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)

The Great Job Search

I was laid off from my job at Trilogy Studios a few weeks ago.  For people who know me, this isn’t news.  Still, I thought it might be nice to share some of my thoughts on the whole Animation Industry / Getting-Laid-Off paradigm / Looking-For-Work cycle.

Being out of work is this weird combination of stress and freedom.  Ostensibly I have tons of free time.  I wake up in the morning and I have very few deadlines I have to worry about.  I often think to myself, “Self,” I think, “You should take this time to do something creative.  What about starting that web comic and/or animated series you’ve been thinking about?  How about writing on your blog?”  Fantastic ideas!

But then there’s the whole money/work thing.  I currently have an income of zero, relying on unemployment insurance, my wife’s income, and savings.  Definitely not a sustainable lifestyle.  It’s vitally important, therefore, that I find a new job.  Well, that severely diminishes my available time, and reduces the percentage of my thoughts that can be put toward creative endeavors.

As an example, one of the things I need to do is update my demo reel.  Updating the resume was easy – just a new “work experience” entry, a few edits and adjustments, and it’s done.  The reel is huge, though.

A demo reel should only be about a minute long.  This is the advice I’ve always heard, and I absolutely believe in it. Having been “on the inside”, looking at applicants’ reels, I can attest that I know within seconds whether someone is a promising applicant when looking at their reel.  If there’s mediocre stuff in the first few seconds it’s a big problem.  The reel needs to show right off the bat what you’re capable of.  Timing, weight, easing, acting, subtlety, expression, variety of style of movement – you pretty much want to show them that you understand and can apply the twelve principles for their characters.  Remember that the employer doesn’t care about you – they care about what you can do for them!

To fulfill this requirement of a reel – that it shows the best that I have to offer – I pretty much have to go through all the animation I did in my recently lost job, as well as all that I did for my recently completed film, and find the best examples of my work,  Then I have to take only the best few of those to actually add into the pool of clips I currently use in my reel.  For the most part I’m going to trust my past decisions on what was worth including, since I really don’t want to have to go through all my old work again to figure out what was the best stuff.  Actually, if I did that I might end up with a slightly better product, since time lends distance in judging one’s own work, but I really can’t face the tedium that that would entail.

So now I have a set of clips of animation that I created within the last few years, as well as older ones that I included in previous reel iterations.  Now I have to decide what, among this combined collection of animated clips, is worth including in my finished reel.  I’ll have to make some tough decisions to throw out some animation that I’m quite proud of, but that perhaps isn’t quite as good as some other clips.

Then comes the question of editing.  Am I going to stick with the basic structure I had in my previous version or should I make a whole new edit?  It’s kind of daunting to think about throwing all the clips together in a new and interesting way, but also refreshing.  I’ve been looking at this demo reel (or variations of it) for four or five years now, and it would probably be nice to get something different going.  I’m not sure yet what I’ll decide, but in theory you, the viewing public, will see the results soon enough.

If you’re interested, you can see my old demo reel on my main web site: (Warning: that’ll probably soon be replaced with my updated demo reel after not-too-long)

Seven Years in the Making

I turned in Don’t Fear the Sitter a few weeks ago, finishing off the last step toward getting my Master of Fine Arts degree in animation. I was working really hard the last few months to get it done, leaving my fiancée lonely and bored as I worked into the night perfecting all the little details.  We were both very happy when the deadline came, I turned in my finished product, and I could finally relax.

It screened at the UCLA film school’s end-of-year show.  I think it was fairly well-received, but some people had a different reaction to part of it than I had expected.  I’m not going to say what exactly, because I don’t really want to give out spoilers.

Actually, though, it’s not quite done.  There are still a few more details that I want to work out as a final polishing step.  There are some things that I’d like to do but I might decide not to, as well.  At some point you just have to call it done.

I’m aiming to get this thing into festivals, though.  I want to make it really good.  That’s been my goal pretty much since I graduated the film from being my second-year film to being my thesis.  I wanted to make something that would make people at festivals take notice.  Something, dare I dream, that would get me into Annecy (the most important festival in the animation world).  If I really stick to that goal then there are a number of things left to do – the biggest being set dressing.

I’ve always been pretty bad at making a background look lived in.  At the moment the house in which the story takes place looks kinda sparse – like a model home that no one actually lives in.

I want to get it done so I can move on to the next project, whatever that may be.  I have a big list of possibilities.  I have time now to do all those things I wanted to do over the last seven years but never did because my film was hanging over me.  For the time being, it probably won’t be animation, though I reserve the right to do something animation-related: a web comic, develop a TV pitch, write a script or storyboard, etc.

Just some thoughts.

Keep on Plugging

I keep on plugging away on Don’t Fear the Sitter.  It’s slow work.  On average, since I last reset my accounting in April, I’ve gotten through about one character-second of animation per three days.  That is, if there’s one second of footage in which two characters are moving the whole time, that represents two character seconds.  Keep in mind, though, that I probably only average between half an hour and an hour of work per day.

According to the spreadsheet I keep for tracking my progress I’m set to finish all the animation in DFtS at the end of January.  It’s a little weird to have that goal actually approaching after all this time.  I first started working on this thing in the Summer of 2005, so I’ve been at it for more than five years.  It’ll be almost six by the time I actually finish (assuming I finish when I’m planning to).  It brings up the question in my mind: What Next?

I suppose first I’d like to take a little break from having a project that I’m always working on.  It’s a little wearying to always have to come back to the same tasks every night, working with the same assets.  It helps, in a way, that I have several characters in my film.  Switching between them keeps things fresh.  That would suck if I was only animating a single character the whole time.

I really like Falling Lizard, though — the yearly party at UCLA where everyone makes a complete (though admittedly minimal) film in a single weekend.  It’s a weekend when I know I’m going to be able to work on something a little different for a change, despite whatever other big project I might be working on in the rest of my free time.

As an example of something I might do at Falling Lizard, I present to you the film I made at Falling Lizard ‘09.  It’s a little snippet of an idea I’ve been kicking around for a while for a TV series, movie, or graphic novel:

But back to that question: What Next?  It’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that I’m going to start a new personal project after I’m done with DFtS.  The question is, what?  Here are some of the possibilities:

  1. Start a new animated short.  Nice and simple, going down a path I’ve been down several times before.  This option doesn’t require much risk on my part.  Right now this option doesn’t seem that appealing to me, either.  I mean, yes, it’s satisfying to create stuff, and it’s awesome seeing/hearing the audience reaction to a freshly finished film, but it takes so freakin’ long!  It’s a little distressing to have to wait five years to see the fruit of my creative effort come to completion and finally be shown to the outside world.
  2. Create a graphic novel or web comic.  This one is a little more appealing.  There’s potential for getting an actual audience going if I were able to either get a publisher or draw a web audience.  That said, I’ve never done this sort of thing.  I’m sure it’s fraught with its own perils that I would find out about along the way.  It also has potential, though, assuming I could draw an audience and craft a good story with strong characters, of leading to TV development or maybe even a movie (witness: Scott Pilgrim, perhaps my favorite movie so far this year).
  3. Write a screenplay.  This would probably be in the NaNoWriMo vein, sitting down and hammering out 120 pages of something – doesn’t really matter what.  It’s that whole thing about getting through it being the important first step – worry about whether it’s any good later.  It’s hard to imagine that writing a screenplay would take me where I want to go, though, which is really toward more of a creative leadership role in narrative animation.  It’s also a path that I’d be breaking new ground in for myself, so I would be putting myself at a high risk of no one ever seeing the result of my efforts.
  4. Try to develop a TV series.  This one is probably the one I’m leaning toward most right now.  I really like the idea of creating a whole new setting and being able to follow my own vision of how a show should be developed.  I have a couple ideas I’ve been toying with for several years, never taking the time to really develop them.  Whenever I think about working on them some more I say to myself “No, David, if you’re going to work on something then you should work on Don’t Fear the Sitter.”  Yeah.  Tell it, self.  But anyway, TV is also what I’d like to get back to eventually, so this would be a definite trying-to-move-forward-in-my-chosen-career maneuver.

New and Improved Art Brush – Now With Backward Compatibility™

I’ve been meaning to do this for a long time.  I finally got around to finishing off some changes to the art brush tool and now I’m ready to put them up.

In the main tool things are mostly the same.  I fixed compatibility with CS5, so now die-hard Art Brush users can upgrade, and die-hard CS5 users can finally use the tool.  I also improved rendering of corners.  Seriously, it does corners way better now.  It might still need a little improvement, but at this point changes would be a judgement call of whether they’re better or now.  Basically, now what the tool does with corners is to try and make the diagonal of the corner be the same width as the brush would be at that point anyway.

Another thing I’ve changed is that it’s now responsive to the thickness of the pencil path that it’s following.  For instance, if the line has a thickness of 2 then the resultant brush stroke will be twice as thick as in the brush symbol.  This is particularly useful with the other new thing I’m introducing…

… a version that recolors the brush stroke!  Now all the shapes in the brush symbol will be drawn out using the current fill color.  This makes it possible to use the art brush tool as a more generic paintbrush, where the brush symbol only defines the shape of the resulting stroke.  I use it a lot for creating linework on characters.  Below is an example of the output.


One of the advantages of the new “recoloring” art brush is that it’s more backward compatible.  In fact, it may be compatible as far back as Flash MX 2004!  I can’t say for sure, since I don’t have a copy of that program.  I would definitely be interested to hear results from anyone who tries it on a version of Flash prior to CS4.  Leave comments here or email me.

As a reminder, these tools are free for non-commercial use but there’s a small fee if you’d like to use them in a commercial setting.  Contact me for more information.

Art Brush installer (45kb download)

Hooray for Re-Use!

I just burned through about five character-seconds of animation in about five days.  That feels really good.  It’s significantly faster than my general rate that I’ve been keeping up ever since I resumed keeping track in April.  When I finish a scene I get to mark it off in the spreadsheet I created for the task, which always feels great.  It’s all set up with color-changing fields that give me pleasant feedback when I finish a scene.  They say, “Hey David, you’re doing a great job!  Look how much you’ve done in the last five days!”

Part of what let me get through these two scenes so quickly was that I was able to re-use some stuff.  For the first scene the framing was very similar to an earlier one, so setup was fast (pretty much just copy the previous scene’s file and the new scene is set up).  For the second it was even better.  I was able to use a side-view walk cycle that I created a long time ago for another scene, with only slight modifications.

One of the great advantages of Flash animation is the ability to adapt old animation for new scenes.  That’s a major reason why it’s a good medium for television animation.  When I worked on Foster’s we tried our hardest to find reuse for as many scenes as we could.  We had libraries of walk cycles, character poses, hands, arms, legs, and endless gobs of uncategorized old scenes that the animation director was able to help us find if we needed them.  The thing that’s great about it is that it’s not carved in stone.  It’s pretty easy to make little tweaks to old animation in Flash.  Need that old walk cycle but with the head looking to the side?  No problem.  Different lip sync?  Easy.

Unfortunately reuse hasn’t been as helpful on Don’t Fear the Sitter, since it’s just this one episode.  If I could stretch it out into a series that would be great, since I wouldn’t have to build the character models again, and I would have a bunch of reusable animation from the first one.  I may some day try and figure out a way to adapt it into a series, particularly if the short ends up doing well on the festival circuit.  If it comes to that, I’ll definitely be glad I made this thing in Flash.

A teacher is me

So tomorrow morning I’m going to substitute-teach an animation class. It’s a little scary but it’s something I’ve been interested in trying for a long time. You see, I have this crazy notion of maybe becoming a teacher or a professor someday. That’s one of the major reasons I’m still working on my MFA (fingers crossed, finishing my thesis one year from this week).

Two questions come up re teaching: will I enjoy it, and will I be any good at it? I want the answer to both questions to be “yes,” but life doesn’t always turn out as we’d like. I have some experience from tutoring in college, though that didn’t go as well as I would have liked. I enjoyed it but I often found that I had a really hard time understanding why my students didn’t understand the subject we were studying. I like to think of myself as empathetic but in some cases I just had a really hard time getting past the difference in ways of thinking between myself and my pupils. When you’ve gone over a concept all the ways that you can think to and they still don’t get it, where do you go next?

Well, we’ll see how his class goes, but I’m hopeful that things will go swimmingly. Maybe this I my first step into a larger world?

New Flash Tool: The Self-Rendering V-Cam

Today I’m going to introduce you to a tool I developed a while ago that I finally got ready for public release.  It’s a modification of the concept of the V-Cam, a tool that’s been around for a while in the Flash world.

“V-Cam” stands for “virtual camera.”  It’s a tool that lets you define the viewport of your Flash movie with a rectangular “viewfinder”, rather than just with the location of your subject on the stage.  This means that you can leave your drawing in one location on the stage, then animate the V-Cam all over the place, including rotation, skewing, etc, and that view will be the one you see in the final product.  It’s a very useful tool, making framing much more intuitive. Continue reading

Much Progress But None On Paper

Last night I did a bunch of work on Don’t Fear the Sitter. The thing is that the work I did didn’t really register on my tracking system. Let me esplain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.

A long time ago I created a spreadsheet to track my progress on my thesis project (the aforementioned Don’t Fear The Sitter). I made estimates of how much animation I would need to do to finish each scene in the film, added cells where I could write how much I had competed so far, then created a bunch of cells to calculate statistics about my work rate, estimated completion date, and so on. It’s very pretty and helpful but unfortunately it only tracks animation. It doesn’t take into account any of the other aspects of the process.

Last night I was working on integrating retakes that I recorded last fall with my voice actress, the lovely and talented Ms. Tara Ricasa. After I got the new recordings in place I framed the next shot in Google schetchup, where I had previously built a model of the house in which the film takes place. Then I set up the Flash file for the scene, and by that time it was way past my bedtime. Number of seconds of animation completed: Zero.