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, July 14, 2014

No. 70, Me vs Toon Boom StoryBoard Pro, Part Two

The Hybrid Approach

 I still like drawing on paper.  Are you surprised?

Last time I featured mostly images that were drawn directly into StoryBoard Pro with a stylus and my Wacom tablet.  As I continued my exploration of SBP, I found that some complex setups were, for me, better done by working on paper, then importing the image into the program.  Could I have done them paperless?  Yes, but I think it would have taken me a longer time, and storyboarding is often required to be done quickly and efficiently.

Each user should make her or his own decision about this.  Yeah, I am an older guy with a long history of composing my work on paper, so that is my inclination.  If you grew up with computers, it will likely be easier for you to go all digital, and your results may be just as good that way.  I have plenty of respect for the all-digital artist.

However, Toon Boom has not neglected us paper-bound animators.  They have always accommodated import and scanning of hand-drawn and bitmap images of all kinds, including color images.

Smart Use of Your Smart Phone

My own procedure with animation drawings has been to scan them in with a Mustek scanner, with the Acme punched (there's that term again!) paper registered to a taped-down acme peg bar attached to the frame of the scanner, outside the scanning field.  For storyboard images, I could do something similar, but I have realized there is an even easier way.

A smartphone plus drawings equals easy import of rough pencil drawings.

Laying the drawings out flat on my desk, I just stand up and shoot photos of them individually with my iPhone.  Then I connect the iPhone to my laptop, open iPhoto, import the images, and copy them from iPhoto into a folder.  They come in as jpegs, and from there I can import them directly into SBP.

The raw smartphone image.

However, I do sometimes add one more step, which is to first bring them into Photoshop, crop them to get just the part of the image I want, and manipulate the brightness and contrast.  It is faster than using the scanner, and you can do it in a coffee shop or anywhere, with only your laptop or tablet plus your smart phone.

The same image brightened and cropped in Photoshop.

I would not use this method for any precision image such as a background layout because there can be slight distortions in perspective and proportions, but in the rough and sketchy world of storyboards, the results are perfectly acceptable.  You can still use that image as a rough layer, re-drawing the appropriate parts of the image onto separate layers using the SBP drawing tools.  This is what I refer to as the hybrid approach--combining imported rough pencil sketches, with final drawings made using SBP's drawing tools on layers above.

Try it!

The imported image partially inked with SBP drawing tools.

Exporting the Storyboard to PDF

I had a question from a reader this week about exporting from SBP to PDF; specifically, how to do it so that the Dialog  and other written notes would export and appear with the panels in the PDF.  Exporting to a printable format is of course often a desirable way to share a storyboard, making it possible for individuals to make notes and suggestions on paper that may then be considered as revisions.

I did some experimenting and found that this will work only if you choose certain options under PDF Export Parameters in the Export to PDF window.

The Export to PDF window, with 3 Panels Vertical selected.

My findings are that the first four options--3 Panels Horizontal, 3 Panels Vertical, Full Page (one panel) and Overview 2x4 Panels--all will include any notes or dialog in the PDF.  The others--Overview 4x3, Overview 8x10 and the Japanese formats--apparently will not.  These formats include so many panels per page that there is no room for the notes.

Caution:   In the formats that will include notes, if your notes run especially long, they will still be included, but at the expense of bumping one or more panels onto the next page.

Next:  Storyboards That Move!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

No. 69, Me vs Toon Boom StoryBoard Pro, Part One

Whenever I take on a new software application, there is of course a period of intense struggle, the learning wall that I must climb before the program can be any fun to work with.  This is inevitable, and I have come to expect it.

In the case of Toon Boom's StoryBoard Pro, the wall was a short one, and I was boosted over by my previous experience with Toon Boom's other applications: first Studio, beginning back in 2006, then Animate and, finally, Animate Pro 2.  This was helpful because of the great similarities in the UI and terminology among the various ToonBoom applications, so that even as I opened the storyboarding program for the first time, much of what I saw in front of me was familiar--the same tools, icons, and organizational structure that I already knew.

Furthermore, Toon Boom's unparalleled tutorial resources which they provide free for all their applications, plus other tutorials both amateur and professional on You Tube, help to answer the many questions that arise when attempting to master StoryBoard Pro or any of their other products. Why all other software companies do not make similar efforts to freely educate the public in the use of their applications, preferring to rely on pay tutorial services, I do not understand.  The more people there are who know how to confidently use your product, the more likely it is that it will be bought and used.  Toon Boom has certainly got the right idea here.

The big attraction for me to StoryBoard Pro was its capability to generate animatics complete with camera maneuvers and soundtracks.

The big challenge for me, I knew, was to learn to comfortably draw directly into the panels with my stylus and Wacom tablet. 

Working With a Script

 Using as my test project the concept I call The Two Washingtons, the same one for which I have recently recounted my character design process [Acme Punched! posts no's 64 and 65], I started by writing a script complete with dialog and camera directions, during the course of which one of the two main characters changed completely in concept and had to be re-designed (see below.)

A change in character often necessitates a change in design.

The script notations included a sequential number for every scene (or camera shot, as it is called in live action.)  My script had 24 scenes, so when I opened StoryBoard Pro for my new project, I laid out 24 scenes and copy-pasted the directions for each scene from the script into the Action Notes box in the Panel View.  (I should note that as I write this, some of the staging for what is now scene 24 is unclear in my mind, and so I expect that when I get to that point in my storyboard, it will end up being divided into several more scenes. But the flexibility of StoryBoard Pro facilitates changes, just as in a paper storyboard, easily allowing additions, rearrangement and deletions, so this does not worry me.)

A section of page 1 of my script.

The script for Scene 1 pasted into the Action Notes window in StoryBoard Pro.

Using a written script may not be the best approach for everyone.  Some may prefer to work from the outset with visual representations of the scenes, but I have some experience in writing fiction and live-action scripts and so it appeals to me as the right way to begin.


Along the way I was making thumbnails on paper which I kept before me as I worked. These were just quick sketches, only a few inches or centimeters high,  of poses and situations that I was visualizing as I worked through the script, and which I jotted down quickly without regard for character accuracy or precise drawing.  This can be a valuable way to work, and I recommend it.

Early thumbnail sketches.

Bitmap or Vector?

 The StoryBoard  Pro application allows drawing in either bitmap or vector modes, though not both on the same layer.  The default layer choice is vector (I did not find a way to change this), and after some experimentation I found this to be preferable because of the smoothing property, a feature found in many vector drawing apps.  This property may be set at any percentage from 0 to 100 and will help remove shaky or hesitant tremors in any drawn vector line. I like it set at around 20 most of the time, but this will be different for each artist.  Setting the smoothing very high, however, can cause the algorithm to redraw your line without any of its original character, so this should usually be avoided.

Testing three settings of the Smoothness property in vector inking.
Here I inked one rough drawing three times, using no smoothing, 50% smoothing and 100% smoothing, as indicated.  If you look closely, you can see that the 0% setting gave me the most faithful rendering of the rough, yet it contains some nervous lines at the top of the cap.  At the other end of the scale, the 100% setting straightened some curves completely (under the eye and at the mouth) and made very small detail almost impossible to render.  Drawing a round pupil in the eye was not possible, and getting it as good as I did required 4 or 5 repeated strokes.  Even the 50% version was taking too much control of the line to suit me.

Another advantage of vector inking, or course, is that the lines remain crisp at any scale.

Keeping It Rough

 With the idea of ending up with not just a storyboard but an animatic, I found that a good way to work was to go through the entire board in very rough form, using separate layers for whatever elements in the scene will be shown to move or change. 

In the course of roughing out the storyboard, new ideas for movement, transitions or other changes will naturally present themselves. If you are working rough, it will be less painful to create the necessary layers or panels to accommodate these new things than if you were working in a more finished way.

Rough storyboard panel.  The black rectangle is the camera field, which will be adjusted later.
I have roughed in more than half of this storyboard as of this writing.

Next: Part 2, The Hybrid Approach