Today I have something for you that could, in the not-to-distant future, be a museum piece. An EXPOSURE SHEET. Did your eyes glaze over? Did you just stare quizzically at those two words and wonder what the heck that has to do with animation? Did you say out loud, “exposure sheets? Do they still use those?” Well you are not alone.
Up until roughly 5 years ago or so (at least in my experience,) doing Final Timing on Exposure Sheets was the way to do things. You timed out the actions depicted in the storyboard and wrote them out on piles of exposure sheets, where each line represented one frame of film. They were dense, almost code-like tomes that, to the untrained eye made your brain hurt. But they were (are) an essential part of the process in TV animation.
Because of tight budgets and schedules, all TV animation, as far as the animation step itself, is done overseas. Korea, Taiwan, Philippines, India, China, Canada, & a few others. Basically, because labor is cheap. Everything, storyboards, bgs, props, character designs, and finally the X-sheets (as they were typically called) were shipped by FedEx to the overseas studio to get the show animated. With the growth of the internet, a digital transfer (after much scanning by some poor PA) eventually took the place of FedEx. And now, even the boards are done digitally. The evolution of pre-production into a digital entity has introduced many efficiencies in the process.
One of the last big digital evolutions to happen in the near past was the greater reliance on the animatic for timing over the x-sheet. In the past, animatics were often made, but the x-sheets were still king as far as final timing went. But the animatic provided the director with greater control over the filmmaking process. Slow timing can identified and fixed prior to shipping, acting can be improved with extra poses, comedy that isn’t hitting the mark can be punched up, jump cuts can be caught and fixed before the more expensive animation step.
Some people bemoaned the greater reliance on animatics over x-sheets (especially sheet timers), but I am certainly not one of them. I once was doing retakes (looking at animated scenes and calling out animation mistakes) and I identified a pose that I knew was not in the storyboard. It was a cliched pose and not one that I would have approved. So I called a retake. However, the studio wrote back that the pose was added in the x-sheets so it was not their mistake to fix. Sure enough. There was this little thumbnail sketch of this pose added into the x-sheets. This compromised my ability to control the quality of the show I was directing.
Fast forward to my time on Penguins of Madagascar. We made 3 animatics. One that was a timed out version of the board (rough timed by myself and my editor.) The network and our producers weighed in and gave notes. I, along with episodic directors, storyboard revisionists, and the editor made the fixes according to the notes, and screened our second animatic for producer and network approval. The third animatic was for us; to plus acting and do any final fixes that we hadn’t yet done. It’s a lot more poses drawn, and time spent with an editor, but it provides the director and producers with more control over making the show that they envision in their heads.
There are still many shows around town that use x-sheets, or even a combination of an animatic and x-sheets. In light of that, I think this crystal clear tutorial on x-sheets will still be instructive for many of you. Even if you don’t make x-sheets, it is good foundational knowledge to have. That way if someone makes a reference to an x-sheet, you won’t be left scratching your head.
(Credit for this awesome tutorial goes to my director on Recess, Chuck Sheetz. He’s also done a lot of work on the Simpsons, Scooby Doo, and has been an animation instructor at UCLA.)
btw–if the pdf orientation is sideways, just go to “View” in your PDF and choose “Rotate View.” Or type the combination: shift+ctl+plus.