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, August 30, 2019

No. 194: Richard Williams, 1933-2019

Richard Williams Passes

It was with shock that I read of the death of Richard Williams last week, just after I had posted about him (No. 193: Page One-eleven). He was 86 years old, but that doesn't lessen the regret I felt for his absence from the 2D animation world; he loomed larger than anyone in his reverence and enthusiasm for drawn animation, and for all that he did to try to sustain it and make it into a noble art.

We have his great book, The Animator's Survival Kit, and we have the instructional DVD collection that he created afterwards, and we have all his films and drawings to treasure and learn from, and though I am given to understand that he could be difficult to work with, he made a great positive impact on animators around the world. His work will continue to inspire and stimulate for decades to come, I am sure.

Richard Williams as he looked in his early forties.
What we don't have is the completed feature film that he had dedicated so much of his life to, the ill-fated The Thief and the Cobbler, which was taken out of his hands and then "completed" by a crew that had no sense of what the project could be. Yet still, the incomplete version (The Thief Recobbled) that we do have is a marvel to see.

As I have said, I was privileged to attend the first of his Master Classes, and I got to experience his charisma and his dedication first hand. A great raconteur, he entertained us with hilarious imitations of such animation personalities as Milt Kahl and Grim Natwick while at the same time impressing us with the lore he had learned at the feet of those two and as many other of the aging golden age animators as he could muster. Before they passed away, he hired and learned all he could from Ken Harris, Art Babbitt and Abe Levitow, and then he scribed it all down for us in his clear and detailed way, for he was not only a great designer and artist and animator, he was a great teacher as well.
A couple of pages from my personal notebook made during the
Animation Master Class in 1995.

Richard Williams has died, but his legacy remains for now and for the future.

Friday, August 16, 2019

No. 193: Page One-Eleven

My Page in Richard Williams' Book...Maybe

I have referred fondly to Richard Williams' book The Animator's Survival Kit, published in 2001, and I even believe I may take credit for a small bit of it.

Years ago, a friend and I attended the first ever of Richard Williams' Animation Master Class workshops. This was held in Vancouver, BC, November 9, 10 and 11 of 1995. These classes were the basis for the book, or helped work out the ideas to be included in the book;  I am not sure which.  But he was already calling his class "the Animator's Survival Kit" at this time.

It was perhaps on the second day, when we had been talking about animating walks.  There was a bathroom break, and I walked up to Dick and said, "If you are animating a walk cycle, should you animate the character in one place on the page, as for use with a scrolling background?  Or should you walk him across the page?"

Most of what I knew about animation I had learned from books, and from studying animated films directly, so for years I had done walk cycles with the character holding his place on the page and his feet slipping backward, as if I were standing alongside a treadmill where the character was walking.

How walks are often displayed in books on animation.
From "Animation in Twelve Hard Lessons", by Robert B. Heath.
Another example, this time by Preston Blair in his well-known book.
From "Animation", by Preston Blair, published by Walter T. Foster.

This is how they were usually portrayed in animation books, often with registration marks over each image, so that they could all be lined up, one perfectly superimposed over the next. In some ways this was easier to do, with the body and head just bobbing up and down.  In fact, for a long time I don't believe it occurred to me to do it otherwise. But recently I had realized that perhaps you could get a better feel for the forward movement by letting the character actually step forward across the page, and so I had posed this question to Richard Williams.

There was a pause of several seconds before he answered decisively, "Walk him across the page."

That's all I can tell you about his thought process, or whether or not he had already intended to say something about this. But I can tell you that when the book was published, there it was, on page 111: " doing these walks--take a few steps across the page or screen--don't try to work out a cycle walking in place with the feet sliding back, etc." 

Here is a copy of the actual entry:

From page 111 of "The Animator's Survival Kit", by Richard Williams,
published by Faber and Faber, 2001.

But more important than whether I was an influence on Richard Williams is the fact that he is right: walking the character across the page is the best way to get the movement right. The other might sometimes work, but it can also look as phony as running in place does compared to actually running over a distance, and getting the feel of the mass and weight moving forward will help you achieve a convincing walk (or run, or sneak or other gait.)

The walk cycle, drawn spread out across the page.

And here's something of my own I want to add: it is important in doing any walk cycle in this way to create a copy of drawing 1 at the end, so that you have a drawing to link into.  Thus if you have a 16 drawing walk cycle, create also a drawing 17 which is a tracing of drawing 1 except that it will be positioned at the end of the second step, where the cycle repeats. This will be a working drawing and never to be photographed, but I think you will find it indispensable.

With a copy of drawing 1 in the new position, you will have
something to animate into.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

No. 192: The Walk Cycle Completed

The story so far...

Last time I showed you the first version pencil test where I had mainly focused on the legs and feet. Here is the promised version two, featuring the final hand and arm action.

Yet this was still only half the work, as the remaining 8 inbetweens had yet to be done.  And are these straight inbetweens, with every line or point on the inbetween  halfway between the two corresponding lines or points on the drawings it connects? The answer is, certainly not.  At the extremes, there are ease-in or ease-out spacings, and also certain of these "simpler" inbetween drawings may even have a useful eccentricity to them.

Here is a good example of that.

Example in which an inbetween [in red] is not a straight
inbetween but an eccentric one.

Watch for that little one-drawing, two-frame accent here in the final pencil test. Once for each step, of course.

Other things have been done here: Necktie animation, tightening of the drawing on all drawings, and also I raised the high point of the Up drawings before the inbetweening.

This is a reliable and methodical way to create a cycle, or any scene, by adding the various elements just one or two at a time, and not trying to get it all right on the first pass.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

No. 191: The Old Man Walks

A New Walk Cycle

Every once in a while, I get down Richard Williams' book from my collection of something like 150 books on animation, and I go through it from beginning to end. This does not count the times I get it down to look up something specific, as for example recently when I wanted to review what he had to say about someone clapping their hands.

The Animator's Survival Kit by Williams and Illusion of Life by Thomas and Johnston are the two  most influential and informational guides to the process of traditional animation that I can imagine. Of the two, Survival Kit is actually the more useful.  For one thing, it is organized better; if you have ever tried to look something up in Illusion of Life, you will have little idea where in the book to look for that something.  You just have to turn pages until you find it. This is because, to a great extent, Illusion of Life is organized chronologically, more as a history than as a text book.
I like it so well, I have two copies of this book.

Survival Kit is actually everything that Richard Williams could think of about animation that could be written down.  It is a how-to book and a how-to-proceed book, and it also tells you why.  It is not a bible but more a book of lore, techniques that amount to a sorcerer's compendium of magic  gathered from years working with Disney animators and Warners animators and others, and setting out the spells and rites (and hard work) that can bring forth good and interesting animation that is alive. When I get it down for a thorough review, it is to look for things I had missed or glossed over before, and there is always something new for me.


On the subject of characters' walks, Williams does seventy-three pages, and that doesn't include runs and jumps and other such variations. So it may be no wonder that one tends to turn pages through this section, stopping to read just here and there. This time I gave it a closer scrutiny, because I was about to do a new walk cycle for my Old Man character (for my film Carry On) and I wanted to work more with the multi-pass approach to any complex animation, wherein you focus on one thing at a time, as for example, first the legs, then the arms, then the head, etc. By this method you can successfully carry out something that in the aggregate is more nuanced and rich than you could accomplish if you tried to think about everything at once.

This turns out to be a difficult thing to learn. I am always tempted to try to get everything down, and everything right, on the first pass. But my results that way are not always good, so I wanted to commit myself to the multi-pass system that is recommended not only by Williams but was practiced by Milt Kahl and others.

The Old Man

The brief, or requirements, for this animation were obvious to me.  The man is old, and he has a deformed spine, but he is not weak--he will be dragging that huge steamer trunk around, remember.
So his walk may be slow and deliberate, but not feeble or faltering. And, I don't want the walk to be too comic.

The obvious starting point is with the legs and feet. I did of course put in the torso, head and arms, but just as placeholders.  I am not thinking much about them yet: they are subject to change.

Each step will be sixteen frames, or 2/3 of a second at 24fps, rather than the 12 or 8 frames that we are used to seeing. I will animate on 2's rather than 1's, so each drawing gets two exposures. For the complete cycle of two steps, there will be sixteen drawings.

First Pass

I made eight drawings to begin with: for each step, a Contact position (1 and 9), a Down position (3 and 11), a Passing Position (5 and 13), and an Up position (7 and 15).  Here is that pencil test.

Well, it's working. He has an almost shuffling step, making contact on the ball of his foot rather than the heel, and I think the amount of up and down movement on the body is good too.

Before I add in the eight inbetweens, I will now make a second pass for the arms and hands, and I have an idea about this I want to try. We'll look at that next time.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

No. 190: Square to 16:9

Getting the Whole Picture

When I began my film, Carry On, I had to decide on an aspect ratio; that is, the proportion of height to width of the film frame. I chose to use the 16:9 ratio, a very wide ratio similiar to those popularized in movie theaters in such formats as Cinemascope, Vista Vision and Cinerama, which they say were conceived to give the moviegoer an experience that could not be had on the medium that had become a threat to theatrical movies:  television.

Well, as we all know, television has found a way around that limitation. But in social media there are still examples of a fixed and restricted aspect ratio, mainly because of their use on cell phones.  Specifically, I refer to Instagram, which crops everything to a perfect square. So, try to post a wide or tall image on Instagram, and it will simply be cropped down to a square.

This shows what goes missing when a 16:9 image, shown in blue,
is cropped down to a square shape.
I recently posted to my Instagram account a pencil test in 16:9 and was annoyed to find that, because of the cropping, it didn't make any sense to the viewer.

Here, in square format, the cropping cut off some important action at screen right.

Looking for a workaround, I did a little searching online and discovered a service called Kapwing. For no charge, I could upload my movie and get it modified so that the whole frame was in view, somewhat smaller, of course, but perfectly clear.

Now we can see the rear of the taxi, where something happens near the end of the clip. merely requires the inclusion of their small watermark in the lower right corner of each movie. You can visit them for more information.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

No. 189:A Finished Scene

That Heavy Trunk

Here is the final version of my first scene to be finished in color for my film Carry On.

My next scene, Scene 1-3, precedes this one in continuity; it will show the taxi with Old Man and trunk arriving at the airport.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

No. 188: Taxi Arriving

Although character animation is for me the most satisfying part of 2D animation, it is sometimes necessary to do other animation along the way. This is animation of objects, like the Old Man's trunk, that are tedious to draw and yet give conviction and substance to the scenes.

I did a recent post talking about the difficulty of imitating 3D animation in 2D (No. 182), but it is not so bad if you are not trying so much to imitate 3D as to simply make a convincing 2D interpretation of the movement of 3D objects.

In the scene we are looking at here, there is a wide exterior shot of an airport terminal departures building.  A taxi appears at screen right, following a curving driveway, and stops to unload a passenger and his luggage.

I considered making the road and curbing straight across, so that the taxi could be a single image sliding across from right to left.  But, as usual, I decided on doing it the hard way.

This is the layout for the scene.

This shows the beginning (at right) and ending (at center) positions of the taxi that drives in. As you can see, the vehicle turns in perspective as it drives in. It also diminishes in scale.

It would be possible to animate the taxi moving across the page from pos. 1 to pos. 2, but there is a helpful shortcut I can use.

If I superimpose positions 1 and 2, then the inbetweening will be easier and more accurate. Tracing from my pos. 1 drawing, I made a more complete rendering that is registered directly above pos. 2; the inbetweening is now an obvious process.

The consideration of arcs while inbetweening is in this case moot; the arcs will be introduced in the final placement of the drawings along the path of movement.

Lasting 18 frames, this will require 9 drawings (shooting on 2's).  There will also be some squash and stretch as the taxi stops, but that is a problem that can be addressed separately.

Here is a view of five of the drawings being rolled on my animation board.

When this is done, I will then reposition the drawings along the path. In past years, I would have done this with scissors and tape, cutting out each drawing and re-mounting it onto a new sheet of--wait for it!--Acme punched paper.

But giving in (just a little) to today's digital convenience, I can just make a spacing guide and then shift the scanned drawings in Animate Pro.

Spacing guide for the 9 moving taxi images.

Next: That inking and painting again!