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

Saturday, March 23, 2013

No. 35, Problem Six: Fox Bites Nose (Part 3)

For the pencil test of the drawings shown in Part 2, I have created two versions.  Version one is the entire scene comprised of all existing layers and drawings, so that the first part includes the fully animated layer of the man lowering the fox down.

But as this is rather dark and hard to view, due to the fact that there are four layers present, I also include a version with all layers turned off except the new one featuring the woman and the characters combined onto that layer.  The timing here is exactly the same.

In my opinion, this would work well enough when all the drawings have been added.  The action is clear, funny, logical in its cartoony way.  Yet I believe I have found a way to enhance it even more.  Now, using Toon Boom Storyboard, which I have just added to my animator's toolbox,  let me show you what I mean.

Here is the same scene with a closeup added at the peak of the take, where the woman has drawn far back with the fox gripping her nose.  
Adding this closeup necessitates some timing changes.  Now she pulls back just a little slower and will ease in to the hold just before we cut to the closeup.  Now there WILL be inbetweens as she pulls back, and the closeup will include some rapid eye blinks as she takes in the situation.

Now that I am satisfied with the timing of the animatic, the next step is to chart the spacing of the remaining drawings, then add the breakdown drawings and, finally, the inbetweens.

Next: The Scene With All the Drawings Present

Monday, March 18, 2013

No. 34, Problem Six: Fox Bites Nose (Part 2)

The Most Creative Step

Animation is a strange artform.  The process of production is so complicated, and the road to the final result so long, that it seems that the ember of inspiration might darken and grow cold before the animator ever gets to the end.  It is miraculous that an animator can hold and keep alive in her or his imagination that glowing spark through all the tedious stages it must endure: the timing calculations, the planning of layers, the process of construction and refinement of drawings, the endless adjustments and revisions.

And yet, we do.  It is the thrill of making it work, of making it seem to be alive, despite all the technical encumbrance, that keeps us going on to the end.

This post describes as best I can one of the high points of the journey.  This is the magic moment in the process when the animator sits at his drawing board and makes the key drawings upon which all else depends.

As we discussed in Part 1, my first attempt for this scene was wrongheaded in just about every way, and it was largely because I tried to handle the three characters separately from one another.  This was okay for the first part of the scene, described in Problem Five, where the woman is watching as the man lowers the fox down from atop his head.  After that it was a failure because the three characters were acting in concert and they needed to be regarded as one combined entity, rather than as separate elements.

At this time I have made sixteen new drawings spanning the entire scene.  The first eight depict the woman's behavior during the action covered in Problem Five, as the man reaches up and lifts down the fox.

The last eight drawings show all three characters together, as the fox bites and holds onto the woman's nose and she and the man react to that.

Let's look at the drawings.
Dwg 1.  She has been watching the thing on her husband's head turn into a fox.

(Drawing 2, formerly in this position, has been removed, to be replaced by Breakdown Drawing 65.)

Dwg 3.  The peak drawing of the take.
Dwg 4.  Hold drawing at end of take.
Dwg 5.  As the fox is lowered down, she pulls back out of the way.
Dwg 6.  Now she leans in for a closer look.
Dwg 7.  She turns to look at her husband.  Her head is on a separate layer here.
Dwg 8.  She turns back to the fox and tickles him under his chin, and then...
Dwg 9.  He snaps his jaws closed on her long nose.  She winces in pain.
Dwg 10.  Reflexively, she starts to jerk away.
Dwg 11.  But the fox hangs on.
Dwg 12.  The peak extreme of her action.
Dwg 13.  Realizing she must not resist, she yields to the fox.
Dwg 14.  Coming down, she looks to her bewildered husband...
Dwg 15.  ...who turns his attention to the fox.
Dwg 16.  Now they are at stalemate.
Note that these drawings are by no means evenly spaced throughout the scene.  They are the storytelling drawings.  Where there is more going on, there is need for more drawings.  Here, drawings 9 through 15 cover just 64 frames of time--a little more than 2 1/2 seconds, because that is where the violent action is.  In fact, drawings 9, 10, 11 and 12 are consecutive; there will be no inbetweens added there.  It may be unusual to consider them all as key drawings, but they were key to my understanding of the movement, and as I felt their structure so strongly, I thought it necessary to do them all at this time.  It was a tricky section that had to  be proved out, and I deemed them essential.

In Part 3, we will look at the pencil test/animatic of all this movement together.

Next: Pinning Down the Timing

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

No. 33, Problem Six: Fox Bites Nose (Part 1)

Well, it has happened again.  My Director (me) has just come by and dropped onto my desk all the drawings from the end of this scene with the fox.  All he said was, "You can do better than this."

At first I was angry.  All that work for nothing!  But the animator (me again) calmed down and took a look at the pencil test.  This is part of the whole sequence where the man pulls off his hat, revealing the fox underneath, then lifts the fox down for his wife to see.  All that has been the subject of the Problems 2, 3 and 5.

Now the wife leans in to see the fox.  As she tickles his chin, he suddenly seizes her by the nose.  Instinctively she jerks away, but not too hard, for she doesn't want to lose her nose.  Holding the fox, the man also reacts, yet he cannot just pull the fox away.

I had animated everything described above, and it was clear what was going on.  Yet as Animator, I had to admit: it just did not work.

Here is the pencil test:

I have to say, I am embarrassed now to even display this video on my blog, it is so bad.  Yet as I have stated, part of the idea of the blog is to show you my mistakes and how I am correcting them.  This is one of those times when I am taking a chance, because as I write this, I have not yet fixed the problem, so I cannot be sure what I will create to replace the mess I have made.  (But yes, I have already roughed in a new set of key drawings, so I do have some idea of what direction I will go.)

First, let's try to analyze what I did, and why it is so wrong.

Here is what happens in the scene:

1-The wife moves in.  She tickles the fox.

2-The fox bites her nose.

3-She jumps.

4-The man does a "take", reacting in surprise.

5-The woman moves into a pleading attitude, hoping that the fox will let her go.

 And so it goes, 1-2-3-4-5.  The result?  It is boring.

The Failure To Visualize

My first mistake was the biggest mistake you can make as an animator: failing to envision what the scene should look like, or what it should feel like.  In any animation, but particularly in a pantomime like this, it is all important to have a good idea where you are going before you try to go there.  Even with something quite complex, a good animator should be able to close his or her eyes and "see" the action, at least to the extent of its timing and power.  I had not really done this.  I had analyzed the scene intellectually, and I had broken it down into five separate components and then had animated each one, separately.  In cases where the characters are not closely engaged, this can work.  But in the present instance, the three characters are not only closely engaged, they are actually physically connected!

Once the fox takes hold of the woman's nose, the three characters have become one moving mass.  In the language of computer graphics, they have become grouped.  It therefore no longer makes sense to try to animate them separately; they must now be animated as a group.

Also, I had a mistaken notion that the fox's head should not move after he takes hold of the nose.  I thought it would be funnier if the others moved all around the fox, and he didn't.  Well, I tried that, and it obviously did not work.

The New Vision

This kind of group movement is well known to veteran animators, and once you get the idea, it provides an avenue to good results in scenes where two or more characters are locked together in combat, for example, or where a group of characters all react to something, where the reaction moves through them like a wave or surge.  Many of the dwarfs' scenes in Disney's Snow White make use of this approach to great effect.

Group movement is also discussed in some detail on pages 364 and 365 of Illusion of Life, the Disney animation bible by Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston.

Next: My New Approach

Sunday, March 3, 2013

No. 32, Problem Five: Bringing the Fox Down (Part 4)

The Answer

If you haven't figured it out, the problem to which the Director was referring  was the spacing of the drawings.  Specifically, the fox images in drawings 87 and 89 did not overlap each other at all; nor did they overlap the adjacent drawings 85 and 91.  Generally speaking, overlap of shapes in animation creates smoothness in movement, while lack of overlap makes for the jittery look called strobing.

In live-action and, now, in computer generated animation, this is compensated by blur: by a softening of the edges that happens naturally in live action photography and is simulated in the computer.

With our old fashioned 2D animation, however, we can make use of one of four traditional solutions for this problem:

1. We can simulate blur with streaks or speed lines that trail along behind the moving character and accent the arc of movement.

2.  We can add multiple images to a single drawing.

3.  We can use the smear technique as made famous by Chuck Jones in "The Dover Boys."

4. Or lastly, we can simply go on one's--one drawing per frame--and add a couple of drawings that will provide the needed overlap.

There is an additional technique now available to me in Toon Boom Animate Pro, which is the ability to add a blur effect to any drawing.  I have not yet experimented with this however.

In a future post, I will demonstrate all of these different solutions, but in this particular instance I decided to use number 4.

Before Adding New Drawings

Here are all the original drawings of the movement slowed down, with each drawing exposed 12 times rather than 2 times, so that the spacing can be clearly seen:
Note the great distance that the middle drawings, particularly 87 and 89, have to travel.  There is almost no overlap of the fox's head with the adjacent drawings.

After Adding New Drawings

Here is the same sequence with two new drawings (86 and 88).  Now 85 through 88 will be on ones, so in this slow-motion demo, each of those is represented by 6 exposures instead of 12, while all the others are on 12's as before.
Now you should be able to see that the spacing has a lot of overlap of shapes, thus smoothing out the movement and minimizing strobing.

The New Sequence At Full Speed

Here now is what it looks like at full speed, using 2's and 1's as planned:

As always, if anything about the above is unclear, please send me a comment and I will try to improve upon the explanation.

One more thing I want to mention is that when I examined the arc of movement of the original drawings, I determined that one of them--number 87--was seriously out of line with the arc.  Before shooting the above tests, I corrected that drawing.  The correction is illustrated below:
The red outline shows the original positioning.

Next: Adding More To the Scene