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, December 28, 2015

No. 85, An Exercise in Character Design, Part 3: Within a Single Sheet of Paper

Undo or Erase

As I work on all the phases of animation production, I like to think about what goes on in the animator's head while working--in this case, my own head.

As I have discovered over the past few years in writing this blog, many things are easy to document and demonstrate in my blog posts because the proof of the process exists on paper or in the computer in easily accessed snapshots, including many changes that are made from beginning concept to finished artwork.

But what about those still finer changes that disappear from the world and even from one's memory once they are done?  These are the things we erase either with the undo or delete button on the computer, or, on paper, with a rubber or plastic eraser.  These things are gone forever, aren't they?

Eraser on the legendary Blackwing 602 pencil; "half the pressure, twice the speed."

Perhaps this need not always be so.  A few days ago, while working on a character design for my film, as I drew in pencil, it occurred to me that I could record the things I was about to erase by shooting them with my smartphone camera.  I could photograph an entire sequence of the minute progression of my own creative thought as I drew and erased, drew and erased and drew again.

Certainly this is not something I intend to do very much.  It is a lot of trouble, and it is disruptive in itself of the creative process. (One might imagine an automatic system, a surveillance camera looking  over the artist's shoulder, that would snap a picture every time the artist picked up his eraser.)

But this one time, I did do it, and for whatever it is worth, here is the result.

The first drawings.

The right hand is changed.

The right hand is drawn from the front.  Plus, a new arm is drawn
at the side, experimenting with a different look.

Masking off his right side, I try drawing in the structure
of the new arm on the character's left side.
But I do not like the way this looks; I don't like the hand being hidden by the leg.  Time to try something else...

Here I have designed a new front view hand, at right, and changed
the character's right hand to the same design.
Of course now the side view hand is
out of agreement with the front view, so...
...I redraw that to match in a turnaround.
Next I add a 3/4 view to see how it works with the others.
Looks good!

This was sufficient design for me to begin storyboards. But in the storyboard stage, I tried still other angles and continued to analyze the character design for style and functionality, and I made mental notes for more refinement.  Eventually I sat back down with this same sheet of paper on my board and did my revisions.
The "final" model sheet.  Since I am still in my storyboard phase, other changes are still possible.
Here you will see that I have added facial expressions and more angles of the head.  Also, I decided that he should look a bit more elegant, with a nice if slightly ill-fitting suit.  The jacket is longer, and the limbs are smoother.

The changes I have made here might have been done differently, with new copies of the drawing that incorporated the modifications rather than erasure and redrawing.  Many of these things could easily have been done in the computer, with the multiple stages being preserved in save as copies. But here is how a design can evolve as the artist's conception evolves, all within a single sheet of paper.


To my readers: I want to remind you that I value your presence on my blog, and I invite you to comment. It encourages me when I get interaction with you.  And for any of you who haven't yet done so, why not also become a Follower? (As I like to say, just because you are a follower doesn't mean you cannot also be a Leader!)

Saturday, December 19, 2015

No. 84, Adventures in Character Design, Part 2: Promotion from Within

In my last post on this subject (No. 82) I speculated that I might find the character I needed among the existing incidental characters in my storyboard of the original concept.

As I looked the drawings over, there was one in particular that I was attracted to. It was a frontal view of an old man, seated and holding his wife's hand.

First sketch of the old man character.

He was intended just as an extra, to be sitting in a row of airport chairs as my former protagonist moved past.  Unlike his wife, he was not even intended to be animated.  But as I looked at him I thought, what could be funnier as the bearer of an immensely heavy suitcase than a frail-looking old man?

Trying him from different angles showed his potential to move in 3 dimensions and allowed me to work out his body and head shapes and proportions.

In particular I needed to work out how he would look dragging his heavy suitcase by a thin length of rope.

Next we'll take a close look at what design changes can take place on a single sheet of paper--changes that are important to the character design process yet are unseen and forgotten steps to the final design.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

No. 83, Locked Out of Linked In Groups


Update: as of the new year, 2016, this issue has been resolved (or my period of exile ran out) and I am now able to post to my groups once again.

When you run a blog like this one, you want as many people to see it as possible.  And you don't want just anyone to see it; you want everyone with an interest in the subject matter to see it. Naturally, the greater readership you have, the more responsibility you feel to do a good job, and also the more satisfaction there is in blogging. So, you look for the best ways to get people (in my case, mostly animators) to notice it and take a look and, it is hoped, become a Follower.  Up until now, my best path for that has been the various Linked In groups for which animation is the focus.

Each time I posted to my blog, I would run a notice about it on relevant group sites, and typically I would get a surge in page views.  In this way, I have been gradually building up my readership.

Suddenly, however, I find that I am blocked from free access to those groups.

With a little checking, I found that just one complaint of impropriety, spamming or self-promotion, whether or not it was justified, was enough to get you blocked from a group. But in Linked In, this now pulls a trigger that blocks you from all your groups for an unknown amount of time.  This has now happened to me.  In some cases, my postings to the groups do show up on the group web page, but not in the periodic emails promoting activity in the group. On the internet, discussions of this problem by others who have felt unfairly blocked have revealed no good solutions or effective avenues of appeal.  One person suggested appealing to the group moderators, but many groups now do not list their moderators and their contact information, and anyway this would not clear the other blockages that have been automatically triggered. And Linked In has no editors or supervisors to whom to appeal for a review of one's situation.

As to the nature of my postings, are they inappropriate? Certainly not; they are targeted to the very narrow-interest groups most likely to want to see them, and their content is as free of socially questionable material as I can make them.  And also they are most definitely not spam, unlike the recruiting and job help postings that have been clogging group emails since I began my blog.

And what about self-promotion? Well, of course it is self-promotion, but no more so than a post by a young animator who wants people to look at his or her demo reel or animated sequence.  In fact it is less so, because my blog is informational and instructional; it is possible sometimes to learn something from it that may help a less experienced animator to improve his skills or to avoid some mistake in approach or execution.

 There may be another avenue open, such as Google Communities, or perhaps I will get reinstated sometime. For now, I am flummoxed.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

No. 82, Adventures in Character Design, Part 1: Looking for My Character

What to Do when an Idea Isn't Working

Recently I came to a place in the planning of my new personal film where I felt blocked.  The concept was of two characters having a confrontation in an airport, and as I tried to commit the whole thing to storyboard, my progress and enthusiasm ground to a halt.

The original main characters.

I expressed this to a close friend who is also an animator, and he just shrugged and said, "Well, maybe there is something wrong with the whole idea. Rethink it."

Immediately I felt re-energized. And I also felt relief, because I was keeping with my new resolve not to animate anything without first storyboarding to the end. So I had not wasted a lot of work.

I began sorting through the ruins of my concept like a man standing amid the tornado-riven rubble of his home, looking for what might be salvaged.  There were some good character designs, and there was the airport location. There was a gag about an oversized suitcase that couldn't possibly make it past airport security and size regulations as a carry-on.

Part of the ruin was what had been my main character, a goofy guy who was funny-looking but hard to understand or empathize with, even for me. He was the one with the suitcase, and now I saw that he had to go, and he had to leave the suitcase behind.

Keep the suitcase, lose the guy. These are my first sketches of the character, from a traveling notebook.
 But what could I replace him with?  Was it necessary to start over with that, too?  Or was there possibly something already there?

Next: A New Start

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

No. 81, Book Review: The Nine Old Men, by Andreas Deja.

By the beginning of Franklin Roosevelt's second term as President in 1937, he had begun to call the U.S. Supreme Court justices of the time "the nine old men" for their obstructive attitude toward his social policies and programs.  It became his aim to try to replace six of their number in order to get a court more friendly and supportive of his attempts to bolster the economy.

Roosevelt failed in that, but the phrase Nine Old Men was picked up by Walt Disney and applied to his crew of senior animators, who just happened to be nine in number. Who were these men? Among other things, they were all animators who had stayed on Walt's side during the studio's labor troubles of the early 1940s. All nine were born between 1907 and 1914, and all but one started at the Disney studio in the early to mid thirties when intensive hiring and training were ramping up for the move into feature animation. (The exception was Les Clark, who began in 1927 at the age of 20, which made him the only one to arrive before both sound and color came to the movies). None of these young men except Clark had animation experience, and Clark had to retrain himself now to keep up with the sophisticated design and animation that was in development; the old rubber hose limbs and often crude drawing of the silent days were obsolete.

Les Clark learned to animate very well indeed.  From Symphony Hour, 1942.

In the new book by Andreas Deja, The Nine Old Men (392 pages, CRC Press, 2015), these animators are spotlighted and compared with one another in their strengths and styles from the personal viewpoint of the author, a brilliant animator in his own right who knew many of them and who actually trained under Eric Larson, best known for his animation of the sultry dog Peg in Lady and the Tramp.

Larson didn't do only animals.  Here, from Peter Pan, Wendy fails at her first attempt to leap into flight. Now she crouches for a second attempt.

As in John Canemaker's 2001 book of a similar title, Deja's book is divided into nine sections, each devoted to one animator. But the new book, subtitled Lessons, Techniques and Inspiration from Disney's Great Animators, is all about the drawing and the animation, with shorter illustrated biographies that detail each man's development at the studio from novice to mature artist. The latter part of each chapter is comprised of sequences of key animation drawings from important work along the career arc of the artist.

If you want to get as close as you can to the work of a master animator, there is nothing short of being inside the man's head that is better than to look at his pencil animation. I have always treasured reproductions of animation pencil drawings, and there have been some good collections.  Examples in the past include the oversized Treasures of Disney Animation Art (Abbeville Press, 1982) and The Walt Disney Studios Archive Series volume on Animation (Disney Editions, 2009). Both of these are made up of color reproductions (even of mostly black and white drawings!) that have been printed the actual size of the originals. Wonderful to look at, but limited in the amount of material that can be covered in a single volume.  And the otherwise terrific Illusion of Life, written by Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston (Abbeville Press, 1981), though considered an essential bible by most of us who love drawn animation, contains numerous animation sequences that are disappointing on the page, each image in a stark black and white that illustrates the action without displaying the subtleties of the artist's drawing.

Frank Thomas, a Nine Old Man and co-author of Disney Animation: The Illusion of Life, does Merryweather the fairy, from Sleeping Beauty, 1959.

Andreas Deja and his publishers have found a happy medium,  reproducing in color all the pencil lines, because those lines were not only black or grey; a single drawing might also include pencil lines in blue or red--sometimes even green and ochre! The multiple colors were used for roughing in or for indicating match lines or other cues for those who would ink the drawings onto cels. As a bonus, almost all the drawings in the sequence sections include the original drawing numbers written on the sheets by the animators.  The serious student of animation can deduce much about the timing of the scenes from these notations.  Seldom included here, alas, are spacing guides, which can be even more revealing.

A Woolie Reitherman drawing from the El Gaucho Goofy segment of Saludos Amigos, 1943. Note the use of multiple colors of pencil.  Note also this amazing action drawing by Woolie!

Though not the only good animators at the studio, the Nine were all excellent, they had the all-important support and respect of Walt Disney, himself, and they got the cream of the important scenes to animate.  Eventually they mostly became supervising animators, mentoring younger animators such as Andreas Deja, Glen Keane, and many others who were to succeed them when they retired.

Two frames of Smee from Peter Pan, by Ollie Johnston, who was known for his light touch, sensitive emotional interpretations, and speed.  Johnston is the other co-author of Illusion of Life.

Deja has the advantage over other Disney historians in that he lived the life, producing in his own right numerous memorable animated performances such as villains Gaston, Scar and Jafar, and the comic hero Hercules. His insights about these men and their work are keen, and his own unflagging enthusiasm for his subject shines through.

Somewhat amazing is the wide variety of personalities and temperaments among these men who, nevertheless, were all able to sit and perform these feats of acting and creation at their drawing desks. Several, despite their differences, had the discipline and versatility to follow each other's lead in design and animation on a character, so that they could provide sequences of their own that integrated seamlessly with the other man's work.

John Lounsbery could even capture the style of Milt Kahl, and he could define his own characters, too.  Here, John's character Ali Gator, from the Dance of the Hours sequence of Fantasia, 1941.

Ward Kimball managed to get through his Disney career without once having to animate a realistic character like a prince or princess.  He liked it that way, but he was amazingly innovative both as a designer and in staging his scenes.  Here are some wonderful Kimball roughs from the Peter and the Wolf segment of Make Mine Music, 1946. 

Milt Kahl, because of his wonderful draftsmanship, did more princes  than anyone, but he enjoyed the cartoony stuff as well.  Here is the eponymous star of Pinocchio, 1940, as he finds himself turning into a donkey on Pleasure Island.

Marc Davis, creator of Flower the skunk in Bambi, 1942, and two immortal female villains, Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty, 1959, and, shown here, Cruella DeVil from 101 Dalmations, 1961. Davis then became a principal designer for attractions at the Disney theme parks.

Any student or practitioner of 2D animation should certainly have this book for both inspiration and study, and 3D animators and designers could also learn from it.  These are the very men who discovered and perfected what are now known as the 12 Principles of Animation.  The Nine Old Men are all gone now, but they have much yet to teach us.

All images copyright Disney.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

No. 80, Why I Sometimes Don't Post Regularly

Writer's Blog

Whenever I fail to post to this blog over a period of weeks or months, you can be sure there is a good reason for it.  It will not be because I am bored with it, or that I am burnt out or have run out of material and ideas to blog about, or that I don't care.  I recognize the value in posting regularly, and I try to do that as much as possible.  Failing to post can result in lost followers and other readers.

If I don't post new material, it will be due to a serious cause, like ill health or death. Or, best of all from my point of view, because I am working. The period between May and November of 2015 was just such a case, where animation and design that I was doing for a game went into crunch mode and I was putting in more than 40 hours a week on it.

My blog is not only commentary.  It often involves adaptation or creation of visual images specially for the blog, which takes time. A lot of thought and preparation go into each posting, because I want to be lucid and engaging and often instructive all at the same time.

If I have full-time work with deadlines, that takes away both from my blogging time and also from the energy needed to do justice to my blog.

So whenever I fail to post for a while, please don't give up on me.  I'll return and probably pick up where I left off.

Thank you for your loyalty.  I will continue to try to give you something new to think about each week or so.

--Jim Bradrick

Sunday, November 8, 2015

No. 79, Drawing Problem 2: Breakdown Challenge—“Pulling the Switch”, Part 2

Last time I presented a drawing problem as another exercise in finding a meaningful breakdown drawing between two extreme drawings where the solution was not immediately obvious.

Here again are the extremes:

Extreme Pose 1

Extreme Pose 2

The issue is that if the king pulls down the knife switch, he will have to get out of the way of the arc of the switch handle.  In such a case as this, one might be tempted to re-stage the extremes so that no such problem exists and there is an unobstructed path for the switch, but I chose to persist in trying to come up with a plausible and workable solution. (In post No. 78, I encouraged readers to try their hand at a solution, but there were no takers.)

The Solution

Here is my solution to the problem:

The Breakdown Pose

As you can now see, what happens is that the king has to dodge out of the way of the switch in mid action, which is something we all naturally do in real life.  Approaching a door, for example, we do not always calculate in advance the arc that it needs to pivot on its hinges, and we have to back up a little or otherwise adjust our stance in order to get the door open.

Here is the very brief animation as it was done for the video game I have been working on. Unfortunately, I believe that this scene has been cut from the final game. Nevertheless:

This is just one more illustration of the truism that in animation, there can be multiple ways of doing something, each one arguably as valid as the others.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

No. 78, Drawing Problem 2: Breakdown Challenge--"Pulling the Switch"

Breakdown Challenge No. 2

Some of you may recall that we did this once before, in posts 36 and 37. Recently, in the course of my work on a new casino video game, I encountered another problem where the breakdown had to be an eccentric one in order for the scene to work at all.  That is, a straightforward half-way inbetween would not work; either the extremes had to be re-thought and re-designed, or else a solution would have to be found at the breakdown stage.

Breakdown Review

First let's review the nature of the breakdown drawing. In the process of pose-to-pose animation, breakdowns are the next step after the extreme drawings are done.  A skilled assistant may do them if there is nothing out of the ordinary, but as Eric Goldberg has pointed out so skillfully in his book Crash Course in Character Animation, the animator may often want to do the breakdown him or herself; it is his chance to weight the movement more toward one pose drawing over the other, or to otherwise add extra character to the movement.  The breakdowns are thus capable of being as critical to the final effect as the pose drawings or extremes, unlike the inbetweens which are more mechanical, less creative, and generally capable of being rendered by a far less experienced assistant.

Pulling the Switch

Here I had a scene where the main character of the game, a mischievous villain who is always trying to interfere with the game's players, throws a big knife switch on an electrical box and turns out the lights.

For this game we were under considerable constraints of time to get all the animation done, and so I had established a style of very rapid movement from pose to pose, often using smear or blur drawings. [There will be more about this in a future post.] But here and there, to emphasize some particular movement, I utilized more drawings in the movement to make the action especially clear.

Here are the two pose drawings we are concerned with.

Pose A--drawing 8

Pose B--drawing 12

As soon as I began on the breakdown between these 2 poses, the problem became apparent: the handle of the switch when it is half-way down projects far out to the left, interfering with the character's head and body [Figure 1].

Figure 1

The Challenge

With a little experimentation, I did figure out a way to solve this problem--without altering the pose drawings A and B.  

I invite any of you to take a shot at it.  If you want to give it a try, send me an email to:, and I will then send you the two extreme drawings above as jpegs for you to print.  Take the printed drawings and tape them each to a sheet of animation paper, so that the registration crosses are in alignment.  Then make your version of drawing 10 on a third sheet of paper.  Remember to trace the registration crosses onto your new drawing.  

Your challenge is to show the switch halfway down while making it work with the character poses as a convincing breakdown pose.  Remember, their may be more than one way to make this work; my way is just the way that occurred to me.

Send me your result as an email attachment, and I will either comment privately or in the blog, as you wish.

Good luck!

I will show you my own solution to this in a subsequent posting.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

No. 77, Blurring the Pencil Lines: 2D Animation in Today's Independent Films

As digital animation technology matures and disseminates down even to one-person studios like my own, the distinction between 2D and 3D animation becomes less clear--less easy to sort into just two piles and often less easy to identify in viewing.

A film may be animated on paper, then scanned in and completed digitally.  A very similar looking film may be animated directly into digital form, by using an electronic stylus and a Wacom or other tablet, but still adhering to the traditional process of superimposition of images for registration and then either animating straight ahead or by the more controlled method of extremes, breakdowns and inbetweens.

A traditional 2D film can be processed and enhanced digitally to the point that it greatly resembles something done with 3D models in Maya or another similar 3D program. Conversely, a film animated with CGI models can now be rendered to look like it was animated on paper. Then there is the increasingly dominant TV production method of 2D digital puppetry. And there are now numerous examples of hybrid productions, where some elements are singled out to be created as CGI models while others are still done in 2D, the output of both being blended in the production.

But just for fun, let's see what traditional 2D elements we can discern in the nine Oscar contender films I listed last week.

The Plainly 2D

Bus Story



Me and my Moulton

The most obviously and directly 2D are Bus Story, Duet, Me and my Moulton and Footprints. They all show signs of having been animated on paper.  In Bus Story, Duet and Footprints, one can even see the character of pencil lines in the final render, although I wouldn't be too surprised to learn than someone has developed some automatic and logarithmic way to convincingly duplicate even that look.

Me and my Moulton looks inked in the same way that hand-traced cels used to look inked, but I would bet that this was all done in a computer.

The 2D, 3D Hybrids
The Dam Keeper
An interesting crossover is The Dam Keeper, with a final render style that looks like impasto paints applied with a large chiseled brush. And I rather thought that the characters were CGI modeled. According to online information, however, the drawings were on paper and the painting was digital.  I do think I saw some CGI images here and there, as with the tramcar and the mill interior.

Even with the Disney funded Feast,  I am not sure there is anything done on paper beyond the concept stage. But I have not found anyway production details about this film.  Anyone out there know?
The Unabashedly 3D
Of the three remaining, I feel certain that two are straightforward CGI model productions: A SingleLife and Sweet Cocoon, though the former has opted for a look that is somewhat in the clay animation style of a Nick Park.
A Single Life

Sweet Cocoon

And a Big Hand for Stop Motion
Last, and in many ways most interesting of the whole group, is the extraordinary stop motion film The Bigger Picture.  It is extraordinary in its intended audience, which is emphatically adult; it its scale, which is actual size (a character who is intended to represent a six foot man is actually six feet tall in from of the camera); in its variety of media, including wet, opaque paint on a wall and other flat surfaces, papier maché and real furniture and rooms as props and settings.
The Bigger Picture

So there you are.  But just now, as I type this, it is 5:06pm, Pacific Time, and that's time to go watch the Oscars presentations and see who wins!

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

No. 76, Animated Short Subjects Oscar Contenders 2015

Today I got a chance to go and see all 5 nominees that made the final cut for Oscar contention in the Animated Short Subject category, plus 4 runners-up.  Let's take a look at what we have here.

The Five Nominees

Me and my Moulton.  14 minutes. Director: Toril Kove. Canada.

2D animation with possible computer assist.  Simple and charming line art about 3 daughters of eccentric Norwegian parents, narrated by the middle girl.

Feast. 6 minutes. USA.

From Disney, a digital film directed by Patrick Osborne about a foodie dog and his foodie owner.  Clever and full of life, with an unusual lighting treatment that is high contrast and sharp edged. Typical Disney character design and movement.

A Single Life. 2 minutes. Netherlands. Directors: Marieke Blaauw, Joris Oprins, Job Roggeveen.

The shortest by far of these short films, this is a succinct and quite funny digital film with a character design based on stop motion clay animation.  My pick to win.

The Dam Keeper. 18 minutes.  USA. Directors: Robert Kondo and Dice Tsutsumi.

A perplexing digital film with a flawed storyline about an orphan pig who is both a bullied child in school and an adult burdened with an onerous responsibility for his whole town. The rendering style is painterly and ragged with some quite beautiful color design.

The Bigger Picture. 17 minutes. UK. Director: Daisy Jacobs.

An unusual stop motion film in a combination of kinetic painting and papier maché animation, about two grown men and their elderly mother.  Touching and funny and strange.

The Four Also-Rans

No explanation is given for the selection of these four films which have been included to be distributed with the five nominees.  Whether they were jury favorites or just easily available is not mentioned. Nevertheless, here they are.

Sweet Cocoon. 6 minutes. France.

Hilarious and well-animated digital film about an overweight caterpillar who gets help in getting into her ready-made coccoon  from two elderly beetles.

Footprints. 4 minutes. USA.

2D animation in the unique and highly personal style of Bill Plympton, whom I applaud for making a go of 2D animation while personally not liking his work very much.

Bus Story. 11 minutes. Canada.

2D animation in a primitive style reminiscent of Richard Condie, this film sponsored by the National Film Board of Canada tells the story of a woman whose modest dream is to drive a school bus.

Duet. 4 minutes. USA.

A film by the Disney-trained virtuoso 2D animator Glen Keane, about a boy and girl growing up from babyhood and finally and inevitably coming together as a couple.

Next: Blurring the Pencil Lines: Traditional 2D Animation in 2015 Oscar Entries