An Interview With Waltz With Bashir Animation Director Yoni Goodman

Waltz With Bashir) is a pioneer in many ways. The film was one of the first (along with $9.99) feature films emanating from Israel to be released in theaters. Beyond that, Bashir, a 2D animated film, was produced primarily with Adobe Flash, a medium that is typically reserved for television and internet projects. Of late, many Flash features have been emerging, but none (save perhaps Sita Sings the Blues) have been praised to this degree.

Yoni Goodman, the film’s animation director, took some time between award shows to answer a few questions.

AARON SIMPSON: What has been the best part of the international praise the film has received?

AARON: Looking back at the original 2005 pitch short?

YONI: Mainly, we got better at it (laughing).

AARON: What was the goal of the pitch?

YONI: One was to get the budget for the movie, the other was to check how three minutes would hold using this technique. I had quite a lot of prior experience with complex cutouts, but this one was by far the most complex I’ve ever worked with. David Polonsky and I were the only crew members working on the pitch (except for a two or three shots, where I was aided by Tal Gadon) and we had only three extremely sleepless weeks to get it done from scratch. So a few parts of the pitch didn’t meet the later we established later on. These shots were repaired and most of the pitch is actually in the movie.

AARON: How did your process evolve by the end of the production?

YONI: We learned a lot from doing the pitch, but it was only when we got into full production that we got really better at the technique. One of our big decisions hinged on how much should we break a character: how many pieces, how complex, what is a better hierarchy system, stuff like that. The crew had to go through a very tough first 20 minutes of the film before things went really smoothly.

The funny thing is, for all it’s faults, when Ari would go and get more money from investors, the original pitch was still the thing that got people’s attention.

AARON: Which version of Flash did you use on the project?

YONI: When we worked on the pitch we used Flash MX, and we had to convert each shape to a symbol, which made the tracing very slow. We were very happy when the drawing object feature appeared!

AARON: Once an illustrator had finished the artwork for a particular scene, explain the process of preparing that layout for animation.

YONI: Once an illustration was complete (mostly by David, he illustrated something like 80% of the movie), the image was imported to Flash, traced and broken into pieces. The sliced pieces would then be converted to symbols and set in their appropriate hierarchies. Then we would place the sound and the animatic inside the file (after the animatic was done, we sliced the sound according to the shot’s length, that way we knew when it was supposed to end in the FLA). The animatic was placed as reference for timing and acting in a guide layer, and then the animation process began. The first part, moving the main symbols, requires some skill, because things never look completely right – joints are usually breaking and the movement looks very stiff.

Once the main symbols are done, we went into the secondary hierarchy to animate each symbol and compensate for the stiffness, creating a smoother look for the animation. Usually you work in and out, back and forth – sometimes correcting the main symbols after you are done with the inner hierarchy, then going inside and adjusting the new positions. It sounds terribly complicated, and in a way it really is, but still, to get that very fine clean movement, it’s a lot faster (and easier to correct) then traditional animation.

At the end of it all, I think there were less than 10 percent of the film was traditionally animated. The only scene that was fully created using traditional animation was the waltz scene.

AARON: It sounds like very little CGI animation was employed in the film, but many sequences appear to have so much depth. Do people often mistake the animation for CGI?

YONI: A few month ago I went to Annecy film festival, where Waltz with Bashir was the opening movie, and in my speech, as part of my ongoing campaign to deny the rotoscope rumors, I said “this movie has no rotoscoping in it” (my animators asked me to say it). Later on, someone told me there was a rumour that it was all done in CGI. So much for fighting rumours. We had very few shots (10 or so) in which we used Maya, but that was mainly for camera movements. There was no actual modeling, except for a ship and a few houses in the snow which you can see with a very good telescope.

I think most combinations between 2D and 3D animation don’t work so well, and we really tried to make the 3d environment as flat looking as we possibly could. We just placed the Flash animated sequences on flat planes in the 3D environment and moved a camera through them so we could get a depth-of-field feeling. We also got to a point where people mistook very complex Flash cutouts for CGI. For instance, the scene where the tanks are squashing cars, but these parts were all done in Flash. We didn’t do animation in any other software (unless you regard the explosions as animation. These were done in After Effects).

AARON: How else did you use After Effects on the project?

YONI: Every shot in the movie was exported as PNG files and rebuilt in Adobe After Effects. The smoke, explosions and simple camera movements in the movie are all done in AFX. We also used grains and filters to avoid the vector look Flash usually gives.

AARON: During the production, did your team “sweatbox” scenes – or were scenes reviewed in smaller teams?

YONI: Ari already finished the interviews before we began the animation production, then he edited them to a 96 minutes video. After he was done, we sat together, Ari, David and myself, and watched the video, breaking it down to storyboards, deciding which part would be a “talking head” scene, which would be a recreation and which would be a fantasy scene. Ari had a rough idea of what he wanted, but he was very open to suggestions and we had our free say. I would say the construction of the film was a team effort of the three of us (with Ari, of course, having the final say). My team often had suggestions of how we could do things differently and we changed the storyboard many times if a better idea emerged. Eventually, I think every team member has his/her mark on the film.

AARON: Was there a significant amount of final animation that didn’t make the final cut?

YONI: Luckily, no. We had major two scenes deleted, but they were both in animatic, with no real animation. One of those was actually completely designed and ready to go, but we cut it right before we started.

AARON: With all of the various pieces that went into each element, did the software ever strain under the weight of your production?

YONI: As we used highly-detailed symbols with lots of inner-hierarchies, the more you got into the nested timelines, the heavier the FLA would become. Some work files got to a point where they could not be opened on a computer with less than 4 GB of RAM. This is actually the main reason why we only worked with one shot per FLA, and no shot over 40 seconds per FLA, otherwise it would crash the software or make it impossible to work with.

Flash is a sort of a blessing and a curse all at once. It’s a format I find very handy, very easy to produce high quality animation, and it’s very easy to correct and fix animations (once you learn how to build the file correctly), but at the same time, it still has the “internet animation software” attitude to it. I always feel like I’m abusing the software by doing things it wasn’t designed to do, and it’s a shame, because I feel it can do so much more. I’ve been using Flash since version 4, and it doesn’t seem like there have been many improvements in the broadcast field. I actually think Flash MX was much better at handling heavy files and high-rez exports than any other version that came after it.

I have many ideas, and I also read many thoughts (in your site as well) how to improve Flash in that aspect. I think Flash needs to evolve into a broadcast-quality-specific animation software, perhaps as a separate “Flash-based” software that uses all of it’s features but is strong enough to handle the strain. Ari Folman once tried to approach Macromedia (they were the owners then) after we finished “the material that love is made of” and the pitch to present some of our thoughts but they sort of snubbed him out of the building. I would be really happy if they decided to improve the software in that direction.

AARON: How did you celebrate the wrap of the production?

YONI: We went out and got seriously drunk. We had a tradition in the studio – with every 20 minutes of animation we finished (actually, every major event – animatic, 20 minutes, final wrap, going to Cannes, the premiere), the entire crew would go get drunk. Our producer, Yael Nahlieli, would get these insane deals, where she only paid for food but the whiskey was for free, and by the end of the night we would have finished 10-12 bottles of Jamesons. Pretty soon we were banned from most of the pubs in Tel Aviv.

AARON: Would you both look forward to animating with this particular process again?

YONI: I am actually trying to develop a new technique for our next film. It will probably be Flash-based, but I want to use more traditional animation and possibly a different look (we already did this one in Bashir :-) )

AARON: Give us an idea of what the animation community in Israel is like.

YONI: Israel has a fairly small but talented animation community. The jobs available are mainly on short clips, commercials and kids TV series. There’s not enough money available for high profile projects but it’s something that’s growing year-by-year.

The market is beginning to understand how complicated and costly an animation production is, so nowadays when someone wants an animation project they know what they’re getting in to. When we set out to do Waltz with Bashir, it was an impossible mission. Now that we are done, the same type of effort is still is an impossible mission, but if I had a tough time getting 10 extraordinarily good Flash animators, I think I can get 20 for our next project (Which will still be impossible to do, so we’re very eager to start).

9 Comments

  1. Fonce Falooda March 27, 2009

    Whoa. I was SURE it was cel shaded 3D! My head just did what’s happening in that blue picture up there. ;)

    Amazing job guys! (And yes, MX is the best!)

  2. This film is so inspiring! Kudos to the animators that worked on this production. I saw this film in London and can’t wait to watch it again on dvd.

    So cool!

  3. Haven’t read an interview this good for some time.
    Thanks Yoni and Aaron.

  4. I thought it was done in Anime Studio which can achieve that look a lot easier than in Flash..

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  1. [...] interesting interview with Yoni Goodman can be found here. ▶ Comment /* 0) { jQuery(‘#comments’).show(”, change_location()); [...]

  2. [...] film. The characters were built mainly in Flash and scenes were then composited in After Effects. Coldhardflash.com has a great interview with the film’s animation director Yoni Goodman that includes images of how the broke the characters apart to make the animations. It’s a [...]

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  5. Quora says:

    Why animators seldom utilize Bashir technique?…

    Here’s what the film’s Animation Director Yoni Goodman said about the animation process: > Waltz with Bashir has 0% rotoscoping in it. We keep fighting the rumor that we rotoscoped, as many people compared our process to Linklater’s A Scanner Darkly …

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