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, 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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