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. 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.