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...