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The journal of an aspiring animation filmmaker. Inspiration, Film Analysis, Animation Art, Student Work, Book Notes, Book Store, Composing Pictures, and much more!

May 5, 2008

The Ever Ellusive Traditional Animation Desk

I recently went through the process of obtaining and restoring my own animation desk. I'm always busy with school, so this was a welcome breath of fresh air, even though it still concerned animation. I guess I never stop working, whatever.

Anyway, I remember how difficult it was for me to find any kind of resource on the internet on building or even obtaining your own traditional animation desk like this without spending ludicrous amounts of money; Making animation desks a luxury that students can't afford when factoring in the ever increasing tuition fees of a decent education. For example, a desk like the one I have now will run someone at a minimum $300 anywhere you look. While the full size animation desks, complete with drawers, and enough work surface to make any aspiring animator drool can run into the thousands of dollars before you even consider purchasing a decent disc or any paper. So I thought I would document the process I went through as a sort of resource, one of the very few out there, on getting up an running.

First things first, I did not build this desk. I would have if I had to, but fortunately I did not. If you're interested in building your own desk, I'll cover that at the end of this post. Before I resorted to that, I gathered a list of all the animation studios in town that have or were currently producing 2d animation. I figured since traditional animation seemed to be going through a dry spell, perhaps some of these studios wouldn't be needing all of their desks.

Unfortunately, a lot of people had already beaten me to the punch. A lot of the studios said they had already sold all of their traditional animation equipment! But I didn't give up, and eventually I found one last desk available at Bardel Animation Studios in Vancouver. The receptionist said I could have it for a mere $50. Fifty bucks! So I drove downtown and picked it up the next morning. Here it is in the condition it was in when I first got it:

It was covered with all sorts or wear and tear. Signs of the rigorous animation industry I guess. Now some people would be deterred by this, and want something brand new, but I saw passed it. Others might like the worn look, and want a desk with some real animation history behind it. I chose to sand it down, because of some ugly scars, and I wanted to make the desk mine. Take a look at this close up of the desk. It looks like the previous animator had a frustrating time animating his/her scenes, because s/he carved this into the desk! Yikes!

So I was already into my desk for $50. I spent another $8 on some sandpaper and a sander.

Much better! A little elbow grease, and nobody is any the wiser. It's as good as new:

Whoever made this desk, included the option for a light, so I wanted to take advantage of that. I've been told not to rely on the light as flipping and rolling is the best way to become a better animator. But I still wanted the option of having a light. And I didn't just want to put any old light bulb in there. I wanted to light up the disc uniformly. I decided on this light, as it used a circular fluorescent light bulb, called "circuline", which would work perfectly. This ran me $34, a little expensive, but I think it was worth it. Here's some pictures of the light:

As you can see from the picture above, all I needed to attach this bad boy was a couple of screws. The picture below shows the newly sunken screws.

Once I had the light attached firmly, I needed to supply it with some power. For convenience I wanted a switch, so I didn't have to reach down and plug it in every time I needed the light. For these steps I relied of the expertise of my father. I would suggest you consult someone familiar with electrics if you intend on doing the same. Hey were just animators right? Let's not go crazy! I ended up going down to the local hardware store with my dad where we picked out all the parts for under $20. So if you're counting, were up to $112. Here's a couple of pictures from the wiring process:

Whoever built this table, also considered portability. With the addition of the light, it didn't fold up as well as it could before, but hey, that's still pretty compact!

The first electrics trial almost fried the plug! I guess the part I wired was done incorrectly. I tried to help out, and look where it got me. Like I said, I'm only an animator! Anyway, after that it worked fine. Here's a couple pictures of the light in action:

I decided to finish my desk surface. My parents lent me this stuff, which worked out nicely:

Here's the finished desk as it sits in my room. It's so nice to finally have something I can do some pencil tests on this summer. I ordered some animation paper from Lightfoot, and it arrived last week. My main focus this summer will be gesture sketching, but I hope to crank out a few tests on this thing as well. These are the only pictures with the disc, but it was included with the original desk for $50. So all in all, a nicely finished desk, with disc, light,and 500 sheets of animation paper only ran me $129. What a bargain!

Now if you're interested in building your own desk, and like the look of mine, I will be happy to post the dimensions of this desk. When I was considering doing the same, I noticed the lack of this information online, so I will be more than happy to provide it, if you want to build your own based off of mine.

I also cannot forget to mention the one good resource I was able to find on creating an animation desk, Brock Gallagher's blog. I emailed Brock when I first got started on this project, and he was very helpful. I didn't build my desk, but he did, and documented it here.

Anyway, I hope this post helps someone out there. If you have any questions, just post in the comments.

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Blogger David Nethery said...

Beautiful ! Good restoration job.

Having a good animation desk is so important.

My one suggestion is to save up for a metal peg bar from Cartoon Colour Co. or ChromaColour to replace the plastic pegs. The plastic pegs are basically ok, but in my experience they are not as good as the metal pegs at holding the paper secure and flat (no buckling around the peg holes) .

The thin, metal tape-down peg bar will run you about $25.00 . Another source is Central Tool Co. Whoever you order it from specify that you want the thin metal tape-down peg bar , so it can be taped down flush with the surface of your plexiglass disc.

The best tape-down bar used to be made by a company in the L.A. area called Mechanical Concepts (they built all the equipment for the old Don Bluth studios and many others around L.A.) I don't know if they are still in business. As recently as 2 years ago they were because the game company I was working for then ordered several of their tape-down peg bars. Unfortunately I don't have their contact info. anymore and Mechanical Concepts doesn't have a website by what I can tell from Googling.

May 13, 2008 12:36 AM

Blogger David Nethery said...

I was wrong. Mechanical Concepts does have a website:

Mechanical Concepts Animation Equipment

Their animation discs are great (heavy, metal, expensive , but very nice. Those are the ones we had at Bluth) Mech Concepts Animation Disc

Actually, these days I prefer the light-weight plexiglass discs. Ever since having to figure out manual pan moves went away the need for precision sliding upper and lower pan peg bars is not necessary.

Anyway, if you're looking for a really good tape-down peg bar contact them.

May 13, 2008 2:31 PM

Blogger Josh Sauerman said...

Awesome post! My dad and I are looking at building one for me. We'll probably do it from scratch, like the one on Brock's blog. I hope it's been working out for you!

July 14, 2008 4:21 PM

Blogger Ted said...

Thanks for putting up such an interesting, inspiring, and useful post! I just discovered your blog by Googling for "animation disc", and would love to make my own animation desk. (I'm just trying to teach myself, after finding an old Central Tool disc I had stored away many years ago, one I had good fortune to get on eBay for a song!)

One question: do you do anything to the circular hole in the desk to allow the disc to turn easily, or does one *not* want it to turn easily? (Ah, the pitfalls of trying to teach yourself all alone in the wilds of North Carolina!)

Thanks again--I'll keep on reading your blog!


July 20, 2008 8:13 PM

Blogger Ted said...

Pardon this meaningless post; forgot to subscribe to the follow-up comments!


July 20, 2008 8:14 PM

Blogger bhaaluu said...

What is the diameter of the hole in the desk? What is the diamter of the part of the disk that fits in the hole? I'm curious about how much play there is when rotating the disk.

I've heard that the hole should be 16-3/8ths inches in some places, and 16-1/2 inches in other places.

September 19, 2008 4:15 PM

Blogger crow-feet said...

thanks for the information, it really helped me make my own, your blog filled in some of the gaps that were left from other tutorials

October 19, 2008 6:26 AM

Blogger George said...

I actually have a very nice animation desk (yes an actual desk, not just some cheesy little table top thing or a crummy drafting table) with 14/16 Field animation disc that I'm looking to sell for about $2000.

It was made by a company in California about 8 years ago ... I can’t remember the name of the company and it's since gone out of business like many of the other cell animation equipment manufacturers.

The disc itself is still

It's a full sized actual desk constructed of a heavy particle board covered in "cherry wood" laminate with rubber T stripping around all the outer edges.

It's about 5' high by 5' wide and 3' deep.

There is a wide upper shelf above the main work surface with 4 smaller shelves running down the right side of the main work surface.

There is a secondary work surface to the right side under the shelves and a small drawer under that.

The main work surface is about 3.5' wide by 3' deep and has a ratcheting mechanism that allows you to adjust the angle of the main work surface. There are also two clips on the upper corners for X sheets and model sheets ... or whatever else.

The back wall of the hutch behind the main work surface is a covered in cork so you can pin up just about anything you need to look at or refer to on a constant basis.

The light pan and a good bulb is included in the desk.

The entire desk is adjustable in height via a "bolt and hole" system and can go from a normal desk height to almost a standing height ... it's got a range of about 2' of adjustment from its highest point to its lowest point.

The desk and the disc are in near perfect condition as they were used minimally when I first started getting into animation ... unfortunately for the desk I ended up drastically changing fields and now work as a pyrotechnician.

I it's not currently assembled so I don’t have any photos of it at the moment but I’ll probably be posting the whole setup to eBay in the next few weeks.

The desk and disc currently reside with me near Pittsburgh, PA. Shipping will probably run about $300-$500 via FedEx Ground (to a US location) and the desk itself weighs about 300 lbs.

I will probably require an extra $100 for materials to crate the desk up so it's in good condition when you receive it.

If you're interested please send me an email at george@tasickmedia.com.

Also, does anyone know where else I could notify people of this available desk? I'm not even sure how to find people who may want to buy it?

October 22, 2008 11:08 AM


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