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

Thursday, August 30, 2018

No. 168, The Simple Things

The Simple Things

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

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

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

The Storyboard Drawings

The guard is aware that the Old Man is hesitant.

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

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

Also, I added the angry man to the right.

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

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

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

No. 167, Work-around for a YouTube Quirk

Where's My Hold?!!

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

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

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

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

No. 166, Beware of Re-writing Unintentionally


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

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

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

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

Here are the storyboard panels with which I was working.

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

The "extra" pose I added.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 30, 2018

No. 165, Gesture Drawing at the Old Ball Game

Baseball Drawing Fun

Yesterday I went with my wife and some friends to a local baseball game. The team is a collegiate woodbat team, a member of the West Coast League.  It was a beautiful baseball day, sunny and warm with a nice breeze.  I thought to take along my sketchbook to do some action gesture drawing.

Regular gesture drawing is usually done with a short pose of from one to three minutes.  I enjoy that, too, but what I call Action Gesture Drawing is not from any held poses at all. Your subjects are moving about all the time and unaware that they are being drawn.  This can be very difficult in activities where no one holds still at all, or hardly ever.  You see someone in conversation at a park, they actually are holding still, so you start a drawing and suddenly they shift their weight or otherwise change their pose.

Turns out, baseball is ideal for this. In baseball, as perhaps in cricket and a few other sports, the players repeat their poses many times: the batter takes his or her stance, the catcher squats down to give signals or receive the pitch, and the pitcher has a number of standard moves and poses in his repertoire.

Just as batters and pitchers and fielders have to warm up before they are ready to play, so does the gesture artist need a few moments to get warmed up for a good session.  Here is my whole warmup page, so that you can see that there are bad drawings among the good.

My warmup page, showing some unsuccessful sketches.
Here are some of the better ones...

This right handed batter is ready for the pitch.  First I drew the angles of the forearms and the bat; the rest I filled in from repeated pitches.

I believe this was another right handed batter. he has swung at the ball and at this point has already let go of the bat with his right hand. His whole right arm is hidden behind his body.

Our seats were along the first base line, so we had good views of the pitcher and batter, as well as the catcher. This pose of a left handed pitcher is not one that is held at all, so I had to watch him pitch several balls to get the drawing done. After this the left leg swings forward; in a quarter of a second, the pose changes dramatically.

Here is a complementary pose, the delivery by a right handed pitcher. Again, the leg that is behind will swing forward rapidly.

Here, the pitcher waits for  s signal from the catcher.

Last, here is a young man who probably imagines himself behind the plate or on the mound someday.

Every so often, I will encourage you to do life drawing to improve your observation, an important tool for the animator. So try to always have a sketchbook at hand. These drawings were all done directly with a fine line waterproof marker, but whether you use pencil or pen, keep drawing!

Saturday, July 28, 2018

No. 164, Smear Drawings and How to Use Them

If you look back at the video in post No. 162, you will see the character, Nelson, glancing quickly right and left before going into his cringe. This was done with the use of smear drawings, which I have mentioned before. Chuck Jones The Dover Boys  makes use of this technique extensively for quick transitions, so if you have this cartoon on DVD or can find it on You Tube, take a look.

Here is how they are supposed to work, based on a supposition that the frame speed is 24 frames per second.

You create your starting pose, A...

... and your ending pose, B.

Then you do this weird inbetween drawing that will appear on one frame only; this is very important.

If the movement is left to right, you trace the left contour of drawing A, then the right contour of drawing B.
Contour A shown in Red.

Contour B shown in Blue.

Between those contours you handle the shape like a piece of taffy stretched across between the starting and ending contours.

As appropriate, include an arc of movement in this drawing.

The result will be a smear or blur that can be a quite effective transition. The viewer will not be able to focus on the inbetween but the effect will be of a smooth, although lightning fast, movement, rather like that of a bird suddenly moving its head.
Here is the smear tween laid over the two key drawings.
This is the smear tween alone.
This will work fine in black and white, but it works even better in full color.
Above, the three images in color.
Colors actually track better than lines. Here I have limited myself to just two colors, but more could also work. But more than 3 or 4 colors will not make the effect any better, and it is a lot of unnecessary work. They say that light colors track better than dark ones.

Let's now look at a video of this effect, created in Flipbook through Autodesk Sketchbook.

Note: For the best effect, try looping this video. See instructions at the top right of this page if you don't already know how.

When you loop the video, you will see that this effect--having no anticipation nor drag nor follow-through--works just as well backwards as forwards.  I hope you enjoy using this fun effect!

Friday, July 13, 2018

No. 163, My Next Assignment...and Yours!, part 3

"Take" Two

This scene posed some problems I had not anticipated. But I finally got it sorted out. Here is the result, with discussion following.

If you compare it to the video in the previous post, No. 162, you will see that I have taken out the quick head movements at the beginning and added a classic Hollywood cartoon "take"--a sudden movement indicating surprise or shock.

Sometimes a move in animation that isn't working quite right is best handled by coming at it with something altogether different, rather than continuing to fuss with the original drawings.  I was slowed down in my posting to this blog by summer weather, yard work and fun with some house guests who came up to stay with us during Independence Day week.

But I have also taken the time to clean up all the drawings, so you are seeing this much as it will appear when inked and painted.

The next scene I do will show you what this same character does when he comes out of his cringing pose to find that his fears were unwarranted. Is he relieved? Yes, but he is also angry!

Thursday, June 21, 2018

No. 162, My Next Assignment...and Yours!, part 2

The Inbetweens and Key Drawings

I have now done my animation of this scene, and there were some surprises. More about that later, but first let's look at the main poses.  We began with the two storyboard poses last time; here is how those translated into animation drawings.


Storyboard panel 1.

...became this. Simple enough.

But then the second storyboard panel...

Storyboard panel 2.
Ended up converting to two drawings: this one (which pretty much resembles story panel 2)...

Drawing 57

 ...and also this one, an even more extreme compression of Nelson's body.

Drawing 71

This last drawing and the six inbetweens leading to it comprise a moving hold, in Disney parlance, ending in a trembling vibration on ones between drawing 71 and drawing 72 (which is drawing 71 re-traced with some minimal displacement of forms; that's how you get an effect of vibration or trembling).

Thus, the sequence for the end is 57, 59, 61, 63, 65, 67, 69 (all on twos) and 71, 72, 71, 72, 71, 72, etc. (all on ones.)

 At the beginning of the scene, before Nelson goes into his cringe, you will see that I also have him quickly looking one way and then the other.

Here is the first pass pencil test of this whole thing:

What do you think? My own opinion: the cringe part is good but the beginning where he glances back and forth does not read very well.

Next: We'll add a couple of holds, and also talk about those quick transitions.

Friday, June 8, 2018

No. 161, My Next Assignment...and Yours!

My Next Assignment

The is a reaction shot from the same character we have been working with in posts 157 thru 160, the impatient guy who makes a show of looking at his watch.

Aww, let's give him a name, instead of saying "that guy who blah blah blah", every time. How about Nelson, after a friend of mine?

Okay, we cut to Nelson right after he has seen someone press a button that appears to have activated a bomb. He reacts by cringing and shrinking down, thinking he is going to die.

As in the last scene, the storyboard artist (me) has provided just two panels for this one: 1) Nelson looking alarmed, and 2) Nelson shrunken into a death-fear cringe.

Nelson sees the button being pushed...
Nelson cringes, trembling.

The animator (me) now looks and considers the obvious, which is basically just to accept the two poses as definitive and go ahead and animate more or less straight from one to the other.  Hold and cut!

Last time, we made something more interesting based on only two poses, and I think we can do the same here.

As we have noted before, the job of the storyboard artist is to sketch the story in great detail. But it is not her job to do the deepest planning and acting--that is the job of the animator. Between the storyboard and the final animation lie the animator's thinking and his resultant thumbnails, which are the visual notes from that thinking.

This is especially true of scenes in pantomime, scenes without dialog.

Lay people, even visual artists, have said to me that they thought animating dialog must be especially difficult.  On the contrary, if you have a good voice actor, the animator has it much easier, because the voice actor will have done a lot of your timing for you, possibly will have even suggested good poses and gestures in her body language during recording.

The actor Edmond Gwenn, who played Kris Kringle in the original Miracle on 34th Street, famously said on his death bed that "dying is easy; comedy is hard."

But the animator says: dialog is easy; pantomime is hard. And you don't have to be on your death bed to know it.

Many people dislike mime artists, but working in front of your mirror over some silent action, that is exactly what you are, though the mirror and your sketchpad may be your only witnesses.

Your Assignment, should you choose to accept it...

For now, I am going to hold back my own ideas for this particular problem and ask you, What would you do?  If you were the animator, would you add more business to the scene? Let's say you have this restraint: the scene can't last more than 3.5 seconds, including holds.

In a week or so, I'll blog again with my own ideas.  In the meantime, why not let me know how you would do this?  I will be happy to hear from any of you.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

No. 160, Developing the Scene, part 3

Getting It Right

To conclude the current blog series (No's 157, 158 and 159) we now will have a look at my revised pencil test.  I had said I would be erasing arms from the original drawings rather than creating all new drawings, and you will be able to see in the pencil test the ghost drawings where I was unable to get them erased completely.

Here is the new pencil test.

Now this character-without-a-name raises up his arm in a flamboyant way that says as much about his arrogance and intolerance as his facial expressions and his head movement.  And it has come to me where I had seen almost exactly this same gesture before.  It was years ago, when I lived in New Orleans. In the lobby of a hotel where I then worked I saw a handsome young FBI agent look at his watch in precisely the same way. (How I knew he was with the FBI is a longer story.) But he had an attitude combined of vanity and self-importance that I obviously have never quite forgotten.

A good character animator must be an acute observer of human behavior. We never know when we might be able to make good use of such observations.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

No. 159, Developing the Scene, part 2

Not Quite There

Last time I revealed the extremes and breakdown drawings of my scene of an impatient man making a show of looking at his watch to express irritation with my main character.

(In following this, you may want to go back and review the last two posts, numbers 158 and 157.)

Since then I have followed through as promised, filling in all inbetweens and creating a pencil test. Here is the result.

The Pencil Test

In short, I was disappointed. The head movement works well, properly expressing the man's disdain as well as his arrogance. The arm movement as he brings his watch up in front of his face: not so good. It is just a case of failure to analyze adequately the body language that I want to put across. Body language is more important even than facial expression in conveying a character's intent and attitude, and it isn't working.

So I am back at it again, erasing all the arms and rethinking the movement. In the next post you will get to see whether my "second draft" is any improvement on the first.
Please stand by...

Monday, May 14, 2018

No. 158, Developing the Scene, Part 1

Impatient Man Consulting his Watch

In my last post, No. 157, we looked at translating storyboard poses into actual animation poses. Now I want to follow through for you as I develop the additional extremes and breakdown drawings. In a subsequent post we will end by putting in all the inbetweens and finally seeing the scene in full animation.

The storyboard for this scene was able to be illustrated with just two poses: an impatient man ostentatiously looks at his watch in frustration over the time it is taking the Old Man (off camera) to get his bag through the X-ray conveyor.

(At this point I recommend you review post No. 157, as it will make the following easier to understand.)

My analysis of this scene tells me that there is much more to it now than just smoothly inbetweening from the first pose to the last. Acting the movement out, I can feel a shifting of weight in the upper body as the man's right arm is brought up. Also, I see his head rocking over, eyes closed, as he aligns his eyes with the big watch on his wrist. At last he opens his eyes and scowls at the face of the watch.

The movement times out at two seconds, with a half-second hold at the beginning and a one-second hold at the end. 48 frames of movement; 25 drawings.

I remind you that this is one of those situations in my blog when I dare to show you my work in progress before I have proven to myself that it will even work. I am relying on my experience, but if my planning does not work out, I will show you that and then show what it takes to fix it. Then perhaps we will both learn something.

Here are the drawings so far, with commentary.

The starting hold drawing, No. 1.

Breakdown, No. 17. He begins to shift his weight and lift his arm, leading with the shoulder.

Extreme, No 23. Note that the head and arm have different spacing charts, so that whereas this is an extreme or change of direction drawing for the head, it is just a continuation of movement for the arm.

Note: As usual I am using the numbering system recommended by Dick Williams and adapted from the Disney hand-drawn animation system of numbering, where the x-sheet frame number coordinates with the drawing number whenever possible. Thus, drawing one starts on fr 1, but as 1 is a 12-frame hold, then the second drawing is going to be number 13. This forces me to at least attempt to time out the whole scene on my x(posure) sheet before I draw it, and that is a skill worth practicing and worth getting good at. 

Breakdown, No. 29.  The arm continues to move up in an arc as the head begins to move to our right (his left), leading with the neck and torso.

Extreme, No. 35.  The head eases in at the top of its movement. The arm continues in its arc, the elbow reaching its highest point on this drawing.  The wrist is rotating into place.

Breakdown, No. 45. The elbow is dropping down. The eyes are still closed, but from here to the end, everything is moving slowly enough that the opening of the eyes and his facial reaction can be observed and appreciated by the viewer. Animators have learned that a change of facial expression is wasted if it takes place during a broad movement of the head or when there is distracting action in the frame.

Extreme, No. 59. The final drawing. An alternate way of ending this would be for the arm to come to rest, and then the face, on its own layer, would open the eyes and react, but I am betting that it will work just as well in this case to have all moving drawings come to rest at the same time.  It is a violation of the rule of overlapping action, but like all rules, this one may sometimes be properly broken.

I'll see you next time, when we will find out if I have this right. Wait for it!!

Thursday, April 26, 2018

No. 157, Plus Your Drawings!


I am using the word plus as a verb here, meaning to improve upon.  As a writer, I am a big believer in the second draft and the third draft. Parts of the first draft may survive intact, but many times a second and third draft will lead you to a better result.

In the same way, a second or third attempt at a pose drawing in your animation may yield a more forceful, more concise and more effective pose than you started with. At Disney, even the best animator sometimes would go to a colleague if they felt a drawing needed "plussing." At Warner Bros, a storyboard by one team would be reviewed by all the other teams, with a rule that all comments had to be positive suggestions--suggestions for plussing--rather than being just negative and destructive.

Let's look at an example from some animation work that is on my board right now.

I am doing some little scenes that are reaction shots by characters who are watching the Old Man who is ahead of them in the security line at the airport.  One of these is a man who, when driving, would be changing lanes constantly in an effort to get ahead somehow, even though each change of lane advances him only one car-length at a time: an impatient person, to say the least. Anything that slows him down,  makes him angry.

Incidentally, there are three short scenes of this character in this one sequence, and I am animating them as a group so that I will be consistent with him. I recommend this because if you do one reaction shot and then come back a month later to do another such shot, you may not get the same take on his character. All the scenes with him are short and take place in the same one or two minutes of screen time, so it makes sense to handle them as one.

Here are the two storyboard panels illustrating his first scene, where he ostentatiously looks at his watch.

Panel 1: The impatient guy stares resentfully at the old man.

Panel 2: He swings his arm up and glares at his watch.

Panel 1 translated onto the animation board almost line for line, but rather than tracing it I did redraw it freehand because, often, improvements occur to me as I draw.  Here is the animation pose.

Animation pose 1.  Virtually the same as in the storyboard.

Panel 2 is a different matter. I thought I could plus it. I was not quite happy with the tilt of his head, so I reimagined it.

Animation pose 2, version 1. Not quite saying what I want.
This drawing did not please me overall. The eyes were better than in the storyboard, I thought, but the drawing lacked the force of panel 2 from the storyboard. The forearm and hand are scaled a little smaller relative to the head, and that is likely part of the problem.

So, time for another attempt. Sometimes I erase and do the correction on the same sheet of paper, but  this seemed major; I didn't want to be influenced by the ghost image of the erased drawing.

Here is the next version.

Animation pose 2, the second attempt.

Better? Yeah, I think so too! I tilted his head more, and I brought his forearm and fist closer to the "camera", which shows off his monster chronograph watch. The guy is steamed!

This is all a part of teaching yourself to be self-critical. Soon I am going to do a whole post about being properly critical of your own work. Wait for it!

Saturday, April 14, 2018

No. 156, Another Rope Trick

This is the same rope seen dropping to the ground in Post No. 153, Rope Trick.

Now the rope or cord is being tied by the old man to the handle of his trunk; he will drag the trunk by this means through the long corridors of the airport terminal.

I wanted to show a complicated sort of knot without really going through all the actual mechanics of tying that knot. But I thought it would be funny to start out as if it were a how-to, like an animated page from a Boy Scout manual, then show a flurry of movement that is impossible to follow, and slow down again as I show the knot being drawn tight.

Here's the result.

Friday, April 13, 2018

No. 155, Stan Green, Animator, Part Two

In my last blog post, No. 154, I spoke of my excitement at meeting and getting to do some animation work with Stan Green, animator and principal assistant to the great Milt Kahl.  I remember being quite excited, sitting at my board with a stack of Stan Green's animation drawings--just extremes and breakdowns--in my hands, with all the inbetweens yet to be done by me.

Stan Green placeholder image. Anyone got a photo of him?

There were the drawings to go by, of course. They were delicate and bold at the same time, but very sure in there execution. I seem to remember blue pencil under the graphite, very loose compared to the precise black lines that had been laid down over them. There was just one character, a man who talks expansively about something (the product or service being advertised, I have no idea what.)

And it was full animation--oh, yes!--straight from a Disney veteran.

As I have said in other posts, I was self-taught, having learned everything I knew about animation either from books or from experience.  I had never even worked with another animator who knew more about it than I did. What did I know at that time? It might be easier to tell you what I didn't know.

I knew the 12 Principals, but there were some I did not fully understand. I didn't know much about timing. I didn't know you should not try to show more than one thing at a time. I didn't know how to think deeply enough about a scene before starting to animate it; thus, I often did things over, or things came out flat, and I didn't know why.

But as an inbetweener? Oh yeah. I could do literal inbetweens in my sleep, following arcs of movement and keeping the mass the same, and I understood the spacing charts. yet there were things there I had never seen before--little marginal thumbnails of an eye closing and opening for drawings 21, 23, 25 and 27, for example. Or a notation sketch about how an arm should look as it was being raised.

I believe that working on this sequence raised my aesthetic standards, too, as I tried to get my own drawings to the same level as those of Stan Green.  I worked through the assignment with confidence, and when I turned it in, he flipped through it and said, "Yeah.  I can work with this."

Of course I don't know what he really might have thought, but just to know it was acceptable seemed like high praise.

Stan had plans to teach a course in animation film making, which I believe never got off the ground. My further hope of getting more animation lore out of him directly was not realized either.  Like a lot of experts, he was not a natural teacher and we ended up only hearing some amusing anecdotes about his experiences with Milt Kahl. A year or two later, I learned that he had died.

Still, I value the experience of being his inbetweener for that one brief moment in time.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

No. 154, Stan Green: Animator, Part One

Who Was Stan Green?

I have long wanted to do a blog post on Stan Green because the brief time I knew him had rather a profound effect on me. But as always when I do a post, I like to have some pictures or graphic images of some kind with which to enhance the words. In Stan Green's case, this has been a considerable problem. 

In the first place, I don't personally have any pictures of him or by him. I have no images from the one television commercial on which I assisted him. In the second place, the internet has been little help. He does have a listing in the IMDB (Internet Movie Data Base) but there is nothing biographical or anecdotal, just the chronological listing of his screen work, which ranges from doing layouts for The Lone Ranger animated show in the mid 60s to his period at Disney feature films.

What he is best known for amid the animation industry is having been key assistant to Milt Kahl for the last period of that man's animating career, working with him through Robin Hood (1973) and The Rescuers (1977). He is known to have done much of the animation of the great Kahl villainess Madame Medusa.

When he retired from Disney, he moved with his wife up to Newport, Oregon, and took some work animating locally in Portland, where I lived and worked at the time.

My partners and I had been doing some work with a company called AN/FX, and that is how we ran into Stan Green. The animation technology then (about 1980) was still artwork to film to video tape if you were producing for television. In those days, it was also pencil drawings to Xeroxed cels but the painting was still done by hand. AN/FX had a new state-of-the-art rostrum camera of which they were justly proud.

Stan was hired by the owner of the company to design a character and do full character animation for a TV commercial. Stan required assistants for inbetweening, and so my friend Don Wallace and I were contacted.

I talked to Stan personally only a few times. The important thing to me was, that he handed out his scenes for inbetweening, and I got to do a big chunk of it.  I never learned so much, so fast as during those few days.

More about this next time...

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

No. 153, Rope Trick

Make It Interesting!

Sometimes, if you are on a severe deadline or your client or employer cares more about speed and quantity than artistry, you will have to animate a scene in the simplest possible way and be done with it. But when you have the time, try to make it interesting, whatever it is.

If you are working on your own project, as I am, then in my opinion there is no excuse for not giving it your best.

I have a simple little example from my film in progress, Carry On. Closeup of a man's feet and legs. One end of a thin rope drops to the ground. That's it! Not much of a scene, and one might be tempted to do it in the flattest way possible so you can get on to the walks and dialog scenes: the fun stuff, right?

But what if this rope scene could be made interesting? Frankly, I wasn't sure at first that that was possible. Here are the storyboard panels.

Panel 1. 

Panel 2. The rope drops.

Panel 3. The rope at rest on the ground.

How to approach a problem like this? Because if your approach is wrong, and it doesn't look right, then you will have something much worse than if it is merely boring or routine; you will have created something that may distract the viewer from the moment; which may destroy the viewer's engagement in your story and her suspension of disbelief.

Took me a couple of false starts before I got it right. I don't mind admitting this since, after all, this blog is largely about making mistakes and then fixing them. But as the drawings were so simple, there was not much wasted time and effort.

Following are a couple of rejected solutions. (Where else but on Acme Punched do you get to see the rejected work?)

At the beginning I had visualized that the falling rope would be uncoiling as it drops. Now I saw that after hitting the ground, the rope might coil up again until it reached its limit (where the unseen hand above is still holding onto one end.)

That worked well, but if you notice, I have also added in something else--a wave that moves back up the rope to the higher end, spending the last bit of energy of the movement, a good example of the principle of follow-through.

Following is a clearer look at the action, with only one layer visible.

Remember, even the simplest things can be animated in an interesting way, if only you look carefully enough.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

No. 152, Off Screen Animation

When a stage actor enters the stage, she must be already in character by the time she becomes visible; otherwise, the illusion of the moment is lost. Going offstage is the same. If an actor's character is angry and exits in a mood of contained fury, the audience must not see that actor relax into nonchalance as he goes backstage.

I once saw a play where there was a wall with a street door at the rear of the set. Suddenly the door burst open and a woman rushed in, slamming the door behind her as she leaned against it, catching her breath. She had created the illusion that she had been running all the way to her door.  Of course, she had done no such thing. She had been waiting for her cue at the back of the door, and when it came she seized her character in her mind, quickened her breathing, and leaped into action. It was professional expertise, and it was engaging and convincing.

In animation, as in theater, our characters must be in character from the first frame, and if they are entering or leaving the frame, they must be held to the same standard as their live counterparts on stage or in film.

For animators, this sometimes means making drawings or poses that are not seen by the audience. If we are walking someone off, for example, anyone ought to realize that even if you are left showing only an elbow and one foot, it would be best to base those parts on drawings of the whole figure. But sometimes a character might be coming into the frame in some other way, and one might be tempted to fake it and just draw the portion of the character that is actually included in the frame; this might work just fine, but you may find it a good idea to do some drawing "off screen."

I have an example here where I decided it wasn't good enough just to fake it.

This is from the same scene I discussed in post No. 151.  You can review the pencil test here.
Where I ran into trouble was in the first few drawings. Starting out with his head down, he brings it up as he stands. The first key drawing I did after the resting poses was this one:

Drawing 5

This is drawing 5. The next extreme is drawing 13.

Drawing 13

How do I inbetween  numbers 7, 9 and 11 without seeing the lower half of the face in drawing 5?  Well, just because I was running off the bottom edge of the paper where I was already well out of the camera frame, that did not mean I could not draw the image I needed.  And so I did, attaching an extra piece of paper to the bottom of 5.  Then I could easily do accurate inbetweening for the drawings that would be seen.

Drawing 5 with the temporary extension added to show the rest of his face.

And, what of drawings 1 and 3, where we see only the hat and the curve of his back?  Oh, those I just faked.  Which really means, I extrapolated based on my experience. As I say, it sometimes does work to "fake it." By trial and error, you just have to learn when you can do that, and when you shouldn't.