Monday, April 30, 2007

TBS Cut Out Tutorial pt 1.... FINALLY!

OK, here is my first attempt at a video tutorial. Throughout the following I will give a demonstration of how to set up a cut-out character using Toon Boom Studio. I'll take an original drawing, and show you how to cut it into pieces, then rig those pieces up much like a puppet so that we can finally set our character into motion. I have brought in most of the elements of my character prior to the tutorial, but I do give an example of how I got them into the exposure sheet from the global library. If you feel like you need some more instruction on the fundamentals, or if you don't quite understand how I got to where I begin the tutorial, please check out Steve Ryan's video tuts, which you can find links to in the TBS forums. They cover TBS from the very basic stuff on, & even though they were done for V 2.0, they still apply in almost every sense.

If this tutorial is any good at all, it should leave you with a basic understanding of cut-out characters, and how to manipulate them. Going hand in hand with that I will touch on the use of pegs in Toon Boom, which are an extremely useful and versetile part of the program. While this tutorial is not dedicated specifically to pegs, I should be able to give a few decent examples of the many ways in which they can be used. Hopefully someone learns something useful here, that is the idea of course. Please leave me any questions, comments or suggestions either here or via the toon boom forums.

The video quality isn't the best, but anyone using TBS should be able to follow it without any confusion, just some lines get a bit messy looking, and for some reason my cursor doesn't retain the shape of the tools I use, it always looks like an arrow. Not sure why, but any time I change tools I say what I'm doing, so you should be able to follow along. Other than that all I'd really like is for it to be in full screen size,... if anyone knows how I can embed it as such please let me know, you can see everything, but full screen would be a little clearer. This may be the best I can do working within the confines of free video hosting but I will keep trying. Anyway, without further disclaimers....

Click here to watch "Cut-Out-Tutorial-pt-1"

I hope it's helpful & logical. That's just part one, more is coming very soon where we will set up peg heirarchy, play with the Z-axis, set pivot points, and finally put our character in motion. Stay Toon'd!

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Tutorial Update

Ok, after MUCH fooling around with the settings on my screen capture program, I've finally had some success. Recording audio & video together wasn't working for me no matter what I tried, so then I tried playing the video back with the sound muted & recording the audio over top. That didn't work either. Finally this morning it dawned on me to record the audio by itself in Audacity, and setting my screen capture to record audio from the speakers, not the mic. This seemed to make a huge difference, and there is barely any gap between audio & video now.

Due to file size, I've also broken the tut up into several chunks. It will probably be 3 or 4 in total, but they will break at logical places so it's no big deal. Best I can do with limited video hosting. Anyway, part one is complete & in working order, and I now know how to get good results so the other parts will be finished pretty quick. The only reason part one isn't up here now is that I finished it 30 seconds before leaving for work, so I will try to upload it tomorrow morning. Sorry it's taken this long, I thought the process would be a bit more straightforward than it turned out.

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Saturday, April 28, 2007

Episode 1 Script

I just finished the script for episode one of "The Early Birds". I'm actually very pleased with it as it stands. If I tweak anything it will be the ending, I'm not sure I have the best "closing line" so to speak, but it's not bad. You won't know if I tweak it anyway since I'm not going to show you the whole thing, but I will show a part of it as an example of the scriptwriting process.

In the overall workflow, I tend to write scripts just after or near the end of my character design phase(note that the char design phase never really ends, just watch bugs bunny evolve over 50+ yrs). Anyway, I don't know if that's a necessary order, in fact I'm almost sure it's not, but for me it is, that's how my head works. I start with an initial concept, in this case it was something to do with fishing buddies. From there I start figuring what these characters will look like, and along with that, what they will act like. I don't need to know every detail of their personality just yet, just generalities at this point. But that is enough to start writing, which helps bring out more specific personality traits. I could never start storyboarding or anything else before I wrote a script. If you can, I'm really in no position to knock it, but I honestly wouldn't recommend it either.

As with everything else involved in creating a cartoon, scriptwriting is a process, it involves many revisions, however slight they may be. You may find you end up trashing the majority of your original script by the time you finish a project, even though it seems like a waste of effort, it's perfectly fine, that's the nature of the beast. A script must evolve & adapt in order to get the timing and flow that is so important to any production.

As an example I've posted one page of my first draft, and the same page, but from the 4th draft. I don't think there are too many changes except for some minor wording, but even that can make a difference. The most obvious change is from chicken-scratch to typed. Everyone works differently, and I tend to do most of my writing in the wee hours of the morning while sitting in bed. From there, as you can see, I obviously have to type it or even I wouldn't be able to read it. When I type my scripts I use (more or less) the industry standard format. I don't include everything to the letter, but I do as far as starting off with a description of the scenes establishing shot, & center justifying the dialogue. Something I do on my own is add little references for my storyboard. You'll see circled numbers on the handwritten page & highlighted text "SB #" throughout the typed version. These refer to my storyboard notes.

I don't know if storyboard notes is the proper term or if it even is a term, but what I like to do before drawing anything is to visualize & write down what I want to draw. I number these notes & the #'s correspond to my yet un-drawn storyboard sketches. I do this as soon as I write my first draft of the script & I make revisions to both, because they act as a unit. When I write all these notes out, I plug the numbers into the script, & it gives me a great feel for the timing of the action before I even draw a single sketch.

Now I have a much clearer mental picture of what to draw & I can start storyboarding. I also know how many storyboard sketches I will need (give or take a few). Sometimes I need to add more boards to really capture a certain motion or get timing just right, & when this happens I just make a new note & call it "SB#a". I find this whole process keeps my thoughts & workflow fairly logical, & so far it's been working well for me.

That's all for now, hopefully I threw a useful tip in there somewhere. I hope what you can see of the script looks promising, it's funny how tempting it is to seek opinions from everyone who will read it, but I don't want to go giving it all away now... so you're only getting a page. I'll be sure to post some storyboards once I have enough to be worth looking at.

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Saturday, April 21, 2007

Only 99,000+ to go!

I just found this while stumbling around for something to read. It's a book by Hugh Kenner entitled "Chuck Jones: A Flurry of Drawings." I haven't read the entire thing yet, & I started out of order with the chapter called "Termite Terrace," since that's the page I first came upon, but it didn't seem to matter. It is very well written & provides a great deal of insight into the series of events both planned & unplanned that resulted in some of the most creative & talented minds of the day coming together in a veritable "perfect storm" of cartoonists. I'm speaking of course of names like Tex Avery, Chuck Jones, & Bob Clampett, all of whose work is the stuff we call genius.

There is really so much I want to comment on just from the single chapter I read, but I will try to keep my commentary shorter than the book itself. For one thing, I took note of what Chuck said regarding his mother's encouragement when he was young. She never criticized him, but just as importantly, never excessively praised his work. Rather, she would comment on the colors, shapes & such that he used in each piece. He also made the point that she didn't look at his drawing first, she looked at him. His eyes were enough to tell her how she should react, and she obviously knew her son well, because her encouragement paid off in spades down the line.

Also, it is obvious what an influence literature had on Jones, particularly in the area of character design. Kenner was sure to point out how much thought Jones actually put into his characters seemingly random & wacky behavior, but everything was done for a reason.

Something else I found extremely interesting was the fact that much of what came out of Warner Bros. in the early 40's was almost accidental. In a sense, some great toons came about throught the neglect of Jones' boss, Leon Schlesinger. Hugh Kenner refers speciffically to the Minah Bird toons, which Jones' could't even believe was ever released. What's funny is that up until that point, WB had been chasing Disney, and were seemingly desperate to imitate Disney's "perfectly drawn" style. Cue the role reversal, because with the release of Minah Bird, Disney began trying to capture & emulate the "gag" style of Warner Bros(coincidentally with no more success than WB had in imitating Disney).

Finally, what Kenner makes abundantly clear about Jones is his work ethic. Jones is famous for saying we all have 100,000 bad drawings in us, & it was his belief that one should expel all of those failures as quickly as possible. I can't even wrap my head around that number, but it seems like his 100,000 was nothing more than proverbially clearing his throat, & once they were done it was time to really start. START!! after that many drawings... start!? I suppose I'm on my way though, since more of my drawings are bad than good the numbers are beginning to stack up. It's unreal to me just how many cells of animation this man has produced, I wouldn't be surprised if he could throw a stack of cells in the air & have them all painted before they hit the ground. Something to aspire to...

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Friday, April 20, 2007

Getting Permission To Use Copyrighted Material

I mentioned in my last post that I want to use Louis Prima's "When You're Smiling" as the theme song for my Early Birds cartoon. I can only assume there are plenty of people like me who would like to use real songs & such, but either don't know how to get permission, or think it will cost too much. I'm sure there are also a percentage that just use songs anyway without permission. That's at your own risk, but the way I look at it is this: If I ever DO get my stuff seen by as many people as I'd like, then stealing that song will only bite me in the ass. It's probably pretty safe if no one sees your stuff, but beware success if you choose to use other people's material without permission. Anyway, here is how I've gone about asking to "borrow" Louis Prima's song.

The very first thing I did was of course google Louis Prima. Upon finding his homepage I just used the "contact me" link, and asked some preliminary questions to find out who I needed to contact in order to get permission. I also gave some basic info regarding the project I'm working on & what I want to do with the song. Gia Prima,(not sure what relation) was kind enough to reply to my questions, and quickly at that. She gave me the name of the record company and the publisher who own the song, & informed me that I'll need a permission license from both parties. She couldn't give me any guarantees of course, but wished me luck & seemed to take a genuine interest in what I'm doing here as well. She even asked me to send her the toon, which I thought was really cool. I will post an update when I hear anything from either the record co or publisher, hopefully with good news, but either way, I thought I'd share the process of seeking permission for copyrighted material, & I hope you find it useful.

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Sunday, April 15, 2007

Some storyboards for intro to Early Birds & the purpose they serve...

Before I say anything else, let me make it very clear that I am not a professional (or even very good) storyboard artist. But I know I'm doing at least one thing right with it & that is leaving myself a very clear set of instructions for the animatic and eventual finished piece that are to come. This is of the utmost importance when storyboarding, as it is one of the most fundamentally important parts of the pre-production phase of any animation. A completed storyboard should resemble a comic strip, with still panels of the key moments in the action conveying the story. The finished storyboard will therefore serve as the best & only blueprint that you will have to work with as your project progresses, so you will want to put some effort into this phase to save yourself a lot of heartache down the line...

If I have an idea for how I want something to look, or how a certain action will be timed, I would never be able to make it work if I just started my project by trying to draw each & every frame once & once only. Everything is a process, and the storyboard is a big part of the animation process (not to mention TV & Film). If it is neglected, it will certainly be noticeable in the final product. Here is a great post I found in the archives of JK's blog which articulates the importance of storyboarding much more clearly than I could hope to do.

There are many sites that give lessons & tutorials about how to create storyboards, a simple google search will find you a bunch, & be careful as they don't all agree with each other completely. They do however emphasise the importance of clear communication. This may be obvious if you are working in a team environment, but is often overlooked just the same. Equally bad, many people feel that storyboarding is completely unnecessary if they are working on a project alone. Big mistake. Communicating effectively with yourself is just as important as communicating with a co-worker. There are plenty of times I go a day or two without being able to touch my work, and if I didn't leave myself clear notes & illustrations to come back to, I'd be totally lost. Saying you keep all your ideas "up here" in your noodle is just a recipe for disaster in which you are bound to forget that one perfect idea you had the other day.

There are storyboard templates available online to download, programs specifically designed for digital and/or traditional storyboarding, and of course the option I choose with most things in life... making your own. The template I've been using so far was created very simply in powerpoint, and is doing the job for me thus far. All I needed was a white rectangle, a yellow rectangle & a few lines for notes. I have a few alterations in mind, such as leaving more space for camera notes & dialogue, but I've been able to squeeze in what I need so it's nothing major. You could just as easily make your own with simple programs like paint, & powerpoint, or use something more advanced like photoshop or toon boom, and customize your template to your liking. Just check out some examples of professionally used templates online & include the elements you will need. Moving on...

I have a good number of storyboard sketches for the Early Birds intro that I'm working on. Some of them are rougher than others, but as with everything else, they will be refined along the way. Ideally, I want to use Louis Prima's version of "When You're Smiling" (or at least a portion) as the theme song for the intro. It has a great tempo, is catchy, & I think it will help with the old school feel I'm trying to achieve overall. What I've got so far will help me as I work on the timing of certain actions that I want to go along with specific parts of the song, & you can see that in some of my notes, if you can read them that is.

So far I have 16 sketches done, and I don't think I'll need more than 20 - 22 to finish it up. I will, however, add some more panels in certain spots to elaborate on key poses & action sequences. Some specific examples of this would be panels 2 - 7, in which Larry is all over the place. Ron's actions are slower & more deliberate here, but I will most likely draw out Larry's actions on a larger sheet & insert more panels (i.e. 2A, 3A, 3B, etc.) until I get the timing & flow that I want. I'll do the same with panels 13 - 14 as well, as I want to perfectly time Cyn being yanked out of the ground, stretching waaaaaaaay out, & then snapping back into shape. Also, the first camera moves happen through these panels, so I want to polish them up & make sure I get the right field of view. I also included the blank panels 17-20 to show how a tiny note to self can be so helpful. When I have time to work on it again, I'll know right where I left off & what I had planned at the time.

That's all I've got for now, I'll get the rest of the storyboard up as soon as it's finished, and hopefully an animatic shortly after that. I just downloaded a screen capture program as well, so I may take a stab at doing a video tutorial on something Toon Boom related.

Cheers for now...

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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Larry Facial Expressions

Well, I promised to be done by this afternoon, & no matter how you slice it, it is most definitely after noon... I did manage to get finished though, & I had a lot of fun with this exercise. It was a challenge for sure, not so much in technical difficulty, but in that I really had to force myself to visualize what Larry would look like with each expression. I'm glad I did it though, & I can honestly say I didn't cut any corners, at least not knowingly. I'm not married to all the colors, but for the most part I like them. Still need to play with the inside of his mouth a bit, & his hands as well. Should I make them separate from the arm like in the "Yell" pose? or just have them blend in as I have it in the rest of the drawings? Any auggestions are appreciated.

Now without further adieu, here are my first and second drafts, along side Preston Blair's version using Jerry. This is a good example of using different colored pencils on the rough sheet in order to get the good lines for the inked version. Hope you enjoy, & please let me know where you think I can make improvements. Also, I don't like the image quality on this file, so here is a link to a better image of Larry.

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Monday, April 9, 2007

Updates soon!

Just a quick note in case anyone is checking. I have completed my page of facial expressions for Larry, & will have it posted here by tomorrow afternoon at the latest. Along with that I should have a few storyboard sketches to post as well. Finally, if not tomorrow, hopefully on Wednesday I'll have a post comparing & contrasting hand-drawn, frame by frame animation with cut-out characters in Toon Boom Studio. Thats all for now, keep checking in.

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Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Drawing, poses, and character design tips

I made some comments about character design in my last post, and I've been involved in several discussions lately involving the drawing process (yes it is a process), so I thought it would be useful to show how these are of the utmost importance to a quality toon. I will start with drawing. When I first got into cartooning & started drawing a lot, I was absolutely addicted to my eraser. I used it more than I used my pencil, but my drawing skill was not really improving. Maybe eventually I got close to what I wanted, but not usually, & even if I did, it was hard to ink the right lines on a new page because of so many rubbed out lines on the first draft. I was advised by some people to stop using the eraser and instead use different colored pencils to correct bad lines. This was some of the best advice I have ever received, because by leaving your bad lines where they are, you can draw a good one where they aren't. Whenever I erased anything, 90% of the time I drew another line right over the one I just erased, then erased it again!(rinse & repeat?) When I started sketching in color, it became much easier to alter my drawing without erasing, & you can see that in a couple sketches on my last post. The end result of this method is that in time you will end up being able to make more confident strokes with your pencil/pen, and you will be LESS prone to making the same mistakes, whereas when you erase all the time, you will be just as likely to re-draw the same bad lines.
Another thing I find to be an integral part of the drawing process is making revisions. I usually start out with a very loose & rough sketch that captures the general idea of what I want, i.e. body position, size etc. Then on a fresh sheet & using a light table, I go over all of the good lines from the first drawing & tighten up the bad ones (this can be done digitally in TBS using the light table feature). This usually leaves me with a decent drawing but probably not perfect. This is where I look for details that could/should be added. Mouth positions, facial expressions & hand gestures can all add tons of personality to your drawing if they are done properly. Doing them properly requires as much or more discipline as it does talent. That may sound strange at first, but the fact is that the world is full of extremely talented individuals that never had the perserverence or discipline to amount to anything. *steps off soap-box*
So, now we need to work on some of those expressions & poses. This part of the process takes alot of thought, and the more you put into it, the more you will get out. The best tip I can give is to follow in the footsteps of Preston Blair. He was one of the most talented cartoonists there was, and whether you know it or not, you all know much of his work from Disney & MGM. The following pics are pages from his books that illustrate alot of what I said about building a final drawing through a series of revisions & stages. I'm sure his drawings carry more weight than my words, but to futher illustrate the importance of doing all this, I will give myself a homework assignment & try to duplicate the page of facial expressions using my character Larry. It will be a challenge for me, but I will be better for having done it, and I strongly suggest you do it too.

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