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Books Chat

Charles Solomon

A chat with the author of 'The Prince of Egypt: A New Vision in Animation.'

The following is an edited transcript of a chat conducted on Tuesday, January 19, 1999 with Charles Solomon, author of 'The Prince of Egypt: A New Vision in Animation.'


Chat Participant: What inspired you to do this story?

Charles Solomon: Jeffrey Katzenburg who I've known for years. It was very impressive and in many ways it showed what an animated feature could be and that's what persuaded me to do it.

Chat Participant: Mr. Solomon, how would you compare the animation in "The Prince of Egypt" to early animation such as "Snow White?"

Charles Solomon: One of the things that I like about the film is that some of the animation is very subtle. We're used to seeing characters with gray hair, but to see a character that moves like an old man with stiffness in his joints is something rather new.

Chat Participant: Mr. Solomon: I have seen your book, and it is beautifully put together. What was the overall purpose behind the book?

Charles Solomon: The purpose of the book was to try to give the readers more insight on the animation process pertaining to the film. With animation there's always beautiful artwork that doesn't make it to the screen. I wanted to show that because I was very impressed with the artist's work.

Chat Participant: Mr. Solomon: Is it reasonable to ask you a question the value of animation?

Charles Solomon: Please be more specific please.

Chat Participant: there is much criticism of the media, defined as mass or what not...

Charles Solomon: Well, animation has a special power to transcend cultural boundaries and is therefore an extreme way of communicating. I've done work with Unicef which has used animation to deal with children's needs. We've learned that animation can cross cultural boundaries in a way that live action can not.

Chat Participant (named wabbit): How does the cost of producing an animated film compare to the cost of a "live action" film?

Charles Solomon: There's an old belief that animation is cheaper but that was never really true. Pinocchio and the Wizard of Oz cost about 200 million dollars. Today, top animated film is about as expensive as major live action film. Not super expensive like "Titanic," but animation has proved more durable for its dollar as Mr. Wabbit's name indicates. We're still watching Warner Brothers Cartoons and laughing at them.

Chat Participant: Do you plan any other biblical storylines in animation?

Charles Solomon: I don't personally. Dreamworks is at work with a directive video about Joseph and his coat of many colors.

Chat Participant: Sir, who do you credit with being the real "author" of animation? Disney? Or was it before that?

Charles Solomon: Animation actually began before film. There are mechanical devices that produced moving drawn images as far back as the 17th century. Disney did a lot to advance the art but it's much older than that.

Chat Participant: Mr. Solomon - do you view animation as an art form, such as you might view a painting or an expounding novel?

Charles Solomon: Very much so. The artists who are working in animation today are better trained in draftsmanship and the art of drawing than most easel artists are today.

CNN Moderator: Do you think that animation could ever supercede art forms such as painting?

Charles Solomon: It's a very strange hybrid art form because it draws on traditional and filmmaking art. Winsor McCay, one of the pioneers of animation, believed it would replace painting. We haven't seen that happen but it has the potential to be a fine art. In the hands of some independent artists it genuinely becomes one.

Chat Participant: Sir, what started your interest in this subject? Why did you choose animation as your medium?

Charles Solomon: To be honest, I can't remember when I wasn't interested in animation. When I was about four I watched cartoons on TV. I watched Disney and Warner Brothers. Fleisher, Superman, a couple of them scared me very badly.

Chat Participant: Do you see "The Prince of Egypt" as being the first attempt at dramatic cinematic and/or televised animation?

Charles Solomon: I'm not sure how televised fits in there. In recent years the cinematography in animation has grown increasingly sophisticated. Example: In "Beauty and the Beast," with the long tracking shot in the ballroom, in theatres this gets the same gasp that the long hand held shot that "Goodfellas" did. I think this is where animation lacked behind for quite awhile.

Chat Participant: Who do you consider to be the best in the field at this time?

Charles Solomon: There are about eight or ten artists. Some at Disney, some at Dreamworks, where better or best really doesn't apply. They're all at a level here. It's whose approach or interpretation do you prefer? I can name some of the people if you like. James Baxter, Glen Keane, Andreas Deja, Eric Goldbergh. That's a pretty good sampler right there. Anyone that I've forgotten will never forgive me.

Chat Participant: Was the super realism of the characters in the "Prince of Egypt" intentional?

Charles Solomon: Very much so. Katzenburg said he was making a live action film that happened to be drawn and it made for a lot of work for the animators.

Chat Participant: It seemed that earlier feature length animations had more detail in them than is the case now (shading, etc.), such as in Snow White. Am I wrong?

Charles Solomon: There's actually more today - it's just done differently. In "Snow White" the ink and paint crews literally rubbed rouge on to the cells to give the characters cheeks the blush. Today we can get the same effect with computers.

Chat Participant: Do you consider the look to the Egyptian characters to be accurate?

Charles Solomon: In terms of their costumes and designs. They consulted with archeologists and Egyptologists. Many went to Egypt to sketch. There are some details they had to change to make it animatable. But the general look is accurate.

Chat Participant: Did the concepts of object-Oriented programming have anything to do with this "new" animation?

Charles Solomon: Not being a programmer I would have a hard time answering that one. That's a technical term that I don't recognize. Can we try another one?

Chat Participant: Mr. Solomon - I heard that you will release another book on "Prince of Egypt." What will the difference be?

Charles Solomon: Dreamworks has a number of books about the film. I only wrote this one, so it's the only one I feel qualified to talk about. They did quite a number of books, including novels and children books.

Chat Participant: Mr. Solomon - Ralph Bakshi seems to have stories of high drama. Are there others that use animation to create this effect?

Charles Solomon: Certainly. One of the interesting things about the current boom in animation is that there's a chance to do more different kinds of stories. "Prince of Egypt" is the first biblical feature in America. Next year Warner Brothers will release the "Iron Giant" which is equivalent to a film with no songs, no perky heroines. It will be quite different from what we're used to seeing. It will be a really good film.

Chat Participant: What do think of the future of digital 3D animation?

Charles Solomon: Well, in many ways its future is here. Almost every film that you go to has a credit or credits for computer animation. Many of the effects are so subtle that we don't realize that they are there. For example, "Jurassic Park" is an animated feature. People went to see the dinosaurs, not to watch Laura Dern eat ice cream and talk about what is real in life.

CNN Moderator: Do you see animation ever replacing "real" actors?

Charles Solomon: Not in the foreseeable future. Computer animation is most effective for non-organic things. Even if we could create a believable three-dimensional image of Marilyn Monroe you would need an animator with all of her moves that she may have given. So I think it's unlikely in the foreseeable future.

Chat Participant: In regards to your "Disney That Never Was" book: I'm interested which unmade film you think showed the most promise.

Charles Solomon: That's a book I did a few years ago that was never completed. During the late 30's Walt Disney and Samuel Goldwyn talked about making a live autobiography of Christian Anderson and that artwork for it was great. I think it would have been a wonderful film if they would have been able to make it.

Chat Participant: Did this film have a vision or did it just wind up a great film because of surprising subtleties that were put together?

Charles Solomon: There was certainly a vision that the artists had when they were working on it. Whether or not they realized the vision to make a great film is something that audiences will have to decide.

Chat Participant: What is your opinion of anime? Is it succeeding western animation?

Charles Solomon: Some of it is very, very interesting. And very inventive. And usually it's extremely well directed and well edited. The animation itself is not as polished as American works. What bothers me about some of the Japanese films is extreme violence. Especially violence directed toward woman in it.

Chat Participant: How come they don't ever show "Peter Pan" on television? In fact, what happened to this animation?

Charles Solomon: If they are not showing it, it's because Disney has withdrawn it. But I don't know that they have. They may be planning to release it theatrically.

CNN Moderator: Have you worked as an animator?

Charles Solomon: I made films of my own in college at UCLA. I write better than I draw. I really wasn't too bad.

CNN Moderator: Are you making films on the side now?

Charles Solomon: That could be an uncomfortable position. I've worked on a couple of independent films with friends but I haven't had much time for it in the last few years.

Chat Participant: How many frames per second need to be animated until the eye stops discerning the individual frames?

Charles Solomon: 24 frames per second is standard for sound films. Silent films would project 18 frames per second and that's why they look jerky. Some experimental techniques like show scan run at 30 or more frames per second to produce an even smoother image.

Chat Participant: Is there a lot of research in color and animation?

Charles Solomon: Yes. When a film is still in the planning stages, the art directors will do a color beat board that will indicate how color will underscore the emotional points the directors want to make in the film.

CNN Moderator: What country do you feel is leading the way in animation?

Charles Solomon: The United States still produces the most popular and probably the best animated films. But there's very interesting work now being done in Great Britain, Canada, and in Japan. There used to be in China but I'm not so sure anymore. I don't know presently.

Chat Participant: Is there animation in Europe, South America or Africa, etc.?

Charles Solomon: Yes. They are now doing animation pretty much throughout the world. In Eastern Europe many studios have closed and the artists are facing tough times in some places. Recently, more animation has been done in Africa and South America, including work done for UNICEF and other public programs.

Chat Participant: Have you studied Japanese animation or "Japanimation?"

Charles Solomon: To a degree there is an enormous amount of animation done in Japan so watching all of it would be a full-time job. Some of it that I've seen I'm rather impressed with. But, on the other hand, how many giant robots can you watch? People interested in Japanese animation should watch Miramax which will release "Princess Mononoke," which until "Titanic" was the most popular film ever in Japan. It is an exceptional film that one should plan on seeing.

Chat Participant: Are they going to re-name "Princess Mononoke?" Please I hope not!!

Charles Solomon: The title will stay the same but the version will be dubbed.

Chat Participant: What kind of salaries are being earned in the animation field?

Charles Solomon: Salaries have risen recently. An animator in the U.S. makes between 1500 and 2000 dollars for a forty-hour week. For a pop artist that salary can be considerably higher. Mind you that's not what I make. LOL.

Chat Participant: Are there any horror animations in the works?

Charles Solomon: I've seen some that were pretty horrible. At one point John Bouth wanted to animate "Dracula" but I don't think it's in production.

CNN Moderator: What was the first instance of animation?

Chat Participant: The horse running...I can't remember who did it...<grin>...maybe it was Edison.

Charles Solomon: The first film I believe is "Humorous phases of funny faces" in 1906. It was by J. Stuart Blackton. The sequential of the horses was photographed with a special battery camera. We have written records of animated magic lantern slides going back to 1736. And actually Edison photographed the "Humorously phases" film.

Chat Participant: Winsor McKay was one the earliest to experiment with a cell type animation.

Charles Solomon: McKay was one of the real giants of early animation and he set a level of excellence that wouldn't be beat for decades. This man animated "Gertie," the dinosaur, one of the key films in the history of animation.

Chat Participant: How about Edward Muybridge - he should get some credit?

Charles Solomon: Yes, he's a very colorful figure. He's very important in live action and animation. Artists still use his books on human and animal movements as references. Philip Glass wrote an opera about Muybridge.

Chat Participant: I want to know about "Ice-Planet." I hear there is significant CGI in it.

Charles Solomon: "Ice Planet" is being made in Arizona right now. I don't know if it's going to be done in Computer Generated Imagery or not.

There are a couple of CGI features coming up. A couple: "Toy Story II," "Dinosaurs," and Dreamworks is working on "Shrek." It's based on a children's book by William Steig. "Shrek" is about a man with the ugliest face in the world.

CNN Moderator: Any final comments, Mr. Solomon?

Charles Solomon: Thank you all. I hope you all keep reading and watching.

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