An old interview from one of the animators of Balto, Ken Keys...
How a North Shore boy was drawn into Steven Spielberg's dog of a love story, Balto. (June 21, 1996)
Animation is experiencing an unprecedented boom around the world. Where Disney once had the market cornered, Fox, Warner Bros and Spielberg's new company, Dreamworks SKG, are rapidly expanding the animated feature industry - not to mention the scores of smaller studios producing shorts and high-quality commercial work.
And Australia has definitely got in on the act. 'We have so many talented people,' says animator Ken Keys from his Planet Voodoo Studios in Crows Nest.
What we don't have are the big studios and big budgets to make the big stuff, which is why Keys left for London in 1992 after 10 years' climbing the ladder at Hanna Barbera's North Shore-based operation. He did the rounds and was lucky enough to hit Amblin' Entertainment just as it was crewing up for Balto, executive produced by Steven Spielberg himself.
The true story of a brave Alaskan sled dog that led a team through 960km of Arctic blizzard in 1925, Balto (which opens next week) has all the hallmarks of a first-rate animated adventure: a little girl (called Rosy), a mongrel who loves her (called Balto) and an arrogant ladies' dog (called Steel).
The animation hierarchy - with animators working under a supervisor, assistant animators to clean up the rough sketches and in-betweeners to produce every second or third drawing - is extremely labour intensive. 'Sometimes you have to do the same drawing over and over again just to get the performance right. I was throwing away nine drawings to keep one,' says Keys, who averaged five seconds of finished animation a week.
The actors' voices (in this case Kevin Bacon, Bridget Fonda, Phil Collins and Bob Hoskins) are the first point of inspiration for the animator, who is assigned one character throughout. 'It's just like being an actor', says Keys, who worked exclusively on the character of Steel. 'You wouldn't find Tom Cruise jumping roles in the one film.'
Model sheets which illustrate attitude, poses and expressions provide constant reference points. 'You start to feel you are the character,' Keys says.
Since Balto, Keys has returned to Australia to work on a sequence of MGM's All Dogs Go To Heaven, which was done out of Sydney, and is now concentrating on Planet Voodoo's long-term goal of 'bringing feature quality animation to Australia'.