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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

Monday, July 30, 2018

No. 165, Gesture Drawing at the Old Ball Game

Baseball Drawing Fun



Yesterday I went with my wife and some friends to a local baseball game. The team is a collegiate woodbat team, a member of the West Coast League.  It was a beautiful baseball day, sunny and warm with a nice breeze.  I thought to take along my sketchbook to do some action gesture drawing.

Regular gesture drawing is usually done with a short pose of from one to three minutes.  I enjoy that, too, but what I call Action Gesture Drawing is not from any held poses at all. Your subjects are moving about all the time and unaware that they are being drawn.  This can be very difficult in activities where no one holds still at all, or hardly ever.  You see someone in conversation at a park, they actually are holding still, so you start a drawing and suddenly they shift their weight or otherwise change their pose.

Turns out, baseball is ideal for this. In baseball, as perhaps in cricket and a few other sports, the players repeat their poses many times: the batter takes his or her stance, the catcher squats down to give signals or receive the pitch, and the pitcher has a number of standard moves and poses in his repertoire.

Just as batters and pitchers and fielders have to warm up before they are ready to play, so does the gesture artist need a few moments to get warmed up for a good session.  Here is my whole warmup page, so that you can see that there are bad drawings among the good.

My warmup page, showing some unsuccessful sketches.
Here are some of the better ones...

This right handed batter is ready for the pitch.  First I drew the angles of the forearms and the bat; the rest I filled in from repeated pitches.

I believe this was another right handed batter. he has swung at the ball and at this point has already let go of the bat with his right hand. His whole right arm is hidden behind his body.

Our seats were along the first base line, so we had good views of the pitcher and batter, as well as the catcher. This pose of a left handed pitcher is not one that is held at all, so I had to watch him pitch several balls to get the drawing done. After this the left leg swings forward; in a quarter of a second, the pose changes dramatically.

Here is a complementary pose, the delivery by a right handed pitcher. Again, the leg that is behind will swing forward rapidly.

Here, the pitcher waits for  s signal from the catcher.

Last, here is a young man who probably imagines himself behind the plate or on the mound someday.

Every so often, I will encourage you to do life drawing to improve your observation, an important tool for the animator. So try to always have a sketchbook at hand. These drawings were all done directly with a fine line waterproof marker, but whether you use pencil or pen, keep drawing!

Saturday, July 28, 2018

No. 164, Smear Drawings and How to Use Them

If you look back at the video in post No. 162, you will see the character, Nelson, glancing quickly right and left before going into his cringe. This was done with the use of smear drawings, which I have mentioned before. Chuck Jones The Dover Boys  makes use of this technique extensively for quick transitions, so if you have this cartoon on DVD or can find it on You Tube, take a look.

Here is how they are supposed to work, based on a supposition that the frame speed is 24 frames per second.

You create your starting pose, A...

... and your ending pose, B.


Then you do this weird inbetween drawing that will appear on one frame only; this is very important.

If the movement is left to right, you trace the left contour of drawing A, then the right contour of drawing B.
Contour A shown in Red.

Contour B shown in Blue.


Between those contours you handle the shape like a piece of taffy stretched across between the starting and ending contours.

As appropriate, include an arc of movement in this drawing.

The result will be a smear or blur that can be a quite effective transition. The viewer will not be able to focus on the inbetween but the effect will be of a smooth, although lightning fast, movement, rather like that of a bird suddenly moving its head.
Here is the smear tween laid over the two key drawings.
This is the smear tween alone.
This will work fine in black and white, but it works even better in full color.
Above, the three images in color.
Colors actually track better than lines. Here I have limited myself to just two colors, but more could also work. But more than 3 or 4 colors will not make the effect any better, and it is a lot of unnecessary work. They say that light colors track better than dark ones.

Let's now look at a video of this effect, created in Flipbook through Autodesk Sketchbook.

Note: For the best effect, try looping this video. See instructions at the top right of this page if you don't already know how.

When you loop the video, you will see that this effect--having no anticipation nor drag nor follow-through--works just as well backwards as forwards.  I hope you enjoy using this fun effect!

Friday, July 13, 2018

No. 163, My Next Assignment...and Yours!, part 3

"Take" Two


This scene posed some problems I had not anticipated. But I finally got it sorted out. Here is the result, with discussion following.


If you compare it to the video in the previous post, No. 162, you will see that I have taken out the quick head movements at the beginning and added a classic Hollywood cartoon "take"--a sudden movement indicating surprise or shock.

Sometimes a move in animation that isn't working quite right is best handled by coming at it with something altogether different, rather than continuing to fuss with the original drawings.  I was slowed down in my posting to this blog by summer weather, yard work and fun with some house guests who came up to stay with us during Independence Day week.

But I have also taken the time to clean up all the drawings, so you are seeing this much as it will appear when inked and painted.

The next scene I do will show you what this same character does when he comes out of his cringing pose to find that his fears were unwarranted. Is he relieved? Yes, but he is also angry!

Thursday, June 21, 2018

No. 162, My Next Assignment...and Yours!, part 2

The Inbetweens and Key Drawings


I have now done my animation of this scene, and there were some surprises. More about that later, but first let's look at the main poses.  We began with the two storyboard poses last time; here is how those translated into animation drawings.

This...

Storyboard panel 1.

...became this. Simple enough.



But then the second storyboard panel...

Storyboard panel 2.
Ended up converting to two drawings: this one (which pretty much resembles story panel 2)...

Drawing 57


 ...and also this one, an even more extreme compression of Nelson's body.

Drawing 71


This last drawing and the six inbetweens leading to it comprise a moving hold, in Disney parlance, ending in a trembling vibration on ones between drawing 71 and drawing 72 (which is drawing 71 re-traced with some minimal displacement of forms; that's how you get an effect of vibration or trembling).

Thus, the sequence for the end is 57, 59, 61, 63, 65, 67, 69 (all on twos) and 71, 72, 71, 72, 71, 72, etc. (all on ones.)

 At the beginning of the scene, before Nelson goes into his cringe, you will see that I also have him quickly looking one way and then the other.

Here is the first pass pencil test of this whole thing:


What do you think? My own opinion: the cringe part is good but the beginning where he glances back and forth does not read very well.


Next: We'll add a couple of holds, and also talk about those quick transitions.



Friday, June 8, 2018

No. 161, My Next Assignment...and Yours!

My Next Assignment


The is a reaction shot from the same character we have been working with in posts 157 thru 160, the impatient guy who makes a show of looking at his watch.

Aww, let's give him a name, instead of saying "that guy who blah blah blah", every time. How about Nelson, after a friend of mine?

Okay, we cut to Nelson right after he has seen someone press a button that appears to have activated a bomb. He reacts by cringing and shrinking down, thinking he is going to die.

As in the last scene, the storyboard artist (me) has provided just two panels for this one: 1) Nelson looking alarmed, and 2) Nelson shrunken into a death-fear cringe.

Nelson sees the button being pushed...
Nelson cringes, trembling.


The animator (me) now looks and considers the obvious, which is basically just to accept the two poses as definitive and go ahead and animate more or less straight from one to the other.  Hold and cut!

Last time, we made something more interesting based on only two poses, and I think we can do the same here.

As we have noted before, the job of the storyboard artist is to sketch the story in great detail. But it is not her job to do the deepest planning and acting--that is the job of the animator. Between the storyboard and the final animation lie the animator's thinking and his resultant thumbnails, which are the visual notes from that thinking.

This is especially true of scenes in pantomime, scenes without dialog.

Lay people, even visual artists, have said to me that they thought animating dialog must be especially difficult.  On the contrary, if you have a good voice actor, the animator has it much easier, because the voice actor will have done a lot of your timing for you, possibly will have even suggested good poses and gestures in her body language during recording.

The actor Edmond Gwenn, who played Kris Kringle in the original Miracle on 34th Street, famously said on his death bed that "dying is easy; comedy is hard."

But the animator says: dialog is easy; pantomime is hard. And you don't have to be on your death bed to know it.

Many people dislike mime artists, but working in front of your mirror over some silent action, that is exactly what you are, though the mirror and your sketchpad may be your only witnesses.

Your Assignment, should you choose to accept it...

For now, I am going to hold back my own ideas for this particular problem and ask you, What would you do?  If you were the animator, would you add more business to the scene? Let's say you have this restraint: the scene can't last more than 3.5 seconds, including holds.

In a week or so, I'll blog again with my own ideas.  In the meantime, why not let me know how you would do this?  I will be happy to hear from any of you.





Tuesday, May 29, 2018

No. 160, Developing the Scene, part 3

Getting It Right


To conclude the current blog series (No's 157, 158 and 159) we now will have a look at my revised pencil test.  I had said I would be erasing arms from the original drawings rather than creating all new drawings, and you will be able to see in the pencil test the ghost drawings where I was unable to get them erased completely.

Here is the new pencil test.



Now this character-without-a-name raises up his arm in a flamboyant way that says as much about his arrogance and intolerance as his facial expressions and his head movement.  And it has come to me where I had seen almost exactly this same gesture before.  It was years ago, when I lived in New Orleans. In the lobby of a hotel where I then worked I saw a handsome young FBI agent look at his watch in precisely the same way. (How I knew he was with the FBI is a longer story.) But he had an attitude combined of vanity and self-importance that I obviously have never quite forgotten.

A good character animator must be an acute observer of human behavior. We never know when we might be able to make good use of such observations.


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...