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

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

No. 128, Animatic Private Viewiings

Preview Audience

People's reactions to my animatic are diverse.

Some creative arts are commonly accomplished more-or-less alone. Painters, poets, novelists and composers, for example, often work by themselves, showing little or nothing to anyone until a work is finished. And even filmed animation, developed though it was as an assembly line process involving many hands and minds, can now be completed by oneself.

If one wishes for approval of the public, however, it may be a good idea at some point to get opinions other than one's own. In animation, an obvious opportunity for that comes at the completion of the animatic--the filmed, timed-out storyboard, preferably with sound. It still must be explained to some that: no, this is not the finished film; the characters will eventually not just slide along or pop from pose to pose, but will actually move. They will be, you know, animated. (Believe me, I have had to go through this explanation more than once.)

So with my animatic of Carry On at hand, I selected a small group of friends and invited them to a private site on You Tube to have a look at it. They were requested to give me any feedback that occurred to them. All of them knew the difference between a storyboard and actual animation, so I didn't have to explain that. All of them enjoy good animation.

Four of them have themselves done animation at one level or another. Two of the others are illustrators, and the last one has an artistic background and a keen critical mind. In addition to this "official" survey, I have had the opinions of my wife and a few other friends who have seen it.

The results are not all in yet, but they are interesting. Basically, they are all over the place; there is very little consensus on any one element as being wrong or confusing or overplayed or underplayed. Everyone liked parts of it, and most liked most of it. One person hated a certain character and another cited that character as particularly effective--that kind of thing. Several had their own suggestions about how they would do this or that differently, but so far, no two individuals came out against the same thing.

Well, except for once. It's that character I just mentioned. One reviewer found it extremely offensive culturally, and another said she just didn't like the character but could not quite say why; she just really, really disliked it. This set off a serious alarm in my brain, despite the fact that two other of the reviewers liked that same character a lot.

My following is small but it is world-wide, a statistical fact that brings me some satisfaction. I do not want to be culturally offensive. And so, that character will get a serious make-over. I have already worked out how to do that. It will cause me some trouble and work, but I won't consider not doing it.

I expect to have more to say about this review process in a later post.

In other news...

Beginning on March 18, this blog suddenly has experienced an amazing surge in daily page views, from an average of between 10 and 20 per day to between 150 and 250 page views per day.  This increase continues unabated as of today, April 11.

Of course I love this, but...what is going on? Is something now being counted that wasn't included before? Is my blog required reading for some animation school?  Or what?

I would like to know.  If anyone reading this has any ideas, I would enjoy hearing them.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

No. 127, A Worthy 2D Kickstarter Project

Quentin Blake's "Clown: Thrown Away"

There is a little 2D animated film that wants to be made which deserves support. Clown: Thrown Away, based upon a children's picture book by Sir Quentin Blake, is now up on Kickstarter with only 24 days remaining in which to make their quota. I have been asked to do what I can to publicize the project and encourage everyone to subscribe and make it happen.

On Kickstarter, unlike some other crowd-funding sites, it is all-or-nothing; either their stated goal gets pledged by the deadline, or else no funds are collected and they are back at zero.

This is an exciting and worthwhile production for a number of reasons. First, the charm of the style. The illustrator and author, Quentin Blake, well known for illustrating his own books as well as the stories of Raold Dahl, renders his cartoons in a loose watercolor and ink style that the producers intend to translate onto the screen. This is a difficult idea but will be exceedingly charming if they can bring it off, and there is every reason to think that they can.

This is line art from the film's storyboard; the animation has barely begun.

Second, the story is all in mime, which makes it universal, not dependent on language or translation no matter where it is shown.

And the story is also a universally appealing one, of courage and organization, sadness and joy, and of bravery and optimism.

Here is the link to the Kickstarter page:

Support 2D animation by supporting this project, and please spread the word now!

Sunday, April 2, 2017

No. 126, Storyboard into Animation, Part 3

The Pencil Test

Last time (post No. 125) I showed you key drawings from my animation of a scene of the Old Man, along with the storyboard panels upon which they were based.

Now I have finished the pencil test, and you can see where that has taken me.

It is indescribably exciting to take a storyboard concept and breathe life into it, with all the timing and nuances that give it personality. For me, it is the height of creativity, the addictive moment of the animation process that makes all the rest of the work with its endless calculations and tedium worthwhile. It is what the animator lives for.

A New Movement?

Watching this pencil test, it occurred to me that I may have invented something new, or perhaps I am the first to put a name to it: I would call it a Double Anticipation.

This is something I observed in the tai chi classes that I attend. Our instructor teaches a sinuous and slow-moving tai chi called the Yang style. Properly performed, the movements actually give an illusion of a slow motion video.

In most animation, we are taught that when beginning any major movement, one begins with an anticipation--usually a movement in the opposite direction from the major movement--and then makes the main movement. This is based on observation of everyday actions of ordinary humans and animals and also serves to signal to the viewer what is about to happen. As animators, we all use this principle all the time, and it works quite well. It is a shifting of weight, a gathering of energy.

But suppose the tai chi performer intends to move to the left, for example. His first movement is not to the right but toward the left, the major intended direction. This is usually to shift the weight onto the forward foot and off the rear foot so that the rear foot can be turned to an angle that will best support the movement. Only then does the tai chi practitioner bring his or her weight back onto that foot, shifting balance to the right as in a classic anticipation.

Here in my pencil test I have given the Old Man a double anticipation before he walks off. I really don't know if my tai chi placed the idea into my subconscious, or if it just helped me to recognize and classify what I have animated. 

A note on looping YouTube movies: Did you know that if you control-click (Mac) or right-click (Windows) the lower righthand corner of a YouTube movie, you can select an option to loop the Movie? Very useful for viewing short animation pieces!

Thursday, March 23, 2017

No. 125, Storyboard into Animation, Part 2

I have mentioned before how the animator as storyboard artist might often put more into the storyboard than an artist who does not animate would do. But when it gets into actual animation, that animator will then go deeper still.

Things occur to the animator as she or he contemplates and then works on a scene--things that will not have been thought of.

Take the first two storyboard  drawings from the scene we have chosen. They show the Old Man having caught the card out of the air, then inserting the card into his breast pocket.

But let's look at everything that that will entail in my animation.

He catches the card.

He looks at his pocket.

He aims the card.

He inserts the card into the pocket.

The finger comes up to tap it in.

He taps it all the way in.

 Could this have been done more directly? Might I not have just used the two basic poses from the storyboard and been done with it?  Of course I could have done.

But that is basically the difference between full animation and TV animation. The proponent of full animation always is asking himself, "How can this be improved?  How can it be made interesting?"

Naturally, as one working on my own personal animation project, I have the freedom to indulge myself. There is not much 2D animation being done today that permits such extravagant expenditure of drawings, time and money. Only in CGI animation will you find such lavish attention to this kind of nuance.

Special Note: You will see from the framing of this scene in the storyboard that the legs and feet will not be included in the shot. But I have drawn them in because the Old Man will turn and walk out of the frame, and so I need to know where his weight is and what his stance is. Even standing with his feet in one place as in these drawings, he is still balancing and shifting his weight about, so it is important to draw him right down to the ground if possible.

Next: The Pencil Test for the Whole Scene--wait for it!!

Saturday, March 18, 2017

No. 124, Storyboard into Animation, Part 1

Confronted now with the prospect of animating all the many scenes I have storyboarded, the question of priority presents itself.  How do I do this? Do I pick my favorite scenes and do them first? Do I start at the beginning with Sequence 1, Scene 1, and work relentlessly straight through from there?

First of all, I can eliminate for now any scenes with dialog except for those few in which final voices have been recorded. This is of course because the timing depends not only upon the timing that the actors will determine, but also upon any useful movement and expression that their characterizations may suggest.

The answer to the main question was defined for me by Nancy Beiman in her book Animated Performance (AVA Publishing SA, 2010).  "Animators have the most time and energy at the beginning of a production," she writes. "If the most important and complicated scenes are done first, they will be done (and done well) when the animation is completed."

Beiman goes on to recommend ranking all scenes as A, B or C.  "An 'A' scene is one that is vital to the storyline and usually contains the most complicated animation.

"A 'B' scene is still important to the storyline but may be a simple one-character shot rather than a two-shot with dialog. Since it will take less time to animate than an 'A', it will take second priority in production.

"A 'C' scene has lowest priority and may be eliminated if the limitations of time and budget intervene in the production, as they often do. 'C' scenes may still be necessary for the story but they can easily be modified or shortened if required."

In all my reading about studio production, I cannot remember ever before hearing about this very sensible system of prioritization.

*    *    *

For my first scene to animate, I have chosen one of the Old Man doing a little private victory dance. It isn't an actual dance, but his smile and his body language indicate that he has just scored a win and is feeling good about himself.

Here are the four panels that illustrate the scene in the storyboard.
 Another character has tossed the Old Man's own business card into the air, and he has just caught it.

A man of thrift, he returns the card to his jacket pocket.

Now he turns away in a jaunty style that reveals his happy mood...

...and walks off screen as the scene fades to black.

Next: This scene in animation...

Thursday, March 2, 2017

No. 123, The Empty Wall: Approaching an End to the Storyboard Phase

When the wall was busy. This is before I settled on a more formal 7 x 7 pattern.
For months, my storyboard pinup wall has been covered with storyboard panels--not just one set of 40 or 50 drawings, but waves of them, one after the other. My wall holds about fifty drawings at a time, seven rows of seven panels each. Some sequences took more than two sets of fifty drawings to tell their stories. It has gone on and on, and at times it seemed like there might be no end to it.

The empty wall.
But now it has ended, and my wall looks like this, studded with pushpins that have nothing to support but themselves.

But though I am about at the end of making drawings for my storyboard, it isn't the end of the storyboard work. Now I have scanned all my drawings and imported them into Storyboard Pro to create an animatic for each sequence.  This involves a lot of copying and pasting of layers, of making determinations for the duration of each panel in a scene, and of the addition of camera and layer movement--zooms and pans and rotations. Then there is a scratch track to be built, with dialog and sound effects and even some music to try to approximate what the finished film will feel and sound like.
Screen shot of a scene of my storyboard for Carry On.

And then? I will stitch the seven sequences together as a Quicktime movie and send it out to several friends for them to review. In the meantime, I will start on some actual animation of scenes without dialog.

Actual animation--I can barely believe it!

Thursday, February 23, 2017

No. 122. Maquettes, Part 4: When Is It Not a Good Idea?

Maquette: When Not to Make It

Let's talk about when it may not be a good idea to create a maquette.

To review, for animators a maquette is a little model of a character for use as drawing reference. When sculptors made small models of proposed heroic sculptures to be done in stone or bronze, they used the word to mean "sculpted sketch."

The animator, required to draw her or his character from most any angle, relies on a maquette to find out how that foreshortened nose looks from the bottom, or how an ear turns in perspective with the head.

All well and good. But I think of two situations when it may not be such a good idea.

If The Character Design Is Truly Flat

Despite our claim on the two-dimensional, many 2D animation characters are designed as if they were actually 3 dimensional. In an effort to look "real" (whatever that means), the designs try to imagine the character in 3 dimensions, so that every detail of any drawing of the character is intended to make sense with every other drawing in terms of solid geometry. Bugs Bunny is like this, and so is Maui, the warrior from the recent Disney movie. Drawing a character in this geometrically convincing way can be a compelling part of the "illusion of life" approach to animation that is seductive to so many animators, myself included.

The ultimate outcome of the thrust in this direction is the technology of the digitally modeled and animated character; in this view, the virtual maquette, like the puppet Pinocchio, has come alive.

But some characters are conceived without regard for any kind of three-dimensionality. Designed on a flat surface, the designer allows their two-dimensionality to remain obvious and even uses flatness boldly in defiance of graphic realism. A model sheet of such a character may show various typical angles, but one angle may not logically rotate to another. We make it work in animation by seldom moving slowly from one angle to the next, and some angles are entirely avoided or at least not given more than one or two frames in passing.

Let's consider an example or two of this sort of truly two-dimensional character.

Here is a character whose turban is a graphic, angular spiral and whose facial
features are deliberately flat; this is not a good candidate for a maquette.

This guy looking to his right has both eyes on one side of his nose. If he turned to
look to the left, his eyes would be on that side. Maquette? I think not.

This cowboy has an appealing flat design that would not
do well if sculpted into a maquette.

This character with his floating eyes and flat, profile mouth and ear would look
better on an Egyptian frieze than as a maquette.

Also there is a hybrid approach to character design, which is what I subscribe to, choosing to accentuate either two-dimensionality or three-dimensionality as seems appropriate, and sometimes to combine both in the same character. This playful and open-minded attitude can even be seen in the drawings of the great Disney animators, who would often simplify a pose for graphic clarity, for example creating a single beautiful arc reaching from ankle to fingertips of a character stretching to one side

The Old Man character from my current film Carry On is of this hybrid type. His design contains some elements that I prefer for the sake of clarity to leave in the zone of two-dimensional graphics rather than to try to render them like solid objects.  (See notations in the illustration below.)  Also, I have found myself able to draw him from every desirable angle, and so a maquette of him is simply not needed.

This character is both round and flat. I never want to show his eyeglass lenses on edge (note profile view) and I take many
liberties with his ears and hat, among other things, that would be hard to depict in three dimensions.

If The Animator Is Too Literal

For beginning character animators especially, the hazard of using a maquette is in taking its rigid shape too literally. Despite the rigid parts of a head, for instance--the skull and the jaw--great liberties can be taken in animation that strict adherence to the proportions of a maquette can dampen out. The jaw can move from side to side as well as up and down, for example, and temporary distortions of elasticity even of the skull may sometimes be desirable. Someone too dependent on the maquette in her or his hand may miss opportunities where accents involving geometric exaggeration could enhance the animation.

For earlier discussion of the subject of the maquette, see posts nos. 116, 118 and 119.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

No. 121, More about Crowds

Thanks to Rafael Silva, who in a comment to Post No. 120 (Bring In the Crowds) directed me to the comments of Mark Kennedy on drawing crowd scenes in the blog Seven Camels. The link is repeated here: .

This stimulates me to say a little more about my own crowd drawing, and the three tricks I used to make it effective. At one time I worked for Dark Horse Comics, doing a funny animal series called Wacky Squirrel, among other things. Working in pen or brush and black ink, you learn a lot about how to depict things clearly.

1. All the characters in the first four rows are distinct enough that you can tell which way they are facing.  This was important to show the direction of traffic flow through the maze of the security queue--back and forth, evoking an image of cattle in a slaughter house.

2. Height graduated in waves. This is not what you would normally see in a crowd, but it helps the eye to follow a file of people standing in line so that the progression is clearly seen as a line rather than just a mass.

3. Diagonal contrasted with horizontal. With the dominating directions of the lines of people and of course the tapes that separate them being diagonal, the Old Man's trunk being placed horizontally stands out from everything else. I would add that I composed this part instinctually, only realizing later how well it worked!

Sunday, February 12, 2017

No. 120, Bring In the Crowds

If there is one thing that artists in hand-drawn animation do not like to attempt, it is probably the crowd. Doing a convincing representation of thirty or more people moving about is a nightmare, even with the virtually unlimited number of layers that can now be used digitally.

But in setting my film Carry On in a busy international airport, I kept feeling a kind of pressure in my own mind to at least once show a great many people, since no one in a big airport can not be aware of the mass of humanity in motion all around.

I had storyboarded a scene where the camera slowly panned left to right over a file of passengers waiting to go through the security scanners.  But the scene only showed seven people besides the Old Man character, and I thought it was the least effective looking scene in my whole storyboard.  I decided to re-imagine it.

Online I began looking at images of people waiting in airports, and I finally got the inspiration I needed.

The scene opens on a medium closeup of the old man.

He idly turns his head to the right, so we see him in profile, and then his head swivels back as before.

The camera begins to zoom out.

Dissolve to a wider view, still zooming out, until the crowd below is revealed.  Also the ambient airport sound will fade up as the camera pulls back.

Then a quick fade out/fade in to the scene where my protagonist is at the head of the security line.

So there is my crowd scene, all done with just a few drawings, but showing how my character had to get in line with everyone else.  And the fact that the people in the crowd do not move is justified; they are merely standing still, waiting for their line to get moving again.

Next: What?!! My Storyboard is DONE??!

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

No. 119, Maquette, Part 3

The Character Maquette Realized

Finally tore myself away from feverish storyboarding on Carry On to finish this maquette.

Somewhat imperfect in its fine details, it is completely usable now for its purpose--to show me any angle I desire of this character.

It has been baked (275°f for 1/2 hour) so now instead of having clay-like malleability, it is hard like a soft stone and can be sanded or carved.  I may do some sanding just to smooth it out, but as it is only a drawing aid and not for public display, it is basically finished.

I could also paint it if I wanted to, preferably using flat acrylics, but I doubt that I will go that far.

I can now even see that one extreme angle that got me started, looking up at him from below his chin.

To see earlier stages of the sculpting, see post No. 118.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

No. 118, How I Got It Right--and How I Got It Wrong: Maquette, Part 2

Off and on I have slowly been working on my Sculpey maquette, which I began soon after publishing post no. 116 in which I declared that I needed to do that for one of the characters.

First, let's review the front and side view drawings that I made.

Working directly from the drawings, I built a basic armature on a block of wood. An armature is an inner support like a skeleton that bears the weight of a clay or other plastic (i.e. malleable) sculpture and holds it in place.  I neglected to photograph the naked armature, but here I got a shot before it was completely covered up. It consists of a length of heavy gauge steel wire stapled to the wooden block and then bent and shaped upward around a 3" (8 cm) screw that I had driven firmly into the block. The screw is the basic neck support. The upper end of the wire was then coiled around to support the skull space. The exact size front and side images were carefully studied to make certain that the wire would not extend outside the volume of the head. I then wrapped the wire and screw in aluminum foil; this saves on Sculpey material both in weight and volume, and a hollow layer of Sculpey will cure easier than a big solid lump.

Working still quite closely with the drawings, trying to get the linear dimensions and contours of the model to exactly match them, I began adding the modeling clay a little at a time. This is a painstaking process, and at first it doesn't look like much.

You have to work hard to keep the sculpture symmetrical, repeatedly examining it from every angle. Now it is beginning to come together.

And now with the eyes in place, it begins to look like what it is supposed to be.

Well, so far, so good. It is on the way to being a good match for both the front and side views, right? We just need the ears and hair and a few other details, right?

But wait. What of that 3/4 view that I also drew? If it was a well-done inbetween, it ought to be looking good also--right? Let's take a look.

Well, part of it looks accurate, but the head shape is wrong. Note how close to the eye I have shown the side hair to be. Why would that have happened?

The answer is that cartoonists and cartoon animators are used to working with character heads that are basically spheres. But Kevin's head is not a sphere.  Here is a view of it from the top looking down.

The head is actually longer front to back than side to side, a shape
that hat makers call "long oval".
So, the maquette is proving useful already. Here is a new drawing of a 3/4 view based on observation of my unfinished maquette.

Check back here soon where I will do a post showing the finished Kevin maquette.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

No. 117, A Chuck Jones Wireframe from 1947--or is it?

No, it isn't what computer modelers call a wireframe, but it does employ the same idea of a grid of lines to define the contours of a shape.

In Chuck Jones case, it is just some detail found on a model sheet of Porky Pig. There were no personal computers, and this side of sculpting a maquette [see post no. 116], this was the best way in its time to make sure that he was understood. Jones, who had more formal art training than most of his contemporaries in animation at the time, wanted to make sure his animators grasped something subtle about Porky's jowls.  He created what in an art school is called a contour drawing--imagining a series of parallel lines that follow a surface and thus define that surface in space.
Unlike a wireframe rendering, Chuck Jones' contour drawings have lines going in only one direction,
but the intent of precise understanding of a shape is the same.
In art schools, this was a common exercise to encourage precise observation in drawing students.
We were told to draw a leg or a torso or some inanimate object by this method, thus defining the subtleties of its surface without resorting to tonal (shaded) technique.

In the cel animation world of linear drawing, this was an ingenious yet simple way of conveying his instruction.