For People Crazy About 2D Animation!

Acme Punched! is for people crazy about 2D animation. It may be enjoyed by beginners and others, but it is aimed at animators who know already something about the process of animation and the basics of character animation. In large part, it will attempt to provide a deep look into the problem solving that goes on in my head as I work out a scene, often in step-by-step posts that I will sometimes enter in "real time", without knowing in advance what the outcome will be. Mistakes and false starts will not only be included but emphasized, so that the creative process of animation will be portrayed realistically. And, while my own bias is for 2D drawn animation, many of the effects and principles discussed here can apply to CGI 3D animation as well. I hope the blog will prove useful and instructive for all.

-Jim Bradrick

Sunday, November 25, 2012

No. 21, Drawings into Digital: Part 3--Closing the Gaps

As pointed out in Part 2, my use of a broken line inking style requires an extra operation using the Stroke tool to close the gaps in each paint area; otherwise, because the gaps are too large for automatic closing, the areas will not fill with color.

Here is an example of an inked fox image:
A fox image, inked but not yet ready for painting because of the large, deliberate gaps in the lines.

The large gaps shown here should be closed using the Stroke tool, which is on the toolbar in a pull-down menu with the Paint tool.  The Stroke tool is applied as you would use the pencil tool, in whatever straight or curved or even meandering style you care to employ.  It is important to understand not to use the Close Gap tool for these large gaps, because the Close Gap tool, while it will indeed close any gap, will always take the shortest and straightest path between the two points you are connecting, whereas you will find that you often may want to follow a suggested curve or other path when connecting two points.  For example, if I wanted to close the large gap at the back of the fox's head in the above illustration, I would want to follow the arc of the two lines being connected.

Here is the same image with the connecting strokes applied and made visible in blue.
A detail of the first image, with connecting strokes visible.
Note the stroke connecting the two curved lines at upper right.  This is an example of my stroke line completing the curves of the inked  lines and coming together in a soft point .

Here is an even closer view of the nose and brow area of the fox:
This shows clearly the strokes (in blue) connecting the line gaps in just the desired way.

When using the Stroke or Brush or just about any other  tool, be sure to take advantage of the instant-response Rotate View tool.  This is one of the greatest and most useful tools available in most of the Toon Boom family of products from Studio on up through Animate Pro and Harmony, allowing you to spin your drawing surface to obtain the most effective angle for your hand.  Rotate View is accessed on the Mac by pressing Alt+Command, and by a similar key combination on the PC.  The drawing disc icon that appears indicates its function; it is just like spinning the animator's  drawing disc that was set into a traditional Hollywood studio animation desk.

Sometimes the Stroke tool may be used in a more free-form or creative way than just for closing obvious gaps in lines.  Here is an example of that.
.  The gaps between each pair of border lines are connected using a line with a curve not based on the angles or curves of the inked lines.
Here the radial lines indicate the bristling fur of the fox.  I could have simply connected the lines with an arc perpendicular to the inked lines, but I wanted to finesse and soften the connections.  With the Stroke tool, this was easy to accomplish.

Next: Painting the Images

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

No. 20, Drawings Into Digital: Part 2--Inking

The scanned drawings are imported as batches into the timeline, all the drawings of each level to a new layer. The timing will be worked out later.  In my case, I have already worked out the timing in the pencil tests I did in Toki Line Test, so I will refer to the Xsheet from that when  spacing the drawings.

Here is what the timeline looks like after the  drawings are imported:

There are five layers of drawings showing here: Man, Tail_Behind, Body (the fox's body), Tail_infront, and Fur.  Above each of these layers I have created a drawing layer with the same names repeated, but in capital letters: MAN, TAIL-BEHIND, BODY, TAIL_INFRONT and FUR.  These are the layers I will be inking on, tracing from the layer below.

Note: I should mention that what I describe here is my own system.  Of the kinds of animation it is possible to do in Animate Pro, Toon Boom provides the least information and guidance about importing completed animation drawings.  No doubt this is because it is the least popular type of animation among its user base, so there is less demand for technical help, and because animators who can do all their animation on paper before entering the program usually know what they are doing.

At any rate, the drawings here are arranged in ascending number order in each layer, but the drawings of one layer do not yet have any meaningful relationship to the drawings of another layer.  For example, drawing 1 of the Body layer is meant to be held for many frames, but until it is inked and painted it will occupy only one.

I now begin the inking process, which looks like this:

The red frames on the layer BODY are the inked frames of the layer Body, directly below.

I have chosen a style using two weights of brush line, which are basically the default brush 2 and the default brush 3, although I have changed the property values of each somewhat.  Brush 2 gives a thin line without much variation, while brush 3 has a heavier line with a lot of thick and thin variation.  You will want to experiment to get the right amounts of Minimum and Maximum Size, and of Smoothness and Contour Optimization for your own purposes.  On the fox character I am using brush 2 for interior lines and anything else that is of a delicate nature, like the outlines of the lower legs.  Brush 3 is for everything else.

Also because I like the look, I am allowing the line to break, or to not always connect with other lines.  This will necessitate a lot of work with the Stroke tool, which adds invisible lines to connect these gaps.

Here is a closeup showing the inking being applied over the bitmap scanned image.  The scan was at 150dpi.  It is blurry and I was forced to refer frequently to the actual pencil drawings to be able to make out some details.

Since scanning these, I learned through an exchange on the LinkedIn group Animation Community Platform that I could be scanning my drawings vectorized rather than bitmap.  Here is an example, showing the much higher quality:
A grey mode vector scan, this time over a blue color card.
The vectorized scan also gives me alpha transparency, which the bitmap image does not.  I will be using this type of scan from now on.

Next: Closing the Gaps

Thursday, November 8, 2012

No. 19, Drawings Into Digital: Part 1--Scanning

Paper To Digital: Getting Started

Having cleaned up all drawings for this scene in black pencil, next I scanned them into the computer for "ink and paint", the old expression for getting the drawings into final line and color form on a transparent field, just as in pre computer days they were actually inked onto acetate celluloid, their colors painted in on the back of the cel.  I have actually done this, and as an independent animator I mean that I--not some employee or underling--have actually done it.  Mixing paints, doing test cels to get the right colors, doing let-downs (compensating for the gray density of each cel by lightening the paint colors incrementally, so that the parts of one character on multiple cel levels would all appear to the camera to be the same color and value), waiting for the paint to dry, repairing damaged cels where the paint turned out not to be dry, and so on.

All that is in the past, and I am glad to embrace what computer animation can do in this area.

First step is scanning, and I recommend the ScanExpress A3USB 1200 Pro Scanner by Mustek.  It costs under US$200 and scans up to 11.7" x 16.5" (29.7cm x 41.9cm).  I learned about this scanner from a comic book artist friend and was excited, because all scanners I knew about  that scanned any larger than American legal size (8 1/2" x 14") were priced in thousands of dollars.

The Mustek ScanExpress 1200
This scanner works in a wide variety of resolutions and scanning modes, and it can batch-scan 10 copies at a time. I access it through Photoshop, where the scans appear in a stack.   For mode I choose Grey.  In this way I get all the shadings of the pencil drawing, which I like to see when inking over them digitally.  But it is possible to also scan in color, at either 16, 24 or 48 bit.  Color scans of animation drawings may be useful when colored pencils have been used to code such things as match lines or  tracebacks,  or to indicate a particular inking color.

When scanning pencil animation drawings, registration is of course critical.  Unregistered drawings can be troublesome and time-consuming to correct.  And it is important to know that acme or other registration holes are not always consistent in their relationship with the edges and corners of the paper in which they are punched.  Therefore, even the most careful alignment of drawings into the corners and edges of the scanner bed will not assure registration.  The three registration holes may vary in their location from sheet to sheet by as much as 1/8" (.3cm) from the edge; moreover, they may be skewed--not level with the edge.  These variations are unacceptable and can ruin your animation or cause you much grief in their correction.

Toon Boom Animate Pro, as well as some other animation apps like Toonz, offer a peg hole detection feature, which automatically aligns your scans by their peg holes.  But to use this feature, one must scan in the Lineart mode, which produces an over-simplified rendering of the pencil drawing that I do not favor, all black or white with no values inbetween.  It also has low tolerance for any enlarged or irregular holes and can fail as often as not, in my experience.  In any case, as I prefer to see the bitmap nuances of the pencil drawings, this does not work for me.

Perhaps a better option is to equip your scanner with a pegbar.

A standard thin metal acme pegbar taped to frame of the sccanner bed, just outside the scanning field.
This will work very well for registration if 1) the specified scanning field is exactly consistent throughout the entire scene being scanned, and 2) the pegbar is taped down securely enough that it does not drift or shift its position in any way.

The Mustek scanner actually appears to have been engineered with this possibility in mind, as the inside surface of the scanner cover includes a slot all along its right side that will accomodate the acme pegs that project up from the pegbar.

Here an animation drawing has been placed face-down on the pegs of the scanner.
For this scene I scanned all the drawiings at 150dpi.  Even this rather high resolution does not show absolutely all the pencil detail once the drawings are imported into Animate Pro, so on certain critical scenes I will probably choose a resolution of 300dpi.  I would say that 72 or 96dpi would tend to be inadequate at any tiime.

Next: Inking the Drawings in Toon Boom Animate Pro.