Category Archives: Animation

Excitement and Distraction

The other day I brought the current version of my animatic to work and showed it to Craig McCracken and Lauren Faust. They’re the producers on Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends and Craig is also the creator and director. Actually, I think Lauren had a lot to do with the development of the show as well. In fact, I’ve heard that Frankie might be modeled after her. Purely unconfirmed rumors.

Anyway, I was excited and nervous to show them my work, because I have a huge amount of respect for both of them. Craig is the one who created and directed The Powerpuff Girls, for instance…. Anyway, I did, in fact, show it to them, and they seemed to have a very positive reaction to it. Specifically, they said it was really funny (they actively laughed in a few places, which is always a good sign especially in small groups of people) and that they were surprised by the twists. They also seemed very impressed with the one little bit of animation I’ve completed in Flash, which was in place in the animatic. They said they really liked the lineless look of it (there are very few outlines on my characters, which isn’t the most common thing in the world of animation).

So that was a real boost. I came away from that meeting being really energized about working on Don’t Fear the Sitter — so much so, in fact, that the next day at work I had a hard time concentrating. “I want to be at home working on my own project,” I was thinking. Hooray for enthusiasm 🙂

Unfortunately I haven’t been able to do any work on the project — at least from an artistic standpoint. I’ve been spending a lot of the last few days working on setting up a revision control server on my old computer. This is something I’ve been meaning to do for a long time. I used revision control on Pink & Ain’t (my undergrad project) and it saved my butt once or twice.

“But David, what is revision control?” I hear you asking. Basically it’s software that keeps a sort of master copy of everything I’m working on and keeps track of all the changes to all the files. It lets me say “hey computer: give me the file ‘scene_12.fla’ as it was on October 19th at 2:33 PM.” Even if I’ve completely changed the file since then, the revision control software will give me the file exactly as it was on that day and time. The practical upshot is that if I ever make a mistake and save over something that I didn’t mean to, it’s not a disaster. I just go back to the last time I committed a change and grab the old file. It also has the added benefit of acting as a data backup of the whole project, in case my hard drive crashes or something (that’s why I’m using a separate computer to run the revision control setup).

Anyway, setting all that up involved first getting my old computer back up and running again (which was significantly easier than I expected), installing Linux on it (again, easier than I expected), installing the revision control server software (significantly harder than I expected — some things about Linux haven’t changed since I last used it in 1996), setting up a home network (which involved buying a new router since I couldn’t find the one I bought about a year ago for just this purpose), and finally getting the two computers to talk to each other in just the right way so that I can get my revision control up and running.

It’s been nearly a week now since I started the process and I think I’m finally finished. I got the project imported onto the revision control server and I think I’m ready to get back to work. That brings me to the next problem.

Well, it’s not really a problem in the grand view of David’s Life, but it’s a small problem in the petit view of David’s Animation Project: I’m leaving for Balkan music and dance camp on Saturday morning. So now that I’m all set up and jazzed about getting some work done, I go away and frolic in the redwoods.

Well, life goes on. Balkan camp is a Good Thing. I look forward to it all year and I’m practically bouncing in my seat in anticipation. David’s Animation Project will have to wait a week or so. It’s possible I’ll have Monday the 3rd off from work, so I might be able to work on it lots then.

One final thing. I’ve been thinking about setting a target delivery date for the final film of Don’t Fear the Sitter. Deadlines help focus the mind. So here’s my thought: the whole thing finished by Prom (the UCLA animation show) next year. That’s just under a year from now. I can do it if I set my mind to it.

Acting! Genius!

This post was actually supposed to go out last night but I had some technical difficulties.  I guess Myspace doesn’t figure Firefox is a good enough browser for them to fully support on their Blog entry form — I had to resort to Internet Explorer in the end.

Anyway, imagine the date of this entry is June 14th.

I got back in contact with Tara Ricasa tonight. She’s the actress who did the voices for the two main characters in Don’t Fear the Sitter. I was afraid that her contact info would be out of date, since the last time I had any contact with her was more than a year ago. It turns out she’s still in San Diego (she was a student at UCLA when she recorded for me but went home to San Diego after graduating). It’s a good thing that she’s still nearby.

You see, soon after my big recording session last year I realized that I would need another session with her. I guess it’s pretty common in animation. After assemblng my animatic with all the freshly-recorded voice parts I realized that it was missing all the little bits — the grunts, yelps, whimpers, screams, and other vocalizations that aren’t explicitly called for in the script. Like, when Jenny gets knocked over by the cops, if she makes a little yelp then that’ll help emphasize the impact.

There are also some lines that I’d like to re-record that just didn’t come out right for one reason or another. Mostly it’s that the inflection isn’t quite right or that I wasn’t able to get the levels right in the recording studio.

For the cases where the inflection wasn’t right, I guess I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to micro-manage a little more. I hate to say that — I want to let the actors do what their jobs without me telling them every little detail of how they should perform a line. In the end, though, they don’t understand the story and the situation like I do. Or maybe I need to get better at explaining what’s going on? I don’t know. I imagine it’s different for live-action actors or voice actors who record simultaneously with the other actors in the scene. They have more to go on — being able to see the set, being able to play off the other actors, and so on. I recorded all my actors one at a time, mostly because of logistical reasons. In my ideal world I would have had them all there in the same room, feeding off each other’s energy.

In the cases where the levels weren’t right it’s mostly because we were recording something loud. I couldn’t seem to figure out the settings on all the equipment to get a good loud scream or yell or whatever. No matter what I tried, the recording always clipped, causing distortion and a useless sample. There has to be a combination of settings and microphone that will allow for loud recording. Actually, the possibility that the microphone was the problem just occurred to me recently. Maybe the one I was using was one that’s good for quiet stuff but not loud? Wel, I happen to have a vocal microphone for live performances that can probably handle loud sound just fine. After all, it’s designed to have a singer belting it out at the top of her lungs straight into it, isn’t it? That’s my theory, anyway. I hope it plays out that way in reality….

I’ve got the animatic hovering at about 5:07. I’ve got it down pretty compact now. I even had to increase some of the timing because I had reduced it too much. In a way it’s nice to have that happen, since that way I really know it can’t go any faster. I’m not sure what more I can do apart from some outright cutting of scenes. I haven’t totally ruled out that possibility but first I think I want to show it to a few people and get some feedback.

SouthSide Film festival

Both Fried Ham and I Must Destroy You were accepted into the SouthSide Film Festival in Bethlehem, Pensylvania.  The festival is from June 15th to 18th.  I don’t know if I know anyone over in that area but I thought I’d let y’all know just in case.

Turnaround and Software

Lately I’ve been working on the turnaround for Sarah, the other main character in Don’t Fear the Sitter. Since I finished that one scene with Jenny I figured it would be a good idea to move on to the next character. I get more of a kick out of animating, but this is definitely a required step of the process. I figure it’s a good idea to spread out the production process so I’m not always working on the same sort of thing.

The way I’m creating this animation, as I’ve said before, is very similar to how we do it on Foster’s. I’m making a basic set of models that will be what I use for most of the animation. That’s what the turnaround is for — it’s the artwork that I’ll turn into the models in Flash.

Actually, I just recently saw a demonstration of this software called Toon Boom Solo. Oh. My. God. It rocks. But, of course, that’s based on what I saw in the demo, which was a presentation designed to make the program look good. But based on what I saw, it will do almost everything I’ve wanted in an animation program for years. Anyone who’s ever heard me rant about the state of 2D animation software can attest that it hasn’t been up to my standards, at least in a reachable price range. And even out of my price range it probably wasn’t — I just never got to try those programs out, so I couldn’t decide if they were up to snuff.

Anyway, as I said, Solo seems to have almost all the features I’ve been crying for all these years. It’s got two big counts against it, though: price and ease of use.

Price: $3000. Well, if it really works like I want it to, I’d be willing to pay that much…. Plus, I might be able to get an academic copy after all this film I’m working on is probably going to end up being my MFA thesis. That would knock the price down to about $500, I think.

User interface: The user interface looks like it’s really hard to learn. Anyone who’s ever heard me rant about user interfaces can attest that I have high standards, so it’s frustrating that this cool program should have a bad one. On the other hand, I also recognize that some of the most powerful software is only powerful once you learn to use it. Maya, anyone? EMACS? Vi?

All that said, I have no way of testing Solo to know if it’s really worth my time and money. Enter Cartoon Network. It seems that the higher-ups of the Foster’s team are considering switching to Toon Boom Harmony (the multi-user collaborative version of Solo) for the whole production cycle of the show. They’re probably going to do some tests to see if it lives up to everyone’s hopes and dreams, and then… who knows? We’ll see, I guess. Anyway, if my work switches to Toon Boom then I’ll probably end up getting a copy for myself at home. I just don’t know if I want to switch over DFtS. It would make a lot of things a lot easier, but at some point you just have to go ahead and make your film. There’s always doing to be something better on the horizon. I’m already in the process of going through one software/process change. Do I really want to change again? Yeah, probably not.

Fried Nova Scotia Ham

Another happy announcement: Fried Ham has been selected for the ViewFinders International Film Festival for Youth in Nova Scotia.  It’s going to be shown in the “Quest For Adventure” category (not sure why, but there it is).  I now officially have an international audience 🙂

Screening date/time for SFVIFF

The screening for all the animation in the San Fernando Valley International Film Festival will be Saturday, March 25, 2006 at 2 PM in North Hollywood.  I want to invite everyone who’s in the area to join me at the show.  Admission is free, so the only issue is finding the time and getting there.  I’d love to have lunch beforehand with anyone who can make it.  Drop me a line if that interests you.

Unfortunately I can’t invite anyone to the awards dinner.  They only give me one ticket (for myself) and extra tickets cost $100 🙁  Well, I’ll just have to buff up on my schmoozing skills.  On the other hand, if for some reason you felt like dropping $100 in order to join me, I wouldn’t stop you (though I might look at you funny).

Yay Me Again!

The latest news is that I Must Destroy You has been nominated for the animation award at the San Fernando Valley International Film Festival.  Yay me again!

Faux Film Festival

The Faux Film Festival has just posted its list of films that’ll be shown at this year’s event.  It looks like it’s going to be a lot of fun.  Unfortunately I don’t think I can make it up there, but I want to encourage all my Portland-area friends to go to the festival if they can.  I believe they’ll be putting up a schedule eventually, so you can aim for the night they show my film if you want.

San Fernando Valley International Film Festival Current mood: accomplished

I found out today that both Fried Ham and I Must Destroy You are official selections of the San Fernando Valley International Film Festival.  Yay me!  In theory I’ll hear soon if I’ve been nominated for their animation award.  So anyone who’s in the LA area between March 17th and 26th should go to the festival and cheer me on 🙂  (they haven’t posted a schedule yet, or I’d tell you a more specific date and time)

Slow Going

I’m really close to being done with my first scene for DFtS. I’ve been working on this one little scene for so long that it feels weird to be almost done. I keep scrubbing through the Flash file trying to find things that need to be finished/fixed but I’m finding fewer and fewer things each time.

Part of the point of doing this scene was just to test out the model I built for Jenny. I set it up in the way that I though would be the most useful but there are still occasional glitches. I’ve found a few things that are wrong — as small as a pivot point in the wrong place or as big as needing to make a bunch more drawings just to make one little thing work. I would explain in more detail what I’m talking about, but I think that would go a little beyond the scope of what I want to get into. Suffice it to say that I’m testing a lot of the preparatory work that I did and mostly it’s coming out all right.

Animating this model is definitely different than doing the ones at work. It’s pretty much a matter of character design. I designed my characters with traditional drawn animation in mind, and they work well for that. There’s an inherent quality to the method I’m currently using, though, that’s conducive to flat action. If you watch an episode of Foster’s you’ll notice that about 95% of the action is parallel to the camera plane — that is, right/left, up/down. It’s rare for a character to move toward or away from the camera. So the characters I designed for the traditional method feel a little constrained by the 2D world of Flash.

Maybe I should have redesigned my characters and storyboard to fit in with this new medium? Well… I didn’t wanna. That would have been soooo much work. So there’s some amount of pushing and pulling, then, to get my animation to match my original vision. It makes me start to wonder if this process is really going to save me time in the end. So far I’ve animated about ten seconds and I’ve been working on it for like five months. Now, admittedly I was working on it almost full time while I was still in school, and I’ve been kind of sporadic about working on it at all lately, but still.

But, really, life is a grand experiment. We’ll see how it goes.