Felix the Cat. Sylvester. Tom. Fat Cat. And who could forget the adorably glib and lazy Garfield? Guess what all these cats have in common. That’s right! They are all fictional – made-up. They started out as characters in a comic strip, and now they are some of the top cat cartoons both on film and on paper.
So how exactly are cat cartoons made?
It’s a lot harder than you think.
When you look at a cartoon cat or a cartoon kitten, all you see is the finished product – the fantasy, so to speak, created by a few lines here and there with the use of graphite and ink. But what you don’t see is the amount of work that went into a one-hour animated film about cats.
Industry insiders say that if everyone knew how a cat cartoon is made, it would lose its charm. The fantasy aspect about this form of entertainment would be stripped down completely, leaving only the skeletal structure of the crew working behind the scenes. Imagine watching a play where the curtains are never drawn to hide the actors from view as they change into their next costume and the propsmen as they position the props and effects for the next scene.
You see, the whole point of entertainment is to create an illusion. Now, when you take that away, what is left? Therefore, consider yourself forewarned.
Mimicking Real Life
If you know just a little about cat cartoons and animation, then you probably know already that animated cartoon cats don’t actually move. Instead, they are made up of a series of still images that are shown rapidly in order to create the illusion of movement.
So you see Tom chasing after Jerry and getting smashed, mashed, and pressed flat as a result. But is Tom really moving? No, but his movements are deconstructed into a series of still images so that when they are shown in front of the camera, these still images mimic movement. Therefore, the more complicated the animation film is (or the longer), the more still images are needed. You can just imagine the hard work into a single episode of the Tom & Jerry show.
Yet, that doesn’t even begin to describe how cat cartoons are made. The process is complicated, and considering today’s computer technology, it involves a lot of many technical-sounding words that are hard to remember. So let’s make this as simple as possible by pretending that this is the era before computers were a huge part in the animation industry.
The first step in creating cats cartoon is developing the story. Now, this is not like writing a regular story because in animation, you need something called a “storyboard.” Think of it as this huge comic strip that contains the story as it develops.
The storyboard is not a finished story. In fact, it is more of an idea board than a story board. As the story progresses and develops, the artist would fill in the blank panels with cat and kitten cartoon drawings depicting that part of the story.
The background for the cat cartoons is created along with the storyboard. The backgrounds are large in order to make room for the characters’ “movements.” Medium used include oil paints, tempera, acrylic, water colors, or any combination of these, painted on cardboard.
This includes voice and sound effects, which are recorded earlier and then later transferred to magnetic film. The film is then loaded into a sound reader which records every syllable into an exposure sheet. The exposure sheet is then used as basis for each drawing of the cat cartoon characters for the purpose of synchronization between audio and visual aspects of the film.
After all that is said and done, you have all the elements necessary to make your cat cartoon film. Now all that is left to do is to shoot all those still images with a camera.