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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

Friday, November 24, 2017

No. 142, A Weighty Problem

In the first sequence of my film Carry On, I want to establish not only how impossibly big the Old Man's trunk is, but how heavy as well.

My opportunity presents itself early on, when the trunk, having arrived at the airport entrance projecting from the boot of a taxi, has to be lifted out and set upon the sidewalk. Here are the storyboard panels for that action.



The Old Man waits on the sidewalk.


The taxi driver's foot comes in from the right.


The big trunk swings into view.


The trunk lands heavily, with some squash and stretch.


The Old Man turns his head to regard the trunk.

So perhaps you see right away the animator's problem here: it's what isn't being shown. We don't see the trunk being lifted, and we barely get to see the taxi driver at all. The audio will help out; there will be some grunting and groaning, and there will be a loud impact sound as the trunk hits the concrete.

But I was worried about trying to animate only the parts of the taxi driver framed by the camera here.

Solution? Animate the entire movement in rough drawings from beginning to end, just to make sure that I am really understanding all the physics involved.

It wasn't that hard. First I did a page of thumbnails:


Then, in little more than an hour, I banged out this test animation.


It is silent, it is missing a lot of detail, including squash and stretch on the trunk and some drawings that will be on ones, and yet it puts across the impression of tremendous weight. Even with the right half of the image masked off--the way it is framed in the storyboard--I can tell that it will work.



Next: I will go ahead and do final animation of the above action, and we will see if my confidence is misplaced.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

No. 141, What's Inside: 2 More Pencil Tests

Continuing our work on scene 1-8, we continue to delve into...


Floppy Hands and Arms


Upon finally seeing the test with all the drawings in, I was not happy with the arm and hand movement. I had tried a very loose and gangly style, which I could now see was more appropriate for Art Babbitt's Goofy than for this old man. I could have just tried damping down the floppiness of the hands, but I thought that he might  look good with an entirely different style, sort of gliding his hands back and forth with half-closed fists and with an elliptical pattern to the movement.

Here is how that came out.

Pencil Test, Version 4




Again I was disappointed, as the elliptical cycle was too pronounced. It gave off an impression of self-consciousness that was wrong.  That is, the Old Man appeared to be aware of his own hands, which is not the effect I wanted.  But I still liked the concept, so I simply flattened the ellipse, lowering the hands as they came forward.

Here is the pencil test with that correction.

Pencil Test, Version 5




I feel that this works well now.  At the end of the scene, I also show his left elbow backing up; this makes a nice anticipation for the forward movement of his left hand onto the trunk.

*     *     *     *

Pencil tests are so easy and fast to do, there is no reason not to do them. Nor is there any shame in it. Traditional animators are in the business of making something look alive out of a series of closely related images that are not alive. Much can be learned by experience, but the experience and the received knowledge from books and instruction are only aids that will help you to get close to what you want. For anything truly original, pencil testing your work and studying the result is the best way to get your animation to closely match the vision in your mind. 

Thursday, November 9, 2017

No. 140, What's inside: 3 Pencil Tests


Time for another episode of...


The Old Man Walks In and Stops


This is a short scene where the steamer trunk is sitting on the sidewalk; the Old Man walks up to it, stops, and places his hand on the top.

I have previously animated the Old Man twice in a walk.  In the first, the walk is lopsided and under constant strain as he is dragging his trunk along behind him. In the second, he quickly walks off screen. This time I will show him full length, including his feet, so I am establishing a style for him that is to be his normal walk.


First I determined that it should take him 4 steps to get him from the starting pose to the end. Then, thinking that an old man might move slowly, I decided each step should be 16 frames, a little longer than the average 12 frames per step. Blocking that in, with only the contact and passing positions drawn, I did this first pencil test with 8 exposures per drawing; thus, with only 1/4 of the drawings done, I can nevertheless evaluate the rhythm of his steps, since each step is already at 16 frames; the timing is the same as the final animation will be.



This shows me that the general timing works and also that the mass and perspective are consistent and convincing.

The arm and hand movement here is experimental and, as you will see, required some more thought, but at the time of this test I was happy with it.


Contact and Passing Positions


This looks like a good time to review what is meant by Contact and Passing positions in a walk.

If you want to do a character walking, where do you start? Well, you start with an extreme, a drawing that illustrates the instant when an outstretched foot touches down to the ground: the contact position. (There are animators who prefer to start with the passing position, which is the point halfway between the left and right contacts.) The passing position tends to be undramatic as a silhouette, with one leg passing in front of the other and with both arms more-or-less even with the body. The passing position is the breakdown between the extremes of the left and right contact positions.

1

Not a Standard Walk Cycle


Note that this walk is not a repeatable cycle since the Old Man is turning as he walks and the drawings could not be properly looped. A good working method here might be to first do an actual repeatable cycle as a reference, then extrapolate from those drawings as the camera or the character turns in perspective. I did this once with a running character where the effect was that the "camera" swooped up and over the runner until we were looking straight down on him.  It worked, but in this case, with just a small turn involved from 3/4 front to 3/4 rear, I felt I could do it without that preliminary cycle.


More Drawings


Next I filled in one drawing between each existing pair. I now make a new pencil test, exposing each drawing for 4 frames, which maintains the same timing as before. Here is a section of the pencil test exposure sheet for both the first and second tests. (With my pencil test software, Toki Line Test, I can put all the versions of the pencil test into one file, with each version on a new layer. All layers except the one I want to view or to output as a Movie can be turned off. Probably this is possible with other software as well.)

Here, the A column shows the first test, while the B column shows the second. You can see how
 the position of drawing 9, for example, begins both times at the same frame.
Here is that second test.



All the Drawings


Everything still seems to be working, so I push on and add all the remaining drawings. For the walk, that means one more drawing between each existing pair. (The section at the end of the scene, after he stops and when he places a hand on the trunk, is more complex than this.)

It is time for a third pencil test, and now that all the drawings are in, we shall have a complete idea of the movement, even if some drawings are still quite rough.


Here again is a part of the exposure sheet, with this test represented in column C.

With all the drawings now present, you can see that each drawing in
column C has only 2 exposures and, again, drawing 17 begins on frame 17.
The three pencil tests are all the same length.

So much for the system. What do we think of the pencil test, though? Hmmm. Not so good! I am perfectly happy with the legs and feet, but not so much the action of the arms and hands.


Next: Fixing What Is Not Right






Saturday, October 28, 2017

No. 139, What's Inside, 2: The Gadget, Part Two


The Numbers Racket


Depending on what changes are made, a drawing number might eventually return to its original designation!

In 3D animation, the frame or image numbers are counted for you, more or less, so if you make a change in timing, your computer just resets the numbers.  (Haha! If I am wrong about this, I expect some of you with more experience in 3D than I have will set me straight.)

Animating on paper, your drawings must be hand-numbered and those numbers must be entered on your (paper) exposure sheet. Later on, beyond scanning, your pencil test or animation program such as Animate Pro will track further changes. Before that, however, it is pencils and erasers.
Actual re-numbered drawings.


I confess that I have to use erasers for renumbering quite often. It is a simple matter of lack of experience. Perhaps you find that surprising, but my career experience compared to that of, say, a Ken Harris at Warner Brothers, is insignificant.

Consider that a Hollywood studio animator in the 1940s or 1950s would turn out up to 30 feet of animation a week. That's 20 seconds. He was responsible only for timing and extreme and breakdown drawings, and for making spacing guides for his inbetweener. In some situations, timing was already worked out by the director. And the animator worked at this week after week, year after year.  It got to the point where such an animator would look at a scene and know instinctively and accurately how long a hold should be, or how short. Thousands of career hours "on the board".

Compare that to the independent animator like me, who also has had to perform all the other job titles that animation production entails--storyboarding, layout, inbetweening, digital ink and paint (and, oh yes, actual ink and paint on cels until the 1990s), background art and camera  work--and you can see that my actual time spent "on the board" doing animation was but a small fraction of my total effort. What would be my footage count in a week? Averaged out, it would certainly be less than one foot.

Factor in also all the down time: time spent looking for new accounts, time waiting for contracts to be signed, time working at some day job when the animation work just wasn't there.

Is it any wonder that for all that I do know, I sometimes get it wrong when I try to time out in advance how long the Old Man should gaze into the darkness of his trunk before turning back to look at the guards? Not enough flying time; not enough hours "on the board."

Thus, I erase, renumber drawings, and sometimes have to renumber them again.  I elect to use a 12-frame hold, then see in pencil test that 16 or 20 frames is better. Some other hold is too long and gets shortened.  Yes, it is mostly changes in the duration of holds that causes my numbering changes. I need more experience "on the board."

But I'm working on that.

[Note: I use the Disney numbering system which links the drawing number directly to the frame number in the scene. Thus, if you add or subtract drawings or change an exposure length, all the subsequent numbers are thrown off. This is, admittedly, an awkward system for someone not yet sure of all timing.] 




And while I'm on the subject of timing, let me tell you about...

The Hold that Isn't There


Before continuing, please go back to post 138 and play the video again. Look for the part where the Old Man, after himself looking into the trunk, straightens up a bit and looks back to the right before plunging his hand in to get the cylinder.

Do you see the hold there?  Right at the top of the action, right before he turns back to the trunk? No?

Well, there was a hold there. It was just 6 frames long, right on this drawing here.

The drawing that was held for 6 frames.

I had been very deliberately experimenting with a moving hold there, getting the Old Man's head turned early in the move so that the pose of him looking to the right would read without actually holding on one drawing. Then, before testing it, I lost my nerve and added in that 6-frame hold. (Which affected the numbering from that point on.)  It did look okay that way, but later, remembering my original idea, I took that hold out--reducing the exposure on that drawing from 6 frames to 2, actually--and found that it still worked quite well.



Lesson learned: with 8 drawings or sixteen frames, closely spaced, all showing his head looking to the right, no actual held drawing is necessary. What about 14 frames or 12 or 10? Will the pose still read? Maybe. Every situation, every animation scene, is different. You can always do a pencil test.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

No. 138, What's Inside!, 1: The Gadget, Part One

Where have I been?


Me at St. Michael's Mount, Cornwall.
I took a month off for a road and hiking tour of western England, plus Wales and Scotland. Had a wonderful time but now I am back with plenty of new ideas for blog posts to keep you animators thinking.  Let's get into it!



Now that I have reached the actual animation stage of my film production of Carry On, I find it appropriate to try to detail all the thinking and planning that go into many of the scenes I will be animating. I am now calling this type of post "What's inside!".

"What's inside" means all the things that the animation includes in terms of drawing, timing, spacing and any other aspects of the animation process that can be explained, and also the missteps and changes that take place before the scenes are finally approved.

I'll start with a scene I have referenced before, scene 6-15, where the Old Man opens his trunk and pulls out a cylindrical device which he then holds out for the guards to see. I am still working on this and have made some changes in the last few days.

First, here is the latest version:



A Puzzle

I have a lot to say about this scene, but first I have a fun puzzler for you. I challenge you to compare the latest version with this slightly older one and then say what change in animation has been made between them.


Don't be distracted by the more complete drawings in the new one--that isn't what I am talking about. If you can see what I mean, contact me and I will send an original drawing to the first two people who get it right.


Getting into What's Inside!

Okay, I have already showed you (in post No. 137) how I animated some of the legs in a second pass.

Now lets look at the movement where the Old Man, beginning with his hand inside the trunk, lifts the cylinder out and then turns and holds it out toward the guards. This movement required 29 drawings on two's, so it lasts 2 1/2 seconds up to the hold at the end.

Simple? Not quite. There are really only two key drawiings: the first and the last. (Remember, key drawings are the drawings that tell the story.)

The two Key or story-telling drawings, 163 and 235.

But clearly I needed more extremes than that, because, for one thing, how are you going to chart 27 inbetweens?  That might look like this!

Also, the change from one key to the other is enormous, so a little control is necessary, and you get that by defining the move with some more extremes plugged in.

I did this by animating more or less straight ahead between the keys and, working rough, produced three extremes.

The added Extremes/Breakdowns: 195, 207 and 223.
I have called these drawings extremes because they bear timing charts, but in fact they are more in the nature of breakdowns. Breakdowns, remember, are important drawings--possibly as important as the extremes themselves--since they define just how the action gets from one extreme to the other, and they can be eccentric. By eccentric I mean unpredictable and, in terms of inbetweening, illogical, because they can go where an inbetween cannot go.

A major example of this in scene 6-15 is what happens with the head relative to the hand holding the cylinder. I decided that I wanted the cylinder to arrive sooner than the head to its final position, because the whole point of this action here is to get the cylinder out and display it to the guards. If you play the scene, you will see that the head arrives late and catches up with the left hand. This was easily done by simply showing the cylinder almost to the end of its arc by breakdown drawing 223, a full seven drawings before the hold.

Drawings 223 and 235. His left hand in the first drawing is
 in the final ease-in, while the head still has far to go.
But does the hand-and-cylinder really arrive  before the head? No, it doesn't; look closely at the video and you will see that everything in the drawing comes to a halt at the same time.  The difference is in the spacing of the drawings for each part, which obscures the fact that it does all stop at once.
Here you see the same two drawings in register, making the situation more clear.
Of course the better known way of gracefully going into a hold is to have follow-through on something, hair or clothing or a tail, on an extra layer.  This spacing is just another way of doing that --and of making your animation more interesting to watch!


To be continued in post no. 139...

Sunday, August 27, 2017

No. 137, Taking Steps Without Legs

I think I have touched upon this before, but it is an amazing thing that really does work: you can in some cases animate a character moving from one place to another, without drawing the legs or feet at all until the very end. And yes, I mean in a full figure scene that shows the legs and feet.

I just did it again in a scene I am animating, and even though I have done it before, it always requires a leap of faith to try it--to keep myself from blocking in the lower limbs.  Because, after all, doesn't that leave the head and upper body just hanging there in space? How can that ever come out right? I ask myself.

Well, it certainly does take some planning.

In my experience, you will want to know the precise perspective of the layout involved. You will want to be sure you understand your character's relation to that perspective. And you will want a solid key drawing--with legs and feet--both before the movement and at the end.

The fact is, when we step over from one position to another on the floor, we do not always bounce noticeably up and down with each step. Walk cycles are usually full of the up and down movement of the body mass, sometimes with a lot of squash and stretch to add weight to the character.  But like good dancers, we sometimes shift our position in a way that is more smooth and gliding, and the usual bobbing up and down is then unnecessary and even distracting.

Let's look at the scene to which I am referring. My Old Man character has just opened up his steamer trunk. Aware that he is being watched by security guards off the right side of the screen, he reaches into the trunk and pulls out a cylindrical object which he then holds out for the guards' inspection.

I did not start this scene with the intention of using the "no legs" technique; it just became appropriate in my mind when I saw that as the Old Man lifts out the cylinder, he must take two (or three or four) steps as he turns almost 180 degrees  and holds the object out. This move was to be done slowly with a moving hold at the end, involving 30 drawings on 2's and over 2 seconds.

As I began roughing in the extremes of this move, there were other complexities to think of, as for example that I wanted his hand with the cylinder to arrive first while his head and torso catch up a bit later. So I began leaving his legs and feet completely off the extreme drawings between no. 161 and the last drawing, no. 233.

Here are the extreme drawings nos. 161 at the beginning
and 233 at the end.
Even as I filled in the breakdown drawings and all the inbetweens, I did not think about the legs and feet.  His torso simply turned in midair, drifted across a little way, and came to rest at drawing 233, where he had his legs and feet once again.

Here are drawings 203, 213 and 225, as they looked when I first worked with them. At the time, I did not
know that they were to become extremes for the leg movements. (For purposes of this blog post,
I had to erase the legs in Photoshop to illustrate this stage of development.)
When at last I was ready to consider his steps as he moved across, a close look at the exposure sheet suggested that three steps might be just right. As an old man not always sure of his balance, it was appropriate for him to take short, uncertain steps, and I saw that the contact drawings--the drawings where his moving foot touched down--ought logically to come on frames 203, 213 and 225, giving 4 to five drawings between each pair of extremes.

The X-sheet, showing where I decided to place the contact drawings. Scenes like this
should not be attempted without charting your timing on an X-sheet first.

And note this: none of those three contact drawings was an extreme pose as regards the upper torso. This is fine, but to me the significance of that is that had I tried to do the legs and feet at the same time as the turning torso, I would no doubt have tried to force the contact drawings onto some of the existing extremes.  That might have worked out anyway, but it might also have resulted in something more stilted, less fluid, and less interesting to watch. Using this technique, I was completely free to place the contact drawings wherever seemed best, rather than just on one or another of the available extremes, since by this method all the drawings already existed.

Now these lowly inbetweens have become extreme contact
drawings for the leg movement

Here is the link to the video. This is not the whole scene but just the end of it.

This post serves as a reminder that it is often wise to make several passes over a scene, doing things one at a time, rather than struggle with the complexity of trying to get everything in all at once.


By the way, I am certainly not the first to think of doing this.  It is mentioned somewhere in Thomas and Johnston's Illusion of Life; when I locate the reference, I will amend this post with the details.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

No. 136, Animatic Reviews

Back in Post No. 128, Animatic Private Viewings, I described my animatic review process. To a select group of associates, I had sent a link to the full animatic of my film Carry On, asking for reactions to the film as a whole. The animatic, a filmed and timed version of a complete storyboard, augmented with an audio scratch track that includes dialog, sound effects and some music,  can be a most valuable tool for the film maker, helping  him or her to see the strengths and weaknesses in the story structure, in character development, and in other areas--things that are not so apparent when one is focussed on just one detail or moment at a time.

But to reach this stage in production also provides an opportunity for gathering opinions from outside one's own consciousness. In the case of the independent film maker, without even a production staff off whom to bounce ideas and from whom to gather opinions, the value of some more objective opinion is even more important.

I got back written reviews from just four people. That is fewer than I had hoped for but it was a good
sampling.

No one hated it and they all liked at least parts of it.

Three of the four liked it a lot but had widely differing suggestions for changes, and no two people wanted to change the same exact things.

No one came up with a genius idea that allowed me to cut whole minutes while still telling the whole story.

There were several thoughtful explorations along the lines of "what if a certain character were more like this or that."

They all brought up issues that I had already struggled with and had set aside as either irrelevant or as requiring adding more or completely different scenes to the film. There were also a few instances where the character or scene existed for a logical tactical reason which my reviewer had not perceived.  For example, there is a scene with two characters whose only raison d'etre is to conceal the Old Man and his trunk from the view of the gate attendant until the last possible moment.

I am grateful for all the suggestions even if  I don't use many of them. But there was one objection which troubled me a lot and has made me decide to re-write two of the sequences, replacing a major character, even though that involves quite a lot of work.

I had written in a character who could be perceived as a cultural slur. If you are a regular reader of this blog, you will recognize him from some posts about character design that I did a while back. He is the one for which I created a head-and-shoulders maquette out of Sculpey.

Two drawn angles of Kevin, and his unfinished maquette.


I was bothered not only because one reviewer strongly disliked the character but because my wife had expressed a similar dislike.  (Some other reviewers did like Kevin for his strong comedy value.) And in my heart I didn't feel strongly attached to this character as I did to all the others in the film. In fact, I recognized that the character was artificial, conceived to advance the story as a person who had to provide a certain amount of resistance to letting the Old Man get past him, but who would then capitulate. He was a comic character, but comedy based too much on cultural stereotypes is unnecessary and unwise; I realized that a characterization that could be perceived as demeaning in this way would be shameful to have in my film.

And so, after much thought, I created another character who could fulfill the same purpose as Kevin had, but with different motives. He is actually better developed than the first one; he has a believable back story and a better relationship with the supervisor character with whom he interacts. It was a struggle to back myself up and re-think the two sequences that are involved, but I am now comfortable with the result.

Examples of the facial expressions inspired my my new character, Howard.

The lesson here is that nothing in your work should be considered immune from change if the reason for change is a strong one. Walt Disney knew this when he cut two already-animated sequences from Snow White. We should all remain open to the possibility of change even when it is painful.





Saturday, July 15, 2017

No. 135, The Subliminal Anticipation

Subliminal


The word means "below the level of consciousness" and was applied in the 1950s to images in advertising that were intended to influence the viewer without that viewer realizing what he had seen.
This might be an erotic image or other suggestive content cleverly inserted into a photograph or a single frame of film in a TV commercial. The single frame might be the words "BUY THIS!" Whether it was actually effective in marketing remains questionable.

In animation, I am coining the term subliminal anticipation to cover a technique described by Richard Williams in his book The Animator's Survival Kit. Williams doesn't use the word subliminal, instead referring to Invisible Anticipations on page 283 of his book (the first edition.)

Like most of the tips and tricks Williams describes, this is a subtle trick learned from Hollywood animators from the Warners and Disney studios to whom he "apprenticed" himself in the 1970s and 80s.

Unlike the obvious anticipations with which most of us are familiar, such as the windup of a baseball pitcher before the pitch--easily the most drawn-out anticipation example that I can think of--, the subliminal anticipation happens so fast that it isn't actually seen, but only felt. The images of the anticipation are shot on ones rather than twos (in terms of 24fps film speed), faster than the eye can register, and yet as Dick Williams puts it, they add a "snap" to an action that can be most effective.

I used this technique before an accented syllable in the dialog animation being analyzed in posts 132, 133 and 134 of this blog. As he speaks, the Old Man is lowering his head. One an accent, his head suddenly jerks upward and begins descending again on a new path. Before the accent is where I inserted two frames of subliminal anticipation.

First, let's look at a simplified example of the anticipation and accent using only a simple ellipse as the object.



Now, here is the same effect employed in dialog animation of the Old Man from my film in progress, Carry On.  I used this subliminal anticipation technique on both the syllable accents (IN-ternet and FA-il.)


Wednesday, June 21, 2017

No. 134, Let's Talk!, Part 3


In my last post, No. 133, you saw the first rough pencil test for a short scene of dialog from the Old Man.

Filling in more drawings, I stopped to do a second test. Perhaps I could have skipped this one but with digital scanning and playback, an extra pencil test takes only a few minutes of time.


A lot has been smoothed out here; no surprises. All that is needed now is to get the rest of the drawings in and check it one more time.

Here is the final pencil test that includes all the drawings.


Notice the accents on "IN-ternet" and on "FA-il."

I had just reviewed Dick Williams notes on accents in dialog in his Animator's Survival Kit, and I think I made good use of the technique.  There is something else I included in those: subliminal anticipations; that is, anticipations that are "felt" rather than "seen."


Next: Subliminal Anticipations Explored

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

No. 133, Let's Talk! Part 2

Working with the Soundtrack

For the Old Man's dialog for this scene, I have a four-second track to work from. Here is the sound clip with the accompanying storyboard panel.



Key Drawings


Beginning the animation, I made several key drawings--the drawings that best represent the style and spirit of the animation. As is often the case, my key drawings are also some of the extreme drawings in the scene. But a key drawing may not always be used as an extreme, as for example the storyboard image above, which puts across the idea without actually being useful as an extreme.

The scene's initial pose. Note that this is a rough.

Another rough.  He is saying, "You never know..."

Here, a cleanup, where he is saying "fail."

First Pencil Test

The scene will amount to about 50 drawings when done.  In the first pencil test, I have done only 28 of those drawings, but I am able to time it out to the soundtrack by adding extra hold frames wherever there are drawings missing.

We are using the Disney studio numbering method which specifies that if you are working on two's (two exposures per drawing), then beginning with 1, all the drawings will have odd numbers. Therefore, a sequence on two's would be 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, 15. If I have drawn only numbers 1, 3, 7, 13 and 15, then I expose the pencil test as follows:

Drawing 1, two frames.
Drawing 3, four frames (includes two frames to account for number 5 which is missing.)
Drawing 7, six frames (includes two frames each for numbers 9 and 11, which are missing.)
Drawing 13, two frames.
Drawing 15, two frames.

When you then play the pencil test, there will be some jerkiness but it is possible to match the dialog to the images and see how the action flows. In this case, there were a couple of areas where it was critical to see the full action, and where I therefore made sure to add in roughs of all the drawings.

Here is that first pencil test.





Next: A second pencil test in which many more drawings are present, and then a final test including all of the drawings.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

No. 132, Let's Talk!

When I began this blog in 2012, the project I was working on and drawing from for the blog posts was all in mime, without a word of dialog. So there were many posts about various kinds of animation, from walk cycles to surprised takes to getting a little fox out from under a tight-fitting hat. The posts are all still there if you want to go look them up.

But now that I have switched projects to the current one, Carry On, I can do something not covered before at Acme Punched. Now that I have characters who speak  on camera, I can do some posts about animating dialog.

I actually love animating a good character whose words have been recorded by a skilled voice actor. And in one way, this sort of animation is made easier because much of the timing has been established by the actor; the timing leaves all manner of hints as to how to proceed.

Easier, but not easy. This does not free the animator from the need to do a lot of the acting himself, getting the gestures and body language to do justice to the voice acting. Indeed, the better the voice acting, the more I feel an obligation to match its quality with my animation.


The Old Man Speaks


The scene with which I am dealing is a medium closeup of the Old Man saying just one line, and it took only a single panel to illustrate the scene in the storyboard.

The single storyboard panel that represents this scene.


"You never know," warns the Old Man, "when the internet may fail!"

Next you will see the first key drawings for the scene. We will follow the animation through to the end and, eventually, see it in color.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

No. 131, Any Resemblance is Coincidental

There used to be a disclaimer appended to many movies and TV shows: "Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental." There were variations, but the intent was to indemnify a company from the possibility of a lawsuit; if resemblance to a living person was suspected, this statement was supposed to categorically protect the author or film makers.

A couple of weeks ago, at the time of organized demonstrations against climate change denial, I saw this photograph of a renowned ninety-seven year old scientist named Eddy Fischer, a past winner of the Nobel Prize.

Photo by Alan Berner and The Seattle Times
Of course, I was struck by Mr. Fischer's resemblance to my Old Man character in Carry On, my animated film now in production. But I hereby deny that the Old Man's uncanny resemblance to an old man named Eddy Fischer is anything other than coincidence.


Still, despite Mr. Fischer having some hair and a back that is not deformed, it is an amazing resemblance, don't you think?



Monday, May 15, 2017

No. 130, Staying on Model

"Staying on model" is a subject that comes nowadays under the heading of THINGS-A-2D- ANIMATOR-STILL-HAS-TO-WORRY-ABOUT-BUT-WHICH-A-3D-ANIMATOR-NEVER-EVEN- HAS-TO-THINK-ABOUT.

The cgi animator working in 3D has his or her model already done. It need only be manipulated, distorted, posed. It will always look like itself, no matter who is working the sliders.

The 2D computer animator using 2D puppets with replaceable parts likewise seldom has to actually draw anything original, once its whole set of parts has been created.

But for us die-hard animators whose images are hand-drawn and unique, it remains a big deal. At one time in the Hollywood-style studios, the problem was one of trying to get all the animators who might be working on the same character to draw alike. This was harder than you may imagine because the personalities and idiosyncracies of artists conspire to make them not draw all the same.
So detailed model sheets were devised and handed out to all concerned, and everyone was encouraged to follow the specifications closely. If you couldn't do it, you were put into the story or effects department--some place where character drawing precision was not quite so important--or you got out of the business of studio animation.

And to a great extent, this system did work. It got to be that the general public was unaware that  one scene had been animated by Ben Washam, for example, and the next by Ken Harris, followed by another one by Washam.  Today, experts or geeks like me can sometimes spot certain scenes as being by a particular animator, for the reason that the animator in question might have what poker players call "tells", being in this case something in their drawing, posing or timing that gives away their identity to the alert scholar.

The Warner's director Chuck Jones, in my opinion, had the on-model situation best in hand because he produced a profusion of pose drawings in his own style for his animators to work from. They were good poses, brilliantly drawn, and so all the scenes in the cartoons he directed tended to look like Chuck Jones cartoons, unmistakably.

An independent animator like me, answering only to myself, may worry about drawing consistency, or may decide that it does not matter.

To me, it does matter. And when I found that my drawings were drifting off model, I did something about it that I remember having done before. I scaled my model sheet to the exact scale of the character in the scene I was doing.

If the character on your model sheet stands 4 inches high on that paper, and the character in your scene would be 9 inches high at full length--your scene might be a medium closeup just showing the character from the waist up--and if you try to just scale the image up as you draw, you may get into trouble. You may get the head right but the shoulders too small. You may easily get the nose too long or the chin too big.  A model sheet copied to the right scale can save you from unwanted distortion and inconsistency.

An array of model sheets scaled up in 10% increments at each step.


Even in a studio where the animator receives a layout with the character drawn in, having your model sheet sized to the proper scale will be helpful. Most copiers can take your image up or down in increments of 1%.

Try it!



Friday, May 12, 2017

No. 129, Working Hard at Animation!

I have been busy since my last post as I start to do animation from my A list: the scenes that are the most challenging and or the most important in my film. (See post no. 124 for a description of the A-
B-C system of animation triage.)

Right out of the gate, I had a success.  It is the scene described in post no. 126 of the old man catching and pocketing a business card, then strutting off. I planned it right, the drawing and timing went well, and it came out as good as I had imagined it should.

I felt righteous, as if I really knew my business. Everything from then on, I thought, was going to be easy, professional, attractive, and I would gain the admiration of everyone who knew anything about animation, as well as all those who didn't.

And yet...

Example of an erased, re-numbered, re-drawn, re-positioned and taped, and throughly battered drawing.

Nope. Hasn't turned out that way. The very next scene I chose to work on has been a challenge. It sounds simple; the Old Man is pulling on a pair of gloves.  But of course the trick is not in just animating it but, as always, to do it in an entertaining and believable way.

But don't get me wrong! I am not defeated in this; I am just having to work harder than I anticipated. But I have always acknowledged that animation--good animation--is a challenge. Really, I wouldn't have it any other way. Anything worth doing ought to be hard, make you sweat, make you think.

So I have been: erasing, re-drawing, re-timing from my pencil tests, cutting and repositioning drawings with tape. This is all the unglamorous but necessary work of animating when you want (and have time) to keep after a thing until it is right.

Next: Staying On Model

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:  www.letsmakeclown.com

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

*   *   *   *   *
Update, May 15, 2017
I am sorry to report that this Kickstarter effort failed. Having only raised pledges amounting to about a third of the stated goal, the project was withdrawn. Unfortunately, due to the vast number of projects vying on the Kickstarter website for attention and money, many worthy projects, even those having obvious appeal and well-thought-out pitch videos and donor enticements,  do not get fully funded--which, on Kickstarter, means they do not get funded at all.

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...