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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

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

No. 121, More about Crowds

Thanks to Rafael Silva, who in a comment to Post No. 120 (Bring In the Crowds) directed me to the comments of Mark Kennedy on drawing crowd scenes in the blog Seven Camels. The link is repeated here: http://sevencamels.blogspot.pt/2016/09/drawing-crowds.html .

This stimulates me to say a little more about my own crowd drawing, and the three tricks I used to make it effective. At one time I worked for Dark Horse Comics, doing a funny animal series called Wacky Squirrel, among other things. Working in pen or brush and black ink, you learn a lot about how to depict things clearly.

1. All the characters in the first four rows are distinct enough that you can tell which way they are facing.  This was important to show the direction of traffic flow through the maze of the security queue--back and forth, evoking an image of cattle in a slaughter house.




2. Height graduated in waves. This is not what you would normally see in a crowd, but it helps the eye to follow a file of people standing in line so that the progression is clearly seen as a line rather than just a mass.


3. Diagonal contrasted with horizontal. With the dominating directions of the lines of people and of course the tapes that separate them being diagonal, the Old Man's trunk being placed horizontally stands out from everything else. I would add that I composed this part instinctually, only realizing later how well it worked!


Sunday, February 12, 2017

No. 120, Bring In the Crowds

If there is one thing that artists in hand-drawn animation do not like to attempt, it is probably the crowd. Doing a convincing representation of thirty or more people moving about is a nightmare, even with the virtually unlimited number of layers that can now be used digitally.

But in setting my film Carry On in a busy international airport, I kept feeling a kind of pressure in my own mind to at least once show a great many people, since no one in a big airport can not be aware of the mass of humanity in motion all around.

I had storyboarded a scene where the camera slowly panned left to right over a file of passengers waiting to go through the security scanners.  But the scene only showed seven people besides the Old Man character, and I thought it was the least effective looking scene in my whole storyboard.  I decided to re-imagine it.

Online I began looking at images of people waiting in airports, and I finally got the inspiration I needed.

The scene opens on a medium closeup of the old man.

He idly turns his head to the right, so we see him in profile, and then his head swivels back as before.

The camera begins to zoom out.


Dissolve to a wider view, still zooming out, until the crowd below is revealed.  Also the ambient airport sound will fade up as the camera pulls back.



Then a quick fade out/fade in to the scene where my protagonist is at the head of the security line.

So there is my crowd scene, all done with just a few drawings, but showing how my character had to get in line with everyone else.  And the fact that the people in the crowd do not move is justified; they are merely standing still, waiting for their line to get moving again.


Next: What?!! My Storyboard is DONE??!

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

No. 119, Maquette, Part 3

The Character Maquette Realized


Finally tore myself away from feverish storyboarding on Carry On to finish this maquette.

Somewhat imperfect in its fine details, it is completely usable now for its purpose--to show me any angle I desire of this character.

It has been baked (275°f for 1/2 hour) so now instead of having clay-like malleability, it is hard like a soft stone and can be sanded or carved.  I may do some sanding just to smooth it out, but as it is only a drawing aid and not for public display, it is basically finished.

I could also paint it if I wanted to, preferably using flat acrylics, but I doubt that I will go that far.

I can now even see that one extreme angle that got me started, looking up at him from below his chin.

To see earlier stages of the sculpting, see post No. 118.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

No. 118, How I Got It Right--and How I Got It Wrong: Maquette, Part 2

Off and on I have slowly been working on my Sculpey maquette, which I began soon after publishing post no. 116 in which I declared that I needed to do that for one of the characters.

First, let's review the front and side view drawings that I made.


Working directly from the drawings, I built a basic armature on a block of wood. An armature is an inner support like a skeleton that bears the weight of a clay or other plastic (i.e. malleable) sculpture and holds it in place.  I neglected to photograph the naked armature, but here I got a shot before it was completely covered up. It consists of a length of heavy gauge steel wire stapled to the wooden block and then bent and shaped upward around a 3" (8 cm) screw that I had driven firmly into the block. The screw is the basic neck support. The upper end of the wire was then coiled around to support the skull space. The exact size front and side images were carefully studied to make certain that the wire would not extend outside the volume of the head. I then wrapped the wire and screw in aluminum foil; this saves on Sculpey material both in weight and volume, and a hollow layer of Sculpey will cure easier than a big solid lump.


Working still quite closely with the drawings, trying to get the linear dimensions and contours of the model to exactly match them, I began adding the modeling clay a little at a time. This is a painstaking process, and at first it doesn't look like much.



You have to work hard to keep the sculpture symmetrical, repeatedly examining it from every angle. Now it is beginning to come together.



And now with the eyes in place, it begins to look like what it is supposed to be.



Well, so far, so good. It is on the way to being a good match for both the front and side views, right? We just need the ears and hair and a few other details, right?



But wait. What of that 3/4 view that I also drew? If it was a well-done inbetween, it ought to be looking good also--right? Let's take a look.


Well, part of it looks accurate, but the head shape is wrong. Note how close to the eye I have shown the side hair to be. Why would that have happened?

The answer is that cartoonists and cartoon animators are used to working with character heads that are basically spheres. But Kevin's head is not a sphere.  Here is a view of it from the top looking down.

The head is actually longer front to back than side to side, a shape
that hat makers call "long oval".
So, the maquette is proving useful already. Here is a new drawing of a 3/4 view based on observation of my unfinished maquette.



Check back here soon where I will do a post showing the finished Kevin maquette.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

No. 117, A Chuck Jones Wireframe from 1947--or is it?

No, it isn't what computer modelers call a wireframe, but it does employ the same idea of a grid of lines to define the contours of a shape.

In Chuck Jones case, it is just some detail found on a model sheet of Porky Pig. There were no personal computers, and this side of sculpting a maquette [see post no. 116], this was the best way in its time to make sure that he was understood. Jones, who had more formal art training than most of his contemporaries in animation at the time, wanted to make sure his animators grasped something subtle about Porky's jowls.  He created what in an art school is called a contour drawing--imagining a series of parallel lines that follow a surface and thus define that surface in space.
Unlike a wireframe rendering, Chuck Jones' contour drawings have lines going in only one direction,
but the intent of precise understanding of a shape is the same.
In art schools, this was a common exercise to encourage precise observation in drawing students.
We were told to draw a leg or a torso or some inanimate object by this method, thus defining the subtleties of its surface without resorting to tonal (shaded) technique.

In the cel animation world of linear drawing, this was an ingenious yet simple way of conveying his instruction. 


Monday, December 26, 2016

No. 116, Maquettes, Physical and Digital

My Need for a Maquette

Sometimes as a 2D animator who imagines his characters in three dimensions, I have resorted to creating a maquette when confronted with difficult angles or points of view. Maquette is a French word to describe a small scale model or sculpture, usually employed as an aid to the creation of a larger work of art. It is a sketch in 3D.

The goldsmith and architect Brunelleschi created a model of his
Duomo that was 5 feet high (1.5 m).

Sculptors like Rodin created maquettes in clay of some of their concepts before carving them from stone on a much greater scale. The pioneering architect Brunelleschi made a model of his great duomo which became a guide for his workmen as they built the famous landmark church in Florence. (The maquette was also useful in making a sales pitch for an elaborate project to a pope or cardinal or to any rich patron.)
Rodin's maquette of a general as a model for a full-size bronze sculpture.

In animation, by the time of Snow White in the mid 1930's, the Disney studio was creating  and distributing to animators scale models of their characters for reference, a practice that was continued until the advent of CGI modeling.
Legendary animator Bill Tytla confronts a maquette of the demon Chernabog
from Fantasia. Photo copyright Walt Disney.
The digital model for animation didn't only make the creation of physical maquettes obsolete for their all-CGI productions; it also eliminated their original purpose in animation, which was to go beyond the paper model sheet in offering to the animators a reference for drawing the characters at any imaginable angle. Henceforth, once the character model was finalized in three dimensions in the computer, no one ever had to worry about drawing the character again, or about staying "on model". The character had only to be manipulated like a flexible puppet, and there was no longer any danger of it looking "wrong".

Meanwhile, I, with other die-hards including some of you readers, remain out here in 2D world, wanting anachronistically to still do it with a pencil or a stylus. In our world, the maquette continues to be of real use.

One can get into trouble drawing rigid objects that must turn and twist in front of the camera without looking like they are changing their shape or their relationship to other features. An accurate maquette can make all the difference in creating convincing animation of spatially challenging structures like noses, hats and chins.  The more complicated the shape, the harder it is to render effectively. 
Just now I have a character design which is giving me some problems when I try to draw him from certain angles. Here is a selection of drawings of the character, Kevin.

Drawings of Kevin from storyboard panels.

Kevin is an obnoxious character.  I want him to be amusing but not sympathetic, so I have deliberately made him weird looking, even a bit ugly. His large keel of a nose gives him a birdlike aspect, and his eyes, instead of being above the nose, are down along either side. This creates a design problem: certain angles of his face need to be avoided because his nose can completely hide the eye on the nose's far side.

You can see here that the Old Man has an equally large nose, but for two reasons it is not a problem.
With the eyes placed above the large part of the nose, you can still see them no matter which way his head is turned.  Also, this character, an elderly gentleman, is far more restrained in his movement than Kevin, who turns and tosses his head about every which way as he speaks.

The difficulty of drawing Kevin will definitely be alleviated by a maquette of some kind. In the past I have made little maquettes from various materials, including paper.
A folded paper maquette of the Old Man's trunk for my film Carry On.

In the case of character maquettes, I use Sculpey, a modeling material that can be hardened at temperatures within the range of a home oven.  However, if I am only wanting a temporary model to use while I draw, or to help me with drawing a model sheet, I sometimes do not bother to bake it.  The Sculpey material remains pliable for years.
A simple Sculpey maquette of one of my characters, in this case
just showing the major masses of the face and head.
In preparation for doing my Sculpey maquette, I have made some careful drawings of Kevin's head--front, side and 3/4 views. (The 3/4 view actually favors the front view, since it reveals the offside eye better than a drawing that is precisely halfway between front and side.)

Side view
3/4 view
Front view

A CGI Challenge


At some point, it occurred to me that these drawings are exactly what I would create for a CGI modeler to use, and I thought: Maybe there is someone out there who would like to model Kevin in Maya or some other application!

Although I have some experience and understanding in Maya, I have never achieved any real facility in the program, and so this is not something I could easily do myself.

So, I am putting it out there as a challenge. If you model Kevin's head and give me the results, I cannot pay you. But if I can use the images, I will certainly give you a screen credit on my film Carry On, and I will give you publicity in this blog for your achievement.  If you are interested, please contact me directly at bradrick@olypen.com, and I will provide you with additional tips and information. If I get more than one response, I will be happy to publish images from every modeler who takes this on.

Meanwhile I will start on my own physical maquette using Sculpey over a wire armature.

Let the fun begin!


Thursday, December 8, 2016

No. 115, The Face in the Animator's Mirror

This week I decided to discard a whole sequence of my film. It is a sequence that I had meticulously storyboarded, and that I liked a lot. I have even featured it in some posts for this blog (Nos. 111, 112, 113), and I had looked forward with pleasant anticipation to animating it.  But I have thrown it out now because I rewrote another sequence that came out longer than before, and I had to cut something.  The total footage for the film is above six minutes, and if there is one thing I have finally learned,  it is to keep the footage under control. If I don't, the whole film is in danger of never being finished at all. (Why have you never heard of me as an independent film maker before? Because I never finished anything, because all my projects became more ambitious than I could manage, and so they never got done.)

Thinking of all the sequences in Carry On, I saw that there was only one that could be let go.  There was only one that, though it would be fun and entertaining, really added little to the development of the plotline. It's elimination would not ruin or make incomprehensible the rest of the story. It was the scene in the men's toilet where he opens his trunk to get out his huge overcoat. Though I am sorry to see it go, the move keeps me on track to finish the film.

While I try to recover from this painful but sensible event, here is a lighthearted post about something amusing that has followed me all of my life as an animator and cartoonist.

Selfies


Long before the word selfie came into the vocabulary, there have been self-portraits by artists. Rembrandt and Frida Kahlo are just two examples of painters who rendered their own image multiple times.
A Google web search produced this amazing array of Rembrandt self-portraits.

But perhaps no class of artist works with mirrors more than do animators.  We are always mugging at our mirrors, making mouth shapes, contorting our features into simulations of horror, grief, or whatever emotion we are trying to get at in our drawings.  But not just faces.  Also body language involving head tilts, shoulders, and hands and arms are scrutinized in our mirrors.

MGM animator Irv Spence working on a facial expression for Tom.
I have been doing this for all of my life in animation, and even before.  Included in this practice have been a good many images that were actual self-portraits or self-caricatures, of which I have saved quite a lot. Sometimes they were drawn for promotional purposes, as for example to illustrate posts in this blog (the latest of those can be found in post no. 110).  Sometimes they were done for personal friends or party invitations.  Others, just for the hell of it.

Following is a gallery of some of those hand-drawn selfies from over the years.

This is the oldest one I have.  I was about twelve, and the cartooning
style I was emulating here was probably that of Don Martin of Mad Magazine.
Here is one from about 1973. At the time I was trying to be a novelist, and
as you can see, I was still a smoker.
This is a hand-painted animation cel from a self-promotional piece
that was never finished. Note the anatomically precise yet
four-fingered hand. Done circa 1980.


Preliminary sketch for another self-promotional illustration, obviously a precursor
of the painting on the masthead of this blog: the backlight shining
up through the drawing disc illuminates the face. Also about 1980.
On the occasion of getting my first computer games animation job, 1992. Now with contact lenses and moustache.
A few years later.
And later still, I give up contact lenses and go back to eyeglasses.

Detail of an invitation to a party from 2004.
Within the hundred-plus postings to this blog, there must be ten or twelve more examples that cover the period from 2011 until now.  There will be more, I am sure.

All this is just a sort of side-effect of the animator's mirror that is always in my line of vision when I sit down to work.  But it is fun to have a record going back decades of my own perceptions of what I look like.

And while we animators did not invent the selfie, we sometimes cannot resist to capture our own images, again and again through the years.