For People Crazy About 2D Animation!

Acme Punched! is for people crazy about 2D animation. It may be enjoyed by beginners and others, but it is aimed at animators who know already something about the process of animation and the basics of character animation. In large part, it will attempt to provide a deep look into the problem solving that goes on in my head as I work out a scene, often in step-by-step posts that I will sometimes enter in "real time", without knowing in advance what the outcome will be. Mistakes and false starts will not only be included but emphasized, so that the creative process of animation will be portrayed realistically. And, while my own bias is for 2D drawn animation, many of the effects and principles discussed here can apply to CGI 3D animation as well. I hope the blog will prove useful and instructive for all.

-Jim Bradrick

Sunday, May 27, 2018

No. 159, Developing the Scene, part 2

Not Quite There

Last time I revealed the extremes and breakdown drawings of my scene of an impatient man making a show of looking at his watch to express irritation with my main character.

(In following this, you may want to go back and review the last two posts, numbers 158 and 157.)

Since then I have followed through as promised, filling in all inbetweens and creating a pencil test. Here is the result.

The Pencil Test

In short, I was disappointed. The head movement works well, properly expressing the man's disdain as well as his arrogance. The arm movement as he brings his watch up in front of his face: not so good. It is just a case of failure to analyze adequately the body language that I want to put across. Body language is more important even than facial expression in conveying a character's intent and attitude, and it isn't working.

So I am back at it again, erasing all the arms and rethinking the movement. In the next post you will get to see whether my "second draft" is any improvement on the first.
Please stand by...

Monday, May 14, 2018

No. 158, Developing the Scene, Part 1

Impatient Man Consulting his Watch

In my last post, No. 157, we looked at translating storyboard poses into actual animation poses. Now I want to follow through for you as I develop the additional extremes and breakdown drawings. In a subsequent post we will end by putting in all the inbetweens and finally seeing the scene in full animation.

The storyboard for this scene was able to be illustrated with just two poses: an impatient man ostentatiously looks at his watch in frustration over the time it is taking the Old Man (off camera) to get his bag through the X-ray conveyor.

(At this point I recommend you review post No. 157, as it will make the following easier to understand.)

My analysis of this scene tells me that there is much more to it now than just smoothly inbetweening from the first pose to the last. Acting the movement out, I can feel a shifting of weight in the upper body as the man's right arm is brought up. Also, I see his head rocking over, eyes closed, as he aligns his eyes with the big watch on his wrist. At last he opens his eyes and scowls at the face of the watch.

The movement times out at two seconds, with a half-second hold at the beginning and a one-second hold at the end. 48 frames of movement; 25 drawings.

I remind you that this is one of those situations in my blog when I dare to show you my work in progress before I have proven to myself that it will even work. I am relying on my experience, but if my planning does not work out, I will show you that and then show what it takes to fix it. Then perhaps we will both learn something.

Here are the drawings so far, with commentary.

The starting hold drawing, No. 1.

Breakdown, No. 17. He begins to shift his weight and lift his arm, leading with the shoulder.

Extreme, No 23. Note that the head and arm have different spacing charts, so that whereas this is an extreme or change of direction drawing for the head, it is just a continuation of movement for the arm.

Note: As usual I am using the numbering system recommended by Dick Williams and adapted from the Disney hand-drawn animation system of numbering, where the x-sheet frame number coordinates with the drawing number whenever possible. Thus, drawing one starts on fr 1, but as 1 is a 12-frame hold, then the second drawing is going to be number 13. This forces me to at least attempt to time out the whole scene on my x(posure) sheet before I draw it, and that is a skill worth practicing and worth getting good at. 

Breakdown, No. 29.  The arm continues to move up in an arc as the head begins to move to our right (his left), leading with the neck and torso.

Extreme, No. 35.  The head eases in at the top of its movement. The arm continues in its arc, the elbow reaching its highest point on this drawing.  The wrist is rotating into place.

Breakdown, No. 45. The elbow is dropping down. The eyes are still closed, but from here to the end, everything is moving slowly enough that the opening of the eyes and his facial reaction can be observed and appreciated by the viewer. Animators have learned that a change of facial expression is wasted if it takes place during a broad movement of the head or when there is distracting action in the frame.

Extreme, No. 59. The final drawing. An alternate way of ending this would be for the arm to come to rest, and then the face, on its own layer, would open the eyes and react, but I am betting that it will work just as well in this case to have all moving drawings come to rest at the same time.  It is a violation of the rule of overlapping action, but like all rules, this one may sometimes be properly broken.

I'll see you next time, when we will find out if I have this right. Wait for it!!

Thursday, April 26, 2018

No. 157, Plus Your Drawings!


I am using the word plus as a verb here, meaning to improve upon.  As a writer, I am a big believer in the second draft and the third draft. Parts of the first draft may survive intact, but many times a second and third draft will lead you to a better result.

In the same way, a second or third attempt at a pose drawing in your animation may yield a more forceful, more concise and more effective pose than you started with. At Disney, even the best animator sometimes would go to a colleague if they felt a drawing needed "plussing." At Warner Bros, a storyboard by one team would be reviewed by all the other teams, with a rule that all comments had to be positive suggestions--suggestions for plussing--rather than being just negative and destructive.

Let's look at an example from some animation work that is on my board right now.

I am doing some little scenes that are reaction shots by characters who are watching the Old Man who is ahead of them in the security line at the airport.  One of these is a man who, when driving, would be changing lanes constantly in an effort to get ahead somehow, even though each change of lane advances him only one car-length at a time: an impatient person, to say the least. Anything that slows him down,  makes him angry.

Incidentally, there are three short scenes of this character in this one sequence, and I am animating them as a group so that I will be consistent with him. I recommend this because if you do one reaction shot and then come back a month later to do another such shot, you may not get the same take on his character. All the scenes with him are short and take place in the same one or two minutes of screen time, so it makes sense to handle them as one.

Here are the two storyboard panels illustrating his first scene, where he ostentatiously looks at his watch.

Panel 1: The impatient guy stares resentfully at the old man.

Panel 2: He swings his arm up and glares at his watch.

Panel 1 translated onto the animation board almost line for line, but rather than tracing it I did redraw it freehand because, often, improvements occur to me as I draw.  Here is the animation pose.

Animation pose 1.  Virtually the same as in the storyboard.

Panel 2 is a different matter. I thought I could plus it. I was not quite happy with the tilt of his head, so I reimagined it.

Animation pose 2, version 1. Not quite saying what I want.
This drawing did not please me overall. The eyes were better than in the storyboard, I thought, but the drawing lacked the force of panel 2 from the storyboard. The forearm and hand are scaled a little smaller relative to the head, and that is likely part of the problem.

So, time for another attempt. Sometimes I erase and do the correction on the same sheet of paper, but  this seemed major; I didn't want to be influenced by the ghost image of the erased drawing.

Here is the next version.

Animation pose 2, the second attempt.

Better? Yeah, I think so too! I tilted his head more, and I brought his forearm and fist closer to the "camera", which shows off his monster chronograph watch. The guy is steamed!

This is all a part of teaching yourself to be self-critical. Soon I am going to do a whole post about being properly critical of your own work. Wait for it!

Saturday, April 14, 2018

No. 156, Another Rope Trick

This is the same rope seen dropping to the ground in Post No. 153, Rope Trick.

Now the rope or cord is being tied by the old man to the handle of his trunk; he will drag the trunk by this means through the long corridors of the airport terminal.

I wanted to show a complicated sort of knot without really going through all the actual mechanics of tying that knot. But I thought it would be funny to start out as if it were a how-to, like an animated page from a Boy Scout manual, then show a flurry of movement that is impossible to follow, and slow down again as I show the knot being drawn tight.

Here's the result.

Friday, April 13, 2018

No. 155, Stan Green, Animator, Part Two

In my last blog post, No. 154, I spoke of my excitement at meeting and getting to do some animation work with Stan Green, animator and principal assistant to the great Milt Kahl.  I remember being quite excited, sitting at my board with a stack of Stan Green's animation drawings--just extremes and breakdowns--in my hands, with all the inbetweens yet to be done by me.

Stan Green placeholder image. Anyone got a photo of him?

There were the drawings to go by, of course. They were delicate and bold at the same time, but very sure in there execution. I seem to remember blue pencil under the graphite, very loose compared to the precise black lines that had been laid down over them. There was just one character, a man who talks expansively about something (the product or service being advertised, I have no idea what.)

And it was full animation--oh, yes!--straight from a Disney veteran.

As I have said in other posts, I was self-taught, having learned everything I knew about animation either from books or from experience.  I had never even worked with another animator who knew more about it than I did. What did I know at that time? It might be easier to tell you what I didn't know.

I knew the 12 Principals, but there were some I did not fully understand. I didn't know much about timing. I didn't know you should not try to show more than one thing at a time. I didn't know how to think deeply enough about a scene before starting to animate it; thus, I often did things over, or things came out flat, and I didn't know why.

But as an inbetweener? Oh yeah. I could do literal inbetweens in my sleep, following arcs of movement and keeping the mass the same, and I understood the spacing charts. yet there were things there I had never seen before--little marginal thumbnails of an eye closing and opening for drawings 21, 23, 25 and 27, for example. Or a notation sketch about how an arm should look as it was being raised.

I believe that working on this sequence raised my aesthetic standards, too, as I tried to get my own drawings to the same level as those of Stan Green.  I worked through the assignment with confidence, and when I turned it in, he flipped through it and said, "Yeah.  I can work with this."

Of course I don't know what he really might have thought, but just to know it was acceptable seemed like high praise.

Stan had plans to teach a course in animation film making, which I believe never got off the ground. My further hope of getting more animation lore out of him directly was not realized either.  Like a lot of experts, he was not a natural teacher and we ended up only hearing some amusing anecdotes about his experiences with Milt Kahl. A year or two later, I learned that he had died.

Still, I value the experience of being his inbetweener for that one brief moment in time.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

No. 154, Stan Green: Animator, Part One

Who Was Stan Green?

I have long wanted to do a blog post on Stan Green because the brief time I knew him had rather a profound effect on me. But as always when I do a post, I like to have some pictures or graphic images of some kind with which to enhance the words. In Stan Green's case, this has been a considerable problem. 

In the first place, I don't personally have any pictures of him or by him. I have no images from the one television commercial on which I assisted him. In the second place, the internet has been little help. He does have a listing in the IMDB (Internet Movie Data Base) but there is nothing biographical or anecdotal, just the chronological listing of his screen work, which ranges from doing layouts for The Lone Ranger animated show in the mid 60s to his period at Disney feature films.

What he is best known for amid the animation industry is having been key assistant to Milt Kahl for the last period of that man's animating career, working with him through Robin Hood (1973) and The Rescuers (1977). He is known to have done much of the animation of the great Kahl villainess Madame Medusa.

When he retired from Disney, he moved with his wife up to Newport, Oregon, and took some work animating locally in Portland, where I lived and worked at the time.

My partners and I had been doing some work with a company called AN/FX, and that is how we ran into Stan Green. The animation technology then (about 1980) was still artwork to film to video tape if you were producing for television. In those days, it was also pencil drawings to Xeroxed cels but the painting was still done by hand. AN/FX had a new state-of-the-art rostrum camera of which they were justly proud.

Stan was hired by the owner of the company to design a character and do full character animation for a TV commercial. Stan required assistants for inbetweening, and so my friend Don Wallace and I were contacted.

I talked to Stan personally only a few times. The important thing to me was, that he handed out his scenes for inbetweening, and I got to do a big chunk of it.  I never learned so much, so fast as during those few days.

More about this next time...

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

No. 153, Rope Trick

Make It Interesting!

Sometimes, if you are on a severe deadline or your client or employer cares more about speed and quantity than artistry, you will have to animate a scene in the simplest possible way and be done with it. But when you have the time, try to make it interesting, whatever it is.

If you are working on your own project, as I am, then in my opinion there is no excuse for not giving it your best.

I have a simple little example from my film in progress, Carry On. Closeup of a man's feet and legs. One end of a thin rope drops to the ground. That's it! Not much of a scene, and one might be tempted to do it in the flattest way possible so you can get on to the walks and dialog scenes: the fun stuff, right?

But what if this rope scene could be made interesting? Frankly, I wasn't sure at first that that was possible. Here are the storyboard panels.

Panel 1. 

Panel 2. The rope drops.

Panel 3. The rope at rest on the ground.

How to approach a problem like this? Because if your approach is wrong, and it doesn't look right, then you will have something much worse than if it is merely boring or routine; you will have created something that may distract the viewer from the moment; which may destroy the viewer's engagement in your story and her suspension of disbelief.

Took me a couple of false starts before I got it right. I don't mind admitting this since, after all, this blog is largely about making mistakes and then fixing them. But as the drawings were so simple, there was not much wasted time and effort.

Following are a couple of rejected solutions. (Where else but on Acme Punched do you get to see the rejected work?)

At the beginning I had visualized that the falling rope would be uncoiling as it drops. Now I saw that after hitting the ground, the rope might coil up again until it reached its limit (where the unseen hand above is still holding onto one end.)

That worked well, but if you notice, I have also added in something else--a wave that moves back up the rope to the higher end, spending the last bit of energy of the movement, a good example of the principle of follow-through.

Following is a clearer look at the action, with only one layer visible.

Remember, even the simplest things can be animated in an interesting way, if only you look carefully enough.