Friday, February 29, 2008

When systems fall apart

Not the exact scene of carnage I witnessed yesterday morning but not far off. Someone in the studio had been working for days, alone, on some really old design that had been abandoned well before preproduction even began.

How this happened at all is baffling but the big deal is why it wasn't caught.

There is a production manager person in here who is meant to make sure that everyone has what they need, is kept up to date and should know who is doing what at any given moment. So it's hard to blame the person who was actually working away on stuff that is totally unusable. The system broke down.

It's quite a costly error because other animators were waiting for the work that was actually supposed to be done.

It brings home just how isolated people can be in a studio full of people. I remember thinking that myself when I started way back in the old days. It was just me and my scene. I felt totally disconnected from the process and had no idea what anyone else was doing. The director should be on top of things, as should the producer, but when they are getting fed information from someone who has lost track of the system, they have no real way of knowing until the work comes in incorrect.

Or someone comes in early and spots the drawings on a desk.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Graphics tablets, flipping and doodling

Andy gave me a trick in the comments section of my last post - if I map the timeline scroll commands to a slide bar on the graphics tablet (I'm using my new Cintiq), I can approximate the whole paper flipping thing.

So far, it's actually not bad. It's not paper. But it's not bad.

Where it falls down is in the level of control and speed. Animators can (and do) flip so fast you sometimes won't know what they are looking at. They also don't always flip their drawings in sequential order, something almost impossible with a tablet/timeline setup.

But, hey, it's better than not having it at all, right?

Although, part of me is really wondering if we're moving to computers just for the hell of it. I mean, when it comes to more traditional style animation, where your paper flipping skills really come into play, why move from a system that works to a system that doesn't work as well? To satisfy producers? I don't know.

Murray Bain, however, of renowned Copernicus animation studio - something that more than qualifies him as an expert in the field - made an excellent point: old WB guys pegged their drawings on the top (as did most animators in the early days) and so it was more about the drawing than that rolling 'animating in motion' that I was talking about in my last post. His comment is worth reading and, you know, he's absolutely right.

There are extremes of timing in the old Warner cartoons that perhaps would have gone against instinct if they were using the 'flip like a crazy person' method that I was trained in and became pure habit (I flip single drawings and don't even notice I'm doing it).

But, as Murray points out, there's a fluidity that came with the bottom-peg switch that I don't think could have happened without the flipping or rolling. I've had the pleasure of seeing Glen Keane work many, many years ago. His drawings were loose, each one just looking like a sweeping line of action and his paper was fraying at the edges from excessive flipping but the movement was just beautiful once it hit that line tester.

Those were the days when I was young enough to be inspired and had the energy and drive that has long since left me. But, hey, I think the reason I'm beginning to think about these things again is that I may, just maybe, be getting a little bit of my love for animation back. Just a little. A tiny shred. The littlest of little morsels.

Anyway, I've been getting to know my new Cintiq and it's a lot of fun. Much, much better than the plain ol' Wacom because you're actually drawing where you're looking. It doesn't have the resistance of paper and I'm having some control issues but I'm getting a bit better at it and I'm enjoying it. It does have a lot of potential and, importantly, it's much cleaner than pencils, paints and so on. No more shiny graphite hands, endless washing and then heavy-duty hand cream.

I have sensitive hands.

Here's something I knocked up on my Cintiq, following my Spambots encounter:

It's me, saving Planet Doom, a place I hate but it has sexy blue chicks. Like a grown up Smurfette. Yeah, it's scrappy but what the hell.

As I write this, I'm the first person in the studio this morning and, just passing someones desk and noticing what they're working on, I've spotted one massive breakdown in communication. It's going to be an interesting, if frustrating, day.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The importance of flipping pages

This is a post for the animators out there. I can pretty much guarantee anyone else will be bored silly. Way more bored than you'd usually be browsing my crappy blog.

Flipping Paper. Pages. Rolling. Whatever. You know what I'm talking about.

In my rather humble opinion, page flipping is one of the most important developments in the history of animation. Animation is drawing, sure. It's about character, sure. But it's not about individual drawings, individual character.

Animation is movement.

Flipping pages allows a 2D animator to animate in motion. It's not just a tool for testing those drawings of yours. Really good animators I've seen flip constantly, instinctively, and they draw while flipping. Because they are drawing in motion - they aren't drawing static images. It's like animating in real-time. They are feeling the movement. It's an artistic thing in that it bypasses the intellectual in a way. And, yeah, I'd say it's important. I've seen excellent animators whose actual drawing skills aren't up to par. But what they do have is movement and, more importantly, timing.

Fixing up the drawings? Assistants can do that. Probably better than many animators.

But an assistant can't fix bad movement and timing.

Movement and timing is something you feel. It's a slightly different way of thinking and not everyone has it but, when you flip pages, it can get you to feel that movement and timing. You're seeing things as you draw - not just the drawings, but the movement. And, as we've established, that's what animation is.

As I'm moving into Flash and these newfangled gadgets you crazy kids are calling "computers", I find that there is no software equivalent. Yeah, there's this onion skinning thing where you can see the images much as you would on a lightbox but that only allows you to plot your drawings on an intellectual level. You can't animate while feeling that movement. It's now an entirely disconnected process. You can scroll along the timeline to test the movement but that's not the same as animating in motion.

So animators must become scientists and not artists. Without being able to feel the movement, you must resort to a clinical evaluation of where the next drawing or pose should be.

This, in my opinion, is a real problem. How do we get the page flipping back? Is animation becoming a science and not an art?

Monday, February 25, 2008

Things I care little about

Or at least that's where it should end.

There are some things in life that people assume you are interested in. The Oscars is one of those things. In reality, there isn't a good way to end this conversation because nobody seems to understand just how little I care.

No, I didn't watch it. I haven't seen any of the films. It bores me. I hate Billy Crystal or Whoopi Goldberg or whoever does it these days. No. No. Boring. Please stop talking about it. No, I really don't care. No I didn't see who wore what. No, really. No I didn't see that either. I didn't see any of it. No, not that either. None of it. Not a bit. No, I wasn't surprised by that because I didn't see it. I didn't see it!

And that's a reinactment of every post-Oscar Monday. Maybe I should just get a t-shirt made up or something.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Hypochondriacs Unite 2

So it turns out I'm far more likely to die of a heart attack than cancer. Not sure that's any better.

Thing is, regardless of what it is, as you get older, it's far more realistic that those pains you feel are something serious. Eventually, you'll get something that isn't just wind. Isn't just a product of an overactive imagination. It's a scary thought.

Friday, February 22, 2008

This industry is too small

Chuck (not his real name - like I'd know someone called 'Chuck') isn't hilarious. Chuck is a dick. Sure, Chuck thought he was funny, to the point where he'd perform for the studio prompting at least one animator to ask to be moved away from him (true story).

Thing about Chuck (still not his real name) was, he had some creative talent. And the director here gave him every chance in the world to advance beyond most people in the building. But he was lazy, chaotic, and blew every chance he got. If he hadn't moved on to 'better things', he was going to be let go because he disrupted the work of everyone else.

I was glad to see him go. He had begun to piss me off.

But it's actually impossible to escape someone in this business. It's too small. His influence is still felt and he's been gone probably two years now. I think it should be law that, if someone leaves your company, they should have to move abroad.

An Addendum: Addendum? Is that a real word or did I just make it up? Anyway, Tool made a point in the comments that I'd just like to take up. He was saying that, precisely because the business is so small, I shouldn't be talking shit about anyone. And he's absolutely right.

But there would be no pleasure in talking shit about some hypothetical 'Chuck' who nobody knows. No, that's not really the point of the post. The point is that small industry. That you'll see the same people over and over. And it's exactly the opposite of talking shit in a way - in order to stay in the business, you have to remain professional and not talk shit because you can be damn sure someone will find out. But I'm not sure it's possible to talk shit about someone you're not naming and have any effect one way or another. He's just a guy who I didn't like and that's something I'm sure you'll all relate to.

Think how it will be if I have to sit across the table with anyone from Chorion.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Spambots in Colorvision!

I coloured my Spambots for some reason.

Everyone is back from Kidscreen, with surprisingly little promotional swag. Most of it was actually from the dreaded Mr.Men show.

Today, I'm Mr.Grumpy.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

They're coming to get me, Barbara!

So there was me thinking that Spambots were mischievous little fellows - as seen in this post.

I couldn't have been more wrong.

On Monday, there was a comment on my post about some cancer thing. I didn't really look at it. I just knew it was spam, and about cancer so I deleted it. Now, I'm a hypochondriac at the best of times. About cancer, well, I'm terrified. As a guy, I have a one in two chance of getting cancer. One in two! That's scary stuff.

So to add a spam comment about cancer on my blog is an attack on all things good in this world. I don't need to be reminded that I'm probably going to get cancer and die.
But then, yesterday, I find three more of the exact same cancer crap in the comments sections of various posts. Well that's just rude. The fact that I deleted the first one should tell you I don't want your spam.
The Spambots are attacking.
Unless it was a real live human who posted it, in which case shame on you, sir. Shame on you.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Monday mornings

Especially on a Monday. Life is hard enough without some grinning idiot trying to be nice. They say you're never fully dressed without a smile. Well, I say go naked.

Unless you're seriously ugly. Then wear clothes. But no smiles.

Friday, February 15, 2008

On those who turn in graves

Well I got to see some of the new Mr.Men show.

To anyone who was animating on it, I know you were just doing your jobs and everything (and there's actually some really nice work if you just take the visuals on their own) but you know there's an animation hell, right? Yeah, you have to watch the cartoons you worked on for the rest of eternity. Only, if you made good stuff, it's heaven. Deep, eh?

Noddy's up on the chopping block next.

Did you know that chorion is the outer layer of the placenta? Nice image, eh?

Thursday, February 14, 2008

14th of February

Valentine's Day is bullshit. Plain and simple. You don't need me to tell you it's just a cynical money-making exercise and if you buy into it you're a sucker. I'd just be telling you what you already know.

But, that aside, some of it is plain insulting. For anyone living with depression, it can be a very tough time. Dealing with loneliness is tough enough and many (if not most) people with depression can feel completely alone even if they do actually have supportive people around them. Valentine's Day is a kick in the pants once a year for anyone in that situation.

It can be really tough to deal with.

But is it less insulting to those in relationships? No. No, it's not. It's more insulting. I need to be told what day I'm going to be romantic on? Dictated to by card companies? Peer pressure? Flowers? Chocolates?


Most guys are probably already with me on this. But girls? The ladies? You buy into this sort of stuff for some reason. Why? It's like the diamonds thing - they're just rocks. But it's advertising and marketing. That gave us the 'diamonds are forever' crap and it gives us Valentine's Day too. Are women more susceptable to advertising? I don't know, that's a whole other subject but, when it comes to romance, I have little doubt that they are.

But if your man does the Valentine's Day thing, he's just doing it to get off the hook the rest of the year. He's doing it out of a sense of duty. It's fake. False. Seriously.

I say forget about Valentine's Day. If you want to do something romantic, do. But do what you want to do and when you want to do it.

Oh, but if you know anyone lonely, anyone with depression, reach out to them on this corporate blackmail day.

Just on a whole different subject, I had installed a counter the other day and suspected it was telling me lies. Turns out I had it set to count page hits rather than unique visitors. I've changed that now. What is the norm when it comes to counters - page hits or unique visitors?

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Bits and pieces

The writer's strike is finally over. Yay. Anyone know how it turned out for animation writers? I've been hearing odd rumours. (Looking into this since this morning reveals that many animation writers are not covered by the WGA, though some are. Some seem to reckon the WGA is trying to exclude animation writers while others claim the opposite. Sounds messy.)

Kidscreen is on at the moment. I'm not at it. I'm here instead.

Here's one that pisses me off - iTunes was meant to carry the shorts from the Sundance programme on their service. Well, it has deemed two animated shorts 'too explicit and too political' and has refused to offer them. They may as well say they aren't carrying any content that might actually provoke some sort of neurological response. Pacify the people, iTunes. Pacify them.

More: I put a counter at the bottom yesterday evening but I now suspect it is full of shit. There is no way in hell over 100 people have been here since then. It's Pinnochio. Or Clinton after his blowjob.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

If music be the food of...

Jeaux Janovsky had spotted a Smiths lyric I used as a post title (by the way, Jeaux, I visited your blog and I have to say I absolutely love your work).
I can't imagine it's good for people with depression to listen to the Smiths but I'm interested in just how much music affects my mood. Or is it that I choose to listen to music because of the mood I'm in? Like chicken and egg?

Well, no. Because there's an easy answer to that one - the egg.

I have what could be considered eclectic taste in music. There's barely a genre I haven't got something of. Mostly, it's because I love music and every time I find a new type, or style I missed, I get really into it. Then I move on to the next thing I discover, but never stop loving what I collected along the way. So I have a lot of music. If music be the food of anything, I'm like one of those huge fat people who have to have a crane lift them out of their house to get that stomach stapling operation and die of a heart attack two days later.

Some days, I have to have metal to get me going in the morning. Other days, I'm listening to chilled girly music like Imogen Heap. Some rare days, I listen to old hillbilly stuff. Then Ghostface... and so on.
But I listen to the Smiths a lot. Indulgent teenage crap? Yeah probably. In its day. But, man, I just love it.

Maybe I should do an experiment where I choose what I listen to in advance and see if it has a noticable effect on my mood. By the way, that lyric above isn't a Smiths song but it's one of the most depression tracks I know.
Speaking of food/love and whatever, Valentine's Day is coming up in a couple of days. You wouldn't believe how much I hate Valentine's Day.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Goodbye Roy Scheider

I can't imagine it will be all that much that I post about actors but I just read this morning that Roy Scheider has died.

That sucks.

A fantastic actor, probably known best for Jaws and maybe that underwater show with the talking dolphin but has done so much more. I don't think it's all that popular a film but I loved him in 2010 (along with acting genius John Lithgow).

Whatever it is that dead people do, I hope you do it well, Roy. You'll be missed here.

"Something's going to happen... something wonderful"

Saturday, February 9, 2008

I know I said I was done...

I mentioned this in a comment to Ron and thought I should share it.

In the studio I'm in right now, the producer is always talking to people, companies, whoever, about new projects. So, on a regular basis, he comes to us with some visual reference (usually painted children's books, or beautiful illustrations) and shows them to us to find out what we think.

Without fail, the words that come out of his mouth are, "I was thinking maybe...", and somewhere in there he adds a pause to show he really is thinking about it, "thinking the look would be perfect for Flash."

The look. Perfect for Flash.

No matter what the hell he's showing us. It could be anything. An ink illustration - perfect for Flash. A children's book - perfect for Flash. A video of two donkeys having sex - perfect for Flash.

Every single thing on this planet is perfect for Flash. Oh, but not because it's cheaper and that's where he can make bigger margins. No, it's because the look would work best in Flash.

Okay, I'm definitely done with Flash for the moment. Honest.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Derek Versus Dad

Gah, blogger hates this format. Ah well, not to worry.
So I was thinking about Derek Versus Life. The thing is, with kids, most of the problems come from parents. All those scary-ass real life things are filtered through in the form of the craziness of your parents.

So here, for example, Derek doesn't know that his dad is worried about losing his job, has a slight alcohol problem, is tortured every day by feelings that what is going on in Gitmo is wrong, is afraid of pedophiles getting to his kid, wishes he could ask his missus for all that kinky stuff he actually wants to do, wonders if he could have made a go of that band he was in once and so on.

All Derek knows is that there are no hard and fast rules on how his dad will react. He's a crazy bastard. And that's how kids see the problems in the world I think.

But you can't really make a kid's cartoon about that, can you? Really? Wouldn't that make for a generation of messed-up kids? Possibly. Maybe the truth would make that craziness easier to handle but I doubt it. Could make a funny theraputic show for adults though. I don't know. Would be nice to make a show based on the truth about being a kid.

Besides, nobody would air this. Although, that said, channels air Barney and I think that show is an attack by the US on the rest of the world. It's worse than having the US bring democracy to your country. No offense to people in the US of course. Unless you're responsible for Barney, in which case I wish you all the offense I could possibly muster. Maybe some crazy loons would air Derek Versus Life. But I'd have to work on the look to make it more like other cartoons out there.

And maybe make him a cosmic explorer or something.

Time for a rethink maybe.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Ooh! I'm on the web!

Was browsing Cold Hard Flash this morning when I saw a familiar image. It was me! Seems someone took note of my Flash ramblings. Well that's just lovely of them.

Insightful, eh?



Thanks, Cold Hard Flash guys! I appreciate the mention.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Derek Versus Life

So I started working on 'Derek Versus Life' - my cartoon show about a kid who is a complete loser. Finally, a show about real children. But I hit a real wall.

I couldn't decide if life was this place full of scary, hateful people, paranoia, media lies, greed, death and pain...

Or just completely devoid of anything.

What do you think?

Monday, February 4, 2008

Flash - for the moment

So I think, ultimately, Flash and its equivalents will be harmful to animation and harmful to those employed by the animation industry. I don't like what it is, what it does and what it's doing to animation. But, right now, it's keeping people employed. Right now, it's helping shows get off the ground. Right now, it comes with a lot of positives.

And it's not going to go away.

I've learned to use Flash and I think anyone in animation today should because we are not living in an age where one can specialise any more. Animators need to be jacks (or jills) of all trades to be employable. And Flash does offer quick means of expression as a bonus.

I know if I get a show going in the next few years, it will have to be produced in Flash. That's just the reality of budgets over here. And accepting that means the design can be tailored right from the start to work with those methods rather than against them.

And there is good Flash out there. If you're curious, keep an eye out at the Cold Hard Flash blog - they have showcased some great work. Sure, it's not traditional, but it's not all atrocious by any means. And a lot of cartoons are just really entertaining regardless of technique or animation ability.

Sometimes the animation is just an expression of ideas and that's okay.

There was way too much rambling about Flash over the last week so I'll let that positive note be the end of it for the time being. I guess we'll see where the industry takes us or, hopefully, where we take the industry.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Flash as its own form

There is also the argument that Flash is simply another form of animation, like stop-motion or cut-out or whatever and should be taken on its own with its own positives and negatives.

This is a view I would be inclined to support. After all, you can't get the same things in cut-out animation that you can get from traditional hand-drawn animation but that doesn't mean cut-out animation doesn't have merit or isn't valid. Cut-out animation brings its own character and can be really entertaining - just look at Terry Gilliam's Monty Python work.

Similarly, Flash has its own limits and should be taken on its own... right?

Well, the problem here is that Flash is being used as a direct replacement for 2D. It's faux 2D. If anything, a huge amount of studios using Flash are trying to fool you into thinking it's not Flash because Flash was a dirty word for a while in the industry - not so much now. If Flash is being used as faux 2D, then it should stand up to direct comparisons.

But it doesn't.