Category Archives: Animation

Empire Uncut Scene 41

I worked at Animax Entertainment for a few months last year, working on Where’s My Water: Swampy’s Underground Adventures. While I was there a few people joined in the fun on Empire Strikes Back Uncut animated scenes. Initially I didn’t think I wanted to take the time to do one myself but I kept thinking about it and eventually I gave in and claimed a scene.

One of my fellow artists at Animax was Vanessa Lindstrom-Maglio. I was impressed with the backgrounds she created for the show. I’ve always hated making backgrounds so I asked if she’d be interested in doing the backgrounds for my Empire Uncut scene. She agreed, and did some fantastic BGs for me.

I’m really happy with how the scene turned out. I’m quite pleased with my character designs and animation, though the Leia design didn’t really live up to what I had in my brain. I had a lot of fun with C-3PO in particular. Nothing like an effeminate robot for a little caricatured motion. It’s so nice when I can pull out a walk cycle that isn’t just the usual old left-right-left-right. Also, check out that awesome lipless lip sync on the rebel guy. Mustache for the win!

A Few Random Things

What’s Next?

After finishing up my most recent freelance project (watch for an announcement about the launch) I’m once again on the job hunt. I’d really like to get back to full time positions with benefits and tax withholding and all that good stuff. While I seem to have been doing okay as a freelancer for the last year and a half or so, it’s inherently a more stressful way to lead my life. It’s time for a little stability.

Da Blog

I’ve been thinking for a long time that I wanted to post more stuff in this blog. A lot of stuff goes on in my head and I’d definitely like to share it with people. Plus, my impression is that the more a person updates a web site, the higher it’ll rise in the Google results. You can’t argue with that kind of exposure for someone who produces work like I do – animation and small software tools.

Flash Tools

I’ve made a few new Flash tools recently and I hope to post a few of those in the near(ish) future. In particular I’ve been using one I created to delete empty layers (really simple function, but it’s wonderful for cleaning up a timeline), and another to select the current symbol instance’s library item (works fantastically with multiswap).

I’m on the Flash CS7 beta!

I finally got on Adobe’s Flash closed beta program. Actually, I got into it a couple months ago but I didn’t have the time to download and check it out until a couple days ago. It looks good so far, though as always I wish they would address more of the features on my wish list. But they seem to have done a lot of optimization on the Javascript (JSFL) execution. My art brush plugin is blazingly fast! Anyway, hopefully I’ll have some more time to really check out the program. Maybe a small project to put it through its paces?

Falling Lizard 2013

I once again participated in Falling Lizard, the UCLA weekend-long animation party / marathon. I created another installment in the adventures of the Aviatrix. It’s really just a vignette, far from a full story, but I could see it fitting into something bigger. It once again makes me think about doing a regularly updated animation project. Wouldn’t it be cool to produce like five seconds of animation every week and post it to the web? I would probably keep it pretty rough, but I could gradually build up a story with that, and potentially build interest along the way as well.

Anyway, here’s my Falling Lizard film for 2013. I may clean it up in Toon Boom (SO much better for ink and paint than Flash!) and post that subsequently, but we’ll see. In the mean time, be satisfied with this humble offering:

3d Is Different

Since I’m out of work at the moment I thought I’d take some time and see if I can get into the swing of 3d animation in Maya.  I’ve dome some 3d before but only as part of a class at UCLA.  I suppose the class was informative and helpful but in no way did it get me where I need to go.  I ended up spending most of my time in the class making amateurish models with amateurish rigs, leaving very little time for actual animation, which is where my interest really lay.  I ended up kind of half-assing the final film, not having enough time to really get it done right.  The only motion I ended up finishing was supposed to be of a fat sheep reaching in vain for some grass, but it ended up looking more like it was barfing.

I come to it now knowing what I really want to do, though, and what I think I’ll enjoy and be kinda good at.  I’m a character animator.  What I want to do is animate characters – not model them, not rig them, not paint them.  Let the other people do those things – people who enjoy and are good at them.

Brief Aside

When I was working on Don’t Fear the Sitter I dreaded doing the backgrounds.  A lot of animators I know looked forward to that part, since it was so much less work for them.  And while, yes, overall the BGs took less time for me than the animation did, and I don’t think I did a bad job on them, they were a real chore.

End of Aside

So I downloaded the student version of Maya.  (The people at Autodesk totally have the right idea in making it free for students and the unemployed – training up their future customers.) I bought a Maya book.  I downloaded a character rig (thank god there are people out there who make these things and release them for free).  I dove in.

I figured the most basic thing to try out at first would be a good old walk cycle.  I tried to put in some Richard Williams style flourish, breaking elbows and escaping from that two-dimensional plane in which the traditional side-view walk cycle resides.  Here are the results:

Have You Seen My Sister Evelyn?

I recently did some work on a music video and it just went live a couple days ago.  I think it’s a really good video and I’m happy to have worked on it.  Here it is:

The First Falling lizard

As I’ve said elsewhere, almost every year I participate in Falling Lizard, the annual let’s-make-a-film-in-a-weekend party at the UCLA animation workshop.  The first year I participated was a year and a half before I actually started in the program.  My theory was that if I showed my face and enthusiasm enough then they’d have to accept me into the program.  I guess it worked, since I was accepted on my first try in 2003 🙂

The first Falling Lizard I attended had the theme “creation myths”. I put together a happy little film about what the first day might have been like. From concept to completion I created this piece in about 52 hours, completely analog and old-school. Presented here is a modest update, remastered in Flash and converted to widescreen. Enjoy!

I Must Destroy You

Students in their first year at the UCLA Animation Workshop create a short film. When I was there the only thing we were allowed to use a computer for was to master the sound. I followed that rule. Pretty much.

The rule was there because at some point in the 1990s, as computers became more more helpful in amateur filmmaking, some of the students in the workshop took advantage of those digital tools a little too much.  It got to the point where some of them were just phoning in their work, turning in films that were, at best, of questionable merit. So the professors of the workshop decided that it would be appropriate to require all first-years to work completely traditionally, with no help from a computer.  That would keep them from using the too-easy shortcuts that computers provided.

Not exactly the solution I would have arrived at, but that’s a debate for another time and place.  Really it’s a moot point now, since the rule has all but disappeared.  Thankfully, first-year students are now allowed to use computers, now simply held accountable for the quality of their films.

Anyway, this is all to preface the presentation of my first-year film.  This is it, animated the old-fashioned way, on cels with brushed lines and painted fills. I added digital energy sword effects after finishing it for school, but other than that it’s full-on old-school.  I hope you enjoy it.

I Can’t Do Anything Half-Assed

I’m only speaking slightly hyperbolically when I say that I can’t do anything half-assed. I always feel that if I’m going to do something that’ll be a lot of work, I might as well do it right. Take, for example, animation.

It can be frustrating to have that attitude sometimes. It means I do a lot less stuff.  It would be great to be able to just jump in and start animating something, but I think I’d end up with a bad result if I did that.  Why make it if it ends up being so bad that no one will want to watch it?

In the case of animation, story is vitally important.  That’s the real stopping point.  I have to sit down and make a good story to animate, otherwise it’s not worth creating the animation.

I’m thinking about this in relation to my Cats in Space series idea.  I made a very short animation based on that recently.  If you haven’t seen it yet, take a look:

I did that video in a super-rough style for the sake of getting it done fast.  I got an interesting comment on the Youtube page for that video, suggesting that if I did an episode like that once every two months and gave it some higher production value then I might actually be able to get some people following my Youtube channel.  That’s a pretty exciting thought to me.  I love the idea of people who I don’t know actually being interested in the stuff I make.

How hard would it be to do something like that?  Well, that’s where we get back to the basic premise of this post.  If I were to do a series then I’d want it to have a good overarching story.  Serialization, that is.  I should be able to string it together and have it be coherent as a whole presentation.  You know, because it should be something that new viewers can go back and watch sequentially and get the whole story.

To have a good story there has to be some planning.  You can’t just jump in because that’ll create a mess of a story.  You get more short-term gratification but in the long term you get a bit of a shoddy product.

For the last few days I’ve been messing around in Word, working on story ideas.  It’s hard.  There are good specific steps you can take to make a good story but you still have to have some creativity.  Maybe that’s obvious, but it’s something I need to remind myself of.  I need to come up with something good to make it engaging.

So yeah, that’s what I’m working on.  I’m excited to make it happen.  I guess we’ll see where it goes from here.

Demo Reel!

After much travail I finally got my demo reel together.  Unfortunately it doesn’t include any of the stuff from my last job (they won’t let me post anything online) but it still shows my recent work by including clips from Don’t Fear the Sitter.

Here it is:

Dynamic Mask Symbol

If you’ve done any significant amount of animation in Flash then you’ve probably run into this problem. You want to give a symbol partial alpha, but that ends up giving you a big mess where each individual sub-symbol is alpha’d down, rather than just the symbol you’re actually working with. Blech!


No Es Bueno

I ran into this problem once again yesterday while working on my demo reel and I decided I’d had enough.  I pulled out a trick I learned from Mike Bambino while I was working at Trilogy Studios.  It turns out that if you do it dynamically (using Actionscript) then you can make a mask that supports semi-transparency.  It lets you do awesome neato stuff like smooth gradient masks:



Awesome and Neato

What I wanted to do this time is to fade single characters in and out without affecting the other characters around them.  Normally I’d do something with solid overlays to give the impression of a clean dissolve, but it wasn’t working this time.  The characters were overlapping a bit, so the overlay would end up affecting both of them in an undesirable way.

To solve the problem I simply made a solid rectangular symbol with the relevant Actionscript in it.  At run-time it gloms itself onto whatever movie clip is directly below it on the display list and says “hey you!  I’m gonna be your mask now!”  Then I simply fade the mask symbol on the timeline however I please in order to fade its maskee in and out.

Easy, huh?

Here’s the source code in case you’d like to apply it to your own stuff.  Just put this on the first frame of your mask movie clip, then put the mask symbol directly above the thing you want to mask:

var maskee:DisplayObject;

// Call the enter_frame function for the first frame

function enter_frame(evt:Event)
	//trace("enter frame");

	var my_index:int = parent.getChildIndex(this);
	// Find the symbols just below this one
	maskee = parent.getChildAt(my_index - 1);
	// If there's something there, mask it.
		// Cache as Bitmap must be turned on for both the mask and the maskee
		cacheAsBitmap = true;
		maskee.cacheAsBitmap = true;
		//trace("masking " +;
		maskee.mask = this;

// Remove the reference to the mask if it gets removed from the stage
function removed_from_stage(evt:Event)
	maskee.mask = null;
	removeEventListener(Event.ENTER_FRAME, enter_frame)
	//trace("removed mask");

addEventListener(Event.REMOVED_FROM_STAGE, removed_from_stage);
addEventListener(Event.ENTER_FRAME, enter_frame)

And here’s a Flash file with it all set up and working, just to make it totally easy to see how it works:

Dynamic mask.fla (57KB)