Monday, February 28, 2011

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Bambi, humans are basically good.

Hey, next time you need to do a quick and dirty 16 frame gallop cycle in After Effects, feel free to use this handy reference. You don't even need to credit me! WHAT AN OPPORTUNITY.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

My boards are horrifyingly ugly.

The board:

The finished frame:

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Making Things : Olde Jersey and the One Minute Project.

So I was prepping an entry on the various ways I have animated water over the years, as it's something I've received some comments on and wanted to talk a bit about it. Maybe I will at some point, but I got distracted by something I found while looking for the project file for Man And Cat At The End Of The World. Then I thought it would be fun to do a post every once in awhile, similar to the wrap up posts I do after a project, but more about the general process of making things.

So, would you like to see the first attempt I ever made at an animated short in After Effects?

Of course you would.

This little piece of whimsy hails from early 2008. You can really tell how impressed I was by the end credits of A Series Of Unfortunate Events. Oh, those credits. The design, the motion, the music - they're still so perfect and even better than the movie before them. They were worth the ticket price all by themselves.

I had been using After Effects for about a year prior, mainly as a post-production space for the cartoons I was still making in Flash. FLASH! I would kick out an .avi using swf2video, and then load it into After Effects for color correction and yes, lens flares. But it wasn't until 2008 that I began really using AE in earnest as a production tool. It was so incredibly liberating to be working with the software and I immediately wanted to make a short using my new found knowledge.

In late 2007 I had attempted a webcomic. I laugh at this now. Comics are something I don't read a ton of, aside from the work of Mike Mignola and Chris Ware. My wife is burning through Fables as well but I haven't picked it up yet. I didn't grow up reading comics and have zero interest in superheroes, aside from the occasional Batman book and of course The Watchmen. But for some reason I thought I could pull off a long-term comic, with all the craft, skill and dedication that entails. I was very wrong, but the concept behind the comic was interesting enough to stick with me.

It was called Olde Jersey, an obvious play on my beloved home state. It took place in a seaside city and concerned various residents, from starving artists to corrupt officials. There was Mingus, a struggling artist trying to make his rent and pay protection money to a hulking prairie dog. A run in with that same prairie dog has resulted in a fractured skull, and afterward Mingus would sometimes see the spirits of the dead. There was Anya, a first-generation immigrant from eastern Europe whose family had fled this universe's version of the Bolsheviks. And then there was Brunswick, a crow who belonged to an all-bird anarchist cell called The Daylights. He was young and wide-eyed, all hopped up on revolutionary rhetoric and ready to burn the whole city to the ground. The principle storyline was to involve Brunswick, Mingus and Anya becoming friends and finding themselves embroiled in a plot by The Daylights to blow up a cafe in which the mayor and his college friend (who happened to be the head of a local band of thieves) routinely met. Visually, it was my (very rough) take on doing a gritty, penny-dreadful version of the world you saw in old Fleischer and Van Buren studio cartoons- animals with big heads and notched pupils in this fantasy early 20th-century environment. I even did it in a faux-sepia tone palette. It was a cool idea and I would still love to do it as a cartoon, though I'd probably need some foolhardy network to finance the damn thing and we all know that's not going to happen. Oh, you're interested in seeing some pages? Alright then.

Oh lord. The writing. The artwork.
Hey! There's some water! This post IS on topic!
This is Mingus, standing in for me as an impoverished artist. I like that owl.
I was very into vernacular dialogue. Still am.

After running for about 35 pages, I had to admit that I wouldn't be able to carry a comic out. I was pretty bummed, as were the three people or so who humored me and read it. But the next spring when I was looking for something to make in After Effects, I thought of doing little vignettes based in Olde Jersey. "Fishing" was to be the first, and it would chronicle the passing along of a cursed ring that meant certain doom for whomever it was given to. It had been on the finger of a young bride who cast herself into the sea after her fiance drowned. As she sank, the devil changed her into a fish and doomed her to eternally swim, coughing up the ring when caught and swallowing it again when it found it's way from the cold hand of it's wearer back to the sea. The clip up top was the first section of six. Again, a neat idea. Again, too much to handle at the time. And it just kinda sat on my hard drive, mocking me for a good year and a half afterward. For me, there are few things more discouraging than setting out a bid project for which I am excited and then finding that for some reason I can't continue it. At the time, I felt as though I'd never be able to complete anything, let alone this Olde Jersey thing which had now twice overwhelmed me.

This brings me more or less to the point of this entry. It wasn't until late 2009, when I had been laid off from my studio job, that I sat down and made Man And Cat At The End Of The World. The moderate success it achieved online spurred me on to keep making original shorts and that has basically gotten me what career I have today. I am indebted to everyone who commented and emailed and re-posted it - you made me think I could make things. But I also learned something very important, in regards to personal projects - make them small. There's a popular thing that Nick Campbell over at GreyScaleGorilla does called Five Second Projects. Those kids are all slick and glossy and 4d, so they can make something awesome in 5 seconds. I need a bit longer, so I have my One Minute Projects. The goal is to make something one minute long. One minute is easy, but substantial enough to be engrossing. A one minute piece has the chance of becoming something that stands on it's own. Sometimes they end up being 30 seconds. Sometimes they're over a minute. But they always get done once I commit to them (with one notable exception, which you'll find at the bottom of this entry). The World/Inferno video Please My Favorite Don't Be Sad was a One Minute Project, as were Rebranding and On The Subject Of Depression. What Man and Cat taught me, and what each One Minute Project thereafter has reminded me of, is that completing something is the best way to ensure you'll complete something else. I need to figure out the latin, engrave it on a plaque and hang it right over my workstation. So my advice for just about anyone who wants make something for themselves, or to give to others, is to go for quality over quantity. Make a great short film instead of an okay longer one. Do one minute of the best animation you can muster as opposed to 5 minutes that you know you'll never get through. Simple is best. If it's a complicated idea, figure out how to do it in a simple manner. There are amazing people who can crank out long-form awesomeness with alarming regularity. I am not one of them. If you are like me, then I can only recommend that you also put together a One Minute Project of your own, show it to other people and see what happens. In the end, if you're like me, you'll look back and see a variety of interesting, completed pieces as opposed to one gargantuan, unwieldy project that sits on your hard drive reminding you that you'll never finish it and you'll never finish anything because you're not talented enough and that you should probably just go back to playing Civilization 5 because it will always be there for you. Civilization 5 always love you.

Oh, as far as the One Minute Project I never completed, it was a sparse, minimalist piece about something I experience called Time-Space Synaesthesia. I actually thought everyone visualized and experienced time this way, and while my wife has spent the last few years assuring me that most people do not, it took me actually reading some articles about it to convince me that it wasn't as common as I thought. At least it answered why I have such great anecdotal memory. So I thought I'd make a little video to explain my experience with it. What a super interesting concept! And you know what? It was super boring. I thought that working with no characters, almost no color and no whimsy would be an interesting change. No sir. I imagine for the viewer this is like watching someone's vacation slides if they took a trip to County Solipsism for the annual feast of Look-At-Me-Aren't-I-Interesting. Well, you can judge for yourself by watching this never-to-be-completed video.

So I supposed the second lesson learned is to know when to stop. Know when you're not going to finish something and just kill it and move on. Save the idea for a later date and make it better, or recycle parts of it for something else. Or maybe just dredge them up for a blog post. I'd love to see the unfinished, rough, and otherwise killed projects from the artists and animators I adore.

Oh, and I should mention that the music in these videos was done by Yann Tiersen and Penguin Club Cafe, respectively. They are both absolutely fantastic and you should track them down.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Group Think

I'm pretty well booked until mid- April on two very cool projects for two very cool clients. Consequently, I won't be able to post much from each until they are done. But oh, what the heck. We'll do a frame or two every once in awhile. You'll also definitely dig the post-mortems on both of them.