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 29, 2014

No. 59, A Walk Cycle for Albert, Part Two: Point of View

A Different Point of View

In thinking about this walk for Albert, I have most often pictured it from one side, the standard view for getting the most out of your drawing cycle.  In 3D terms he is walking along the X axis, but the camera stays with him and matches his speed so that he stays centered on the screen, while the background can be seen slipping past.

But even though I want to show this profile angle, there is a problem in designing it in this way because of the sack of grain he is carrying; its great weight forces him to walk assymetrically, and from the side this is very hard to visualize.  Here are a few sketches showing my struggles with this problem.

I seem to remember reading of an animator (Frank Thomas?) advising that if you are having trouble drawing a character from the camera angle, to first draw it from a more obvious angle, then extrapolate back to the original angle.  In other words, draw it first at an angle  from which you can understand the proportions and mechanics, and then rotate it in your mind to whatever it must be.  This is difficult but it is a skill most long-time pencil animators have developed.

So in this case, I decided to try looking at the walk from the front:

Right contact position.
Immediately I could see that this was the way to go.  Here are the other three key drawings for the cycle.

Passing position.
Left contact position.
Passing position.
And now I have a first pencil test made with just these 4 drawings:
The cycle is designed to last 28 frames at 24fps, a bit longer than usual.  Also I am putting the emphasis on the contact positions, so in the test, instead of exposing the 4 drawings equally, seven exposures for each, I gave the contact drawings 8 exposures and the passing positions only 6 each.  It still adds up to 28 frames, but the rhythm more nearly matches what I want the final result to be.

Next: The Test from the front, with all drawings filled in.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

No. 58, A Walk Cycle for Albert, Part One: The Brief

If you have been following this blog at all, or if you go back now and look at some of my previous posts, you would have seen or will see a lot of my two human characters, a man and woman I call Albert and Victoria.

The long sequence I have been detailing for the blog has them facing each other, mostly standing in place.  But there are other planned scenes in which Albert is doing a lot of walking.  Mostly when he is walking, he is encumbered by a heavy burlap sack of grain under one arm.  Sometimes the full-grown goose is being carried under the other arm.

An early concept drawing of Albert walking.

Now that I am at the actual point of animating his walk, I want to pull together all the thoughts I have had about it as I worked with Albert in other ways.

Here is what I know about Albert and his walk:

  • He is a big man, overweight but solid rather than soft, and he is very strong.  
  • The sack of grain may weigh 100 pounds [45 kg] but it is not too much for Albert to carry under one arm.
  • He has miles to walk, so his walk will be deliberate and measured; something he can maintain over a long period of time.
  • He does not mind hard work, so to walk a long way with such a load does not in any way make him unhappy, and he is by nature a cheerful and optimistic man.

This is the kind of thinking that should go into the planning of any animation, but sometimes novice animators forget this when it comes to walks.  They think, I'll just sit down and animate my character walking, because they want to see it, but there really should not be any such thing as an all-purpose walk.  If a character is crossing a room, it is for some reason.  It will affect his or her posture, as well as the speed and style of the walk. His entire state of mind is important, too; whether he is in haste, is anxious or relaxed, is fearful or self-confident, is fatigued or energetic.

Perhaps a walk must be done even more carefully than non cyclic animation because it is a cycle and will be seen in repitition, giving the viewer time to study it that is not the case with a one-off.

I have been thinking about Albert's trekking walk a long time, and now I am ready to animate it.

Next: Choosing the Best Point of View for Designing the Walk

Monday, March 17, 2014

No. 57, Rare Animation Books: The Oldest Animation Book

 The oldest film animation book that I know of is so old, Walt Disney and Friz Freleng learned their craft from it.  It is so old, it predates not only color movies but sound movies.  It is ninety-four years old.

Published in 1920 by Scribners, the book is called simply Animated Cartoons, How They Are Made, Their Origin and Development, by E.G. Lutz.  Let's consider the state of the art in 1920.

In the United States the industry was dominated by such studios as Hearst, J.R. Bray and Paul Terry.  Many of the series being produced then were animated versions of popular newspaper comic strips, and were looked upon by the syndicates as additional promotion for their newspaper features.

The technology of motion picture film, cameras and projectors was just twenty-five years old.  Winsor McCay had produced Gertie the Dinosaur in 1914, just six years earlier.  Disney was still a very young man in Kansas City; he hadn't even begun his work for Kansas City Film Ad and Newman's Laugh-o-Grams, much less his Alice in Cartoonland series.  And Mickey Mouse?  The Mouse was still seven years in the future.  Even Felix the Cat, the  first-ever character and marketing sensation in animation, had just been established that year.

A Farmer Alfalfa of 1916, produced by Paul Terry at the old Barré studio.

A pre-1920 Mutt and Jeff, after the comic strip by Bud Fisher and produced by Charles Bowers at the old BarrĂ© studio. Note the sophisticated drawing in this one.
The book is actually a workable text for someone wanting to learn the trade at the time.  Beginning with an explanation of the principle of persistence of vision and a description with illustrations of a film shutter and projector, the book goes on to give a history of animation novelties like the thaumatrope and zoetrope that preceded film technology.  Then begins the how-to section, which takes up the greater portion of the book.

But for the registration system, this same design could be used today in the making of 2D animation.
The basic idea of the animation drawing desk--a glass or plastic panel, a backlight to enable you to see through several drawings, a way to register your drawings with one another--is unchanged to this day.

Timing back then, however, was quite a bit different, since the standard film speed before sound production was just 16 frames per second.  At that speed, the animator did not have to make so many drawings per second, but of course nothing was as smooth, either.

The registration system of the day, years before Acme or any system with oblong pegs and holes.
How cels were used in the beginning.
Transparent cels of nitrate celluloid were already in use by 1920, but production standards were poor and so they were often of variable thickness.  Also they were expensive, so their use was limited to hold cels for character parts that were not moving.  The illustration above shows that the moving arms and mouths were still to be inked onto paper, while the parts that were on hold were on cels registered on top of the paper.

How to design a walk cycle in 1920.
Movement cycles were in common use when Lutz wrote his book, but an animator's  understanding of how to convincingly convey weight and the plasticity of form were still a generation into the future.

Special effects, 1920-style!
Animated cartoons were then full of effects like these "sparks", as Disney called them, which were lifted straight from the panels of the newspaper comic strips out of which the medium was spawned.  At least the viewers were familiar with the symbolism.

The book's title page.
In my case I was lucky to find a first edition of this old book some years ago at Powell's Books in Portland, Oregon.  Since then, however, a facsimile edition has been published by, so you can get your own in hardbound or paperback.  There is even a Kindle edition available for a very small charge!

Saturday, March 8, 2014

No. 56, All About Clean-up Drawings

In the world of hand-drawn animation, when the animation is done and approved it comes time to prepare the drawings for final rendering.  During the animation, where one is concerned mostly with timing and posing, the accurate rendering of the characters may be allowed to slip.  So long as the rough drawings depict the characters in reasonably accurate proportion, nothing about the cleanup process should intertere with the decisions made during animation.  (And if you do find yourself making changes to the animation at this stage, you should probably stop and admit to yourself that the drawings are not ready for cleanup!)

In animation involving a staff of several artists who work on the production drawings, the need for model control is all important, because no two people naturally draw alike.  Studios have always worked hard at making all the images of any character look uniform, which means they are involved in suppressing the individual quirks of all the artists to the point that the viewer will not be able to detect the work of one artist from any other. Even so, animators and animation historians can often spot the work of a Jim Tyer, a Milt Kahl or a Rod Scribner by their signature traits of drawing and movement.

Independent animators who work alone or almost alone have a simpler time of it.  They draw like they draw, they draw or supervise every frame of their films, and they alone determine how closely or how loosely they must adhere to their own model sheets.

In my case, interested as I am in drawing, I do take some pains to keep the characters on model throughout the whole creative process. Yet there is still some work to be done to get them back on model.

Here is a model sheet for Victoria, the woman character in my project, The Crossing.

Victoria model sheet.
Now take a look at this cleanup, on the right, as compared with the rough drawing to the left.
Victoria cleanup 1.
If you look closely you will be able to tell that this cleanup is not a re-tracing but a cleanup done on the same sheet of animation paper as the rough.  I simply lightened all the pencil lines with either a kneaded eraser or a white plastic eraser, then drew in the lines again with close reference to the character model sheet.  Most of the changes are in the face, where I made the jaw smaller and changed how the eyes relate to the nose.

Here is a second example, done the same day:
Victoria cleanup 2.
And in this one it appears at first glance--even to me--that I drastically altered the tilt of her head.  But in fact what I did was to correct some skewed elements in the rough, most important being the part in her hair, which was skewed too far to the left (her right.)  Also I made her face a little narrower, and I made the hands and wrists more delicate.

A third example:
Victoria cleanup 3.
This one shows the biggest changes of all.  I decided that the angle suggested by the eyes and back of the head required me to force all of the features much closer to a full profile, and all of the facial features needed to be made more delicate.  The final hands have also become smaller and thinner.

Cleanups like this need to be created in the same order as the animation drawings of a pose-to-pose scene:  first the extremes, then the breakdowns, then the inbetweens.  As you draw, you should be stacking your drawings on the pegs of your board exactly as you did when making the roughs, so that the drawing you are correcting is beiing constantly compared to the already-cleaned-up drawings that bracket it on either side. This may sound laborious but can actually be done quickly--much more quickly than the creation of your roughs.  And if your extremes and breakdowns are good, then your inbetweens ought to be good also.

I hope this provides some insight and encouragement for any of you with a stack of rough animation drawings that you have been reluctant to clean up.  Now get out your eraser, your sharpened pencils and your model sheets, and just do it!

Next: The Oldest Animation Book