Category Archives: Animation

What is Flash?

Someone asked me recently if I could describe what exactly Flash animation is, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to do that here.

Flash is a program used mostly for creating interactive web sites and animation on the internet.  It’s different from most other graphics programs in that it’s based on vectors, not pixels.  What that means is that when the graphics data is stored in memory or on disk, it’s saved as a description of lines, curves, and boundaries of filled areas.  In most programs (such as, for instance, Photoshop and Windows Paint) graphics information is stored as an array of dots called a raster.

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Secondary Animation Brings Life

There’s a lot of animation out there on the internet and, honestly, most of it is terrible.  Everyone’s gotta start somewhere, though, so I don’t begrudge people their learning process.  I just hope that it is, in fact, a learning process.  If you really enjoy making animation then you should make an effort to get better at it.  Animation (and art in general) is one of the most demanding fields in terms of how much you have to learn and practice in order to break into it professionally.  Most people will spend many years practicing their drawing and learning the principles of animation before they’ll be able to do it well enough for someone to pay them.

So, in my fantasy that you, the reader, are an aspiring animator, I’d like to give you something to consider: Secondary animation.

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Please Make Flash Rock

I’m looking forward to Flash CS5.  Let me rephrase that.  I’m hopeful for what CS5 could be.  On the other hand, that’s been true of every release of Flash since MX 2004.  They promise these great new features, but rarely do they address the real nagging problems.

CS4 introduced quite a few bugs and annoyances, though the UI rewrite also fixed a bunch of issues that have bugged me ever since I started using Flash.  You should see the list of bugs and feature requests I’ve assembled.  I’ve submitted them all to Adobe’s bug report / feature request web form, but I have real doubts about how much they pay attention to that.

There was a feature that I used fairly often when I worked on Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends that disappeared in version 8: copying vector art from Flash to Illustrator.  I have no idea why they would have taken that out, since it was so useful to us on Foster’s.  The most common thing we would use it for would be to take some art that we had in Flash, bring it into illustrator, and either create an art brush out of it or apply an art brush to it.  This would make things like animating a complex striped tiger tail as easy as animating a standard Flash line.  Translation: very easy.  It was even used once (before I came onto the show) to animate an entire character – a particularly gangly and clumsy one.

Here’s my dream, though: make it so I don’t even need Illustrator.  Add art brushes to Flash.  Wouldn’t that rock?  It would potentially create very high vertex counts but it would be amazing in terms of versatility.  And, having my foundation firmly in TV animation, what do I care about vertex counts?  As long as the renderer can handle it without crashing I’m good.

And while you’re at it, add trapezoidal transformation of symbols, smarter shape tweens, and any number of other things that Illustrator does so much better but belong in an animation program like Flash.  Make my wish come true, Adobe: make Flash rock for animators!

Hot Hot Mom

mom front viewI’ve been working for the last few days on the Mom model and tonight I finished the front view. Mostly. I realized right at the end that I really should add in some jewelry — particularly some dangly diamond earrings. She’s supposed to be a classy trophy wife on her way to the opera or some other high-class function, so of course she’d have some diamonds. Now the next trick is to figure out how to make a diamond sparkle in Flash. I’ve got some ideas. We’ll see if they work.

I discovered recently that the fine folks at Macromedia introduced a rather annoying bug into Flash 8. When copying from Flash 8 to (apparently) any other vector-based drawing program some or all of the control points are lost. The practical upshot is that copying from Flash into Illustrator is impossible. This is a major problem, since one of the tricks I use when animating in Flash is to copy an object into Illustrator and then apply an art brush to give it a nice variable-thickness line. If you watch Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends closely you’ll see that we do that all the time. Virtually all the lines on the characters were done with art brushes. We also do it a little more overtly sometimes, even using a charater’s whole boy as a brush so we can really control them. You can see an example of this on the episode “Frankie My Dear,” which has a whole sequence where a tall pillar-like character is wobbling all over the place.

So what am I to do? I was kicking myself for having made the move to Flash 8 without fully testing my process in the new software. Then, on a whim, I looked at the “save as” dialog box. Oh! It turns out I can save my Flash 8 files back to Flash MX 2004 (the previous version) as long as I didn’t use any of the new features (which I didn’t on my turnarounds, the most important files when it comes to creating new scenes). So I’ve officially downgraded back to Flash MX 2004. That’s what we use at work anyway, so maybe this’ll provide more of a consistent experience for me.

One More in the Can

I completed another scene tonight. I started it on Saturday, so the total time was five days. Actually, yesterday I only worked on it for five or ten minutes, so I probably could have finished it yesterday if I had had the time. But sometimes you have to take some time to have a nice evening with a friend. Life isn’t all about work, after all.

Something I didn’t mention is that a couple weeks ago I did, in fact, record my voice actress Tara. I just had to get some extra lines, alternate takes, alternate wordings, and non-verbal vocalizations. Some of the takes were pretty interesting as she repeatedly grunted or whimpered in interesting ways. We were laughing pretty hard at times because of how much it sounded like the audio track from a pornographic movie. I’ll probably only end up using about 1% of what we recorded that day, but that’s exactly according to plan. I just wanted to get lots and lots of takes so I would have lots and lots of options when assembling the soundtrack.

Tara’s great to work with. She’s got a perfect voice for the characters and she responds well to directions. Not only that, but we also get along really well. After the recording session we went out to dinner along with the two friends that were with her. I had a really good time with them, with good conversation and so on.

I still haven’t even listened to the recordings we made. If I had been a Responsible Student I would have listened to them the same evening, while the session was still fresh in my mind. Well, I guess I’m not a Responsible Student. I’ll survive.


The verdict is that I didn’t need to worry about the binoculars. If you want proof, look at this. Pretty cool, huh? Oh, and just to be clear, the girl with the binoculars is Sarah and the voice you hear is her mom, off-screen.

So the total time to animate that scene was about two weeks, I think. It’s a little frustrating that it takes so long. I mean, it looks good, but two weeks for two seconds? That’ll have me finishing this film in like six years! So yeah, my process needs to speed up a bit.

Here’s a cool bit of news: I’ve been invited to submit Fried Ham to the New York International Childrens Film Festival. Apparently the word is getting out 🙂 It’s not a guaranteed acceptance, but at least they’ll waive the application fee. Now I just need to get around to actually submitting the thing.

My All-Time Biggest Animation Rant

So that binocular prop? It looks really good animated. Like, maybe too good. Watching the animation I just did on it, if I didn’t know better I’d say it was done in a 3D animation program.

Which brings me to one of my all-time animation rants: Films should be internally consistent. The reason this is an animation rant and not a film rant in general is that it’s much more a problem in animation. For the prototypical example, watch Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. In the scene where they’re dancing in the ballroom there’s this shot where the camera circles down from the chandelier, where the chandelier is rendered in glaring 3D glory. Most people, when they watch this scene, say “ooh, look at that! Computery! Pretty!” Not me, though. I say “Augh! Computery! Internally inconsistent!”

The problem is that the moment that chandelier comes onscreen the audience is jerked out of the story and what should be a touching, romantic moment. Instead of being happy that Belle and the Beast are falling in love, the viewer is distracted by the computery imagery. It just doesn’t fit with the hand-drawn look of the rest of the film.

That’s not the only part of the movie that used computers to help out on complex animation, but it’s the only part I notice. That’s where the key factor lies: if I don’t notice then that means they did it well. I have no objection at all to using 3d software in animation if it fits in with the overall look and doesn’t distract the viewer. It’s a fact of filmmaking — and animation in particular — that much of what we do as creators is to keep from reminding the viewer that they’re watching a film. If they suddenly remember that they’re watching a film then they separate themselves from the story and it ceases to do its job of envelopment and engrossment.

Consider this: when you’re watching a live-action movie and a special effect comes on that’s obviously computer generated, do you go “ooh ahh oh!” or do you say “jeez, that’s cheesy”? For example, take the original Star Wars Special Edition re-release (please!). George Lucas was kind enough to put in several new shots that used computers to render Mos Eisley and Jabba the Hutt. Did you really believe that Jabba was there in the room with Han? To me he looked like he was slapped in with masking tape and elementary school paste. The moment that scene started, I was like “oh, they did a computer generated Jabba this time. That looks pretty bad.”

Now think back to the first time you saw Return of the Jedi. Did you think “oh, Jabba’s a big puppet”? No! He looked freakin’ real! He was big and fat and slimy and disgusting. He was a villain you could be scared of.

Again, this isn’t to say I’m against computer effects in live action movies, either. A perfect example of how to do it right is also one of the first movies to use computer effects extensively: Jurassic Park. Those dinosaurs were totally believable. In fact, the computer-generated ones were probably more believable than the animatronic ones. That’s how to use computer animation in live action movies.

So back to my original point: maybe the binoculars look too 3D. The characters are relatively flat, with no shading or anything, so it might be one of those things that’ll pop the viewer out of the moment. That would be Bad.

P.S. I assert that no matter that Merriam-Webster and the OED assert, “computery” is a word.

Fried Ham playing in New York

Fried Ham is going to be shown on the opening night of the Animation Block Party Summerfest on July 22nd at Automotive High School in Brooklyn, New York.  You can find out more about the show here:


I just wanted to share a little drawing I made tonight. This is the first prop I’ve created for Don’t Fear the Sitter. I think it turned out really nice, though I worry that it looks a little too 3D. Does it fit with the design of the characters? Probably a lot depends on what the backgrounds end up looking like. I still haven’t figured out the final look of the film. I suppose I should mock up a “visual style” prototype one of these days.

An Animated Camp Experience

So I got back from Balkan camp last night. It was a crazy insane week that had almost nothing to do with animation, so I’m not going to talk about it much here.There were a few relevant moments, though….

I brought a bunch of copies of my best-of DVD to camp with me and gave them out to people who were significant positive influences on my camp experience. That is, I gave them to my friends (both old and new). Everyone was really excited to see my animation, and that felt really good. It’s great to see people be genuinely excited about stuff that I created.

The other relevant event is that every year at camp there’s an auction that benefits the organization that produces the camp. This year I donated one of my DVDs after one of my friends (who also happens to be the camp’s site coordinator) suggested it. The auction usually doesn’t interest me much because everything goes for way more than it’s worth, so I’m never interested enough to buy anything. This year, though, I went in order to see how my DVD did. When it went on the block I must have been talking to the guy sitting next to me because I didn’t notice the bids at first. When I realized what was happening it was already up to $30. That was pretty cool — I would have been happy enough with that price, but then it kept going up. It eventually sold for $50 to a couple I don’t even know (though one of them told me later that they met me last year or something like that). Anyway, that’s another little taste of yummy affirmation for my 2006 camp experience….