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

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

No. 5, Problem 1: Fixing a Bad Drawing (Part 4)

Now here is the redrawn anticipation, together with the recovery:
Of course, strictly speaking this is not an anticipation; it is an outside force (the weight and momentum of the goose) throwing the character out of balance.  But in many ways it is like the windup of a baseball pitcher, so it is similar to an anticipation before a major action.

Generally I think it works, so now I will move on to the addition of the detail on the goose, the movement of its wings and neck, and also add in some secondary and follow-through animation showing the woman's dress.  That post will be entitled All the Bells and Whistles.  But it will take me some time to prepare (I really am doing this stuff between postings) and I am about to start a contract job doing animation for a new video game.  Therefore my next post will be a top 10 list of books I consider essential for the 2D animator, which ought to be of interest to cgi animators as well.

Next: Top 10 Instruction Books on Hand Drawn Animation

Saturday, May 26, 2012

No.4, Problem 1: Fixing a Bad Drawing (Part 3)

Although I am now a believer in serious thumbnail planning, I admit that I have always had difficulty judging the timing of an animation with only key drawings to work with in the pencil test.  Suppose you have a character throwing a ball.  You make a drawing each for the starting pose, the anticipation, the pitch, the recovery and the ending pose.  In the pencil test you expose each drawing for its own duration, plus that of all the anticipated drawings between it and the next pose.  Thus, if you have decided that drawing 1 is an 8 frame hold and then there are 8 more frames of movement until you get to drawing 2, you will expose drawing one for 16 frames.  I can imagine this in my head and time out the spacing with a stopwatch, but to string the 5 drawings together in a pencil test and try to decide from that whether it is going to work, is hard for me.  Still, in my time I have done a lot of animation where I did not give the poses enough time to "read", so I am going to work with this a while and maybe I will get it.

Here is a pencil test using the same thumbnails as shown in Part 2.


This pencil test omits the first of the seven poses,
 and you can see that it was done on the upper edges
 of the original drawings.

I think now the poses do read, and so I feel I can proceed to full-size animation drawing now and add more nuance.  Here is the first test with all inbetweens present:

There are 18 drawings here.  The recovery is fine at the end, but the leg comes down too quickly, throwing away the comic effect.  I decide to add 3 more drawings, which will also serve nicely to slow the acceleration of the goose, playing up its weight and inertia.

Here is the new test, now with 21 drawings:

Alright, this all seems to be working well.  One of the new drawings was a single exposure of the kickout, a hyper exagerrated drawing with no drawings between it and the previous extreme.  Everything else here is on 2's.  Here is that drawing in blue and the one following in orange:

Next:  The Anticipation Revisited

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

No. 3, Problem 1: Fixing a Bad Drawing (Part 2)

Fixing the Recovery

A review of the the original scene pencil test (see Part 1) shows some interesting and encouraging things, despite the reconstruction to be done.  For one, the timing is pretty good.  There are three characters, and I am lately learning how to direct the viewer attention to the place I want.  For example, the goose only flaps its wings as the woman is making her slow, slow anticipation before the kick, then stops so we will not be distracted by that.  The man steps back twice, but not at times when that will be a distraction either.

I find nothing wrong with the woman's windup or anticipation,  so I will only have to change her drawings leading into the new extreme I have drawn.  Tilting the goose so far to one side suggests some new business for it but mainly only in the neck and head.

Having to do something over is unfortunate, but as long as one is about it, examining the whole thing is a good idea in case secondary elements could also stand to be plussed.

Looking at the pencil test and the drawings, I feel that the recovery could be better than it is.  The timing is okay but perhaps it could have more punch and a better sense of mass in the handling of the goose.

I start with a new set of thumbnails for the recovery.

Read clockwise 1 thru 7, beginning at upper left.
From the backward tipping point, the character kicks out, throwing some weight and energy to the right, then begins to get control and overcome the inertia of the goose.  At drawing 4 the movement of the goose to the right has picked up speed and now needs to be restrained from going too far. 5 and 6 show the effort of slowing and controlling that mass, and at 7 the character comes to rest.

Here I want to take a moment to recognize the influence of Nancy Beiman in her books Prepare to Board and Animated Performance.   As a self-taught animator who aspires to highly sophisticated animation but has never had the advantage of working in a large studio under the tutelage of masters, I am largely dependent on what I can glean from books.  I will soon add to this blog a critical list of books most useful to animators, but for now I just want to acknowledge Ms. Beiman's stress on working out problems in thumbnail form.

This is not advice I had not already heard, but it was advice I had not taken to heart.  Being, as I have noted, usually the sole member of my studio, I have often been impatient to get into the actual animation without taking the time to plan thoroughly enough.  No doubt this is why I am now involved in this particular do-over.

Nancy Beiman insists that most of the heavy thinking be worked out in thumbnails, and that very rough animation or perhaps the thumbs themselves should be pencil tested for flow and timing.  Too often, I have arrogantly gone ahead and done a lot of detail on a sequence I was sure didn't need to be tested, only to find that I was wrong about that.  Are you getting the idea that this is not the first time I have had to do something over because of poor planning?  

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

No. 2, Problem 1: Fixing a Bad Drawing (Part 1)

They say we learn not from our triumphs but from our mistakes, and I certainly subscribe to that idea.  But it also may be possible to learn from the mistakes of others, so on this blog I am going to expose some of my own mistakes for your benefit.

The mistake in this case was to not plan well enough to get the very best possible storytelling drawing to put across my idea, and the result is a scene that is okay, even perhaps good in many respects but for this one drawing.  Yet this drawing is critical, and its replacement is causing me a lot of work.

Let's first look at the pencil test of the rough animation with all layers present:


My pencil tests are done using Toki Line Test, so as they are intended only as an in-house working tool and not to be seen by anyone but the animator, the contrast is forgiveably poor.  But though detail may be hard to make out, the movement and timing can be seen, which is the important thing.

In the scene previous to this, the man had the goose under his left arm.  He stepped forward and released it into the arms of the woman, who has just caught it as we cut to the scene in question.

The momentum of the goose causes the woman to momentarily lose her balance.  Holding the goose, she rears back, nearly out of control, then suddenly kicks her left foot forward, helping her to recover and go into the stabilized pose at the end.

Only, wait a moment.  Let's look at that drawing where the woman is supposed to be farthest off balance:

Now I take off my animator's hat and and put on the critical hat of a director or supervising animator.  (As a one-man studio, I have to assume all these roles, and more.)  "What the hell are you thinking, Jim?" I say.  "This woman isn't off balance at all.  In fact, she is in perfect control. She even has the center of gravity of the goose right above her own.  It doesn't tell the story, and it isn't funny."

Red-faced, I return to my animator's desk.  The director is right: it isn't funny, largely because it means I have a lot of work to do to get it right.  Many drawings will have to be changed or replaced before this mistake is corrected, which means extra work not only for me, the animator, but also for my assistant (me) and my inbetweener (me again!)

Looking at the drawing, I realize one probable reason it is so constrained: I  had found myself near to the edge of the paper, and I was unconsciously worried about getting it all on.

In cel animation this might have been a real problem, calling for a new layout or complete restaging.  But in my world where dependence on the physical limitations of art materials ends once my drawings are scanned, it is only an imaginary constraint.  I can easily splice more paper onto the edges of my drawings to get the job done.

First  thing to do, obviously, is to redraw that bad extreme.  Here is my result:

Okay, now the woman is in real danger of falling over backward.  The goose is big and it has been flapping its wings, which adds to her instability.  Plus, with the goose nearly turned on its side, there is more of a sense of lopsidedness.  Also its confusion and discomfort  add more humor to the scene.  So I like the new drawing and, more important, the director likes it, too.  (Don't worry that the goose is just a big marshmallow shape right now; that will be taken care of on a second pass, as secondary animation.)

Nothing to it, right?  So now there is nothing left to do but CORRECT ALL THE RELATED DRAWINGS  THAT COME BEFORE AND AFTER IT.

Next:  Fixing the Recovery

Sunday, May 13, 2012

No. 1, Acme punched...what's it mean??

The name Acme Punched? Yes, it really is a joke for insiders. In fact, I feel that if you have to ask what it means, you probably won't be very interested in the blog. But I could be wrong, so... 

Animation on paper is done on dozens or hundreds or thousands of SEPARATE sheets of paper, separate because the process requires that they constantly be re-stacked in various hierarchies, sheets sometimes added, sometimes removed. Animators who work on paper therefore have to have some kind of registration system--that is, a way of always keeping the papers aligned with one another, perfectly, every time, so that the images on the papers will also align with one another the same way every time. 

Early on, a couple of different methods were tried, like tracing registration crosses from one page to the next, or aligning the papers' corners in some kind of frame or jig. Soon, before 1920, a New York animation producer named Raoul BarrĂ©  tried mounting on the drawing boards two round pegs that fit snugly into holes punched into the animation paper. This worked well but was imperfect because repeated pegging of the paper caused the holes to wear until there was too much "slop" in the alignment. 

Eventually someone (Marvin Acme?) invented a three-peg system, with a slot-shaped hole on either side of a round hole. The slot holes were somewhat wider than the pegs they fit on yet snug at top and bottom. The papers could be removed and replaced on the pegs repeatedly with very little wear. 

Perfect? Not quite, because there developed no fewer than four variations of this design, with slightly different centers and measurements, that were simultaneously in use in the United States alone. They were: Acme, Signal Corps, Oxberry and Disney. By the time I began animating with professional equipment in the 1970's, the field had narrowed to two still in common use: Acme and Oxberry. In both, the peg centers were four inches apart, but the Oxberry pegs were narrower and thicker than the Acme. Also, while Oxberry was typically popular in East Coast studios, the West Coast tended to prefer Acme. Thus, and at last I get to the point, when ordering a ream of paper from an animation supply house such as Cartoon Colour Company, one had to specify "Oxberry punched" or--you guessed it--"Acme punched." 

In casting about for a name for this blog, "Acme Punched!" appealed to me immediately as just the right thing, not only for its arcane meaning described above and for the better-known cartoon world meaning of "Acme" as supplier to the roadrunner-hunting coyotes of the world, but because I wanted to express a certain fanatacism for animating on paper:  if you are Acme Punched, you are fatally smitten by this laborious yet fascinating art, from which no amount of CGI cleverness can pry you away. 

For a more exhaustive account of the evolution of the peg system, see this article by animator and instructor Tom Arndt, who coincidentally, was my associate and employer when I first jumped into commercial animation in the late 70's.
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