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, October 7, 2018

No. 169, Two in a Row

Often, a single short scene viewed alone will not be as effective as it is when seen within the flow of the scenes before and after. Here I had an instance where it made sense to me to present two consecutive scenes together, so I delayed posting the first one until I could also show the second. As it happens, September was a busy month for me in several other ways, so I find myself now in October without having done a blog post at all in the previous month. I try not to let that happen, but I am now looking forward to making up for it.

These two scenes show our Old Man pressing a button on a mysterious device he brought with him into the airport. The guards and the other passengers are nervous; I have already shown you a few of their reactions. Is it possibly a bomb?  No one knows, so I build suspense by showing the Old Man's
deliberate action as he looks back toward the guards.

Timing and Spacing

Richard Williams in his book The Animator's Survival Kit quotes Grim Natwick as saying that animation is all in the spacing and the timing.

Dick Williams drawing of Grim Natwick. Copyright Richard Williams.
Largely, this refers to the many ways it is possible to get satisfying results in the simplest scene by varying the speed of the elements of that scene relative to one another. This gives interest and complexity, whereas timing all elements together can be obvious and resultantly boring. As in the first scene here, one could even stop all movement on the end frame without that fact being obvious to the typical viewer.

Here is the two-scene pencil test.

In the first scene, the medium shot, the right hand is raised and cocks in anticipation before moving steadily down toward the button. Meanwhile, the head lowers and moves toward the right of the screen, easing in so slowly that it does not distract from the more important movement of the hand.

In the second scene, a closeup of the hand pressing the button, I knew exactly what I wanted to do. You may notice that the finger flattens out on the button for 6 frames, showing resistance, before the button clicks down. At this point I intend to have the button light up to show its activation.

Obviously you have to visualize in advance how this will all work. The spacing guides or ladders, as they are sometimes called, are all-important for this. Next time I will talk about those and about how to plan the timing in a shot like this.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

No. 168, The Simple Things

The Simple Things

In animation production, as I have mentioned, it is wise to organize the scene "handouts" in their order of importance or complexity, the idea being to get the best work from the animators on the most critical scenes. If any sort of creative fatigue or ennui sets in, it is hoped, it will be at such a time when the scenes being worked on are simple and less likely to affect the quality of the production.

Although I am working alone on my project, I have just about arrived at that point. There are many scenes still to be done but they are mostly uncomplicated.

Here is such a scene: the Old Man in line at the carry-on X-ray station has hesitated to comply with the requirement that he get his own bag up onto the table. Cut to the guard, who then leans forward and (cut to reverse closeup) taps the steel table three times with his hand. So, I will deal with two scenes at once here since they are so closely related.

The Storyboard Drawings

The guard is aware that the Old Man is hesitant.

To make it clear that the Old Man must get his own bag onto the
table, the guard reaches out a hand and...

...taps three times on the table.
While I was entirely faithful to the first two panels as drawn, I did redraw the third panel. In the original, the trunk seemed too tall relative to the table, and the Old Man needed to be facing in a different direction. Here is my layout showing those changes.

Also, I added the angry man to the right.

Now I will show you the two scenes together, but without backgrounds or anything but the moving character.

Note that the hand animation at the end is all still in very rough drawings, yet the animation comes across just as well as if it were in cleanups.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

No. 167, Work-around for a YouTube Quirk

Where's My Hold?!!

To my annoyance, I have noticed that my YouTube uploads have often been shortened at the end.  The problem arises when I have a hold at the end of my pencil test.  If it is 6 or 10 or 20 frames long--no matter--if there is not any change in the image, YouTube will clip off all but one or two of the frames.

This is serious because a hold at the end is an important timing feature of any animation.

My solution now is to add a couple of blank frames at the end.  Then all the frames of my ending hold get published.  Here is a test of that solution.

It works, and now that I know what to do, I am happy with the results.  (Compare with the videos in post No. 166.}

No. 166, Beware of Re-writing Unintentionally


It is one thing to enhance a scene with character movement and acting; it is another to change the meaning of the scene by what you add. A storyboarded scene may be fairly interpreted in many different ways, but it should not be re-interpreted in such a way that it no longer tells the story properly.

That is a problem I ran into with this scene. Of course I am my own storyboard artist as well as the animator, but in this case I went too far in my interpretation.

The scene is a sequel to the one we looked at in post No. 163, in which the character I call Nelson has reacted to a perceived bomb threat by cringing down into a fearful posture.

The "bomb" has turned out to be a harmless, non-explosive mechanical device. Nelson now rises up from his trembling crouch to see what is really happening.

Here are the storyboard panels with which I was working.

Panel 1
Panel 2
Pretty simple, huh? But, I decided to make it more complicated. I thought, what if he then shows his anger at being frightened, and at publicly showing his fear? And I came up with a final pose drawing for this that I really liked:

The "extra" pose I added.

Not bad, huh? He looks mad as hell, doesn't he? So, I went ahead and animated it as part of the scene, and it came out like this.

I thought the animation came out pretty good too, so I showed it to my director, who practically threw it back in my face. "If I want the damn story changed, I'll change it, or I'll have the storyboard department change it", he said.  He was clearly frustrated with me. "As animator," he went on, lowering his voice as he got hold of himself, "it's not your job. Having him get mad like that at this point does not work with his other scenes.  What were you thinking?"  

Have I mentioned that the director is me? As I am also the animator and storyboard department,  this was an intimate conversation. But the director is boss, so the animator must back down, and I did. Then I had to think how to fix it.  It was actually easy; I just removed the last eight drawings, and it was back in line with the storyboard.

The real regret, of course, is the wasted work.  If not for this blog, no one would ever have seen the version above.

Now, here is the scene as it was written and storyboarded.

Yes, it is fun to think up cool things to add to your scene; just don't try to change the storyline in the process!

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!