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, October 15, 2016

No. 111, When the Storyboard Artist Is Also the Animator...

When the storyboard artist happens also to be the animator, some things may be included in the storyboard that would not otherwise be.

In my case, as an independent film maker, I am just about everything else in the production pipeline, too--but never mind about that.

 When I am the Storyboard Person and I come to a scene where my thinking is engaged in the development of a scene, sometimes the Animator takes the pencil away from me and adds some "unnecessary" panels to the board.

Of course they are not entirely unnecessary--not at all.  But they are perhaps not necessary to the storyboard as such; they are instead necessary as thumbnails for the animator. Thumbnailing your animation ideas is considered an essential step for the animator in visualizing all the action of a scene before more detailed work is begun.

I do consider not including these more subtle stages of movement, but when I do, the Animator jumps to his feet in great agitation, saying, "Wait! Having thought of these details, how can you not set them down?  What if, by the time I, the Animator, at last get hold of the scene, I do not recall these inspirations that have occurred to us, and instead do something with the movement of this character that is less interesting than what we have thought of here? Then, having not recorded these fleetiing but wonderful notions, they will be lost."

And so I find that I, the Storyboard Person (Storyboardist? Why is there not a one-word term for this art? Even Inbetweener, awkward though it is, is but a single word) cannot argue with the Animator in this. If you think it, if you like it, write it down or draw it; make a note of it.  Because, you see, if you think of it and do not record it, and then you forget the thought that you had, you may even forget that you had any idea at all.  You will not even know that anything is missing. Why take that chance?

Following is a part of a scene that might have been depicted satisfactorily in just five panels, storyboard-wise. But for the sake of the Animator, I (the Storyboard Person) have included some extra stages of movement.

The first panel, the first pose.

He pushes open the lid; an essential panel.
Reaching into the lid; another essential panel.
In this panel and the next, the man unsuccessfully tries to pull something out
of the lid, This might be something that the animator and not the storyboard
person would be adding.
The Old Man now takes a two-handed grip.
This drawing clearly could be omitted from the storyboard, if not from the
notes of the animator.
This panel is another essential, showing the flow of the big overcoat as it
emerges from the lid of the trunk.
Another panel not essential to the storyboard. One can easily get the whole
idea of the action without these two sepia-colored panels.
The final essential panel.
Yes, we could easily have met the requirements of the storyboard with only seven of these nine images, and perhaps with only five.  And yet, having visualized the action, why not note it down? In my opinion, storyboard artists should always err on the side of excess rather than omitting that which might prove to be useful and evocative.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

No. 110, Welcome Recognition

In the Top 100

Today I was pleased to be notified by Anuj Agarwal, founder of Feedspot, that this blog has made their newly revised list of Top 100 Animation Blogs. (See the badge displayed at the top of my sidebar.)

This means a lot to me, as I am one whose target audience is restricted somewhat to people interested in pursuing 2D animation--admittedly, a small group even world-wide--as opposed to that of someone writing about animation news or animation in general.  Also, with some exceptions such as book reviews, I restrict the content to accounts of my own personal experiences in animation.

Nevertheless, I expect that there will be many new people looking in on this blog now, so I am determined to keep posting tips and personal accounts that are as interesting as I can make them. Therefore,  both to the loyal followers I already have and to anyone new, please keep coming back for more.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

No. 109, Fun in the Men's Room

In my film Carry On, now in production at the storyboard and animatic stage, the main character, an Old Man trying to get a large trunk aboard an airliner as carry-on luggage, has to make a wardrobe change. Dragging the trunk into one of the public men's rooms at the airport, he proceeds to open the trunk to get at his clothing.

As I thought about the situation, I realized there was a possibility here for some comic business in the background.

The Old Man, intent on what he is doing, is oblivious of all else around him, but unwittingly he is disturbing the other men in the large restroom.

I knew right away I didn't want to do any gags about farting or anything else scatological, but I did see that I could make something out of the vague discomfort and wariness that many men feel when in a public restroom.

Following are a few drawings showing the development of this short scene. Some of them may not make the final cut, but they illustrate the storyboard artist's exploration of potential comic elements.

First shot.
We see the big trunk being dragged into the men's room. No need to
animate the Old Man here!

Next, a shot of a men's room user, vacantly staring at the wall.  It is
obvious what he is doing.
Go to close up.
Unusual noises wake him up. (The viewer has already heard
these same noises before: it is the Old Man opening the buckles
and catches of his big suitcase.)
He tries to see without turning his head, but... the end he must turn his head.
Wide shot of the room. The Old Man is about to open his case.
Another man gets curious.
With a flourish, the Old Man whips out a heavy overcoat from the open case, startling a man about to leave the restroom.

Some of these images are not final storyboard panels, but I am well on my way to locking this section of storyboard down into precise camera shots and angles.

I'm having fun in the men's room.  How about you?

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.