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Entry #2

The Theory and Practice of My Animation

2013-08-04 15:18:46 by SethBrady

One person asked me how I animated The Crawler, so now I've got to tell everyone.

Remember, this is just my personal process that I used with Ratticus and The Crawler, you certainly do not have to do it this way. First, get yourself:

1) A lightbox (you can get these in most art stores, they're usually sold to graphic designers)
2) A bunch of pegbars (you'll have to order these from an animation supply company like Lightfoot or Cartoon Color).
3) A few reams of pre-punched animation paper (the thick kind, with the Acme hole punching, also obtained from animation suppliers)
4) A good scanner (make sure you can attach a pegbar to it, as to keep the drawings aligned)
5) Pencils, lots of pencils. I prefer Ticonderoga. Also kneaded erasers
6) 0.1 mm, 0.01 mm, and 0.8 mm pens. You can use Microns, but it's cheaper in the long run to buy three Copic pens with extra nibs and ink refills.
7) Sculpy, or any other amateur sculpting clay. I used this to make a model of the main character's head so that I had a drawing reference for different perspectives.
8) A stiff carrying case for paper. I used an old briefcase compartment to carry around my storyboards, drawn frames, reference drawings, model sheets, layouts, and blank paper. A friend of mine ( check his stuff out right now, the man's a genius) used one of those huge Fedex cardboard envelopes.
9) A Wacom tablet, for coloring. If you don't mind spending the extra money, a Wacom Cintiq would be way better. The Yiynova is apparently a lot like the Cintiq, but way cheaper on Amazon.
10) Photoshop and Affecteffects, obviously.
11) Lots of coffee and time, and a tall glass of dark beer or two to get you through the scanning and coloring process (And yes, once you've chosen your color palette you can color while you're drunk, no one will get hurt)
12) A story. In fact, this should be number 1. I can't quite help you on this one, stories for me seem to come from some mysterious place. As Louis CK would say, "...either from my heart, my brain, or my balls."
13) A field guide (also obtainable at an animation supplier, get one with the Acme hole punches and chose the type based on what aspect ratio you want for your film)
14) A long, wide transparent ruler

Got that all? Good. Now, once you've got your story and some images in your head, draw a scene from your movie. Anything that catches your fancy. For me, it was a legless girl in front of a hole in a wall in an old house, with a huge, old demon looking out. This will not only help you to start thinking about the other building blocks of the film, but coloring it will help you come up with a competent, attractive, and concentrated color scheme.

Now, draw each character on the same page, all to scale with each other. This isn't the line-up, it's just making sure the look of your characters sort of jive together. If you like the look of them, make a model sheet for each character. This includes a full rotation of the character standing on a flat plane: front, back, profile, and 3/4 views. It also includes a variety of drawings of your character acting out a full gamut of emotions, poses, conditions (if your character gets his head partially blown off but stays alive, draw him that way from multiple perspectives). KEEP THESE. They will help you during the animation process. Now make the line-up, which means that you draw every character on one sheet, standing on the same plane, with height lines. Think about a police line-up of suspects. Also, color them all; make them look like they will in the finished product.

Storyboarding time! I'm not really the guy to go to for this one, but a good friend of mine ( told me that she often references the compositions she sees in classic live-action films when trying to come up with shots.
Here, just make sure you show each movement of the character. The more specific you are, the less work you have to do when animating. One thing that I find convenient to do is to make 4 columns and 4 rows of frames, each with aspect ratio you wish to use in your film. Letter the rows A, B, C, D and number the columns 1, 2, 3, 4, so that each frame is a coordinate (first frame is A1, fourth frame is A4, tenth frame C2). This, at least for me, provides a useful system of naming shots. For example, if a shot begins at the sixth frame, the shot is called B2. Of course, your storyboard will probably have more that 16 frames (The Crawler had 16 pages), so you can include the page number in the shot name if it gets confusing, which it almost never does.

The storyboards will also be a way for you to know all the layouts (backgrounds) that will be in your film, since the shots are basically planned there. An important but tedious part of layout-ing is to make sure that it fits within your desired aspect ratio. This is where the field guide comes in. Align the punched paper with the field guide and trace out your desired rectangle. I usually go for 9 field with the 16:9, it's large enough to allow for detail but small enough to fit in my scanner (of course, I didn't do that for Ratticus, but I was young and foolish back then). When drawing your layouts, the only thing as important as making it look good is to make it accommodate the character. It helps to bring in the lightbox here and draw your character (on another sheet, obviously) on top of the layout. Make sure your character fits on the plane that he/she/it is on, and make sure his/her/its surroundings do not draw attention away from him/her/it (unless it serves the story to do so). Remember, you are making something that will be just as much a part of the final product of your film as the animation, so make it clean and finished. Ink it and erase all the pencil work, unless you want to scan a sketch and make a painting in Photoshop.

Now you'll begin a little bit of scanning, though a very small amount compared to the scanning you'll do when you're finished the animation. Glue your pegbar on the lower lip of the scanner so that you can attach animation paper and lay it flat and straight. Make a folder on your computer for your movie, put a folder in that called "Frames" and put one folder in that for each page in your storyboards. If you have an Epson scanner, the next part is simple: set the color to black and white, NOT greyscale, and give yourself a DPI that's high enough so that the resolution is high, but low enough so that you don't have huge picture files. You can also crop the pictures at this stage based on the field guide you gave yourself, but make sure you give yourself some grace area. Now scan, and make sure you keep the pictures aligned. Label each layout with the first shot that uses it, and place each in the folder to that corresponds to its storyboard page.

At this point, you can make an animatic, though I personally don't really benefit from one.

Now, oh my brothers, begins the animation. I can tell you a ton of places to go to learn about animation, but I can't give you very good lessons myself. First of all, practice drawing, especially figure drawing, all the way through. There's a great website called "pixelovely" which provides automatic lessons, but its no substitute for actual life drawing classes. In animation, it's not so much the detail and the structure of the drawing, but the gesture and the implied dynamism of the drawing. Practice quick gesture drawings with a model that moves every 30 seconds. As for actual animation lessons, a great but expensive book is Richard Williams' "Animation Survival Guide". It has virtually every animation principle. First of all, REMEMBER THE ASPECT RATIO AND YOUR FIELD GUIDE. Now most animators don't do this, but I like to label every frame with the shot name and a number, though it gets more complex when there are multiple elements in one shot. If you a man and a woman moving in shot D2, with a fire burning behind them and bugs crawling across the ground, animate each of those elements separately and number them with a different letter (the first frame for the man would be d2.m1, the fourth frame for the woman would be d2.w4, the twentieth frame for the bugs would be d2.b20). Make sure its written in the margins of the drawing, it will come in handy while scanning.

If you go to a studio or somewhere special to animate, always take around 100-200 sheets of fresh paper with you, along with your model sheets and the layouts of whatever scene you're animating. Once you've animated a few shots and you've got a few hundred frames of finished, inked animation, take it home and scan. Crack open a beer, watch a movie, listen to music, the process of scanning really doesn't require your full attention.

So, you've finished the animation process. Feel good, that's really the most difficult and time consuming part. The Crawler took six months to animate! Now, once you have the frames all scanned and in their respective folders, make a few back-ups. Drop-box, external hard drive, flash drive, as much as you can. It really sucks to lose your work.

Now time to bring out Photoshop. Before you begin coloring, you need to prepare the picture files. You'll notice that the scanner probably produces JPG files when it scans, and JPGs cannot be used for animation, since they have no transparency. First, open all of your pictures in Photoshop (well, maybe not all, a large chunk perhaps) and open the "Actions" tab. Now, this is a technique that an animation professor of mine ( taught me. Create a new action and begin recording. Do these things to the first frame:

1) If the picture is upside-down or sideways, rotate it.
2) Go to Image>Mode and set it to RGB color.
3) Change the background layer editable by right clicking it and selecting "Layer from Background".
4) Save it as a PNG in the same folder.
5) File>Close. Don't just x-out, it won't be recorded.
6) Stop recording.

Now, with these actions recorded, go to File>Automate>Batch with your action selected. Set the source to "Opened Files", the destination to "None", and log the errors to file. Then relax as your files are prepared. Once it's all done, delete the useless JPGs.

Time to color, bring out the Wacom. This part depends entirely on your own preference, but it is at this part in which you make sure there are no gaps in the lines. With closed spaces, you can just use the paint bucket to fill in entire areas. For the smaller areas that are harder to fill, I like to use the pencil tool, set to "Darken". Now, it's a real bitch to waterdrop the correct color every time, so I suggest using the swatch panel. Fill it with all the colors you need, naming them all with the character and the part of the body it colors. As for the white space around the character, you want that gone. It needs to be checkerboard-transparent, so that the layout will be visible behind the character. This is why we converted to PNG. Use the magic wand for this, set 32 tolerance, selecting the white space and deleting it.

Take your color frames and layouts, voices, and music and open Aftereffects. You're well nigh completion of your film, but a poor decision at this stage can ruin your film. If your film is really long (more than a thousand frames), you'll need to compile it in pieces and then add the pieces in a separate file. First, make a composition, set the frame rat to 24 fps, chose a preset. Add your drawings to the composition in chunks by shots, making a precomposition of each one. For this part, I'm not too learned, but there are tons of tutorials online. When you're ready to render your film, set the codec to H.264 and make sure the audio is set to be rendered as well.

You have a film, a little baby that is all yours.


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2013-08-04 17:30:16

That's a long process! But you're films are great so i'm glad you have the motivation to go through it!


2013-08-04 22:30:34

Well, that's certainly a few thousand dollars of animation education boiled down quite nicely.
This was a well written sequence of events, necessary to render a properly good animation, and I certainly do hope this blog/news post thing, gets used as a reference! Well done, and thank you!!


2013-08-05 00:04:19

Thanks for your insights! I hope this is a tab everyone else can use in the future.


2013-08-06 10:44:37

THanks so much!!!


2015-03-16 22:48:31

One day i swear...