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

Thursday, May 22, 2014

No. 65, My Process of Character Design, Part Two

Centerline Style into Modern Graphic Style

As discussed last time [No. 64, My Process of Character Design, Part One], after some preliminary sketching of characters I decided to go with a much more graphic style than my usual, somewhat Disney-like style.  I had already done one round of rough designs of characters that might be seen at an airport boarding gate, waiting in various ways for their flights, so I set about to modify them all into the more graphic style.

One issue to be considered is that of how this style may affect the animation.  Are there things I can do in centerline style that I can't do in using the more flattened, graphic style I have now adopted?

The answer is, yes; certainly.  For example, the kind of slow rotation of shapes one might do in centerline would not be convincing in the graphic style because the latter is not based in solid geometry.  Is this a particular problem?  Probably not, because while the graphic style might have limitations in that way, it also opens up opportunities of its own.  The graphic style is not expected to be convincing in the same way that centerline is, and it therefore can be manipulated and animated in surprising ways that can be valid and delightful in their own right.  

The Grand Vizier Zig Zag with King Nod.

For a good example of this contrast, look at any of the scenes from The Thief and the Cobbler where the highly graphic Zig Zag engages with the king or his daughter, who are both more traditional centerline designs. Richard Williams contrived to make them work well together.  

The Thief tangled up with Tack the Cobbler.

The cobbler, Tack, and the Thief were both clever hybrids of the two kinds of design.  (It should be remembered that Williams was a brilliant and accomplished designer before he ever took up animation.)

Now let's take a look at my own characters and how they have gone modern.

Woman solving sudoku.
These are all airline passengers waiting for their flights.  Most are incidental characters, so there won't be a lot of movement.  Above, I am showing you three versions  of this evolution.  Some of the others also had more than two versions before I got them the way I wanted them, but I will illustrate only two on most.

Man waiting unhappily.
Here is a symmetrical pose that remained the same; only the style and his expression have changed.  Sometimes twinning--having the right half mirror the left half in its pose--is okay!

Man using laptop computer.
Here I had another "twinned" character going and decided to change that.

Man sleeping in his seat.
This sleeping guy was a lot of fun to stylize, yet the pose remains essentially the same.

Young woman on her mobile phone.
Fun with curves and straight lines.  My approach has always been to do two or more drafts of  a character design.  It is exciting to see where this can take me.  When working toward a cartoon modern style, look for curves that can be combined and details that can be eliminated without losing the body language and information of the pose.

Older couple waiting patiently together.
Note how these two senior people have changed only in a few simple ways.

Boy playing video game.
Here's one that changed a lot between centerline style and modern style.  And changed for the better, I think.

And now, what about my two main characters?  Don't they have to be changed too?  You bet they do.  Here is how that looks:
The two main characters for the film.

Coming soon:   Storyboards for this project!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

No. 64, My Process of Character Design, Part One

First, a note about the imminent discontinuance of a software application that has been an important part of my pipeline:

No More Toki Line Test

Got an email this morning, as did all other of their users, that Digital Salade is discontinuing sales and support of Toki Line Test by the end of this month (May, 2014.)

This is the pencil test program, costing just $100, that I have been using and recommending since I first signed on in October, 2011. I regret that they are discontinuing the program as their support was always first rate and very personal.  Of course the application will continue to function indefinitely, perhaps for years, and I expect to continue using it for the forseeable future.  But I can no longer recommend that anyone else take it on.

My Character Design Process

Character design is fun!  Anyway, I think so.  I have always enjoyed it since as a boy I used to try to design cartoon characters, superheroes, and others. My limited drawing skills were a frustration to me at the time, but I persisted until I could do it.

My natural tendency in character design leans toward classic Disney, which means I design from the same standpoint as a Maya designer: I am thinking in the round, as if my 2D drawings are just single viewpoints of a character I have visualized in three dimensions. From my designs a sculptor would have no trouble building a macquette or 3D model.  I have just learned that there is a term for this approach: centerline design.  I found this term in Amid Amidi's wonderful book Cartoon Modern (Chronicle Books, 2006.)  This book is devoted to alternative character and background design in animation, popularized in the United States in the 1950's and 1960's.

A double-page spread from from Cartoon Modern, by Amid Amidi, showing designs for Tex Avery's Symphony in Slang (MGM, 1951.)

The studios producing American theatrical cartoons were resistant at first because most of their artists and animators were uncomfortable doing anything besides the tried and true style exemplified by Tom and Jerry, Donald Duck, Bugs Bunny and Woody Woodpecker, and because the producers and distributors were afraid of such radical change.  Yet their were some designers among them, mostly younger men and a few women, who were eager to experiment and try new things.  Even at Disney there was a modern design mole hidden at the very top, among the famous Nine Old Men: Ward Kimball, who went from animating the stereotypically centerline character Jiminy Cricket in Pinocchio (1940) to the semi-modern Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland (1951) to directing the ultra-graphic and revolutionary theatrical short Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom (1953).

While this modern design was at first used with great charm and thoughtfulness, in animation that remained lively and entertaining, its utility in the eyes of producers as a cost-cutting technique eventually devolved into the boring, tiresome and often ugly product called limited animation that dominated television cartoons from the mid-1960's onward.   But don't get me started about that!  (We hold these Filmation truths to be self evident.)

On the left, Centerline Albert. On the right is one way that a Modern Design Albert might look.

Centerline, on the other hand,  is perhaps not a self-evident term.  It seems to refer to a design principle found in organic forms in nature: bilateral symmetry, meaning that many living things, including humans, have a right half and a left half that approximately mirror one another.  It is the starting assumption for this kind of character design.

Modern design turns all this on its head; modern design approaches character design mostly as a silhouette, and it takes from abstract modern gallery art the concepts of simplifying form, of using the clearest angle of a form as its primary shape (the eye as viewed from the front; the nose and ear as viewed from the side of the head), and of largely ignoring or distorting principles of perspective and foreshortening, and rotation of solids.  Note the difference in the two approaches to my Albert character, above.

And while I remain fond of centerline design, and will continue to use it, I am also attracted to this modern design.  For my new project The Two Washingtons I feel it is an agreeable design avenue, so I am stepping a bit outside my comfort zone to push my characters in that direction.  Here's just one example where I took a character concept in an entirely new direction:

First and second draft of character design.

Next: How All the Characters Were Changed

Monday, May 5, 2014

No. 63, New Project: The Two Washingtons

I have decided to start a new animated project, to be worked on in parallel with my present project, The Crossing, but on a faster track. There are a couple of reasons for this. One is that The Crossing is turning out to be so elaborate in its present vision that it will be years before it can be finished.  This has been my fault for succumbing to what is called feature creep--allowing the inclusion of ever more ambitious ideas until the scope of the project becomes much bigger than the original concept, perhaps outrageously so.  I still get great satisfaction from working on The Crossing, but the distant date of completion sometimes frustrates me. This new film is to be short and manageable, and it will satisfy my desire to finish something once in a while.  I hope to turn out a series of these briefer, simpler little videos.

The other reason is for the benefit of this blog, Acme Punched!.  At times, my work on The Crossing does not provide me with usable material for blog posts, and I recognize the importance of doing regular posts in a blog's success.  So now I will be able to draw on my work on both projects to provide me with relevant topics on a regular basis.

The New Project

Working title: The Two Washingtons

The substance of this production is a brief and humorous encounter between two strangers who are both waiting for flights at an airport departure gate.

In the interest of the KISS principle (Keep It Simple, Stupid!) I have determined that it will be in black-and-white and that it will be under 2 minutes long.

Here are the two main characters:

Before these two meet, there will be a wide establishing shot followed by a sequence in which one of these men, looking for a vacant seat, walks past an assortment of seated travelers, each of whom is passing the time in some way as he or she waits for a flight.

This is a rough of the establishing shot:

Next: Design of Incidental Characters