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, September 18, 2016

No. 108, The Later Books of Preston Blair

"How to Animate Film Cartoons"

In 1980, a second title by Preston Blair appeared from Walter Foster publishing in the same format of large pages as his first one.  This was called How to Animate Film Cartoons, and it included a great deal more in the way of technical tips and tricks for animators than the first one had.

Preston Blair's second, and more in-depth, animation book.

The year 1980 also saw the publication of the amazing Illusion of Life, the huge and comprehensive tome written by Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston of the Walt Disney studios.  The year marks the beginning of a surge in book publishing of more serious and in-depth treatments of the animation business and its art and technical aspects.

Preston Blair, veteran of both Disney and MGM cartoons, was in 1980 as ready and able as anyone to provide his own version of this animation insider's lore. Want to know the difference between pose-to-pose and straight ahead animation? Blair can now tell us all about it, and in fact he covers this particular subject in a way that is more clear than the explanations of Thomas and Johnston.

Preston Blair's explanation of poses with extremes, and...

...his demonstration of straight ahead animation.

How about the subject of timing? This all important topic now gets as thorough a treatment in Blair's second book as it was utterly lacking in his first.

How Blair explains secondary actions.

The subject of dialog animation, for which I excoriated him in my review of his earlier work (Post no. 106), now gets the detailed attention it deserves, and so do many of the so-called 12 principles of animation that were first developed and identified at Disney's. Regrettably,  the overly-exaggerated page I criticized is included as well.

A more useful page on dialog animation than in Blair's first book.

In the decades intervening between the publication of the two books, Blair had gone on to become an independent producer of animation, and so he includes information not just about animation itself but also about layout, camera, and the techniques of television limited animation.

In all, the tone is more serious, the explanations more in-depth, and, I think, the expectation of being understood is much higher.  Preston Blair, and others, had discovered a small but avid audience.

"Cartoon Animation"

This book contains all the content of the first two, and more.

The other important publication authored by Blair was the book from 1994 called Cartoon Animation. Still under the Walter Foster imprint, this book measured a much smaller 10 1/4" x 9" but with a hefty 224 pages that included all the material from the first two books rearranged. The only new material was some additional character designs, a few more examples of rough animation from his Hollywood work, and sections on storyboarding and making a finished animation cel, a process that with digitization was soon to become obsolete.

A sample of Blair's outlook on storyboarding.

The main value of this book over the others is its compact format, combining the older books into one handy volume. It is still available and I recommend it for every animator's library.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

No. 107, My Dead Computer

To all my fans and readers:
Last week my computer, an eight year old MacBook Pro, gave one last electronic gasp and died. I am in the process of buying and setting up a new one. This is expected to be ready in four or five days, after which my posts will resume. Thank you for your patience.

--Jim Bradrick

Friday, August 5, 2016

No. 106, Preston Blair: The Bad and the Ugly

The Ugly; here, Preston Blair's sophisticated design and animation
suddenly devolved back to the primitive level of 1930 or 1931.

Notwithstanding my entirely positive review of Preston Blair's Animation in post number 105, I now want to focus on a single page in the book that has probably had a deleterious effect on many independent animators through the years. I am referring to the page on dialogue.

Unaccountably, the author included this whole sheet of outdated examples of grotesque mouth positions that bring to mind the crude and hammy voice acting of early sound cartoons of about 1930. In those days it was understandable, since "talkies" were a novelty in live-action as well as animation, and no one had any experience in it. Dialog was still often post-recorded and techniques of analyzing pre-recorded dialog tracks frame-by-frame had yet to be developed. This kind of exaggeration was used even at Disney then, at a time just before that studio began to pull ahead of all the others in every aspect of production values.

To me it brings to mind the Bosko cartoons of Harmon-Ising, especially of Bosko's signature sign-off (later to be taken over by Porky Pig), "That's all, folks!"

Bosko says "That's all, folks!"

But by the late 1940s when this book came out, the world had seen in animation the advent of color, of believable personality animation, and such milestones as Snow White, Pinocchio, and the fully developed character Bugs Bunny.

The Bad: Preston Blair's Dialogue page, a throwback to another time.
This disinformation confused not only aspiring animators of film in the 1950s to the 1980s but also a lot of digital animators (not to mention programmers) when video games with dialog began to be produced in the 90s. I have even seen games programmed with automatic mouth-shape substitutions that were obviously based on these images. One just wants to cry, "What was Blair thinking?"

Perhaps he had some idea of first showing this over-done version to make students aware of the significance of mouth shapes in dialog, before then encouraging the more subtle approach of animating phrases with only an occasional stressed shape.

Indeed, one little paragraph in the lower left corner of the page does redeem him somewhat, stating that "It's better to follow this over-all mouth pattern, and hold down or modify individual syllables not important to the whole."

The Good: A short paragraph encouraging a different approach.
But pictures, said to be worth a thousand words each, can certainly overwhelm in impact a few words of cautionary advice, and I am afraid that a lot of young animators eager to try dialog animation were led--temporarily--down the wrong path.

Next: One more post about the books of Preston Blair.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

No. 105, The Animation Books of Preston Blair

Like the Volney White book reviewed in posts No. 100 and 101, Preston Blair's animation books--two of them--were first published by the independent California how-to art book publisher Walter Foster. For many years the Foster books appeared in an appealing large format, 10 1/4" x 13 3/4" (26cm x 35cm), usually between 32 and 40 pages. This size worked well for art books where the illustrations outweighed text. And for many years, each book was just one dollar.

[Note: I just discovered that Michael Sporn wrote about Volney White's Animated Cartoons for the Beginner in his Splog back in 2010.  He had much the same take on it as I did, except that the name of the author was then unknown.  Here is a link. You have to scroll down the page to get to the article.]

The first title of the pair, Animation by Preston Blair, appeared in the late 1940s or early 1950s--publication dates for this company seem to be nonexistent--and was sold right alongside the Volney White title in stand-alone wire racks that sat on the sales floors of art supply and paint stores across the United States. In my Kansas home town, the display occupied space in a store that I recall as selling mostly Sherwin-Williams house paint. Thus came into my hands in middle America a book by a highly skilled animator, veteran of both Disney feature animation and MGM short cartoons, at a time when information about animation above the level of a general-interest magazine article did not exist.

For me, it was exciting and revelatory. To begin with, the drawing and character design was graceful and rich in the best tradition of Hollywood animation in the post-war years. Many of the character designs looked like disguised variations on famous characters of the big studios; in fact, I later learned that the cat and mouse featured on pages 4 and 5 were, in an early edition, actually Tom and Jerry of MGM Cartoon Studios, and had had to be changed, presumably after MGM objected.

Clearly, this was MGM's Jerry Mouse.

Blair cleverly changed Jerry into this good looking puppy.
The text and layout are the same.

I also recognized the sneak animation cycle on page 31: instead of a modern hunter with a shotgun, it had been a cartoon indian with an enormous nose.
In the theatrical cartoon, this was an Indian brave with a bow-and-arrow and a big nose.
Even though Blair had to change the characters, his use of these cycles and sequences was in my opinion legitimate since the animation was his own.  Here are a couple more examples:

This is the first of two pages showing 64 extreme drawings of a dialog sequence more than
eight seconds long. This kind of detailed and up close look at a complex scene had never before
been available to the student outside of an animation studio. It showed me what a lot there was to learn.

The above heckling sequence can be found in the Tex Avery cartoon Batty Baseball. Again, the character's appearance has been changed from the original.

Notice the registration marks that appear above and below most of these animation sequences; this made it possible for aspiring animators to trace or copy the drawings in register with one another so that they could then attempt to do the inbetweens. (Even the heckler above can be put into register by using the indications of the edges of the bench that the guy is sitting on.)

Below is the sensationally sexy (for the 1940s) dancing girl that Avery used first in Red Hot Riding Hood. She reappeared a few times under different names.

It is believed that Preston Blair did this animation without benefit of any reference footage.
The following shows a whole page of simplified standard movement cycles. These have benefited me many times over the years, and I am sure that many others would admit the same.  There was also a page showing similar movement cycles for four-footed characters.

There are movements here that I have never had a call to use, such as the Skip,
but I know where to find them if they are ever needed.
Perhaps most instructive of all in one way was this sequence of rough animation of a dancing alligator from the Dance of the Hours sequence of the Disney feature Fantasia, because these are authentic rough animation drawings; not the faked stick figure drawings used by Volney White and others to show basic structure, but actual rough drawings where the animator was searching for the right balance of shapes and contours, and one can see the thought and the basic process of honest exploration without apology for the trial and error that is revealed here. It is the real thing.

These rough pencil drawings have been filled in with a light gray wash tone to make them
reproduce more clearly, but they appear to be otherwise unenhanced.
It was to be decades before a better guide to animation drawing was published. Preston Blair's Animation is no longer available in this large format, but a more recent publication includes all of this material, and more.  That will be the subject of post No. 106...

Next: The Other Preston Blair Animation Books.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

No. 104, Crazy for Storyboarding

For about three weeks I have been neglecting this blog, but not because of disinterest or laziness; it is for the best of reasons: because I have been energetically forging ahead in drawing the storyboards for another long sequence in my work-in-progress short film, Carry On.

Unlike the previous one, this sequence will not be published as an animatic on You Tube for all to see. It contains too many plot spoilers, and you'll forgive me if I want to keep everyone in suspense.

However, I will now show you a few of the images, with comments.

Making It Happen Offscreen

Animators love to animate, but because it is such a lot of work, we look for ways oftentimes not to animate--that is, not to show the obvious.  Here we want to show that our main character, the Old Man, is slowly moving forward in a line of airline passengers at a security checkpoint. Having shown other passengers in a long pan that moves gradually toward the head of the line, we finally come to a framing where we can see the Old Man's steamer trunk in front of an ill-tempered man. The trunk then slides out of the frame, and we cut to a wider shot of the angry man moving forward to close up the space. Only then do we pan to the right again and show the Old Man himself now at the head of the line.
The Old Man moves forward--but it happens off screen.
The angry man and some of the other passengers we have seen will now be used for reaction shots to what follows, and we have avoided some tedious animation of the old man towing his trunk. That action has been shown in the previous sequences and will be easy for the viewer to imagine.


The old man is seen in two shots putting on a tight-fitting pair of leather gloves. The first shot will mainly show the wiggling fingers of the right hand as he forces the glove on. The second shot does the same for the left hand, with a variation on the pose. A passenger reaction shot (the Angry Man) will separate the two glove shots, emphasizing the impatience of the other passengers to the slow and deliberate ways of the Old Man.

The Angry Man shows impatience with the Old Man's deliberate ways.

The Big Rope

The Old Man has already been seen towing his heavy trunk through the airport bare-handed. Now he has chosen to put on the gloves in order to handle another rope. It is a rope as thin as the one he has already used, and I want to make a joke about that, so first we see him with the gloves on, ready to go to work, and we pan to the right, revealing what looks like a thick and heavy rope hanging down. When the Old Man reaches for it, however, we see that in fact the rope is close to the camera and only appears to be big.

The big rope that turns out to be small.

An Homage to Bogie

Here I wanted to show the Old Man making some gesture of self assurance as he waits for something to happen, and I got the idea of having him hitch up his trousers as Humphrey Bogart's characters used to do in his old movies.

The Old Man does Bogie.

This one drawing assures me that the gesture will be effective.

In conclusion...

These are the sorts of useful things that occur to the thoughtful storyboard artist as she or he draws the panels, redraws the panels, or stands back looking at the panels in sequence on a board. Often a simple rearrangement of drawings provides an improved sequence, or the insertion of a reaction shot in a different place. Creating a storyboard should be thought of as a constantly evolving process, until the most effective possible combination of shots, angles and movement within shots has been achieved.

Of course, after the storyboard has been organized into an animatic, with timing and sound, still more needed changes will likely become obvious. But that is another story...

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

No. 103, Life Drawing as Animation

Not long ago I read of an animator--could have been Richard Williams--who put a model in life drawing through a sequence of related poses of some action, such as pitching a ball. At each successive pose the animator did a gesture drawing on one page of a pad of translucent paper, starting near the back of the pad and working forward, so that for each new pose he could see through the paper to the previous pose and could relate them one to the others.  At the end he had a series of key drawings of the action, scaled and in register, that could actually be made into an animated scene.

At the drawing sessions which I attend, we often have "long poses", where the model holds a pose for fifteen minutes, takes a short break, and then assumes the same pose again, for as long as one and a half hours. Accustomed as I am to quick drawing, I sometimes become frustrated with these long poses. Instead of working on just one drawing, as most of the other members do, I may do several different versions of the pose. Occasionally, I get up and move to another viewpoint in the room.

Recently I tried something new. Getting to my feet, and with a small pad held across one arm, I did a quick drawing of the model from a viewpoint at the far left of the room. Then I sidestepped a few paces and drew him again from the new viewpoint, superimposing the new drawing over the first and keeping the proportions much the same, as I could see the previous image faintly through the paper.

I continued on, moving to my right after each drawing, sometimes crowding in between the easels of two of my fellow artists, until I was at the far right of the room with seven different angles of the model on my pad.

Seven related drawings of a single pose.

Now I have scanned the drawings and made a little animated movie of them. The result is of course the illusion that the model is rotating on his stand.

This is a wonderful way to learn to understand proportions, to get a grasp of the idea of foreshortening, and to learn the all-important art of visualizing your flat drawings as representations of spatial geometry.  I plan on doing it again soon.  Try it!

Sunday, June 26, 2016

No. 102, The Benefit of Life Drawing

I don't believe there is any animator or storyboard artist or concept artist who could not benefit from life drawing.

Even if you don't get a chance to do much character animation, the experience of life drawing could lead you to a pose that adds in body language some of what might be missing in the animation.

Here are two examples of 3 minute drawings from a recent life drawing class that I attend on a weekly basis.
Each figure was drawn in under three minutes. Practice in quick drawing and observation
is invaluable for the animation artist.
Notice the woman on the right; she is in a strange pose that one might never imagine without reference to real life, with all her weight on that left leg that is angled far to the right, so that her right leg can cross over and come to rest on the opposite side. Because of the flexibility of the ankles, it is actually quite a stable pose. This person, with clothes on, might be standing and waiting for her child's school bus to arrive.

In the pose at left, the woman again has all her weight on her left leg. Animators always need to know how the weight of a character is supported, and it is seldom an equal distribution of weight to each leg.

Here is a 15 minute drawing of a model seated.
A good study in the foreshortening of limbs.

I enjoy poses like this where the long limbs of the legs or arms are coming almost straight at me, or straight away, and I must convincingly depict that illusion of depth.  In this case the model's right upper leg and her left lower leg are severely foreshortened.  The arms, on the other hand, are both in a plane that is perpendicular to my line of sight, so no foreshortening was required there.

Here is a 3 minute drawing that shows what can be defined with a minimum of line and no shading, which is the essence of drawing for traditional animation.

Line drawing--the heart and soul of traditional hand-drawn animation.

Line art as the primary means of expression for traditional animation came about through a combination of influences:  because of the process of tracing through a stack of paper sheets held in register; because the early animation producers were working with a high-contrast black and white film that could not record subtle shades of grey; because hand-shaded drawings were jittery and took too much time to render; because of the strong influence of the styles and media of newspaper comic strips; and, with the advent of the use of cels, because the smoothest way to shade was to fill the areas defined by the lines in flat greys or colors on the backs of the cels. Animators learned to delineate volume with carefully crafted outline, until that became an art.

Now in the present digital age it has become possible to render animation directly as volumes rather than as outlines representing volumes. But for me and many others, animation through line art remains the more alluring medium.

Beyond outline, to attempt to draw the subtle contours within a form is excellent exercise in observation and eye-hand control.

A 15 minute drawing of a male model with
well-defined musculature.

If you cannot attend life-drawing sessions with nude models, you can still benefit from life drawing of family and friends. You will find that it is very different from drawing from photographs. If you are not already doing this, I strongly encourage you to draw from life, analyzing shape and weight and balance from the viewpoint of an animator. You may discover your animation skills to be greatly enhanced!

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Next: Life Drawing as Animation