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, January 25, 2013

No.29, Problem Five: Bringing the Fox Down (Part 1)

This new animation problem is a fascinating one for me; I hope that you will find it interesting as well.

Once again, my director (me) has called me, the animator, into his office to discuss a scene I have turned in.  Together we review the pencil test. It is the scene right after Problem Four, where the fox, atop the man's head, has shaken himself out.  Now the man lifts the fox down from his head.

"What do you think of it?" the director asks.

"Umm, well, it certainly has to be changed because of the man's attitude at the beginning.  He was apprehensive about the fox's moving, but now he is just amused.  We have to match the two scenes."

"Yes, there is that," the director says, "but there's more.  Jim, I want you to do it again, start from scratch.  Don't even look at the old drawings.  When you get your extremes and maybe a few key breakdowns done, test it again and we'll look at it together."

A day later, I am back with the new test.

"Well, this is a lot different, isn't it?" says the director.  "You've really got a lot more acting into it."

I had, in fact, thought it through much more thoroughly.  Now I had the man playing to his wife, rather than worrying about getting the fox down, and the key drawings were more dynamic.  I had worked in the Z-axis, too, moving the fox close to the camera as he comes down.

"Okay, now go ahead and rough in more of the drawings, so we can look at your timing."

 Next:  Two Versions More

Monday, January 21, 2013

No. 28, Problem Four: Forty Seconds In Two Weeks (Part 4)

After inking the scanned drawings, I blocked in the color with flat fills in a monochromatic palette, then began working up the final colors in both flat and gradient fills.  Here is an early version of the bar, with many elements still showing in various shades of flat blue.

Next is a screenshot with more detail and color worked out; the beer labels, seats and beer pulls have been done.

And here is the finished artwork of the same scene.  The fireplace is done and the lamp cord extended.

Next, a shot of the mantle closeup with all the props in place.

Below is the master background for Scenes 3, 5 and 7.  Notice the wreath, shown as a scanned line drawing in Part 3, now in place above the fireplace mantle.  This is a completely new rendering of the fireplace and floor, but the back wall with windows, clock and poster is reused from the bar shot.
You will also see in the shot above that one of the hanging lamps is lighted; it is supposed to be the only light source in the room.  Due to time and budget constraints, I decided to not put in any cast shadows.  These would have added to the drama and effectiveness of the lighting.  For example, the wall just to the left of the fireplace would have had a strong shadow cast by the column of the fireplace itself, and the objects on the mantle in the closeup would have cast shadows off to the left.  However I was able to get a pretty good effect with gradients indicating the source of the light.

Finally here is one more still shot showing the "beauty shot" of the fermenter for Scene 7.  The fermenter was modelled using multiple gradients, and on the conical lower portion, the gradients were set at various calculated angles to fill a series of wedge-shaped areas.  The client was pleased with the result.

Each of the seven scenes I made into a separate Animate Pro file; this is always recommended to keep layers and file size manageable.  Putting all your scenes in one file can otherwise be a nightmare to work with, partly because the timeline becomes so long it it hard to navigate.

My part was now about done.  I exported each of the scenes into a folder of png frames and sent them to my partner,  Don, for assembly and post production.  Because he had a plug-in that would create a good snowfall effect in Adobe After Effects, I had left the window panes transparent, and the png format supports the transparency.  Don then brought all the scenes together in Aftert Effects, added the fades and dissolves, and put in the snowfall effect both behind the windowpanes (for which Don requested a snowbank background to match the snowbanks in the exterior shot) and in the opening exterior shot itself.  There were some technical problems with the transparencies, but finally it all came together visually.  Don then added music, sound effects and the closing logo and titles, staying up most of the night since we were a day behind schedule.  He delivered the finished movie about noon the next day.

And now, all done in about two weeks time, here is the final 40-second movie:

Next:  Problem Five: The Fox Comes Down

Thursday, January 17, 2013

No. 27, Problem Four: Forty Seconds In Two Weeks (Part 3)

Storyboard to Production Art

With the storyboard approved, I was anxious and able to get to work on the actual production artwork.  First I created detailed "tight" pencil drawings of all the elements--backgrounds, props, Santa--everything except one view of the client's product, a beer fermenter that was to be the showpiece of the last scene.  This would be created from a photograph provided by the company.

Here are a few of the drawings:

The bar with long shot of the fireplace.  This was the most complex drawing of the whole project.
The mantle in closeup.

These were all scanned and imported to Animate Pro, each on its own layer, ready for tracing and color.

Finally, there was the fermenter, a shiny stainless steel tank on a stand, with valves and pipes.  Though I had good color photos of this, I felt that the lighting depicted was not right for the setting, so in Photoshop I stripped out all the color, made it into a high-contrast black-and white-image, and then deleted all but the most essential linear elements.  This is what I then imported into Animate Pro:
The fermenter in linear form. 
From now I would be doing everything entirely in Animate Pro.  After inking everthing in black with a thin but variable brush, I then filled all the forms with temporary colors, using a palette limited to just six values of blue-gray.  This was partly to establish my value range and partly to prove that all the inking gaps were closed.

Next: Color and Movement, and the Finished Movie

Sunday, January 13, 2013

No. 26, Scanner Trouble

Mountain Lion Can Be Dangerous!

I am a long-time Mac user, and I felt I had gone too long without upgrading my operating system.  Last month I was still on plain Leopard, which was three upgrades behind.  Software was beginning to appear on the market that would not run on Leopard, so I had to first move up to Snow Leopard before I could move on to anything else.  But then I was able to leap over Lion to the current system, Mountain Lion.  Up to date once again, I could breathe a sigh of relief, until...

Until I attempted to scan a drawing.  First it crashed Photoshop, repeatedly.  Photoshop CS4 is what I have always used to import images from my scanner, a Mustek large-format flatbedl, the model A3 USB 1200 Pro.  I recently wrote glowingly about this scanner in my post Drawings Into Digital: Part 1--Scanning.  That was in early November of last year.

A paperless drawing.  Yes, I can do them, but I still want my scanner back!

Now I am out on a limb.  It turns out that Mustek does not have drivers for their scanners which work on OS 10.7 (Lion) or 10.8 (Mountain Lion).  For me, this is bad news.  My Epson Stylus CX5000 all-in-one (scanner, printer, copier) also will not work in scanning mode, but I could replace it for about US$80.  I can't replace my Mustek large format scanner so easily, and it is very important to my work.  As an animator who works on standard animation paper, which is 10 1/2" x 12 1/2", I have to have a large format scanner to get my hundreds--sometimes thousands--of drawings into the computer efficiently and in correct register.

My hope is that Mustek will soon provide the needed drivers, and I will be back in business.  My hope is that it is fair to say that they do not yet have the drivers--but that they soon will.

Anyway, for now I hope other Mac users who depend on their scanners will be alerted to this problem.  I will be posting some warnings on Linked In animation group sites also.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

No. 25, Problem Four: Forty Seconds In Two Weeks (Part 2)

The Storyboard

Here is the whole storyboard, panel by panel:
This storyboard was accepted enthusiastically by the client, with only two changes requested:  they wanted to start with an exterior shot of the brewpub--really, more of a large brewery--and to have a greeting card placed on the fireplace mantle.

My partner, Don, did a color comp of the exterior:
By now it was December 11, so we asked for a few days extension and they agreed to delivery on the 19th.  But now I had the green light to go ahead; I had to take all the elements from the storyboard and put them into a form that would work in Animate Pro.

Let's now evaluate what was required to get this little production out the door:

A--Background Art
One highly detailed view of the bar and taproom.  This was conceived in one-point perspective so that the back wall would work both with the wide taproom shot and also with the medium to close shot of the fireplace.

Another detailed background had been added: the opening exterior shot.

A closeup shot of the fireplace mantle, fairly simple.

B-Complex Props and Objects
This includes several shots of the client's tanks and other projects, with accurate logos.  Some logos would be hand-drawn, some taken from photos.  The beauty shot of the fermenter that is revealed when the bag falls open was a photo manipulated into line art in Photoshop, then further rendered and colored in Animate Pro.  This was the most critical and complicated element to do.

C-Simple Props and Objects
This category is comprised of all the mugs, plates, pretzels, the legs and arm of Santa, the wreath and the Christmas tree.

Aside from the snow falling, which was done with an automated process in Adobe After Effects, there were only three elements to animate: the beer foam sliding down the glass, Santa's arm reaching in, and the bag falling to the floor.  Only the bag would require multiple drawings.

E-Camera Moves
To be done in Animate Pro.

F-Post Production
 Includes FX such as dissolves and fades, SFX like sleigh bells and munching,  and music.  The end title card also ended up as a post production item .  Don was in charge of all this, but he couldn't start until I did my part.

Next: Getting the Art Into Toon Boom

Saturday, January 5, 2013

No. 24, Problem Four: Forty Seconds In Two Weeks (Part 1)

The Concept

Early in December, I got word from my associate and sometimes partner Don Wallace that he had had a request for a Christmas holiday ecard to be custom made.  The client did not know much about animation, and as is usual in such cases, had no idea of the cost or of the time involved in producing animation.  The client's original idea was far too ambitions for both the money they had to spend and the time allowed.  It had to be done by around December 15.

Don and I decided to counter propose with a concept that was doable both in time and money, yet which would be attractive and also fun to do.  Fun and creative stimulation are things I try to find or inject into all my projects.

The Counter Proposal

So far in this blog I have put a lot of emphasis on full animation, no matter how much time it takes.  This is possible because 1) my film, The Crossing, is a personal project with no deadlines, because 2) I am semi-retired and have a lot of time for it, and because 3) I have a lot of passion for that kind of animation.

But in reality, I am well schooled in time- and labor-saving techniques for just such a project as this one, and I know how to get a good-looking result in a short time.

I conceived an ecard that would get most of its movement from the camera, that would involve just a couple of elaborate backgrounds, and where the only place I would use full animation was in one climactic shot where that animation would consist of only about 15 drawings.

After conferencing with Don on the phone, I wrote a verbal script of my idea.  He submitted it to the client and got their approval.

I began drawing master layouts of the concepts that would make best use of our ideas of camera movement to tell the story.

The client was a metal fabricating company specializing in tanks and other equipment for brew pubs.  I looked at a lot of pictures of brewpubs and taprooms and came up with this drawing showing a "typical" taproom decorated for the Christmas season.  This is a freehand drawing, but it does conform to one-point perspective, with the vanishing point visible just to the right of the right-hand window.

This is another key layout showing how Santa would be standing at the hearth of the fireplace.  It was later decided at Don's suggestion that Santa would not be seen in full figure, that it would be more mysterious to show only parts of him close up, but this drawing was necessary for me to fully visualize the setup, of which I would be showing only details.

If you compare these two drawings with those of the storyboard or of images from the final film, you will see that it was also determined that the tables and chairs were unnecessary complications.

Two days later I submitted the storyboard.

Next: Storyboarding the e-card