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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

Saturday, July 15, 2017

No. 135, The Subliminal Anticipation

Subliminal


The word means "below the level of consciousness" and was applied in the 1950s to images in advertising that were intended to influence the viewer without that viewer realizing what he had seen.
This might be an erotic image or other suggestive content cleverly inserted into a photograph or a single frame of film in a TV commercial. The single frame might be the words "BUY THIS!" Whether it was actually effective in marketing remains questionable.

In animation, I am coining the term subliminal anticipation to cover a technique described by Richard Williams in his book The Animator's Survival Kit. Williams doesn't use the word subliminal, instead referring to Invisible Anticipations on page 283 of his book (the first edition.)

Like most of the tips and tricks Williams describes, this is a subtle trick learned from Hollywood animators from the Warners and Disney studios to whom he "apprenticed" himself in the 1970s and 80s.

Unlike the obvious anticipations with which most of us are familiar, such as the windup of a baseball pitcher before the pitch--easily the most drawn-out anticipation example that I can think of--, the subliminal anticipation happens so fast that it isn't actually seen, but only felt. The images of the anticipation are shot on ones rather than twos (in terms of 24fps film speed), faster than the eye can register, and yet as Dick Williams puts it, they add a "snap" to an action that can be most effective.

I used this technique before an accented syllable in the dialog animation being analyzed in posts 132, 133 and 134 of this blog. As he speaks, the Old Man is lowering his head. One an accent, his head suddenly jerks upward and begins descending again on a new path. Before the accent is where I inserted two frames of subliminal anticipation.

First, let's look at a simplified example of the anticipation and accent using only a simple ellipse as the object.



Now, here is the same effect employed in dialog animation of the Old Man from my film in progress, Carry On.  I used this subliminal anticipation technique on both the syllable accents (IN-ternet and FA-il.)


Wednesday, June 21, 2017

No. 134, Let's Talk!, Part 3


In my last post, No. 133, you saw the first rough pencil test for a short scene of dialog from the Old Man.

Filling in more drawings, I stopped to do a second test. Perhaps I could have skipped this one but with digital scanning and playback, an extra pencil test takes only a few minutes of time.


A lot has been smoothed out here; no surprises. All that is needed now is to get the rest of the drawings in and check it one more time.

Here is the final pencil test that includes all the drawings.


Notice the accents on "IN-ternet" and on "FA-il."

I had just reviewed Dick Williams notes on accents in dialog in his Animator's Survival Kit, and I think I made good use of the technique.  There is something else I included in those: subliminal anticipations; that is, anticipations that are "felt" rather than "seen."


Next: Subliminal Anticipations Explored

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

No. 133, Let's Talk! Part 2

Working with the Soundtrack

For the Old Man's dialog for this scene, I have a four-second track to work from. Here is the sound clip with the accompanying storyboard panel.



Key Drawings


Beginning the animation, I made several key drawings--the drawings that best represent the style and spirit of the animation. As is often the case, my key drawings are also some of the extreme drawings in the scene. But a key drawing may not always be used as an extreme, as for example the storyboard image above, which puts across the idea without actually being useful as an extreme.

The scene's initial pose. Note that this is a rough.

Another rough.  He is saying, "You never know..."

Here, a cleanup, where he is saying "fail."

First Pencil Test

The scene will amount to about 50 drawings when done.  In the first pencil test, I have done only 28 of those drawings, but I am able to time it out to the soundtrack by adding extra hold frames wherever there are drawings missing.

We are using the Disney studio numbering method which specifies that if you are working on two's (two exposures per drawing), then beginning with 1, all the drawings will have odd numbers. Therefore, a sequence on two's would be 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, 15. If I have drawn only numbers 1, 3, 7, 13 and 15, then I expose the pencil test as follows:

Drawing 1, two frames.
Drawing 3, four frames (includes two frames to account for number 5 which is missing.)
Drawing 7, six frames (includes two frames each for numbers 9 and 11, which are missing.)
Drawing 13, two frames.
Drawing 15, two frames.

When you then play the pencil test, there will be some jerkiness but it is possible to match the dialog to the images and see how the action flows. In this case, there were a couple of areas where it was critical to see the full action, and where I therefore made sure to add in roughs of all the drawings.

Here is that first pencil test.





Next: A second pencil test in which many more drawings are present, and then a final test including all of the drawings.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

No. 132, Let's Talk!

When I began this blog in 2012, the project I was working on and drawing from for the blog posts was all in mime, without a word of dialog. So there were many posts about various kinds of animation, from walk cycles to surprised takes to getting a little fox out from under a tight-fitting hat. The posts are all still there if you want to go look them up.

But now that I have switched projects to the current one, Carry On, I can do something not covered before at Acme Punched. Now that I have characters who speak  on camera, I can do some posts about animating dialog.

I actually love animating a good character whose words have been recorded by a skilled voice actor. And in one way, this sort of animation is made easier because much of the timing has been established by the actor; the timing leaves all manner of hints as to how to proceed.

Easier, but not easy. This does not free the animator from the need to do a lot of the acting himself, getting the gestures and body language to do justice to the voice acting. Indeed, the better the voice acting, the more I feel an obligation to match its quality with my animation.


The Old Man Speaks


The scene with which I am dealing is a medium closeup of the Old Man saying just one line, and it took only a single panel to illustrate the scene in the storyboard.

The single storyboard panel that represents this scene.


"You never know," warns the Old Man, "when the internet may fail!"

Next you will see the first key drawings for the scene. We will follow the animation through to the end and, eventually, see it in color.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

No. 131, Any Resemblance is Coincidental

There used to be a disclaimer appended to many movies and TV shows: "Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental." There were variations, but the intent was to indemnify a company from the possibility of a lawsuit; if resemblance to a living person was suspected, this statement was supposed to categorically protect the author or film makers.

A couple of weeks ago, at the time of organized demonstrations against climate change denial, I saw this photograph of a renowned ninety-seven year old scientist named Eddy Fischer, a past winner of the Nobel Prize.

Photo by Alan Berner and The Seattle Times
Of course, I was struck by Mr. Fischer's resemblance to my Old Man character in Carry On, my animated film now in production. But I hereby deny that the Old Man's uncanny resemblance to an old man named Eddy Fischer is anything other than coincidence.


Still, despite Mr. Fischer having some hair and a back that is not deformed, it is an amazing resemblance, don't you think?



Monday, May 15, 2017

No. 130, Staying on Model

"Staying on model" is a subject that comes nowadays under the heading of THINGS-A-2D- ANIMATOR-STILL-HAS-TO-WORRY-ABOUT-BUT-WHICH-A-3D-ANIMATOR-NEVER-EVEN- HAS-TO-THINK-ABOUT.

The cgi animator working in 3D has his or her model already done. It need only be manipulated, distorted, posed. It will always look like itself, no matter who is working the sliders.

The 2D computer animator using 2D puppets with replaceable parts likewise seldom has to actually draw anything original, once its whole set of parts has been created.

But for us die-hard animators whose images are hand-drawn and unique, it remains a big deal. At one time in the Hollywood-style studios, the problem was one of trying to get all the animators who might be working on the same character to draw alike. This was harder than you may imagine because the personalities and idiosyncracies of artists conspire to make them not draw all the same.
So detailed model sheets were devised and handed out to all concerned, and everyone was encouraged to follow the specifications closely. If you couldn't do it, you were put into the story or effects department--some place where character drawing precision was not quite so important--or you got out of the business of studio animation.

And to a great extent, this system did work. It got to be that the general public was unaware that  one scene had been animated by Ben Washam, for example, and the next by Ken Harris, followed by another one by Washam.  Today, experts or geeks like me can sometimes spot certain scenes as being by a particular animator, for the reason that the animator in question might have what poker players call "tells", being in this case something in their drawing, posing or timing that gives away their identity to the alert scholar.

The Warner's director Chuck Jones, in my opinion, had the on-model situation best in hand because he produced a profusion of pose drawings in his own style for his animators to work from. They were good poses, brilliantly drawn, and so all the scenes in the cartoons he directed tended to look like Chuck Jones cartoons, unmistakably.

An independent animator like me, answering only to myself, may worry about drawing consistency, or may decide that it does not matter.

To me, it does matter. And when I found that my drawings were drifting off model, I did something about it that I remember having done before. I scaled my model sheet to the exact scale of the character in the scene I was doing.

If the character on your model sheet stands 4 inches high on that paper, and the character in your scene would be 9 inches high at full length--your scene might be a medium closeup just showing the character from the waist up--and if you try to just scale the image up as you draw, you may get into trouble. You may get the head right but the shoulders too small. You may easily get the nose too long or the chin too big.  A model sheet copied to the right scale can save you from unwanted distortion and inconsistency.

An array of model sheets scaled up in 10% increments at each step.


Even in a studio where the animator receives a layout with the character drawn in, having your model sheet sized to the proper scale will be helpful. Most copiers can take your image up or down in increments of 1%.

Try it!



Friday, May 12, 2017

No. 129, Working Hard at Animation!

I have been busy since my last post as I start to do animation from my A list: the scenes that are the most challenging and or the most important in my film. (See post no. 124 for a description of the A-
B-C system of animation triage.)

Right out of the gate, I had a success.  It is the scene described in post no. 126 of the old man catching and pocketing a business card, then strutting off. I planned it right, the drawing and timing went well, and it came out as good as I had imagined it should.

I felt righteous, as if I really knew my business. Everything from then on, I thought, was going to be easy, professional, attractive, and I would gain the admiration of everyone who knew anything about animation, as well as all those who didn't.

And yet...

Example of an erased, re-numbered, re-drawn, re-positioned and taped, and throughly battered drawing.

Nope. Hasn't turned out that way. The very next scene I chose to work on has been a challenge. It sounds simple; the Old Man is pulling on a pair of gloves.  But of course the trick is not in just animating it but, as always, to do it in an entertaining and believable way.

But don't get me wrong! I am not defeated in this; I am just having to work harder than I anticipated. But I have always acknowledged that animation--good animation--is a challenge. Really, I wouldn't have it any other way. Anything worth doing ought to be hard, make you sweat, make you think.

So I have been: erasing, re-drawing, re-timing from my pencil tests, cutting and repositioning drawings with tape. This is all the unglamorous but necessary work of animating when you want (and have time) to keep after a thing until it is right.

Next: Staying On Model