Status of the Blog 6/12/17

YouTube Thumbnail for Moon Over My Monkey

Quickdraw Animation Lockdown 2017

I recently returned from a three week trip to Canada. Part of that was spent in Calgary at Quickdraw Animation Society participating in their annual Animation Lockdown. Over the Victoria Day long weekend teams worked on shorts loosely themed around Brave New Worlds. Here’s my entry, Moon Over My Monkey.

Lockdown is a fun event, even though you’re always under the pressure of a deadline. You learn a lot about yourself over a four day crunch to finish a film. I started attending last year as a getaway from my regular environment. A chance to join like-minded people as we toiled away in our respective studio spaces. As somebody with ADHD I have a love/hate relationship with structure. Left to my own devices I can get overly ambitious and fail to finish anything due to perfectionism. There’s no time for perfection with Lockdown. Even if you spend time beforehand prepping you still only have so long to finesse before the screening.

Retro Animation Website

Inspiration

The recent YouTube Ad-pocalypse has made me think back to earlier days on the Internet. Sites like Homestar Runner and JoeCartoon would feature animated cartoons that were entirely their own thing. Of course that was before Flash was a dead program walking. The Brothers Chaps have tested the waters with a comeback. Cousin Joe Twoshacks has a band now. Jazza did interviews with various Newgrounds animators in his The Tale Teller & Mini Documentary Series, particularly in part three, The RISE of INDEPENDENT ANIMATION.

He also made a video entitled The DEATH of Independent YOUTUBE ANIMATION? joining in the discussion of the future of indie animation on the platform. Can You Make A Career Out of Internet Animation? The Pegbarians Are Definitely Trying also brought about some passionate responses from those in the community. YouTube competitor vidme has been courting frustrated animators with their Original Animation category. I encourage all creators today to put their content everywhere. This increases your chances of being seen, of growing an audience, and hopefully makes it harder for freebooters to gain traction. That said, having your own domain to point back to is very important. At the end of the day you don’t own any of the other platforms you post on. It’s risky running a business on a system that’s out of your control. One change in an algorithm can dramatically impact people’s livelihoods over night. This need for stability and control, coupled with a desire to experiment, is why my next big project is going to be building my own site for my animations.

Laying the Groundwork

After using WordPress for ~10 years I’m eager for a little more flexibility. It’s tempting to just start making pages but I remember early in my webcomics career, after I’d built up something of an archive, “How am I going to change the footer on all these… Oh.” I spent some time researching and comparing various flat file CMS systems and at the moment have settled on Grav. I still need to experiment in my local environment but right now that’s what I’m going with. I’m also going to be testing Animatron to make HTML5 animations with interactivity that should work on mobile devices.

Manga Studio

  • On July 24, 2012 ·
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Today I’d like to discuss Manga Studio. Known as ComicStudio in Japan, this app is actually pretty impressive in how it’s geared towards the creation of comics. Like Smith Micro’s Anime Studio, it comes in a cheaper version for beginners and a fuller priced version for professionals. (Manga Studio EX 5 and Manga Studio 5, respectably) When starting a new project you can select to either start a new page or a new story. You’re presented with some good preset templates or you can configure your own. The brushes are extremely configurable, the vector tools allowing you to adjust the correction and stroke in/out. You can make your own custom brushes or download some like these by Ray Frenden.

The brushes are probably my favorite thing about Manga Studio though there’s also the ability to import 3D models, all the various toning options, filters, and perspective rulers. It does take some time to get used to the interface but it’s pretty rewarding when you do get the hang of it. Meredith Gran of Octopus Pie was the first webcartoonist I saw making good use of it. Since then I’ve seen a number of folks trying it out.

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Photoshop Brushes

  • On July 23, 2012 ·
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Here’s some sets of photoshop brushes you may find useful. I’ve done my best to point to the original sites of the creators where possible. I tend to use the stumpy pencil and the digital inking brush from Geekasaurus-Rex almost exclusively these days.

Pencil Brushes

Stumpy Pencil V2

 Pencil Box 1

Pencil Box 2

Awesome Photoshop Pencil Brush

Cloured Pencil Brushes

Pencil Brushes

PS Brushes – Coloured Pencil

PS Brushes – Pencil

PS Brushes – Pencil Brushes 2

Sketching Brushes and Pitt

Photoshop Pencil Brush

My Pencil Brush Set 1

Ink Brushes

Inking Brush by Geekasaurus-Rex

Simple Inking Brush for Photoshop

Painting and Inking Brushes

Ink Pen

Dave’s Camelhair Brushes

Dave’s Camelhair Brushes V2

Misc Brushes/Sets

Nagel Brush Series (This is a series made up of about 43 different sets. Sets 1-39 are collected here while you can grab 40, 41, 42, and 43 separately)

Graphic Brushes

The Sketch Arsenal

Sketchtastic Brush Pack

Brushes Pack

Brushes Pack .05 – Watercolor

Ink and Watercolor Brushes

Mateu7’s Watercolor Brushes

Custom Brushes from idrawdigital

Crack Brushes 1

Crack Brushes 2

Crack Brushes 3

Rising Sun Brushes

More Rising Sun Brushes

 

Lightboxes

  • On July 20, 2012 ·
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Today I’d like to talk a little bit about the lightbox. Some artists starting out may not fully realize the benefits of using a lightbox. It’s a really simple tool and it makes tracing over/reworking your art a lot easier. How simple is it? There’s a number of blogs online about how to make one yourself on a budget.

Using tupperware boxes and a lightbulb

Homemade animation table including registration pegboard out of tupperware, light, and ruler

Slightly more industrial version

Glass picture frame, bulb, cardboard box

Converting an old suitcase into a portable lightbox

Recycling an old scanner into a lightbox

Building a lightbox

Lightbox for under $20

Constructing a lightbox

Light table under $30

Simple diagrams and instructions are easy to find online, even video tutorials.

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You can buy lightboxes in stores but expect to pay more unless you’re getting one used or from a wholesaler.

Animation desks are slightly more involved in design as the require a way to register the drawings in place with each other and usually facilitate turning the drawing. Here’s an online gallery full of reference for people looking to buy or build their own. Other animators have posted build logs online of their desks being put together.

This Disney Studios animation desk went for $8,200 on ebay. I like to think I’m responsible with my money but if I’d had the 8 grand damn right I would have bought it. Actually I should mention I bought my animation desk from AnimationDesks.com in Canada where Colin Johnson assembles them at a very competitive price. He builds the desks with adjustable heights, includes an animation disc with pegbar and backlight, and ships it all for what you’d probably spend on materials and labor.

Bill Plympton – Cheatin’ Production Blog

  • On July 19, 2012 ·
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“King of indie animation” Bill Plympton has been doing a video production blog on his latest film, Cheatin’.

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Be sure to check out the rest on his Vimeo profile and his blog he shares with Patrick Smith.

Some of my favorite Plympton animations: His guest couch gag on The Simpsons.

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The Kanye West music video, Heard ‘Em Say.

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The “Weird Al” Yankovic music video, Don’t Download This Song.

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Nick Cross – The Pig Farmer (NSFW)

  • On July 18, 2012 ·
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I’ve been watching a lot of student and independently animated films lately. Today I’d like to highlight Canadian animator Nick Cross’s The Pig Farmer. Be aware that the film is for mature viewers and not work safe.

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I chose this cartoon to bring up because A) it’s a well done and weird little short that should be seen and B) it’s production was well documented with behind the scenes blog posts.

Original fundraising post with drawings

The animation process in 9 stages with video

Inking in Flash demo video

First scene completed

Background painting process

Incidental paintings for the film being sold as prints

Slitscan effect sequence

Cross mentions on his blog that he wanted to defend Flash from some of it’s detractors by showing that a film like Pinnochio could be made with it. I recall John K. mentioning when he switched to Toon Boom Harmony that Flash wasn’t really made for animators. I personally think Flash, like any other program out there, is a useful tool though it’s not exactly ideal for traditional animating. You can bend any tool with enough effort and know how, just look at MS Paint. It’s really more a matter of which software you feel more comfortable using, which fits your production pipeline better, and which gives you the best results you want the fastest.

Anyway, be sure to check out Cross’s blog and his profile on Vimeo for his other films.

Animation Softwares

  • On July 17, 2012 ·
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Here’s a list of different software packages out there for animators. I might review some of these more in depth in the future but for now here’s just a general list of things I’ve found so far.

Freeware

Pencil 2D – Cross platform open source program that does bitmap and vectors as well as sound. Still in beta and kinda buggy. I stopped using it when it started crashing my Wacom driver.

Plastic Animation Paper – Windows-only (though there was a Mac beta floating around) program that went totally free when the development schedule went up in the air.

Synfig Studio – Cross platform open source program, does bitmap and vectors as well as sound.

MonkeyJam – Windows-only pencil test/stop motion program and supports sound.

Blender – Cross platform open source 3D content creation suite.

Commercial Software

3D Studio Max – 3D modeling, animation, and rendering package.

Maya – 3D modeling, animation, and rendering package. Fun fact: South Park is made with it since they’re able to simulate cut out stop motion with textures very quickly.

LightWave – 3D modeling, animation, and rendering package.

messiah:studio – 3D bone rigging, animation, and rendering system.

iStopMotion 3 – Mac/iPad stop motion/time lapse program.

Toki Line Test – Mac/Windows pencil test/stop motion program that supports sound.

Moho (Formerly Anime Studio) – Vector and puppet animation with bone rigging, simulated physics, and auto lip-syncing. You can do some nice South Park-like animations with it.

Stop Motion Pro – Used in films by Aardman Animations like Wallace & Gromit and Pirates! Band of Misfits.

AnimatorHD – Windows-based stop motion and time lapse program.

Dragonframe 3 Stop Motion Software – Windows/Mac stop motion software and keypad. Used in films like Frankenweenie

Adobe Flash Professional CC [Digital Membership] – Vector animation and web interaction interface software. Most commonly used for it’s motion/shape ‘tweening and scripting capabilities. Traditional animators can also achieve some very impressive results with it.

TVPaint – Designed to mimic traditional art techniques. Cross platform and supports paper as well as paperless animating. Looks both awesome and totally intimidating.

Toon Boom – Various vector-based animation systems. Everything from the hobbyist up to huge studio workflows.

Digicel Flipbook – Designed from the ground up with the traditional animator in mind. Supports scanning/photographing

Books for Animating

  • On July 16, 2012 ·
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Over the years I’ve collected a bunch of books on animation. I might review some of them more in depth later but right now I’m going to give you my list of the most useful ones.

Cartoon Animation by Preston Blair

 Cover of Cartoon Animation by Preston Blair

Pound for pound this book contains the most information stored in an easy to understand format. It’s deceptively simple. It covers everything from drawing and character design to the basic elements of animating and production. The layperson can flip through it to gain an understanding of the essentials while the student and professional will regularly flip back to the super useful charts illustrating the differences between all sorts of bipedal and animal movement.

The Animator’s Survival Kit by Richard Williams

 Cover to the Animator's Survival Kit by Richard Williams

Where Preston Blair’s book is the essentials, Richard William’s book is like the expanded manual. He provides detailed and analytical breakdowns of movement. The copy I actually have from college is a pre-expanded edition so I need to update myself. There’s even a 16 DVD box-set which I would love to have someday.

The Animator’s Workbook: Step-By-Step Techniques of Drawn Animation by Tony White

 Cover for the Animator's Workbook by Tony White

This book is a nice primer on the basics and a decent addition to the reference shelf.

The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation by Frank Thomas & Ollie Johnston

 Cover to the Illusion of Life: Disney Animation by Frank Thomas & Ollie Johnston

This is a beautiful book showcasing a lot of behind the scenes art from Disney classics. My only issue is it’s more of a retrospective of the studio’s achievements so you’re not going to glimpse the same understanding of what the artists are doing in this one as you would in the how-to guides on this list.

 

Chuck Amuck: The Life and Times of an Animated Cartoonist by Chuck Jones

 Cover to Chuck Amuck: The Life and Times of an Animated Cartoonist by Chuck Jones

This book is a really great read. Jones walks us through his formative years and how he got started down the life path to cartooning. I almost want to say it’s like The Inner Game of Tennis: The Classic Guide to the Mental Side of Peak Performance for cartoonists. There’s bits of animating advice and art throughout but this book really illustrates the thinking mind of a great director.

Chuck Reducks: Drawing from the Fun Side of Life by Chuck Jones

 Cover of Chuck Reducks: Drawing from the Fun Side of Life by Chuck Jones

An interesting follow up to Chuck Amuck, this book focuses on character – specifically key characters throughout Jones’s career. His other book dealt with the discovery that characters in his cartoons are really parts of himself personified. This time around he analyzes what makes each particular one tick and how he identifies with them so we in turn do the same. An important part in understanding how a character moves is understanding what they’re thinking and feeling. Being better aware of what the character is all about leads to better acting in the animation.

Make Toons That Sell Without Selling Out by Bill Plympton

 Cover of Make Toons That Sell Without Selling Out by Bill Plympton

“King of Indie Animation” Bill Plympton shares his thoughts on making cartoons. This book has a very personal voice, which isn’t surprising considering it’s from a guy that animates shorts and feature films by himself. He explains his methods of production and how one man can make cartoons outside the system. It’s a good overview and makes you think about every stage in putting a film together and getting it seen.

How I Make 2071

Today I’d like to walk you through the process I use to create my comic 2071. Once I’ve written the script and done a thumbnail of the page to lay out the panels I move onto penciling.

Penciling

I settled on this size so I can use half a sheet of 11×14″ bristol board for the finished inks and regular printer paper for the pencils. Then I can redraw a page as many times as I need to to achieve the proper composition. I sketch with red and blue col-erase animation pencils and like to go over things with mechanical pencil if I have time so they’re easier to see on the lightbox. Also this constant going over evolves the details as I get more confident with the finished drawing. My pencils these days are pretty tight as I want to develop the page as much as possible. Lots of artists keep their sketches loose and save details for inking to keep them spontaneous. I feel more free to change things while penciling as ink feels more permanent, even though I could always touch the inks up digitally later. (I usually have to, anyway)

Penciled Page

The next step is to tape the pencils and some bristol board to my lightbox and go over it all with drawing pens.

Inking

Pens give a colder feel than brushes because their lines are more solid and mechanical. Brushes create more organic lines with varying width. Since the story is set in the future I wanted a fairly streamlined and technical feel. Plus I’m kind of heavy handed and split the tips of brushes pretty easily.

Raw Scan of Inks

At this point I was still trying to white out mistakes before scanning. I usually have to go back in and fix them even after the automated cleanup process so I might as well save corrections for that stage.

Cleanup

Scan After Automated Cleaning Process

I made an action that follows the steps laid out in How to Make Webcomics. I run it to convert everything to straight black or white in bitmap mode and save in .tiff format. Then I go back in and clean lines up.

Page of Inks After Fixing

The changes at this stage are mostly for the print version. When it’s shrunk down and in this jaggy format you don’t see a lot of the things you would once it’s printed. (Save the occasional redrawing of a line or something) I save this and then convert it to grayscale and copy the panels into a template with proper page margins.

Coloring

Initial Flood Fill of Colors

I duplicate the panels onto a multiply layer and remove all the white so only the inks show. Some folks just leave it a normal layer, which is fine. I’ve just had issues with non-black spots getting onto my ink layers in the past and setting it to multiply keeps that from becoming an issue. Flood fill with the paint bucket and pencil in any hard to reach spots on the lower layer.

Layer with Shadows

I then duplicate the colors layer, set it to multiply, create a layer mask and invert it, painting out areas for shadows. Lower this to about 50%.

Layer with Highlights

I duplicate the colors again, set it to screen, create a layer mask and invert it, and start drawing highlights. I keep this layer at 100%.

Layer with Benday Dots

The colorist for Evil, Inc. had an article on Webcomics.com (Before it became subscription based) about making a strip look like a newspaper comic. I came up with a variation on that I liked.

Layer with Aged Paper Texture

Next I add a layer with the aged paper texture. I lower the opacity of the colors layer so some of the splotches bleed through them.

Layer with Lighting Effects

Before I render the intense light of futuristic jet engines I focus on the effects of the falloff color on the rest of the objects in the panel.

Layer with More Lighting Effects

Some things would probably be easier to render if I didn’t draw them in the inking stage (Like shapes for flames, highlights) but I like having them there if I decide to color their lines or just paint over them entirely.

Layer with Even More Lighting Effects

Finally I paint in the white-hot areas of the flames. I like layering the effects to give them a more developed look rather than just dropping a simple effect in. I’ll play around with layer modes, opacity, and layer effects until I find something I like. It’s important to me that the overall page looks balanced. The drawings need to be developed and detailed enough while the rendering needs to be subtle enough to work. It’s very easy to make effects look too “Photoshop-y” and stand out glaringly on a page.

Layer with Panel Border Enhancement

I make a one-pixel stroke around the panels and add a stroke effect to the layer. It frames them better and differentiates the panels from each other. Some people use rules about how wide your borders should be based on your thickest line in a panel. I find a setting that works and leave it.

Layer with Text

After laboring over the art I hate to cover it up with text so I tend to wittle the script down to absolute necessities. Dialogue placement impacts how you read it and I like to think the shape of a sound effect changes how you hear it in your head. It’s also a visual element so I want to compliment the drawings underneath. The fonts add to the aesthetic I’m going for by being simple yet elegant.

Layer with Word Balloons

Keeping with the slightly mechanical and less organic idea I made the word balloons rounded squares rather than oval shapes. (Automated voices use sharp square balloons while voices being broadcast use another closed balloon shape) This harkens back to Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo in Slumberland and other early 20th century strips as well as conserves space. Copper influenced me to make the panels rounded so making the word balloons match makes sense.

Page with Saturation Layer

This is the last step before flattening, resizing, and adding the URL for the web. I fill a layer with black, set it to saturation, and lower the opacity. This makes the colors a little less pronounced and adds to the aged feel. Movies today tend to desaturate their color palette, too. Compare the original Superman colors to the ones in Superman Returns. I was originally planning on rendering in color and then dropping it down to grey for print but the color version is just too superior.

Laying out a story

  • On April 22, 2010 ·
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2071 started out here on the home page as a text story. I decided at some point to work on it as a comic project. The story evolved considerably over a short time. The characters came pretty quickly, then the story, then a whole lot more as their world opened up. I started thinking of ways their society differed from ours – both in their future and in their history. I also started thinking about bits and pieces of things I’d always been fascinated with. I love early 20th century newspaper comics, scifi/adventure serials, anything archival. Something about peering into a piece of film from another age is like having a time machine. And when you watch speculative fiction where people from the past try to guess at the future, it adds a weird layer to that. Thumbnailing I decided to start with a prologue to set up the story and to introduce the main characters, both to the readers and to myself. In the past I rarely scripted any of my comics ahead of time. I might’ve outlined a few story arcs but dialogue and actual panels got worked out as they came to my drawing table. It just felt redundant to me since I was the one working on it on every stage. Since the Prologue had to function over-all I thumbnailed it on 24 Hour Comics Day.

Thumbnails for the Prologue to 2071

I’d learned before when animating a scene to lay it out and break things down into manageable tasks. Here I gave myself page layouts to work with every day so I didn’t go crazy having to come up with them. Instead I could focus on filling up the page with interesting art. I still changed a few designs on a couple of pages where some shots didn’t work, but it was a load off my mind to have it done beforehand. I found if I had to straighten something out in the story while I was working on the page art I would have trouble switching gears mentally. One problem I ran into with these thumbnails is they’re way too small. I did that intentionally to keep myself from detailing them and wasting time. (You can see the first page where I still tried to go over it with a mechanical pencil before I convinced myself it wasn’t worth it) However being able to read them later was a real issue. I’m sure in my work stride that day they made perfect sense. But the further away from that day I got the harder it became to make sense of my lines. Sub-chapter 1.1 is going to rely on a different thumbnailing system, I’m just not sure how it’s going to work yet.

Thumbnailing Ideas

When I set about telling a larger story than what I was used to doing, I looked to the flickr gallery of Bryan Lee O’Malley who does Scott Pilgrim. Over the years he’s shared scripts, thumbnails, pencils, inks, and various scraps from working on his books. Originally I was trying something like a looser version of thumbnailing as he did here. I agree a multi-value thumbnail like this would be a bit too involved for something nobody would ever see aside from a “behind the scenes” kind of thing. Thumbnails need to be clear enough to get the point across but they also have to be simple enough to not eat time away that would better be spent working on the actual pages. Something closer to this technique might work if I can keep myself from detailing too much. Maybe if I limit myself to working in pen or marker, which would keep me from doing too many passes. (I hear Cathy Guisewite only draws in pen)

Scripting

As I fleshed out the differences between the world of 2071 and our own I would dump them into a text file. There’s an assortment of different text editors that offer branched and threaded file structures. For bulk brain dumping I liked Journler on my Mac (Which has since ceased development) while I’m also a fan of Keynote on the PC. (Which has also ceased development by the original creator. It’s since been picked up under the name Keynote NF) Eventually I wanted a system that made smaller chunks easier to manage. Lately I’ve been using JustNotes for it’s simple menu bar interface. I know folks like Merlin Mann are big fans of Notational Velocity, which is equally pretty awesome. I just like being able to click an icon, drop in an idea, and click out. I took classes on mass media in college so I’ve had some experience with scripts. My own are pretty slim as I don’t see much need for exhaustive descriptions or formatting for syntax sake. Here’s an example of a script for Sub-chapter 1.0

Page 3 Panel 1 Rocket rollerskating waitress approaches the Blitz

WAITRESS: What can I get ya, hon?

MAX: I’ll have one jumbo cajun crawfish burger, seasoned steak fries, and the large chocolate supernova milkshake.

Panel 2

WAITRESS: Coming right up. And for you, sugar?

VIRGIL: I’ll have the Nigirizushi #3 and a small iced tea, please.

WAITRESS: Sure thing, darlin’.

Panel 3 Max watches the waitress rocket away as Virgil continues typing

Panel 4

MAX: Our last meal on the planet and you order Nigirizushi #3!

VIRGIL: I like Nigirizushi #3.

MAX: That’s beside the point!

Panel 5

MAX: We should be going all out! You should’ve ordered a steak or something BIG! There’s no Buckaroo Bayou Ted’s out in space, you know!

VIRGIL: Not true. They just opened one up on Lunar Colony.

Panel 6

WAITRESS: He’s right – been open ’bout 2 weeks now.

MAX: No foolin’? Lunar Colony, eh? *sips his drink*

The final version came out a bit different due to space restrictions but is pretty faithful to the script. I also like to write at least a week’s worth at a time. I like to do the same with pencils and inks as well, though coloring and rendering needs to be done on a page by page basis because steps get missed if I try to work on more than one at a time. Plus it’s a mental block to have a bunch of half-finished pages waiting to be colored/shaded/lettered. Penciling and inking a batch at a time is it’s own process. Working out all the layers per page is another.

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