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, January 21, 2018

No. 147, Time to De-taxi, Part Two

Upping Your Game

Wherever you find yourself in your knowledge and understanding of drawn or other hand-crafted animation, I hope you are always trying to push yourself a little higher.

If you get too good at your game, then you are coasting and not learning anything new.  Where is the challenge and the joy in that? So, up your game; make it harder for yourself. If for a master guitarist that means learning to sling the guitar behind and keep on playing, like Jimi Hendrix,  for an animator it might mean something more subtle like learning to time movements to the frame before even making any drawings except the key (story-telling) drawings.

For an animator with less experience, how about making a walk cycle that is so full and natural that other people can watch it for a whole minute without tiring of it?

Or you might be ready to try some dialog animation that is a bit beyond what you have done before.

It is important to reach out just a little ahead of yourself, and not reach too far at once.  But it is important to reach ahead.

For myself, in the interest of minimizing the instances of re-drawing and re-timing of animation that I have seen in my pencil tests, I am basically trying to learn the skill of visualizing accurately and in great detail the scene I am starting in on.

You start usually with the drawings from the storyboard, and they give you some ideas about poses and expression, but the detail is never nearly enough at the storyboard level. If you are animating a character in dialog, then the actor's reading of the lines will help to guide you and inspire you--but you will also be limited. If you know a character has a line before going outside that lasts only 42 frames, then you don't have time to show him putting on his coat as he says it.

Pantomime or non-dialog animation has more freedom but it has no actor's input to help you. It's just you and the storyboard.  How long does it take an old man to get out of a taxicab, for example? Many animators work with a stopwatch or a fixed beat (such as 12 frames, or a half second) that they have learned so well that they start their pencil tapping to that beat as they think about the movement.

Thinking about the movement: how important that is, and yet how elusive it can be. I suppose some animator's get it more naturally and quickly than I have, but it is hard to do at a deep enough level.

Let's look at my example of the Old Man getting out of the taxi. Storyboard shows that he opens the door, that he gets his legs out one after another, and then sits sideways on the seat with his feet down on the pavement.

Is that all the farther you have to think into it? No. This is an old man, and he is still capable, but he does move in a slow and deliberate way most of the time. Now I am seeing him. He might even experience a little pain in the movement that he must make to get his feet up and over the doorsill and onto the ground, one after the other. In this scene he does not stand up at the end, so there are three major moves here: 1] he opens the taxi door, 2] he brings out his right foot, and 3] he brings out his left foot. Two smaller moves are also obvious to me: 4]he braces his hands on the seats for leverage and 5]he sits up and comes to rest at the end.

In former years I might have failed to think it through this far.  I might have picked up my pencil and started doing pose drawings without enough thought and ended up with someone who got out of the taxi with the ease and grace of a young actor playing James Bond.  Then, of course, I would have seen my mistake, and done it over.

And, I admit, that is one way of doing something: do it wrong, look at it, and fix it.  Do it wrong, and then do it right. This works.  I should know, as I have been doing it that way for years.

But this is the thing: I am trying to learn if it is possible to do it right the first time. And I don't expect that I will ever be able to do it right the first time, every time. But I would like to be able to do it right the first time, some of the time. This is how I am now trying to Up My Game.

Much of it is in what is called the animator's thumbnails. Thomas and Johnston talk about this, and so does Nancy Beiman, and so does Eric Goldburg. This is the name for the deep thinking of the animator before she or he animates. It is thinking with a pencil, deeper ever than the storyboard can go. You don't just visualize the actions; you visualize the anticipations. You try to visualize where there will be overlapping action, and why. You try your best to really see it all, and miss nothing, and your thumbnail drawings are your scribbled notes so you can remember what you are visualizing in your mind.  You are thinking it through with attention to pressure and weight and effort and tension and slackness. You do your best to see it in your mind as if on the screen. The only things you may not need to consider are color and texture.

You do it as best you can.  I think I am getting better at it.  This scene of the Old Man getting out of the taxi came out pretty well, the first time through.  Here is the first pencil test of it with all of the drawings in. See what you think.

I like it pretty well, but after he gets his second foot out, he sort of jerks forward, letting go of his handholds. Also, the taxi door comes open too fast. Some of those drawings are on ones (a single exposure for each drawing), so I put them all on twos.

Fixing this, I tested it a second time:

I feel this is much better, but now I see something else--how his head turns too quickly when he looks forward to the head rest where he will put his left hand.

So I fix this also, and:

Now I feel that this scene is as good as I can get it. It is time to let it go and get on with the next scene. I will keep trying to get it right on the first try.  Little by little, I will get closer to being able to do that.  Just a little closer...

I hope you will also keep trying to Up Your Game.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

No. 146, Holiday Wishes at Year's End

As blogs go, Acme Punched! has only a small following. But, you are from all over the world! My stats show me that I have readers in Brazil, Ukraine, South Korea, Columbia, Egypt, Israel, Portugal, Australia, Indonesia, China, Great Britain, Sweden, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, India, Nigeria, and on and on. All the populated continents and all the island nations have people interested in hand-drawn animation, who have looked at my blog.

To me, it feels nothing short of awesome. Thanks for listening. I will try to keep doing this. To all of you I wish happy holidays in this time of the winter solstice (in the Northern hemisphere, that is!) and in this year-end time of renewal.

I wish for all the people suffering in the troubled parts of the world, in Yemen and Syria, in Iraq and Afghanistan and Nigeria, in Sudan and Pakistan, in Somalia and Ukraine and the Central African Republic, and in all places which are troubled by war and privation and the natural ravages of weather and earthquakes--I wish for all of them to have something to make them happy in the coming year, or at least to make them secure.

Here's a cartoon to make you laugh.

Best wishes for the New Year!

--Jim Bradrick
and Acme Punched!

No. 145, Time to Detaxi, Part One


To disembark from a train is to detrain, so I am thinking perhaps detaxi might work for getting out of a car for hire.

In any case, we are getting my Old Man character out of his taxi in this next scene. He has arrived in front of the airport, and this scene is just before the one of the taxi driver moving the Old Man's trunk, which we looked at in posts 142 and 144.

Here are the storyboard panels for the scene.

By the time it came for the animator (me) to begin the key drawings that would supplant these panels by the storyboard artist (me), some things had changed.  I had done careful layout drawings of the taxi with its interior, and animation of its door opening. And I had done a lot of thinking and study about what the action should look like, not excluding my getting in and out of the back seat of a car a number of times.

The taxi interior. Of course the door is on its own layer.
The door, closed.
The door, all the way open.

I decided I wanted both to show that the Old Man, though somewhat deformed in his back, had a lot of agility in spite of his handicap, and that getting out of the back seat of most cars is unavoidably awkward. (We are not thinking of older taxis from previous decades that were designed with extra leg room in the back seat.)

Here are some keys and extremes.

He opens the door of the taxi.
He gets both hands braced.
Bringing out his left foot.
Ready to stand up, but we cut to a closeup here.

A couple of pose drawings came hard to me, but I kept after it and they did finally get resolved.

Next I got them down on the exposure sheets, doing my best to time them out accurately so that they could be assigned drawing numbers and spacing guides. I have not always done this at this stage in animation but it is useful to learn to work out timing with a metronome beat or a stopwatch as I imagine each move from extreme to extreme. I own a classic wind-up stopwatch, but a digital stop watch is a standard feature on many cell phones. There are also a number of metronome apps that can be downloaded free.

Analog and digital stopwatches.

Here is a pencil test of the whole scene, first a rather dim version with two layers exposed, so that you can see how the character relates to the taxi.

And now, the same business with the character alone.

You can see that there are still some drawings missing, but it does look like it is working.
I will soon post the full pencil test, but not until after the first of the year.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

No. 144, A Weighty Problem, Part 2

To answer the question posed at the end of Part 1 (No. 142, A Weighty Problem, Part 1), I believe that the animation works as intended.

The problem was that a beefy man, the Taxi Driver, was to pick up and move the Old Man's trunk, showing how very heavy it was. But the staging I had chosen did not show all the action--did not show the effort of the Taxi Driver lifting the dead weight of the trunk off the ground.  The severely cropped staging was chosen to emphasize the trunk's size, and also to startle the viewer when the trunk is unexpectedly and violently set down to almost fill the screen.

But I was betting that the scene would work anyway if I carefully animated the Taxi Driver's effort in moving the trunk. Also I was counting on sound effects--the grunting and the impact of the trunk being set down hard--to help put across the man's effort.

Here is the final animation...


The right border of the screen is cropped in this pencil test at the same place where I intend to crop the finished shot. (See the storyboard panels in post 142.) As yet, there is no sound at all, but I am happy to see that the animation still has the power that I hoped for.

Sometimes now, I actually get things right on the first try.

 Next: All About Getting Out of a Taxi

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

No. 143, Help Fund "Mushroom Park"

Mushroom Park

I have been asked by Tim Rauch to help get the word out about the Kickstarter project "Mushroom Park". This is not only animated, it is hand-drawn, without any 2D puppet animation as far as I can see. The Rauch Brothers animation is loose and lively, a pleasure to watch.  Looks to me like those guys are acme punched for sure!

As you know, Kickstarter requires that a project be pledged the full stated amount by the deadline date, or they get: NOTHING.

The good news is that they are 68 percent of the way there, with nearly $14,000 out of $20,000 pledged. But only 13 days remain to the deadline, so don't delay. Here is the Kickstarter link:

Let's make this dream real!

Friday, November 24, 2017

No. 142, A Weighty Problem, Part 1

In the first sequence of my film Carry On, I want to establish not only how impossibly big the Old Man's trunk is, but how heavy as well.

My opportunity presents itself early on, when the trunk, having arrived at the airport entrance projecting from the boot of a taxi, has to be lifted out and set upon the sidewalk. Here are the storyboard panels for that action.

The Old Man waits on the sidewalk.

The taxi driver's foot comes in from the right.

The big trunk swings into view.

The trunk lands heavily, with some squash and stretch.

The Old Man turns his head to regard the trunk.

So perhaps you see right away the animator's problem here: it's what isn't being shown. We don't see the trunk being lifted, and we barely get to see the taxi driver at all. The audio will help out; there will be some grunting and groaning, and there will be a loud impact sound as the trunk hits the concrete.

But I was worried about trying to animate only the parts of the taxi driver framed by the camera here.

Solution? Animate the entire movement in rough drawings from beginning to end, just to make sure that I am really understanding all the physics involved.

It wasn't that hard. First I did a page of thumbnails:

Then, in little more than an hour, I banged out this test animation.

It is silent, it is missing a lot of detail, including squash and stretch on the trunk and some drawings that will be on ones, and yet it puts across the impression of tremendous weight. Even with the right half of the image masked off--the way it is framed in the storyboard--I can tell that it will work.

Next: I will go ahead and do final animation of the above action, and we will see if my confidence is misplaced.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

No. 141, What's Inside: 2 More Pencil Tests

Continuing our work on scene 1-8, we continue to delve into...

Floppy Hands and Arms

Upon finally seeing the test with all the drawings in, I was not happy with the arm and hand movement. I had tried a very loose and gangly style, which I could now see was more appropriate for Art Babbitt's Goofy than for this old man. I could have just tried damping down the floppiness of the hands, but I thought that he might  look good with an entirely different style, sort of gliding his hands back and forth with half-closed fists and with an elliptical pattern to the movement.

Here is how that came out.

Pencil Test, Version 4

Again I was disappointed, as the elliptical cycle was too pronounced. It gave off an impression of self-consciousness that was wrong.  That is, the Old Man appeared to be aware of his own hands, which is not the effect I wanted.  But I still liked the concept, so I simply flattened the ellipse, lowering the hands as they came forward.

Here is the pencil test with that correction.

Pencil Test, Version 5

I feel that this works well now.  At the end of the scene, I also show his left elbow backing up; this makes a nice anticipation for the forward movement of his left hand onto the trunk.

*     *     *     *

Pencil tests are so easy and fast to do, there is no reason not to do them. Nor is there any shame in it. Traditional animators are in the business of making something look alive out of a series of closely related images that are not alive. Much can be learned by experience, but the experience and the received knowledge from books and instruction are only aids that will help you to get close to what you want. For anything truly original, pencil testing your work and studying the result is the best way to get your animation to closely match the vision in your mind.