Sunday, March 30, 2008

A Peek into Process

This is my final post on investigating the various methodologies of Flash animation. At least for the next week or so;) But seriously, I appreciate anyone who has taken the time to pour over what I'm admittedly calling a series of rants.

My mind has been spinning all weekend on animation processes. I've been tinkering around in Flash, in preparation for new shorts I'm thinking of for FVTV. And I recalled the Comcast commercial John K. and his team produced last summer...specifically because I remembered it was created in Flash. I dug up this interview from ColdHardFlash, which I found especially enlightening. It's a goldmine of insight into production. Say what you will of John K, but at least the guy is open to sharing his ideas on process. And remember, he was one of the pioneers of Flash animation. In this interview, they also bring in members of his production crew. This one in particular struck a chord:
AARON: Does this type of animation differ from a TV series?
ERIC: Totally. On the TV series that I’ve worked on, everything is stock digital puppets with a few special poses here and there. On the Comcast commercial nothing is stock - John drew layouts for everything. I enjoy working with layouts a lot more, the poses tend to be stronger and more organic. Working with stock it’s always a matter of trying to Frankenstein a pose together, like getting the correct hand from the library to fit the pose, “eh, it’s the wrong angle, hopefully no one will notice.” However, for me, working with layouts makes the turnaround time much longer; maybe I’m just not accustomed to that kind of process anymore. From my experiences working with both layout and stock pipelines in Flash, working with stock is the best way of going about making a TV series. Layouts require too much clean up and rigging that would most likely bottleneck somewhere in the production. Though the quality is better with layouts, it is just not economical for the demands of the studios with tight budgets and tighter schedules, especially when competing with overseas shops. But for a short, like the Comcast commercial, it’s totally the way to go. What was the question again?

So, it would appear that we're not the only one's debating a "stock" approach versus a "layout" approach. Stock, I guess being the industry term for Library, Layout meaning shot for shot. And then this other quote:

AARON: What type of direction did John give you before you animated?
ERIC: John’s main goal was to make this commercial not look ‘Flashy’ but still be smooth. He didn’t want too many overshoots, even timed tweens, or over distorted drawings using the transform tool. Most of the revisions he gave me were to substitute overshoots with slow ins to eliminate the jerky animation we often see in Flash cartoons.

Lots of jargon there. Fun to figure out what it all means. Elsewhere in the interview John K. states that this 1:15 spot took about a month to create with 15 people (voices included). Which he says is 10 times faster than any other commercial he's made for TV. But that still sounds like a heck of a lot of time to me with so many resources (we don't know if they were working fulltime, of course). I'm realizing more and more that the quality of animation I personally want to achieve is not as easy as it sounds, though definitely possible. Reality is kicking in :)

I find that we're in a unique position in the animation community, because few of us are actually trained in animation. We're all trying to figure out best methods to get the job done. But there's something nice about that, because we don't have the weight of convention holding us down.

My personal learning journey has been something like this: I look at the animation I like and try to figure out how it works. Which is where biases come in, because we all have our tastes. But as a company, we should be open with our ideas. So that we can all learn from each other. Too often, process boils down to budgets and results. And while I think all that has tons of merit, I want to make sure we're just as focused on pushing the artform as far as it can go. We've built an environment at FableVision that is a friend to creativity, and we should take advantage of that every day.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

What we can learn from Foster's?

After spending some time offering a critique on Library-heavy Flash animation, I wanted to take a moment to offer up an example that accomplishes all that I would personally want to achieve in animation, with a Library system. Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends has been on Cartoon Network for a few years now. It comes from Craig McCracken and the creators of the original Cartoon Network hits like Powerpuff Girls and Dexter's Laboratory. Both Powerpuff and Dexter's were known for popularizing the style of 1950s animation...and both used limited animation. If you turn down the volume on both shows, you realize how little animation is happening. But both shows were heavy on style: which included GREAT character design, colorful flat backgrounds, energetic drawings, and expressive characters.

A couple of years ago I read an interview with Craig McCracken about how opposed he was to using Flash. He hated everything about it, until he actually broke down and learned the program to see what all the fuss was about. At some point something clicked. He realized the power of a Library---such that you can design characters that would be very complicated to draw over and over again, but would nonetheless be exciting to see move. And thus Foster's was born. (I may be fuzzy on the details, but this is what I remember from the article). I've gathered up 3 videos from YouTube. One is a music video created by someone with clips of the show. The other two are snippets from episodes.

The first thing I want to mention is that the animation in Foster's is packed with enegry. A lot of quick movements. I think this effect counteracts the stiffness usually apparent in Flash animation. Secondly, notice how expressive the characters are. Thirdly, I think they use a good mix of tweening and redraw. Especially for new faces and gestures.

Bloo is one of the more important characters in the show. Not surprisingly, his design is extraordinarily simple. He is a character perfectly designed for animation. And he tends to be one of the more expressive characters in the show. He is in direct contrast to some of the more complicated characters, and was likely created to provide a safe-heaven for traditional animation.

This one is especially annoying, but in a GOOD way.

So what can we learn from Foster's? Good design is SO important in animation. It is possible to use all the tools Flash provides and still create expressive fluid animation. Storyboarding is vital to keeping animation exciting to watch. For all it's artistic success, I'm not sure if it's all that popular of a show, though. I think animators and illustrators probably appreciate it more than anyone else. Maybe that's because some of the plots are too abstract...or that they just don't connect with kids.

This show is probably not made on the cheap, but must have a production cycle shorter than the older way of doing things. They probably save money on animation and put it back into design (extra monsters and crazy complicated backgrounds). We don't have the budgets to create something that looks like this. I wanted to showcase it as an example of animation that is overtly Flash---but still elastic and a friend to character design.

They haven't updated it in a long time, but the show has a production blog with a bunch of character art---> here.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Jim Henson's Time Piece

via Cartoon Brew

It's Jim Henson, minus the Muppets. This is a spectacular film, in its pacing and rhythm, humor, use of methaphors, and surrealism. Watch it, and think about it the next time you're constructing a narrative.

from the Muppet Wiki:

"The surrealist film, which runs slightly less than 9 minutes, follows a nameless man who lies in a hospital bed awaiting examination by a doctor through a wide range of experiences. Mundane daily activities are intercut with surreal fantasy and pop-culture references...Apart from the rapid montage cutting and superimposition of objects, Jim Henson used animation heavily to create an impressionistic feel. He personally animated scenes of moving patterns, anticipating those later utilized in various Sesame Street inserts."

Saturday, March 22, 2008

2007 YouTube Awards

The best of YouTube 2007 ---> Watch Here.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Character design in animation

Hey gang. This is intended mainly for the animators and artists in the bunch, but all are welcome to comment and read. Warning, this is gonna be heavy on opinion.

After seeing and thinking about what John K. had to say about Bullwinkle (see previous post), I really got to thinking about the importance of exploring a character's design. And not using one version of a character throughout a film. I'm convinced that it's still attainable on a short deadline, if you put your heart into it. Just as an example, I dug up some screenshots from the Powder and Glory short Dustin and I worked on at FableVision. Note: I know I mentioned I never wanted to speak about client work on the Creative Juices blog. I'm offering this as an example of a project that was finished awhile ago, and only for analysis.

The short featuring Helena was around 40 seconds long. I believe we finished it in around 2 weeks. It was composed in 7 shots (or cuts), and included about 15 different key drawings of Helena. I pulled out some keyframes to look over.

The first thing I want to point out is that each of these shots uses a unique drawing of the character. There are no recycled goods. Secondly, like Bullwinkle, Helena is a character easily described. She's short (about 3 heads high with tiny legs), has a oval for a face, has short black hair with a widow's peak, has a distinct nose, and has a temper about her. Each drawing uses a subtle variation on that formula. But she is easily recognized. It didn't take me much more than an afternoon to design her, and I could keep my drawings loose because she has a simple design. And she's FUN to draw...that part is important, by the way.

I storyboarded the short one shot at a time and drew her to compliment each shot. When I moved to keyframe design, I painted in the backgrounds, tightened up the drawings I made and handed off half the shots for Dustin to animate, while I took the other half. Each shot was animated on its own terms. Because there was no lipsync, there wasn't even a need to reuse mouth shapes.

Now, let's get down to brass tacks. Without a library, this approach meant that I needed to create the brunt of the artwork. Which is good and bad. It gave me a lot of control over the characters, but it meant that Dustin rarely created original character art or poses. Keeping the line quality consistent becomes difficult (because Dustin has a different line than I do). This was especially because we used little or no tweening, so there was a lot of redraw in the animation.

To be fair, the short was under a minute. And there was no need to reuse her afterwards. So creating a library didn't make a lot of sense. This approach could easily get out of hand on series work (where lots of animators are involved, lots of lipsync gets used, and there are a lot more films to create). It would be difficult to keep everything consistent unless you took the time to train all the artists to draw the characters. Funny, though, because this was how it was done for most of the history of animation. A character library, instead, offers a certain efficiency and a measure of safety to keep everything in check. It's less risky. And it works. But can we do MORE?

It should be no secret by this point that I am an advocate of a limited library approach. I like to redraw my characters. But I would love to develop a hybrid approach that would allow for more spontaneity in our longer films as well. To breathe some life into that Flash stiffness we all know (and I am personally not a fan of). I wrote about this to get a discussion going. And I'd LOVE to hear more from everyone to get your opinions on the matter. ---THANKS!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008


Creativity Blocked?

How 'bout a stream of random photos to help get things rolling:

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Design of Rocky and Bullwinkle

John K. has a great post on the limited animation of Rocky and Bullwinkle. He specifically addresses the importance of good design if you're gonna cut corners on the animation. Meaning, the drawings have to be top notch. He has all sorts of fun stills and great examples of character design. Read it here.

One of the things I would really like to shoot for at FableVision is not being completely tied down to a character library. We do limited animation; that's for sure. But there's something about seeing the same set of heads all the way through a short. I know that's part of the whole methodology of the Flash look. But it doesn't have to be. He shows how Bullwinkle looks slightly different in every shot, but he is still recognizable as Bullwinkle because he has strong features and is built on a basic formula of shapes and adjectives:
He is tall and thin
He has a long neck
short skinny legs
knobby knees
A furry peanut shaped torso
His head is made of two shapes, a small rounded cranium and a larger droopy nose and muzzle.
Goofy eyes

The exact dimensions of all these adjectives is not set in stone. A great designer can play with the proportions, angles and specific details and still make the characters recognizable.

There is no tracing of model sheets.

The artist messes around with the specific details to keep everything organic, alive....and artistic.

This is good advice. Just let it sit...think about it.

UPDATE: John K is planning on breaking down the design of Rocky and Bullwinkle. A start---> here

And even MORE ---> HERE! (Great cartoon analysis! A must read)

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Boredom is a good thing

There was a great article in the Boston Sunday Globe entitled "The joy of boredom", by Carolyn Johnson. It is all about how our lives are so filled every minute, we don't have time to be bored, and boredom is so often a source of imagination and creativity.

I remember people lamenting in the 1980s that children watched too much television -- those days now seem quaint! No internet, cell phones, iPod, or PlayStation. The simple life. I suspect that today will someday seem like a simpler time also.

Here is a link to the article. (I didn't get to read the whole thing, I was too busy...)

Friday, March 7, 2008


You guys may have noticed I've lost a bit of wind with the whole crocheting effort. Largely due to the time it takes (my impatience with taking time to do things is a hinderance). BUT! I have been inspired by a number of plushie artists, such as the Robyn Fabsits.These are fantastic and imaginative- and I think they'll be more satisfying from a time standpoint. Here's one of above said artists' plushies- go to for more!

Thursday, March 6, 2008

People in Order

In case you forgot how to count to 100...

Wednesday, March 5, 2008


via Buzzfeed:

"A life-affirming documentary about a rock n' roll camp for young girls opens this weekend, March 7th. We wonder if we would have turned out any differently if we had grown up with Kathleen Hanna as our role model instead of Madonna. In an alternate universe documented by this movie, 10-year-old girls are already way hipper and cooler than you are."

--> Official Movie Site

Watch the trailer!

Monday, March 3, 2008

2-fer: Color and Character Design

I was just over at Rex Hackelberg's blog and was bombarded with exquisite color design and fantastic character design. Both Rex's color and characters are heavily inspired by the design of the 1950s. In a series of bugs, grasshoppers, and a kid showing off his butt, Rex manages to cover SO much color territory. There are so many lessons in color theory to be gained here. It harkens back to some of my earlier discussions on this blog. Don't feel limited to realistic color! The proof is in the rainbow pudding. Please take a moment to view his post, "Fun With Colour."

Now, on to character design:

This is how characters are multiplying. You rarely nail a character the first time around, and you never can fully understand a character by looking at one drawing. Fill up a page with poses and expressions. Keep it loose! And most of all, if you're designing a group of characters, design them as a group. Explore how they might interact. Keep proportions in mind. If you go to Rex's full posting on concept art for "Kidman," you'll get a glimpse at all the stages that go into character design. Juicy nuggets of wisdom, handed down from the animation gods.

UPDATE: Kudos to Rex and Kidman---getting some attention on Cartoon Brew.

Images courtesy of Rex Hackelberg