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, May 30, 2016

No. 100, Book Review: Animated Cartoons for the Beginner

Worst Animation Book Ever?

Published privately by Foster Art Service of Tustin, California, a private publisher of large format how-to art books that were distributed across the United States beginning sometime in the 1940's, Animated Cartoons for the Beginner is one of the first animation books that ever came into my hands. Priced at one dollar, it was part of a line of instruction books that included titles about drawing, painting in many media, sculpture, and various art crafts; eventually the list numbered over 200 different publications.

Many of the books were credited to known artists, but number 25, Animated Cartoons for the Beginner was anonymous and remained so for decades. Recently I learned on the internet that the author and artist was an animator named Volney White, who lived from 1907 to 1966. He worked for Romer Grey studios, for Schlesinger under the directors Norm McCabe and Frank Tashlin doing early Porky Pig Looney Tunes, and then for Paul Terry.

The Foster books also failed to carry any publication dates, and I have not been able to find out when it first appeared in print. But the drawing and animation are very much in the Warner Brothers style of the late 1930's, with character designs largely dependent on circles. The characters had large eyes with huge pupils, exaggerated highlights, and eyelids that came down like polished shutters, apparently designed to look like they were heavy with eye shadow.

A character much like Porky Pig of the late 30s. Volney White was
animator on a number of Porky's cartoons at Schlesinger.

The style is consistent with the known work that Volney White did at Schlesinger's around 1937, on such Looney Tune cartoons as Porky at the Crocadero or A-Lad-In-Bagdad. (These cartoons are available for viewing on You Tube and other video sites.) There is also a clear influence of "Cartoon Charlie" Thorson, a Schlesinger studio character designer at the time and the man who drew the famous original "Bug's Bunny" model sheet for Harum Scarum.

Ain't they cute? A page of typical character designs by Volney White.

As to content, the first half of the book's thirty-two pages are devoted to character design, something that author White clearly enjoyed. Most of the character drawings are paired with so-called "rough" drawings of the same thing, yet instead of real rough drawings, these are the usual circle and stick figure de-constructions that persist like some undying urban legend about how cartoonists draw.

Showing the mythical method of drawing that cartoonists supposedly use. Note also the
winking eyelid of the character at lower right.

He might have done better to have got right into the subject of inbetweening, the beginning animator's traditional training regimen which is so valuable because it makes a newbie animator actually useful in a short time while exposing him or her at ground level to the practices and standards of the studio for which he will work, and because there is no better way to understand the process than to handle and work with the drawings of a more experienced animator. The best example of practical inbetweener training that I have seen is in the book Animation in Twelve Hard Lessons, by Bob Heath. (See my post No. 18 for a review of that book.)

A page showing the building of an animation desk.

When finally the book gets to animation itself, there are a couple of useful pages about the animation desk and how to build one. Then we are off into walk and run cycles and a lot of pose drawings. There is nothing at all about timing, about breakdowns, about spacing, about the basic rules of smooth animation, nor even about drawing registration. Sometimes I think veteran animators forget: walk cycles are hard to do. They are not really beginner material at all, in my opinion. When I see a book like this, I wonder if the author actually imagined that anyone could learn much from it.

One of the pages featuring a run cycle. Note the eye unaccountably winking at lower right;
in a cycle, the eye would wink at every other step!

And the one intriguing feature of the book, a column of cycles presented as flipbooks in the margin of the right-hand pages, was completely ruined by the printers and by a careless editor, who let the book go into print, not just once but in who-knows-how-many reprintings over the years, with pages out of order.  Thus the flipbooks are out of order and make no sense, only creating confusion for anyone trying to understand them. This is why I suggest that the book, disappointing in so many ways, is a good candidate for the Worst Animation Instruction Book Ever.

The book's concluding three pages, under the heading "HERE ARE THE PROBLEMS GIVEN BY THE LEADING STUDIOS", is at last in the right informational spirit, yet the problems are more along the lines of a test that might be given to a story man rather than a candidate for animator.

A page of problems. The aspiring animator was to show his solutions when applying for a job.

A final note: I took the trouble to scan all the pages and re-order them correctly. Below is Volney White's flipbook walk cycle, which, as far as I know, has not been seen as it was intended since White delivered his manuscript pages to Walter Foster some sixty years ago.

In addition to the images being in the wrong order, the drawings here were carelessly registered, so that the character jerked about both vertically and horizontally. I re-aligned them vertically by keeping the feet on a constant plane when in contact with the ground. Horizontally, I decided on keeping the mass of the character's abdomen and rear end in about the same place, which seems to work.

In a future post I will include videos of the other two cycles featured in this book.


Footnote, March 30, 2017

While on a recent visit to Portland, Oregon, where I lived for ten years, I made a visit to the famous independent bookstore Powell's Books. Among the animation books on their shelves, I found a copy of this book in an earlier format, wider than it was tall, and, sure enough, this earliest edition had the flipbook images printed in the correct order. So they had got it right--before they then got it wrong!

Saturday, May 21, 2016

No. 99, A Most Unusual Walk Cycle, Part 2

One of the drawings in the cycle, cleaned up and ready for inking.

In post number 95, we looked at five stages in the development of this walk cycle of an Old Man dragging his trunk through an airport.

Since then I have finished and cleaned up the animation, adding and refining things, and I want to show you the result.

First, here are versions 1 and 5 from the earlier post, so you can see how far it has come.

Version 1

Link to version 1
Nothing is right here but the legs, which will remain virtually unchanged right to the end. But it is a good place to start, and the uneven leg rhythm suggests complementary movements of the torso, left arm and head. I can see clearly what needs to be done.

Version 5

Link to version 5
By this time I have gotten the arm figured out to my satisfaction, but there are many other things I still want to add. That left arm now has acquired a hypnotic over-importance only because, unlike everything else here, it is detailed and finished looking, like a sharply focused element in a picture that is otherwise blurred. That is just what rough drawings are: unfocused images.

Version 6

Link to version 6
Now, everything is in focus, and the left arm is no longer the only thing one wants to look at.  I have added in such things as the thrust and turn of the head, the sleeve of his right arm sliding up and down the wrist, the movement of the tail of the jacket and the swinging motion of the necktie. Still, the original movement of the legs that is apparent in version one remains unchanged.

The Old Man in Color

How my character of the Old Man may look in the film Carry On.

I spent a day working in Animate Pro, inking this drawing and testing color palettes and learning how to do textures, until I came up with this image, which is close to how I want to see the Old Man in the final film.  Having a color concept like this will help me as I continue to storyboard the rest of the film.

Next: A Review of the Second Oldest--and possibly Worst--Animation Instruction Book ever published.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

No. 98, A Poster for "Carry On": Its Development

From Thumbnail to Final

Stage 1, The Thumbnail

The first image, done on a 3" x 3" sticky note.
Visualizing my personal film Carry On in terms of a movie poster was useful in focusing my thinking; the exercise of distilling the concept into a single image was an interesting challenge, and I was surprised when it came so easily.  Here it all is, showing the Old Man, his oversized suitcase at the airport, and his own challenge as represented by the open frame "sizer" or test container that some airlines have used to control what their passengers may bring aboard.

Incidentally, this is another good example of working small, with no chance to put in too much fussy detail, before you work big.

Stage 2, Full-Size Drawing, 1st Draft

The first full-scale drawing. 
Attempting a full scale drawing, it became clear that perspective was not just necessary but that I would have to do my perspective drawing in a precise and formal way instead of faking or guessing at the approximate perspective, as it is sometimes possible to do.

Stage 3, Full-Size Drawing, 2nd Draft

The final pencil drawing.
This is the final pencil drawing as it was when I brought it into Photoshop for painting. At the edges I had taped on extra paper so that my vanishing points could be extended way outside the range of the image frame. The airplane was originally drawn in at the top, as shown here, so that I could have it on its own layer and then easily adjust its position as seen through the window.

Stage 4, The Digital Drawing

This shows the digital outline layer as I traced it from the pencil scan.
Tracing the pencil layer digitally is the cleanest way to get a good line image with a completely transparent background. The line image here is shown over another layer of medium grey.

Stage 5, Tonal Rendering
The tonal, monochromatic rendering.
This method of working, where you completely work out your value scale before adding any color at all, is one I have long been curious to try.  Sometimes, thinking about color at the same time as you are setting the values (shades of light and dark) can be dauntingly complex. I found that I liked doing it in this way.

Stage 6, Full Color

The tonal image, now with color added on a new layer.
Unfortunately, adding color the way I did it reduces the contrast considerably. The technique I used called for creating a second copy of the tonal image, setting the mode of the top layer to Multiply, reducing its opacity to about seventy percent, then creating a new layer in between the tonal layers where the color is layed in.  It does work, but, as I say, a lot of the contrast was lost.  I have heard of a somewhat different technique which I plan to try next time I do a painting like this.

Stage 7, The Final

The final illustration.
Here I have added a few brighter highlights on a new layer, cropped the image to printing size, and of course added the text. I am fairly well satisfied with the result.

Next: One more look at that Most Unusual Walk Cycle, with all drawings cleaned up and detailed.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

No. 97, An Iconic Image On a Good Day

A Good Day

As mentioned in my last post, No. 96, I went to the Drawtastic event last Saturday in West Seattle with the intention of promoting this blog and, as always, to crusade for drawing and for hand-drawn animation.  I paid a fee for a vendor's table, though I had nothing to sell for money, and I sat there all day just talking with the crowd, handing out my flyers, and doing some drawing at my portable animation desk.  It was time well spent.

At my vendor's table during Drawtastic. Photo by Tony White.
I talked with a teacher about her program of guiding high school students through the making of personal animated films.  With a very limited classroom schedule, what do you emphasize for them to accomplish? A certain length? A certain style?  No; to try to tell a story.

I talked with the caricaturist Nolan Harris about those cases where you just can't get a good likeness. It does happen!

I met a man whose son, also present, loves the old Jay Ward Rocky and Bullwinkle shows.  The boy is about ten years old. This gave me a little thrill, because I believe that a lot of kids today have no interest in any animation now considered as classic, which mostly is comprised of 2D animation. Jungle Book?  Awesome! (But they mean the CGI Jungle Book.)  Lion King? Oh, yeah, that's a Broadway musical, isn't it? Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs? Ancient history. But meeting this boy gives me hope that perhaps I am being too cynical.

Among the guests, I met the animator Mike A. Smith, from Portland, Oregon, winner not only of Drawtastic's Golden Pencil Award for Best 2D Animated Film, but also, by audience vote, Best of the Fest. I had seen Mike's entry Cooped on Vimeo, and loved it, but I didn't get it that this guy was that animator until near the end of the day.  Mike works "paperless", drawing directly into his computer. That's something I have not been able to do, but Mike's work is proof that the results can be worthy indeed. Google "Cooped" and see for yourself.

A frame from Cooped, by Mike A. Smith

The Perfect Moment

The most magical moment of the day, however, was captured by a fellow vendor who got this candid shot of me with a young animation enthusiast.

Passing the lore to a new generation, perhaps. Photo by Morgan Krepky.

It's such a wonderful image, it just leaves me speechless.

Next:  Developing the movie poster for Carry On.