Sunday, April 13, 2008
Reducing the Lazy Factor in an Independent Film
One of the burdens of this age of limited animation is an automatic tendency to split characters into levels, animating only bits and pieces of a character while the rest of the character holds. Don’t get me wrong, I think full animation carries its own curse (where nothing ever stops moving. Think Rock-a-Doodle). Somewhere, there should be a happy medium. Its important to note, in this age of flash-bashing, that held animation levels were invented long before there was flash. Cell animation pioneered this factory friendly technique over eighty years ago. Flash or no flash, animators, particularly those making independent films, have to make a conscious effort to not automatically slick-ify their production values to the point of making a product undistinguishable from the latest show on Cartoon Network or Nickelodeon.
Flash or After Effects lets us make films in our living room sans paper, cells, and especially a clunky expensive Oxberry camera. My latest film, Good Morning, cost me next to nothing to make, while my film from ten years ago, Snow Business, cost 10,000 bucks! However, while these programs allow one to make a film without the prohibitive steps and cost of yesterday, they also tempt us into taking shortcuts that compromise our creative vision. Flash and After Effects encourage animators to “puppet” their characters to limit the amount of new art that needs to be created. Puppeting is just today’s version of limited animation. If Flash puppeting had been available in 1959, it would have been used to animate the limited animation classic Rocky and Bullwinkle.
Still, the shame of Flash or After Effects in the hands of the independent animator is that it lets one so easily sink into limited animation doldrums. While such a production style would be understandable in a TV product where deadlines and budget is tight, it doesn’t make sense for the independent animator to embrace such limitations unless they would best do the project justice. Most of the time, we animators take these shortcuts out of laziness or restlessness to get the end product as soon as possible. Instead, we ought to be making the appropriate choice of animation styling, whatever that might be, so that our projects might reach their full potential.
Anyone who’s worked in Flash or After Effects has to know that the programs themselves should not be blamed. Both programs allow the artist to the replicate hand drawn animation techniques of yesterday, with none of the drawbacks of past production. I’m currently working on a new film, Owl and Rabbit Play Checkers. The original character art (NOT shown here) was created in a flat flash friendly style, using Illustrator, back in 2004. When I made the decision to animate this film in 2008, I opted for a much warmer hand drawn feeling (see above). The new styling was achieved by drawing directly into a wacom tablet in the same technique I used for my film Good Morning. I’m not puppeting my animation. I’m drawing every frame, even though sometimes I may time the drawings on 3s or 4s. The result is very expressive and lets me really get into the acting. This is all the more important because this is a two character film and the success of it all depends on really establishing the differences between these characters.
As for laziness? I suffer from that as much as any animator…but, I’ve figured out a way to make handrawn animation work for me in just as quick a manner as puppeted animation. The secret is not such a secret. This technique allows me to animate with a finished line. There’s no going back to pencil drawings later and cleaning them up to find the polished ink line. I’m not worrying about that. If lines get a little loose or intersect that's okay. This may sound lazy (and maybe it is), but the result is full of life and all the happy accidents that can only come from the human touch. There’s no scanning, because I’m drawing directly into photoshop. The color technique I’m using is also fast and direct, coloring loosely in photoshop with a simulated crayon brush. I don’t need my animation to look like Cartoon Network. When Cartoon Network pays me to make a pilot for them, then, I’ll worry about that problem. For now, I’m making an independent film, and I find half the fun is discovering and slaying whatever obstacles might be in the way so that, in the end, the film wins.