Andy Leviton has worked as an associate editor or first assistant editor on a ton of animated features including two of my all-time favourites: Spider-Man: Across the Spider-verse and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse - for which he won an Annie.
You can learn a ton about editing in animation from following Andy on Twitter.
I couldn't resist asking Andy some bonus questions on editing in animation and here they are at length! In fact, they're longer than the usual Cut/daily Meets answers, so find a moment to take your time and enjoy!
When working on a film for such a long time, that's very often changing a lot, and you're creating story arcs out of bits and bobs (text, animatics, boards etc) - how do you keep going and stay interested and energetic all the way to the end?
Part of my answer is in your question! Things change every day, minute by minute sometimes making each day completely different than the last, so it’s hard for the job to get boring. It does make the job challenging though!
But to be more specific, getting to have the freedom to experiment and wear a lot of hats certainly helps me stay energized and excited.
One day I might spend most of my time assembling a new sequence and challenging myself on how I personally would make the scene better, coming up with shots, re-arranges, cuts, dialogue, etc. to pitch, or simply creating a stellar sound design (I take a lot of pride in my temp sound design. I love when I have time to REALLY go for it).
Another day I might be reviewing my work with the directors/producers and we bounce ideas/suggestions on one another and I go off on my own and find creative ways to execute those ideas.
Other days, I’m being a writer and coming up with dialogue/jokes to pitch or I’m being a director and coming up with new shots, action, character beats, etc.
This will all depend on the project, of course, and how much input a production wants from an editor, but I’ve been fortunate enough that most projects I’ve been a part of have allowed me to have a voice throughout every step of the process from the script stage (which never really ends) through to the final mix/delivery and everything in between that.
Also, I love doing scratch. So whenever I have a chance to do some voice work, I jump on it. In another life, I might have pursued being a VO actor!
2. What unique aspects of editorial in animation do you think other editors would really benefit from learning/experiencing/understanding? - or maybe better put - What has editing in animation taught you that nothing else has?
While animation and live-action editing both have the same goal to tell a story in the best possible way, their approach will be similar at times and other times wildly different.
So, I wouldn’t call this aspect unique to animation, but being adaptable, having an open mind to everything, and being able to flex your imagination muscles.
In animation, almost anything is possible. It’s like when you have a dream in which you realize that you’re in a dream and suddenly you have a whole new set of tools that your imagination can conjure up to control how the rest of the dream plays out.
Early on in production, since we aren’t tied to shot footage, we have the ability to think bigger and even less linearly than usual about how we might approach a scene, problem, note, etc.
Before layout/animation begins everything we do is theoretical.
We cut the whole movie in storyboards how we imagine it will play. We cut and arrange our actions, dialogue, and cuts to how we imagine the scene will play out in animation with acting in a set. This means we also have a freedom that live action typically can’t afford beyond a round of some reshoots if there’s budget/time for them.
Want to move a conversation to a different part of the film in a completely different environment with the characters switching a bunch of their lines with one another?
We can do that!
Want to suggest an entirely different way to approach a scene? For instance, want to “shoot” it a different way or pitch a completely different action?
We can do that!
As the production goes on and more of the film is animated we need to think a little bit differently about how to solve problems and/or address notes.
That isn’t to say that we can’t still add new material or change what’s there; it’s just a bigger conversation if we desire to do that and part of adapting is being able to provide options for different scenarios.
If we can change a shot I would do the note this way.
If we can’t change a shot, I would do it this other way.
But this also opens the door for major changes/notes/rewrites to happen at any point in the production pipeline from any department and that means we need to find ways to accommodate them. Being able to take what we have (or in many cases, card descriptions of what we want) and mock/kludge up a new idea with a quick turnaround is invaluable.
One example is cutting in the actors. By the time we record them, we’ve already got a cut with scratch (temp dialogue). So we have a script that we’ve already shaped and molded in certain ways but when the actor records their lines it could blow up the whole cut with their take on the character or they might improvise some great material that requires totally new action or could inspire different dialogue for all the characters in a scene.
Re-writes and re-cuts ensue! And many times it causes a ripple effect across the movie that we would need to think through and adapt to.
Another example from another department; we might cut a scene a specific way with a specific rhythm or pace and dialogue is cut to land and hit specific marks, but then animation has a new concept they are working through that not only opens up a shot but adds new shots in order to get their new idea across and it might greatly affect how we had cut it.
We have to adapt.
Sometimes that means a total re-cut and re-think of the entire beat. Or maybe there’s a compromise to be made. It could inspire a new idea and we might go back to animation and pitch our new take on it.
Collaboration and communication.
Anyway, I could go on for days about this.
3. What would your advice be for anyone looking to get into animation as an editor?
I think all of what I said above is some good advice for being able to actually do the job. I can’t really think of any advice about how to get the job beyond mentioning how I did it.
I got into feature animation as an edit PA/coordinator on an animated film and the editor brought me onto the editorial team as an apprentice editor for the last 9ish months of production.
But, like probably most editors out there, I learned how to edit through live action. Despite loving animation so much that I always wanted to work in it, I never actually thought there was a place for me since I can’t draw.
So maybe if you’re already an established live action editor, be willing to take a step back from being the lead and take an assistant or associate position so you can learn the process, pipeline, and intricacies of the ways you can best contribute your skills and talent to a production.
I’ve worked with some people who came from live action and they thought they could just slip in and coast their way through 3-4 years of job security.
Of course, there have been others that crossed over brilliantly as if they had been doing it their whole careers but in my experience, they are in the minority.