, which is scheduled for release in November, he saw a few bears up close in Silver Springs. "Some of the bears I saw were as big as refrigerators," he said.
Howard, who drew Kenai, a boy who is transformed into a bear in Brother Bear, said a movie starts when the director comes to animators with a story. Then characters are discussed. Animators trade off characters like baseball cards until they find one they want to draw.
The director gives the animators guidelines about what a character should look like. The animator sometimes puts into a character parts of the appearance of the actor who is doing its voice, or the animator will use traits of a past Disney character. Then a storyboard, which is like a big comic book, is made to give the animators an idea about what to draw in each scene.
As a supervising animator, Howard draws a character's main actions. For example, he draws a character beginning to grab an object and holding it. Other animators draw the other steps. Generally, about four years are needed to get an animated feature-length film from the drawing board to the theater.
If you'd like to be an animator, Howard recommends that you take animation classes in college and know a little about computers. The right attitude is important, too. "A good animator helps other people make their work better and can take criticism," he said.
Animators also are learning more about making movies using more complex computer programming like the folks at Pixar Animation Studios, which with Disney made Finding Nemo and Monsters, Inc. "One of the advantages over 2-D animation is the great environments computers make, like the detail of the coral reef in Finding Nemo," Howard said.
So, having worked on so many Disney films, what is Howard's favorite? Without hesitation, he said The Little Mermaid. "Ariel had certain expressions in the movie that made you feel for her," he said. "Disney tries to give their movies a strong heart and emotion that makes them special."
- Ally Sikora, 13, is in eighth grade at Coachman Fundamental Middle School and is a former member of the X-Team.