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

Monday, November 25, 2013

No. 51, Hollywood Cartoons: One's or Two's; Which Works Best?

Sometimes I like to load a DVD of classic cartoons into my laptop and step through parts of the animation, frame-by-frame.  This way you can learn something about the thinking and strategy of the animator and often pick up a few of his tricks.

The other day I was doing this with Bugs Bunny Rides Again, the 1947 cartoon directed by Friz Freleng.  This was the second appearance of Yosemite Sam, and the credited animators are Ken Champin, Virgil Ross, Gerry Chiniquy and Manny Perez.

The big showdown between Bugs and Sam (six-shooter, seven-shooter, eight-shooter, nine-shooter, ten-shooter, pea-shooter) contained a surprise and a puzzle when viewed frame-by-frame: the animation of the quick draw action for Sam was mostly on two's; for Bugs, it was mostly on one's.

If you are not familiar with this terminology, here is a little explanation: it was generally held even at Disney that most action could be presented smoothly enough on two's--that is, two frames of film exposed for each drawing in film that ran at a projection speed of 24 frames per second.  So, for one second of action, you might need only 12 drawings instead of 24.

However, for very fast action, and especially where drawings exposed on two's would not overlap at all  (and overlap helps to smooth out the flow of animation), it was regarded as necessary to have a drawing for every frame of that very fast action.

Thus, an animated sequence could be expected to have sections where the slow bits were on twos and the very fast bits were on one's.

(Another circumstance where it is considered necessary to animate on one's is during a camera pan movement, because since the background is moving on one's, the character has to be doing the same.)

In the showdown between Sam and Bugs, they face each other and draw their two guns alternately.  Here is where I observed a difference in their animation.  It became obvious because this sequence escalates.  Sam has six-shooters; Bugs draws seven-shooters; Sam draws eight-shooters, and so on until Sam draws ten-shooters and Bugs draws a pea shooter.  And the same timing shows up in each instance  (and, yes, the animation is different each time; the studios at this point in animation history seldom engaged in reuse of animation.)

Below are the key frames from just one part of this action, where Sam draws eight-shooters (on two's) and then Bugs draws nine-shooters (on one's).  Let's look at them now, and then I will say more about them.

Start of the action.
Sam drawing one: 1 frame.
Sam drawing two: 1 frame.
Sam drawing three: 1 frame.
Sam drawing four: 1 frame.
Sam drawing five: 2 frames.  Here I skip 2 drawings of 2 frames each which are the anticipation as he grips his holstered guns.

Sam drawing eight: 2 frames.
Sam drawing nine: 2 frames.
Sam drawing ten: 2 frames.
Now it is Bugs' turn to draw.
Bugs drawing one: 1 frame.
Bugs drawing two: 1 frame.  Again, I skip a few frames as Bugs says something, then gets ready to draw his pistols.
Bugs drawing nine: 1 frame.
Bugs drawing ten: 1 frame.
Bugs drawing eleven: 1 frame.
Bugs drawing twelve: 1 frame.
Bugs drawing thirteen: 1 frame.
And they hold on the final drawing.
Studying this frame by frame, I wondered why it was that Bugs' draws were on ones (or 1's; to me it doesn't matter how you write it) and Sam's were on twos.  I even wondered momentarily if a separate animator had drawn each character.

Playing it with sound, everything became clear to me.  The timing is driven by the dialog.  Each character says something like, "Oh, no it don't!", and draws his guns on the last word.  Sam, as voiced by Mel Blanc, draws his words out a bit longer than Bugs, also voiced by Mel Blanc.  The animator was simply hitting accents, and with Bugs he needed fewer frames to get to the accent.

But what an interesting look at the use of 1's and 2's this is.  The actions are quite similar, the difference between use of 1's and use of 2's is, in this case, just about undetectable.  And they both work.  All the usual techniques are here: stretched shapes, dry-brushed speed and motion lines or tracks, and even a one-frame smear when Bugs brings out his pea-shooter (not shown.)

I invite you to look at some animation this way.  Many console  DVD players offer this step forward feature, and the DVD player of my Macbook Pro also works well for this, except that it will not step backwards.

Note: All images in this post are copyright of Warner Brothers Entertainment, Inc., and are used with their imagined indulgence.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

No. 50, Jim on a Limb: One (Part 6)

Animating the scene shown and described in No. 49 was a matter of trial and error.  For the most part, the poses worked and it was just a matter of working out the timing.  For example, the two changes of expression (from despair to determination, then to cunning) were at first almost identical in their timing.  I realized then that coming one right after the other, they needed to be different from each other.
Despair to determination is now shorter in frames, and the hold at the end is also shorter, than both those things in the second transition, from determination to cunning.  The latter thus gets more stress, and fittingly becomes the more important.

Three expressions: despair, determination, cunning.

To view the difference in timing, go here.

One pose that had to be re-done was this one showing her slumped down in despair.  For this character I wanted to use that limp-wristed attitude that at one time was so common among women when their hands were idle, but my first try had produced a pose that did not quite express the despairing mood. 

Also, when I saw the test in animation, I didn't like the movement, which showed the forearms and hands pulling back up too far after dropping down. It did not express the intended attitude of resignation and despair.

I replaced that pose with the one shown below, and I damped the movement until it seemed just right.

But one thing did go as I had hoped, and I got it right first time out.  This is the final movement where she settles into her attitude of supplication; she is saying, "Give me a break!  What did I ever do to you?"  Her arms come up and she knocks her fists together three times, hunching up her shoulders.

When something like this does go right, it makes all the other struggles worthwhile.

Next: Jim on a Limb: One (Part 7)  Doing What Is Necessary

Sunday, November 10, 2013

No. 49, Jim on a Limb: One (Part 5)

Note: I have now numbered all my posts chronologically, in addition to having series and subject headings.  I think this will make it a little easier for me to refer back to previous posts, and for you to locate them, especially as the parts of  series are are not always consecutive.


The Pencil Test

Here is the pencil test of Victoria as promised in my last post.  Remember that the fox has her firmly by the nose throughout this scene.  I have not included that layer of the fox only because using too many layers in a pencil test makes for a dark and murky image that you may have trouble viewiing.


It works pretty well now, but as in most complex things that one tries to plan in advance, there were some changes along the way.

Changes to the Plan

First, two new extreme poses were added.  They fall between poses E and F as shown in Part 4.  Here are those poses again, with the new ones placed inbetween.

Pose E
Pose E expresses her feeling of despair.

Pose E-1
The first new pose, call it E-1, shows her stubborn nature returning; she will not be defeated!

Pose E-2
The second new pose, E-2, is a cunning expression; she has an idea and she is calculating whether it will persuade the fox.

Now we go to pose F and then G, where she gathers herself and then adopts an attitude of pleading or supplication.

Pose F

Pose G

Thus we have her thinking her problem through in a way that the viewer can easily follow.  This is the sort of deep exposition that I am just now learning to do, and which I have often failed to understand in the past, largely because my experience in professional animation has been mostly confined to commercials of 30 seconds or less, with no time and frames to spare for looking into a character's motivations and thought process.

In Part 6, I'll talk about how the animation itself went on this little scene.

Next: What Came Easy, and What Was Hard