Tuesday, 25 December 2007

Ho ho ho etc...

Happy holidays folks!

I am pathetically behind on the journal updates, and the last month and a half's worth of notes are still scrawled in notebook form I fear.
But it's the holidays which means that at some point after the xmas hubbub has died down I'll have some time to transcribe it all, so don't despair!
Meanwhile, here's a colourful picture to look at! Whee!

Saturday, 22 December 2007

The Full Body Treatment

I'd like to show a couple shots from the scene I've been working on that I think show some notable progression in how I deal with full animation. As with the previous test in which I worked out how to give the 2D head drawing some depth through movement, I've applied the same principle to the Duck's body.

In this first shot the Duck crouches down so that he can take-off and fly away. The line test shows the way his body is broken down, chiefly using spheres and spheroids for the body and head (at this stage he's a bit like a snowman) and with subdivided panels for the wings.

With the additional detail we can see some facial expression and get a clearer idea of the motion. For a shot like this the timing has to be based on reality (the crouch down is thus slower than when he springs up) so that the viewer gets what is being depicted, with some exaggeration to maintain the cartooney atmosphere.

With ink and paint it comes together quite nicely, in fact by adding colours and designating them to specific parts of his body (green head, red eye, pink torso etc) the animation becomes far more fluid to the naked eye.

This next shot was a lot of fun to do. In it, a gun (the blunderbuss!) falls off the wall, into the Duck's wing. In my mind's eye during the storyboard phase I figured that the Duck would be more or less motionless and that the wing would simply catch the gun as a reflex action. The more animation I do, however, the more I get the itch to experiment. In the line test you can see I opted to go for a somewhat OTT movement as the gun causes the Duck to almost lose his balance and fall, but he then rights himself at the last second.

This shot was a great way to experiment with weight and its effect on movement. He is anchored by his leg (mostly off-screen) and to a lesser degree his stomach section, which rotates but stays more or less rooted in the same position. The rotation has a quite dramatic effect on the secondary elements such as his chest and wings, and the tertiary movement of the head which is whipped across from one position to another. As with the other test, it's a motion that's predicated on real physics but amped up a few notches to really cement it as a cartoon visual. In colour it looks pretty neat:

Well, back to work for me. To quote Adam Carolla (whose absence from the airwaves over xmas will hopefully end soon as I get a ton of work done when his show's on in the background), 'Mahalo'!

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

"Oh, it's ON, bitch..."

I've followed in the footsteps of a fellow MA student and decided to recruit some help with the production of the film. This is actually encouraged and pretty beneficial for a number of reasons - it saves a lot of time that I don't have in huge supply and it provides essential experience of working with others. I say 'essential' because, as far as they're concerned, if they can put up with a cretin like me then they can put up with any potential employer, no matter how obnoxious. As far as I'm concerned, well, any human contact helps stave off the hallucinations. After years of living alone I keep seeing the corpse of Lady Di outside my window, mouthing threats soundlessly and pointing directly at me. Closing my eyes and counting to ten used to get rid of her, but more and more I find that she just won't leave me alone!
What do you want, you ghoulish spectre?! What do you WANT?!?
What the hell was I talking about? Oh right, the film.
Thinking about it, I've actually had lots of help so far. Obviously my course tutors Chris and Rachel are excellent resources for information and always good people to turn to for for constructive criticism. When trying to shave time off my script (it originally ran a half hour long) I got a lot of help from two MA screenwriting students, Hanna and Verity. For the voice work Tom Bower and my sister Erica did a fantastic job. Along with the fellow students who have helped either as contributors or as a test audience, I've actually gone and built up a substantial list of credits without realising it.
Currently I'm being helped out tremendously by Jo Hepworth, a former UWE student whose BA film was, by happy coincidence, one of my favourites of her group's.

Style-wise we're poles apart but she's been graciously giving her time to help out with the inking-in and colouring, which can be very time-consuming. Not only does this give me a chance to do more animation work, it also makes for some nicer finished visuals as she has a far smoother line than I. There have been occasions when I've felt my inking-in has rendered some quite nice pencil tests shaky and rubbish. With Jo they always seem to retain the original feel. I thought I'd put up the first shot we worked on together, which was a bit of a leap forward as far as my grasp of animation goes. Having been mostly inspired by John Kricfalusi, I've always drawn my characters flat. This works fine for the comic strip, as they never leave a 2D environment, but I've found that fuller, more 3D-conscious animation makes for a more pleasing visual. So for this shot I decided to not just have the Hunter lip-sync his line, but act it out through head movement. It takes more work but it looks a lot better, and it's a nifty thing to see a flat drawing suddenly possess some depth and shape. Keeping the visuals dependent on a sphere for the head, once the construction-line animation has been worked out the details come with ease. The video below includes the line test, pencil test and finished shot.

I think it came out surprisingly well, again with thanks to Jo as my line work may very well have killed it (in fact, the only thing I think warrants improvement is the stubble, which I added). It's little bits like this which really encourage me to persevere and put in all the effort I can. With enough of the right kind of help this could be a neat little film in the end.

Thursday, 13 December 2007

Face Time

Best I can tell, faces seem to do 90% of the acting when it comes to animation. Now, there's a good chance I may have just let slip a revealing nugget of naivety by saying that - possibly more learned and scholarly animators would opine that I'm completely wrong. As I'm still taking baby steps when it comes to this animation malarky I'll stand by that for now.
In real life, faces are generally one of the most interesting things to observe. I've inevitably been attracted to women who have been facially interesting rather than what television shows and magazines deem to be attractive. Conventionally 'beautiful' women seem, bizarrely, kinda boring to me - everything's all there, in the right place, no effort required. True physical beauty to me lies in a face that can be explored, imbibed, appreciated in its own right. Until they tell you to stop staring, or reach for the mace.

I get why they're 'hot', it's just hard to muster up any enthusiasm...

...now these faces are full of character, which to me is 1000 times more endearing.

To draw an analogy, think of popular music. You hear a song on the radio, it's been composed to meet all the requirements of 'good' music, and its appeal lasts just long enough for you to buy the single, after which you quickly realise it's horseshit. Hence the financial success of Britney. Now think of some of your favourite songs, the ones quite personal to you that you can listen to a billion times over and never get bored. When you first heard these I'd imagine they didn't instantly gratify you, and that your fondness for them is a consequence of having them grow on you over time. The shared factor is substance, the key ingredient to staying power.
If you have no idea what I'm talking about, fair enough. I'm not sure many people's brains are wired the same way as mine. Kinda works out for me as I'm a tubby fucker so I have a better chance with the weird-looking gals anyway.
A great cartoonist and animator Eddie Fitzgerald wrote on his blog about his own fascination for observing and studying faces in the context of what defines 'ugly' - I'd recommend it as a read.

Uncle Eddie's Theory Corner!: How many ugly girls are out there?

When thinking in terms of cartoons, I've similarly found that the most visually appealing faces are the ones which allow for more expression. Combined with good voice acting, this is what can really allow you to suspend your disbelief and invest yourself in the plight of a character whose existence comes down to just a series of drawings. Chuck Jones nailed this, as has John Kricfalusi - in fact, any animator worth his or her salt can pull this off well.
Me, well, I'm still learning. I find there's often some ambiguity about which emotions I'm trying to convey when doing facial acting, but it's gradually improving. Looking at the concept art, the early Duck design was completely devoid of expression, and as such a more typical 'zombie'. The more I developed the script and, subsequently, the storyboard, I wanted the character to have...well, character. With some modification of the design (chiefly through clearing up his remaining eye) I worked out a way to make him more expressive. Looking at stills from the film as it comes together I think the progress is encouraging.

There's not really much you can glean from this blank expression.

Hopefully with these you get a better idea of what mood or thought process is being conveyed.

Here are some animated expression changes in line-test and full-colour form:

In this shot, we have two states of expression. Firstly a pained wince as the top of his head is blown off, then his aghast reaction when he realises he's missing a scalp. What I was hoping to depict was not pain (as a zombie I don't think he'd feel it) but rather frustration at his further disfigurement.

A little later on a mounted gun falls from the wall, which the Duck catches. This transition - from confusion as to what has just occurred to sadistic pleasure when he realises he now has the upper hand - is a somewhat amateurish homage to the evil grin typical of Chuck Jones's characters such as Daffy Duck, Wil E. Coyote and The Grinch.

Lastly, this is a quick reaction shot when he registers that the gun he's just attempted to fire isn't loaded. I wanted this to be a mortified combination of panic and embarrassment.
In a way, the shots in which all we see are facial expressions can be the most fun to do. Later on I'll go through some of the human characters in the film - meanwhile I'll sign off with probably my favourite face in the acting world right now.
Molly Parker...soooo pretty...
I actually sat through the 'Wicker Man' remake because she was in it. That's a true fan.

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

Contrived Eccentricity

This is just a frothy little entry to show some in-between drawings that, amongst the other animation, don't properly register with the naked eye as they only occupy one frame. These types of frames, while a little weird on their own, are really used to accentuate movement or transitions. It's not so much about how they appear, but the way in which they contribute to the overall illusion of the animation. I wanted to show them as stills so that they could be appreciated in their crude, insane glory.

This is a shrink take. In this scene, the Hunter snaps after having to deal with the Duck stealing his gal. To sell the effect that his head 'pops', for one preceding frame it shrinks into itself. It's arguably the ugliest drawing I've ever been responsible for - I love it.

This one is based on a similar principle to the shrink take. It's from an extreme squash/stretch reaction shot that is far more exaggerated than most (to express a reflex action when the Hunter's shotgun blast just misses the Duck's head).

My first motion smear - these are great fun to do. The multiple lines and stretched-out pupils are intended to replicate the type of motion blur one would get when dealing with a fast movement in live action footage. These kinds of in-betweens can last for one or several frames, and sometimes just be achieved by smears of colour and no line work at all.

This one just makes me chuckle. The only animated elements of this shot are the left eye and mouth, which twitch spasmodically. It's bizarre enough in motion, but this isolated still is just plain nuts.

This drawing I actually like a lot. The Hunter goes from a contented smile to a manic grin, and this transition frame is an overly-exaggerated version of the latter before he settles into it. Basically I just took the expression and made it a little more extreme. This drawing kinda puts me in mind of Doug Mahnke's work for 'The Mask'.

I'm sure there'll be loads more of these OTT poses as I persevere with the film. Just thought it might be fun to put these up and take a break from the tedium of dope sheets. Ah well, back to it...

Sunday, 25 November 2007

The Gun Show

I think if I were to ever own a gun, it would be a blunderbuss. Mainly because of the name. A great, big, oversized one that I'd mount somewhere so that people visiting my apartment couldn't miss it and would thus be compelled to comment.
"Oh, that?" I'd say with carefully-rehearsed nonchalance, "That's just my blunderbuss." I'd feign indifference while inside I'd be overly-gleeful that I'd had a legitimate excuse to say the word out loud.
These are the small pleasures that seem to genuinely make my day. While giving this some contemplation I made an executive decision to crowbar said firearm into my film. In the storyboard the Hunter and Duck face-off near the end with shotguns, but I figured the Hunter would probably collect different types of gun and, like me, probably just want to have a blunderbuss around so that he could have an excuse to say the word.
That's the great thing about creating characters, they can have whatever personality traits I bestow upon them, for I am their GOD. Here's an example - there's nothing in my film that lets you know that the Hunter has a secret, guilty fondness for Girls Aloud, but he does. How do I know this?
Because I fucking say so and I am his indisputable creator!
That power-trip is another gleeful pleasure. It's frankly astonishing that I'm single.
As the gun is pretty much ornamental, when the Duck tries to fire it he discovers it isn't loaded. Instead he opts to throw it at the Hunter's head. This action is represented in a very short, two-second shot, but one that took a lot of trial and error to get right, so I thought I'd break it down.

Firstly we have the animatic shot, which is just a still from the storyboard with the soundtrack already constructed. We hear the gun being thrown, connecting with the Hunter's head, his own gun going off and then the resulting rumble of debris start to come down from the ceiling. It's a fairly busy two seconds where pretty much every frame is sound-dependent, plus it's an important action that needs to be presented clearly. To start with we have the Duck's action, which comes down to three motions: the throw, the reaction to the Hunter's gun going off, and looking up at the ceiling as it starts to come down. When timed and animated the line test comes out like this:

I'm pretty pleased with the head movement and the slight squash/stretch with the reaction. After fiddling with the timing to get it exactly right the line test can be detailed, inked and coloured to get this:

For the Hunter we carry out the same process, breaking down his movement to three actions as well: about to topple after being hit, getting flung forward when his gun goes off, then cradling his head once he's settles back to his original position. Here's the line test once the timing has been worked out:

And, like before, once I feel happy with the movement, I do the inking and colouring to get this:

There's a bit of cheating going on with this shot. The first and most obvious one is that he (while sporting a thatch that would make Kay Parker seem bereft by comparison) has no actual genitalia to speak of. I figured I'd blur the crotch area for the finished film but throw in a bit of grisly detail because...uh...I'm not sure. There may be some quite deep-rooted issues there.
As far as the actual animation goes, you can probably tell that for a few frames his torso is the same drawing while his head and limbs are fully animated. This was really just to conserve time and labour - if I hadn't done the foolish thing and made him so hairy I probably would've drawn each of those frames separately. I've also employed some cartoonist license with the physical action itself - technically the gun's recoil would fling his body backwards, not forwards. But in a film where the antagonist is a reanimated, talking duck, the laws of physics aren't a primary concern. Mainly it's because this way works better with the way the shot is framed. Here's how the (nearly) finished shot works with the background and additional animation comped together:

This is obviously a funnier visual when viewed in the context of the film rather than as a perpetually-looping, miscoloured, animated GIF. As the animator, though, there's a desire to see everything you produce repeated and repeated until your brain no longer attempts to make sense of what you are looking at. As an audience member, well, there's a good chance that if you closed your eyes to sneeze at the wrong moment all the work in a shot like this would go unacknowledged. Hopefully this film will, when completed, come across as greater than the sum of its parts. That's a phrase, right? I've heard it somewhere.
Uh...how do I end this entry? Um...


Sorry, I panicked.

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Backgrounds Part 5 - Attic Space

The second part of the penultimate scene sees the Duck cornered in the Hunter's attic/trophy room, as indicated in the previous rotoscoping entries. Here are some more backgrounds:

For the Hunter's POV shot. Over the course of the scene this backdrop gets incrementally more cracked and damaged as the Hunter starts getting trigger happy.

The Duck's POV, only required for one tiny shot so I made it pretty simple.

This is for the wide shots where both the Duck and Hunter are in frame. As the walls are adorned with guns and trophies and the like I've had to tone down the lighting to keep the eventual comped shot from being too cluttered.

These close-ups of the mounted animals are for when the Duck halfheartedly tries to justify his desire for revenge, then quickly abandons the argument and confesses it's all for 'shits and giggles'. The bird in the last drawing is based on one of my favourite album covers:
Best I can tell this would be considered fair use. The original photo is by Werner Krutein of Photovault.
While the storyboard calls for a final scene's worth of backgrounds, I'm not entirely sure whether or not I should leave the film's ending as a cliffhanger. Depending on how much time I have this may end up being the last background entry.
Pity. It's so much easier doing this stuff when nothing has to move.

Thursday, 15 November 2007

And here we are again...

In the wake of all that giddy rotoscoping wonderment it's now back to business as usual, although at a slightly faster pace. I'm getting between one and four shots completed a day (which averages out at just a few seconds, which is still heartbreakingly slow) and am determined to have the penultimate scene which includes all the complex animation finished by xmas. From what I've been able to determine, the other scenes in the film are far less demanding, so I want to have one scene that really lets me indulge in some different methods and styles to have under my belt for when I am assessed.
Here are a few more stills from said scene to give some indication of how it's all turning out:

Hope you all appreciate the bare flesh. I would like to post some clips soon as the visuals in motion sell the whole thing a lot better. So there's something to look forward to!
And away I go!

Saturday, 10 November 2007


It's over!
Or, at least, the sequence which has dominated the last ten days is finally done and dusted.
Following on from the last post, here are the final few seconds of the rotoscoped background scene in delightful, purty colours!

I feel that with these scenes I have reached an appropriate middle-ground by keeping the perspective work in the tracking shot reasonably impressive, with the crudity and shakiness of the rotoscoping process in keeping with the aesthetic of the rest of the film.
After all this work though, the fact of the matter is that these sequences serve as backgrounds, and as such are not the focus of each shot. In keeping with the storyboard, the Hunter's POV sees him looking through his gunsight at the Duck who's attempting to escape. The Duck animation is largely the looped flight cycle which was broken down previously, and the gunsight is a still image layer, so it took very little time to comp the entire, final sequence together once the background animation had been done.
If I say so myself - and I'd like to think it's not too cocky given the time and effort that went in - it all looks great. To the extent that I actually don't want to show it here as it will be a nice payoff visual in the context of the finished film. Instead, here are two more still images to give you an idea of the final look:

Making this film has not been (and will not ever be) an easy process. The repetition of traditional - nay, any - animation methods has given me a strange fondness for talk radio, and even seen me actively going outdoors and exercising for the welcome relief, something I never thought would happen. What has also been happening more and more of late is the feeling that comes from watching a shot that not only matches the version I had originally envisioned in my mind's eye, but at times (mostly due to the capabilities of the software I use) surpasses it. It's a strange kind of validation and it allows the speed of production to snowball as you get, to pardon the phrase, hooked on the feeling*. This sequence has been a prime example of that, and my faith in this film is getting stronger.

*If you didn't choke to death on your own vomit after reading that, I'll hopefully see you all next entry.

Thursday, 8 November 2007

Further rotoscoping (and a love letter to Berol)

Persevering with the ever time-consuming rotoscoped sequence, I've decided to make things a little easier on myself by decorating the Hunter's trophy room at the CGI stage, rather than have to awkwardly guess where all the animals and guns and crap like that need to be for each frame.

If you compare the above shot to the first CGI version you'll notice a number of basic amendments on the walls and shelf that act as a far better guide for the drawing (well, tracing) stage. I've spent many an hour in my secluded cafe corner, shunning society and sunlight in favour of drawing the same thing over and over again. The difference between each frame is so minimal that it really does seem like that, so it's very satisfying that when it all comes together it looks like this:

At 12.5 frames a second, this 4-second animation requires 50 drawings. The previous 8-second segment required 100, totaling at 150 separate backgrounds for this extravaganza. It is a testament to the strength of my greatest ally in the making of this film: The Berol Colour Fine.

This beautiful thin-felt black marker pen has been a companion to me since before there was grass on the field. Through it came nearly every strip of my (extremely) cult webcomic 'Mitchells In England', and every hand-drawn illustration or design of worth that I've created has been crafted with this as my tool. I have a love for this pen that men just shouldn't feel for inanimate objects.
The lifespan of one of these beauties produces three perfect line thicknesses - I always have several on the go so that I can use whichever one fits my purpose. A newly-opened pen will create thin (yet bold) 0.5mm lines for when intricate detail is required; A pen which has been broken into will have had the tip worn down a little to create slightly thicker lines that are ideal for character drawings; A pen which is on the way out will inevitably have a further-worn tip whose line-thickness (a little over 1mm by the end) is suited for backgrounds.

The Berol Colour Fine in action! Look at it go!

It's not an artistic pen, nor one specifically designed for the type of work I do. It is, however, the most comfortable pen I've worked with, and I believe that level of comfort and familiarity breeds creativity. At the very least it allows production to be uninhibited by the awkward distraction of getting to grips with something that seems unfamiliar, even something as seemingly trivial as a pen.
In summation, I love my black Berol Colour Fines, so much that I recently put in a bulk order that cost a cheerfully small amount given what I got for it:

Fingers crossed these will be enough to get me through the film, because I have a genuine concern that, given their relative obscurity (they're notoriously hard to track down in shops) they might one day no longer be manufactured. In all honesty, I'm probably just the kind of alarmingly-detached shut-in that would mourn their passing.
On that disconcerting note, stay tuned for the next entry which will hopefully cover the final stage of this rotoscopic adventure. Until then I'll be spending some unsavoury private time with my Berols.

Saturday, 3 November 2007

Rotoscopia! In Colour!

After some consideration, I'd have to concede that this rotoscoping business isn't an entirely horrendous affair. Now, that's a painful admission, let me tell you - the Mitchell bloodline prides itself on an ability to piss and moan about any set of circumstances, so admitting it isn't all doom and gloom makes me feel like a traitor the the clan.
Nonetheless, if this cloud insists on having a silver lining then the upside of rotoscoping is that I can go anywhere to do it. As beautiful as my apartment may be, it's nice to have a change of scenery. I've even had time to be able to return to the cafe in which I produced pretty much the entire storyboard a few months back, and this academic year has ushered in a new generation of staff that aren't completely sick of the sight me yet (that'll last until about mid-month I'd wager).
I think that I have worked out what makes said cafe such a conducive work environment. Not only is it tucked away within a bookstore that isn't especially well-known, it also seems to be the only cafe in the known universe that doesn't constantly play shitty music. That's a double-whammy of peace and quiet right there, so all you're left with is the mild hubbub of milk being steamed and the odd customer mulling over whether he or she does in fact want any cakes or pastries at all to go with his or her drink. Other than that it's very peaceful, and it's so much easier to get shit done when the process isn't accompanied by the fucking Gotan Project*.
Sadly, the colouring stage is all digital, and as I am a laptopless soul that means I have to work in the studio. It's a faster job than inking the frames in, but the repetition can still be mind-numbing, not to mention wrist-and-arse-numbing to boot. It does make things prettier though:

With the fill-ins and clean-up the sequence is now a lot smoother and far easier on the eye than the black and white line-drawing stage. It's a slow process, but I enjoy the payoff. This first shot makes up two-thirds of the whole rotoscoping sequence, with another chunk left to do from scratch.
So hooray! That means I can go outside again!

*They're alright, but let's be honest, nothing sounds good when it's being played on a loop for eight hours straight.

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Rotoscopic Glee! The Saga Begins...

NOTE: Your browser will need to be able to view animated GIFs for this entry to make sense.
One thing I've learned over the years is that I'm a glutton for punishment. This has manifested itself in a variety of ways throughout my life. Every academic project I've been assigned has been completed mere moments before the deadline after an entire sleepless night of coffee consumption, panic attacks and shameful weeping. Every girlfriend I've had seemed to share the same adorably infuriating set of psychoses and repressed hatred toward all men (with me as their singular representative). Every five days of healthy eating and consistent exercise is capped by a weekend of sloth and nacho consumption, which succesfully undoes any potential for self-improvement.
The list could go on, but I'd wind up writing a freakin' novel. The most recent example would be the sequence I am currently working on for my film. It is a POV shot in which the audience, through the eyes of the Hunter, chases the Duck around the cabin into a previously unseen trophy room. The sequence is briefly broken up by a side-view shot of the Duck avoiding buckshot as it flies past his head. The whole sequence lasts about fifteen seconds and is represented by these three storyboard panels:

To view the animatic and see the proposed scene in context, hop to this entry.

Piece of piss, right? Well, sure, there are many ways it could be, but that wouldn't sate the beast of self-loathing I apparently have working my controls.
To be fancy-dancy - and compensate for some inadequacy in my life I've yet to address consciously (I'm guessing 'Napoleon complex' as I don't even scrape 6') - I've decided to create a tracking shot using my 3D CGI set I constructed way back in March, print it out frame by frame and rotoscope the scene.
Rotoscoping is that somewhat 'cheaty' animation method where you essentially trace over action that has been created independently. Examples of this include Ralph Bakshi's hit-and-miss stab at 'Lord Of The Rings', the 'Lucy In The Sky...' sequence from 'Yellow Submarine', that Ah-Ha video and - fuck it - my one-minute film from the beginning of the year. These all relied on actual live-action footage, while the scene I'm currently slogging through uses this piece of simplistic computer animation as a reference:

To be a show-off, I've added a basic wallpaper texture which makes the rotoscoping process about a billion times longer, not to mention the wood panelling that appears after we round the corner. Because this line quality is way too smooth, by tracing over each frame in the shaky, thick-line style the rest of the film is in it should hopefully look impressive without sticking out too much. Here's how it looks at the moment with the first part done:

Now, this obviously needs colouring and clean-up, but I do like the way it's turned out. There's a nice 'boil' effect (where the lines sort of wiggle) which I've always enjoyed as a presence in the work of other animators such as Bill Plympton and Joanna Quinn. It keeps the rough look of the film without being so obtrusive as to wreck the shot, a fine line I've been treading since production on the film began. Without wishing to jinx myself, I would say that, as time passes, it's getting far easier to keep my balance in this respect. So coming up next, the full-colour version! Ah, this modern world of ours...