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.

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