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, March 28, 2016

No. 93, Using Storyboard Pro with Scanned Images, Part 2: Animating Layers

Animating Layers

This post continues my investigation of using Storyboard Pro for scanned images, as described in post 92.  To follow along, you may need to refer to the video link there.

Yesterday I decided to enhance one of my scenes by using the Animate Layers feature of SBP. This feature adds extra versatility to the program by making it possible to show, for example, a character entering or leaving the frame. Only the character layer would be animated, with all the elements appearing on separate layers being unaffected by the movement. Not only lateral movement, but also changes in scale and rotation can be implemented, or a combination of those changes.

I thought it all sounded quite useful, and I had in mind a particular scene that I wanted to try it out on. After my character, the Old Man, enters the airline terminal building and makes a turn, dragging his ponderous suitcase, we cut to a CU of his face lasting for about 3 seconds. In animation we will see him in motion, slowly bobbing up and down as the hallway background recedes behind him.

I decided it would not be difficult, using layer animation, to simulate this in the animatic.

Moving the Background

The hallway background I envisioned had not even been sketched in on the storyboard panel. I therefore created a new layer called Hallway for that to occupy. The character layer I labeled as Old Man.

The Old Man on his own layer.

Before doing anything else, I needed to deal with the fact that scanned images are opaque from corner to corner. If working with multiple layers, you need transparency everywhere on a layer except where solid objects are represented, in order to be able to see through to the layers underneath. (This is the same concept as cel layers from the days of filmed animation.) Thus, on the Old Man layer, I used the Cutter tool and cut away and deleted all the space around the Old Man's image. Small areas can also be made transparent with the Eraser tool.

Hallway layer.
My idea for the hallway background simply showed a long corridor diminishing in one point perspective, with shapes representing doorways or display windows along the walls, and with rectangles suggesting fluorescent lighting fixtures in the ceiling. I drew the Hallway background using only the line tool, erasing unwanted portions of lines using the eraser.  I located the perspective vanishing point conveniently behind the Old Man's body.  It is not necessary to make any part of the Hallway layer transparent, since it is the bottom layer and nothing needs to be seen behind it.

The Old Man and Hallway layers combine.
To animate a layer, in the Stage View I selected the Hallway layer, then clicked on the First Frame Transform icon in the toolbar. Next, and very important in a zoom in one-point perspective, I located the pivot point at the perspective vanishing point.
First frame selected. Note the selection's pivot point is placed on top of
the perspective vanishing point.

Showing the First Frame icon in the grey box (selected). The Last Frame icon is just below it.
Next I clicked on the Last Frame Transform icon, again making sure that my pivot point was centered on the perspective vanishing point, and adjusted the scaling.

Last frame selected.
To get the right appearance of speed and distance traveled down the hallway, it was necessary to make a couple of tries.  In this case, the old man is supposed to be moving slowly, so my object was to make it appear that he did not travel very far during this scene. Finally I had the desired effect, as you can see in the clip here.

Moving the Character

Now that I had the background moving as I wanted, it was time to animate the Old Man on his own layer, slowly bobbing up and down to suggest his trudging walk. It would be a cycle of about 20 frames, I calculated, to be repeated three plus times over the 72 frames of the scene.

All I had to do was set about 7 keyframes, and--but wait a minute!  It finally came to me: I CANNOT DO THIS!

Because, you see, SBP allows keyframes only at the beginning and end of each panel.  Any movement or transformation must begin at the first frame of the panel and end on the last frame. Although "ease-in" and "ease-out" enhancements are allowed, no further changes within a movement are possible.  Without additional keyframes within a panel, an up and down movement such as I wanted to add is not possible.

Not the End of the World

After my initial moment of disappointment, I posed the question: Is this a serious limitation in Toon Boom Story Board Pro?

Actually, it is not. It is a limitation but a reasonable limitation. A storyboard program is not an animation program, after all.  It is a production tool for making a limited representation of the final end product and should not be expected to have all the bells and whistles of Animate Pro, for example.

Further, SBP allows export to Animate, Animate Pro or Harmony, which means that you actually could then add any extra movements desired by using the animation software.

*     *     *     *     *     *

Next we will look at some of the other SBP features that I have encountered and used.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

No. 92, Using Storyboard Pro with Scanned Images

Screenshot of the You Tube screen.  For the video, see link below.

Storyboard True Believer

I am now a true believer in making full use of the storyboard stage of production. To fail to do this is simply foolish, as so many important questions can be resolved at this stage, avoiding mistakes and wasted work at the animation stage.

There are excellent tutorials by Mark Simon and others showing how Toon Boom Storyboard Pro (SBP) works when the artist does all his or her drawing within the application, but less has been said about the artist like me who prefers scanning drawings done on paper. Here is some information from that viewpoint.

Here is a link to the sequence I have been working on; if you are following this blog, you may recognize characters discussed in some of my recent posts.

As discussed in my blog post No. 87, I like to draw on half-sheets of used animation paper.  (See the post here for a review of that.) I put them up on my pinup wall and study them for continuity of action, clarity and strong characterization before committing them to the scanner and SBP.

In the case of the sequence just scanned, I was able to add voices for three of the characters: the busybody woman whom I call Miss Hopegood, the Old Man, and the little girl crying. The third of those was found in a sound effects library, while the first two are original recordings made with my Zoom H1 digital mini recorder, an amazing and economical device the size of a small TV remote.

The ZOOM H1 Recorder, with an American 25-cent piece for scale.

I processed the resulting WAV files in Adobe Sound Booth, deleting unwanted portions and modifying the sound quality as desired. As I am not a trained sound engineer, some of the technical settings for the sound files are a bit beyond my understanding, so I generally settled for the default settings. But those turned out to be good enough, especially as this is actually a "scratch" track, or a sound track which may be later replaced with a more sophisticated version.

Additionally, I was able to find recordings of airport terminal background noise, which adds greatly to the ambience of the whole sequence.

Still to be added are such specific sound effects as walking and the beeping of an electric trolley.

Is a Digital Storyboard an Animatic?

And, while this digital storyboard can now be called an animatic in that the scenes are timed to simulate the timing of the proposed final cut, there are many more effects of transition and movement of the camera and layers that can be added to increase the approximation of the animatic to the final film experience. An animatic is often also a working, malleable document which, with the gradual replacement of storyboard frames with actual rough animation and then finished animation, will eventually metamorphose over time into the final production.

Friday, March 4, 2016

No. 91, Woody Woodpecker Model Revealed

The twenty-year-old 3D walk cycle of Woody Woodpecker that I showed you in my last post, number 90, was not only done with early 3D software; it was also done without the benefit of many tools and tricks that the 3D animators of the present day take for granted.

A frame capture from my Woody walk cycle in 3D.
First of all, there wasn't much that was flexible. The hands, the feet, the topknot of feathers, remain rigid all through the cycle. Most obvious, if you look for it, is that the feet do not bend or flex at all. As stiff as a pair of wooden shoes, when Woody rolls forward on them, they just stand up on their toes until he lifts them and brings them forward. Then they slap suddenly down as the forward foot takes the weight.

Neither do the hips move. The torso is just a cartoon pear-shape with the legs stuck inside.  In fact, there are no bones or attempt at any skeletal structure at all.  The arms and legs do bend, but the hands only look good because I made use of secondary and follow through action simply by rotating them appropriately at the wrists. To make him look jaunty I also nodded the head a bit from side to side as he walked.

In short, I made up for limitations in the model's structure by using a few items from my bag of animator's tools. With good posing and timing, together with the follow-through and secondary action of the hands, I was able to get a fairly attractive walk, despite its admitted shortcomings.