Saturday, June 20, 2009

More Bits of Progress

Here's a good example of how the animation is being upgraded in spots. This shot was almost static before. Naybob's entire head and body is a fixed symbol. For emphasis I used a squash and stretch on it at one point, but it's such a obvious Flash trick that it had to go. Here's the original setup:

The forced perspective didn't really work, she doesn't even appear to be looking at him. It's all cheats. And it's all gone. He now goes through 3 different key head positions as he speaks, and for extra emphasis on the word "your", I employed a little homage to Robert McKimson with an extreme, up-in-her-face pose. Not quite in his style, but that was the inspiration. He starts out like this:

Then he springs into the air and gets up close for the key word:

Of course, there's a smear along the way:
It may be overkill, but now every frame here is a decent still, all looking sharper than the main key frames did in the original. If I can get the whole thing close to this level, I may just succeed at ironing out the telltale "Flashness" of it. It's a lot of work for a dopey little story about cheese crackers, and nobody needs to do it, but I'm on it anyway...

I need to stress this is a mockup composition, and the background is not the one that will be used. It's merely to test the characters against it before I start creating the new ones. This is from "Altruists" from the Lost Episodes R&S disc (flipped backwards). It's the type of backgrounds I want to do for these scenes, so I wanted to try out something close. The perspective isn't quite a match for what it's supposed to be anyway, but it lets me get an idea how they'll look with painted BGs. I'll be switching gears here and there to start painting those. Haven't painted in a while, so that should be fun.


Thursday, June 18, 2009

You should do that for a living, but don't quit your day job.

At every job I've ever had, sooner or later, someone will see a sample of my artwork (usually not even a good one) and say "You should do that for a living! You'd be famous! I always appreciate their enthusiasm, but I've grown very tired of having to react to that statement. They always look confused if I start to tell them the various harsh realities of the art and cartoon worlds. I don't even bother getting into the fact that the kind of things I want to do in those fields aren't even going concerns in the marketplace, just all the various hurdles and roadblocks facing anyone motivated to create art, music or film/video. Another thing they don't consider is that in that one workplace, I may have a standout ability, but outside, even limited to the more local population, I'm just another one of thousands. And perhaps not even one of the best positioned to get noticed.

Everyone has their own mix of talents and traits. Many have an artistic gift along with a ability to market themselves. Many can promote themselves vigorously but really have nothing special to offer. Many have the creative abilities but have almost no ability to find or exploit entry points into the business of their choice. To my dismay, I'm in group 3 here.

It's not like I've done nothing. I've lost my share of contests. I've sent out packets to people I thought might see something in my work though may have just as well sent them to Jupiter. I've even sat at tables at comics conventions, signing autograph books for people who had no idea who I was and didn't even buy one of my mini comics. There's one major thing I never did do, though. I never went to any school for it.

I always felt, and still do, that art is not something that should require schooling in the formal sense. Sure, there's tons of beneficial information to be gained by doing so, but you shouldn't be punished for not going through the mill if you do alright teaching yourself technique. And yes, the right art schools can provide you with connections in the people you meet and mingle with while there. I may well have enjoyed the experience if I could have afforded it, but that just didn't work out. The problem is this particular roadblock seems to come up all the time. Every time a new visionary creator/artist shows up on the scene, there's those school credentials again proving that without it, the chances are even smaller. I'm usually left with the feeling that without that certificate that says someone other than me showed me how to be creative, I might as well take all my home-grown, self-taught art and pound it down a rathole for all the biz cares.

As I've gotten older I've lost some of the feeling that I have to make it in my chosen field. It's such a tiny niche, and the competition is staggering. I'm constantly finding examples of published, produced and marketed art that is poor at best. Hundreds of things I know I could have done better. How do they get the work while I'm unknown and working in a mail center? There's no perfect, fair formula for who gets real work in the field. I know a lot of them made it by working harder at getting noticed than I have, keeping at it even with a growing pile of rejection letters.

If I had known way back when that I'd get to this age without making any progress, I'd have given more of a try to get into the field regardless of what was being produced at the time. If I had tried back then I may have met up with a young John K and ended up as an original "Spumco Big Shot". Or maybe I could have had a major impact on a lesser studio like Filmation or Ruby-Spears and helped them make something decent. Oh well, too late for that, but it's not too late for something to happen. Just a longer learning, study and practice period before trying to do something with it.

Right now, I'm steadily working on turning my first effort at a more or less full cartoon from what you could call a "color animatic" into a fleshed out cartoon so I have something to show. In the meantime I'll have to keep the day job, though.


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A Whole Range Of Change

The irony of going back and improving the art and animation in a cartoon that's ultimately about the pitfalls of "New and Improved" products certainly isn't lost on me. The difference in this case is it should actually make the product better.

The changes being made include improving the designs, adding more animation frames, rerecording some voices, and doing new backgrounds. In retrospect, I should have waited until I had learned more of Flash before starting it. I began this within a week or so of trying Flash, and attempted to make it out of scanned
in bitmaps traced into vector art in Flash. If you ever tried this in Flash MX you'd know the results are a real shaky, chunky line:

All of this crap is getting "ironed out" or thrown out. I may let one or two inbetweens go by with a few kinks, but for the most part, it's all getting fixed.

A big reason I let so much sub-standard quality go is I didn't have a Wacom tablet at the time. I don't have a lot of difficulty as far as drawing on a different surface than the screen (what, me afford a Cintiq?), but I can't get it goin' on with a mouse. I tried, but it's like a big electronic etch-a-sketch to me. The tablet made all the
difference, but by then all the hunka-chunka lines had been drawn.

Another problem was thinking I need to watch the file size. I nixed a lot of animation I would have done if I weren't trying to skate by on as few keyframes as possible. I had to break the thing into 5 parts just to chug it through my little underpowered iMac at the time as it is. Now that I'm not targeting a webtoon venue for it and the final product is an HD video file I don't have to worry about those limits.

Am I planning to turn it into flailing full animation?
No, I'm still a one man band, after all. My goal is to employ as much of the Kricfalusi model as I can, because I agree with his methods and enjoy his results. My own instincts are so close I can't help looking like I'm cribbing. Particularly the "Pyschodrama" kind of acting and a design sense influenced by the same masters. I've also read so many of his posts that a lot of his lessons couldn't help but penetrate.

Here's a couple examples of how some of the designs are being redone. Some only need to be cleaned up, but many are being outright replaced. Not surprisingly most of those are the drawings done by mouse that weren't part of the original comic, and I didn't design on paper first. In this reaction shot, when Naybob becomes aware a crowd is watching him, he goes from fondly gazing at the display of boxes to spotting the crowd. The original art isn't very lively, the oddly snub-nosed head never changes, only the eyes and mouth change. Screw it. It's gone. There's more inbetween them now, but here are the equivalent frames to the old ones side by side:

In this shot, he goes through 3 key expressions. The original ones all stunk, and the 2 measly inbetweens were worse. I'm not sure what the bullseye pupils thing was about, but it didn't work. And I never liked the compromise of the solid color sloppy shelves behind him. Here are the 3 keys:
There's another look behind the "under construction" walls. I've got a ways to go at my current schedule, so there will probably be more updates here as I go.

I should probably stop yakking to my keyboard about it for now and get back to working on it though, so bye for now.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Subject Of John K Influences

I should address this topic early on, because I'm sure if I succeed in reaching a wider audience down the road, the comparisons will continue, and I'd like to be clear on my creative intentions. I'm not trying to rip him off or do "his style". Yes, I'm certainly a fan, but I'd hate to have him consider me just another imitator.

He's 6 years older than me, and since I grew up with older brothers as an influence, that shortens the gap because they influenced me more than my own age group. What this amounts to is I grew up at the same point in history, and the reference points are largely the same.
That would account for a smaller piece of the equation, though. The bigger one is who stood out the most to me. For me it was Bob Clampett, and early Hanna Barbera (particularly the first 2 seasons of the Flintstones), & the Fleischer Popeyes. That's what turned my lights on initially. Sound familiar?

I can remember at very young age, watching Beany and Cecil cartoons and being struck by an intensity no other cartoons seemed to have. And in my house, we always waited and hoped whatever Looney Toons showcase that was on would show "The Great Piggy Bank Robbery", "Book Revue", or "The Big Snooze". These were my earliest and strongest influences.

When the new "Mighty Mouse" debuted, the dying candle was relit. Same as when the new Beany and Cecil flew by, and then Ren & Stimpy threw open the doors. I watched it with the simultaneous feelings of "I can't believe they're doing good cartoons again" and "I wish I could go flying off to join the team". And then he got booted off his own creation, and again I felt like the business had no place for my way of thinking.

By that point I was 30, and picking up and following unlikely dreams becomes less impulsive a choice. Plus I still had never animated beyond a flip book. I had studied plenty. As soon as I had a VCR I was going though classics frame by frame and studying technique. Did I check out every frame of Daffy's "Oh Ag-O- NEE, Ag-O-NEEEE" meltdown? Sure did! (if you're not picturing the scene just from that line, you don't know it well enough).

So then comes Flash (and if he did indeed have input into the very program as I've heard then thanks for that too!) giving me the ability to wrangle a mechanical version of the process that actually can give you the ability to construct animation at home. And if you have put all the automation of it in it's proper place you can get full animation out of it.

So now I can put my ideas in motion. The first thing I attempted was adapting a 5 page comic story that was meant to feel like a cartoon into one. It has "first attempt" written all over it, but it came out well enough that I threw it on up on the YouTube, and in no time it's compared to John K. It's not surprising, because we went to the same "school" at one time.

So, yes. There's a similarity, because there should be. We were taught the same principles. I draw my characters the way I drew them in 1991, 1986, or 1975 (only better with practice). Not all of them in the same style. I try not to have a "style". Perhaps an imprint, but not a steady constant approach. And I absorb influences into it. So if John's look is apparent in mine, it's layered on top of what I got from Barney Rubble, Uncle Captain and the Gremlins from the Kremlin.

I'm not sure what the dynamic would be like if I were working for him. I think I'd enjoy the team atmosphere, but I am used to full control as well (another reason I didn't strike out early to apprentice somewhere, Mr. wanna know it all wanted to start at the reins). I would like to get his attention long enough to see some of the clips. And it would be a major boon if he wasn't not impressed with it to a degree and offered a suggestion or something that could be incorporated enough to warrant a "consultant" credit on it in the end. That would be a jewel for it's homegrown crown.

To wrap up, I set my blog up here so that I could also participate in his. I'd be both honored and a little nervous to be on his radar, but I'd rather have him be aware of me if people are going to make the comparisons online.

Does this look like the face of someone who would steal?...

Flintstones Forgery

Here's my little experiment in using Flash to get a classic Hanna Barbera look. The idea started when it ocurred to me that I had all the basic ingredients to work with, from soundtrack CDs that provided clean music and sound effects cues, to the "First 14 Episodes" laser disc set that had one episode with a second audio track featuring only the dialog- perfect for extracting lines. I used screen grabs of the backgrounds, but recreated the characters and animations from scratch in Flash, using frames and cycles from various episodes as guidelines.

The basic approach was to string together what few lines I had that were generic enough to be used in a variety of ways (nothing specific to that episode's story, which unfortunately was heavy on guest characters and very little Betty or Barney to use). The lines eventually formed into what I ended up with. I also made the choice to just slightly subvert things with Wilma slightly off her rocker, Barney's XL nose, and a couple Fred expressions HB never really tried. The tone of Fred's "what're you doing here?" makes that moment seem strangely paranoid, but it was intended for a completely different type of scene, so I figured I'd make him look panicked about it.

I wish the Laser disc set had offered more epidsodes with that alternate soundtrack, I could have had a lot more lines to choose from and could have gone on a little longer. On the other hand, it's probably for the best that it kept the experiment short and sweet. I have my own characters and projects to do and too much more could just end up being a waste of time better spent.

There were two other Flintstones projects done at this time. "Dull Day In Bedrock" is still available on YouTube as well. It's much shorter and simpler by design, but it's amused a few people along the way. "Shake Your Betty" was by far the most viewed and commented of all my clips, but it's now removed due to the music used. It wasn't a tremendous loss, though, since it was also a less than mature lark and a way to exploit a simple cycle over and over. I'll cover that one in it's own post, though.

Here's "Flintstones Forgery"

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The First Change

Here's one of the first things I changed for the New and Improved "Money For Cheezums" The girl who teases Naybob at the start of his journey has more clearly become a puppet (with no explanation as to where the strings actually lead to...) and has more fluid motion to her mouth. The original was mostly a single jaw moved around. She now has different mouth positions and shapes while still retaining the basic look of an old Bill Baird type puppet. She even has the right slow blink lids, going from 3 frames to 8. Her eyes were also changed.
Here's the original version, which recently received the comment "the neighbor's face bothered me a lot" on YouTube:

Here's the new version, with strings attached:

I also changed the proportions and made the head bigger, I hope the changes help make her more appealing, as I usually don't like to bother people a lot with my creations. 


Hi folks,

It's about time I did this, I guess. I'm just setting up a blog account to start posting various images, links, tidbits and occasional rants. A place I can direct people to for samples of my work. 

As I write this, I'm pretty much unknown to the world. I have a few clips posted on YouTube and Vimeo, and I still get comments now and then on the YouTube ones (especially the one I took down, "Shake Your Betty", but that's another post). I also have a weekly cartoon panel in some local NY/NJ/PA papers in an "artist for hire" capacity. I've been highly successful at avoiding reaching any heights so far. I'm one of the many artists out there that wince a little inside every time they describe themselves as "artists", mostly because they don't make a living as artists. 

   I've sat on the sidelines, watching the various marketplaces for the careers I've wanted, often warned off by the stories told by the people in those fields. There's been a few. Cartooning always seemed to be the lead, but has shuffled around with music, painting, photography, video, sculpture, even puppet making. If they're all added up, they point toward animated cartoons, which was the original goal, going back the farthest to childhood dreams.

   It was also the first thing I counted myself out of, as I couldn't afford to set myself up for animating on film. By the time I was old enough to consider venturing out into the business, the state of affairs seemed so bleak I could never convince myself to try. Why attempt to uproot myself across the country to try to break into the kind of stuff being produced in 1980? It was disheartening to say the least. Add in a family needing to "pull together to survive" kind of dynamic and it makes it hard to justify placing your bets on pipe dreams.

  I kept as busy as I could with all the other pursuits, each one also eventually shot down by perception that breaking into the biz was harder than stuffing an elephant into a sandwich bag. By the time glimmers of hope returned to the animation world (usually courtesy of John K, who had the tenacity to swim upstream against the crap that scared me off and bring it back for a while), I felt nearly trapped in the cycle working for a living, living for a-working.

  About a year after getting my first computer (one of the last egg-shaped iMacs  models) I tried a trial of Flash. As with everything else, I taught myself bit by bit, eventually realizing it had the potential to produce full enough animation to finally allow me to step into the ring. Sure, it's derided plenty as robotic, mechanical "rich content creation", but the fact is, you can ignore all the automation and use enough keyframes to do real animation. If you're going to video, file sizes shouldn't be an issue. All that tweening and faking it with cutout puppets that gives Flash its reputation are either a product of conservation for file size or laziness. I've road tested it enough to know that even if you had to create a separate file for each scene of a cartoon, you can do full animation. 

   If you have the time, that is. I wish I had more, but it's nights and weekends for me. So the progress is slower than I'd like. It's taken several years to get a decent skill set, and finally getting a more powerful computer and newer version of Flash have certainly helped.

  Right now, I'm in the process of going through the first full cartoon I started in 2002 and reworking it to bring it up to my current standards. I started it with the small-file-size Flash player mode in mind, so a lot of things were left simple. It's now getting an overhaul to try to take a lot of the "Flashness" out of it. The backgrounds are largely being dropped to be replaced with better ones in After Effects. 

  The biggest time consumer outside of adding more key poses and replacing many of the existing ones is cleaning up the artwork. All the original art was scanned in from a comic of the story (because I figured doing things ass-backwards would be a suitable ill-informed thing to do at the time). I didn't have a tablet at the time, so I was ill prepared to iron out all the kinks Flash puts in the lines. I fixed the worst of them, but just couldn't take the time the get all the little jagged bastards out. 

  Now everything is getting cleaned up or replaced outright with smoother lines, more and better thought out inbetweens, and new compostions. I hope to turn it into a model of what further episodes should look like, so it can stand along with them instead of being an early curiosity. I'll be posting some examples of the makeover here to illustrate how it's changing.

  That's more than enough for a first post, I think. Now to ready some images for those examples...