The Animatress Pipeline

Filmmaking Adventures

Robert and Simon

You will performing just over two hours from now in Napa and I can not be there to cheer you on in full cosplay. At least I can give you this drawing to show my support and console myself for foregoing concert and airline tickets to pay my bills as far into to the long, bleak teacher’s summer ahead. Dazzle those who are there to see you with your brilliance dear Cure. I hope to see you next time you perform in a city near my home.

 

Much love and devotion,

Ashanti

Shoulder Girdle Tutorial

shouldergirdle 2In the 90’s when I was young and spoiled at Warner Bros., I was given the opportunity to revise a storyboard for an artist on the Batman series. I was very excited to get the work and did my best on the revision, but the artist I was working for saw a problem: despite multiple revisions, I could not draw a 3/4 on a character running away properly. At the time I was a junior at Cal Arts and I hadn’t learned how to break up the male torso yet. Little did I know, the muscle group that includes the trapezius, the latissimus and the lumber furrow, known to animators as “The Kite”, was the secret to finding the forms in the back. I didn’t learn that until senior year. I knew how to break up a female torso at any angle, but not a male. Thus another opportunity lost, because I did not take the time to observe men as much as women.

In my defense, there wasn’t much to look at in regards to male beauty in mid-90’s pret a porté fashion to inspire me. In influence of Morrissey, David Gahan and Robert Smith was gone and Kurt Cobain and Hip Hop was in—and never went awaaaaaay. Yeah, just try to find forms in grunge wear underneath all that flannel and over-sized clothing.

Beauty

Unmade Beds

However, now that I am working on a film that is a culmination of twenty years of experience as a professional, I take issue with my shortcomings on a personal level. Hence, the floating girdle tutorials.

As you see here, this upshot of Fred, Kate and Cindy is pretty flat. Sure the roughs look pretty at a glance, but any traditional animation veteran will tell you that the clean ups/inks will be flat because there isn’t enough information in the rough and as it turns out, they’d be correct.

By “information” in animation we mean form. Form is difficult to achieve if you don’t know anatomy well. The situation worsen when an artist stumbles across a region of anatomy with minimal landmarks. Hence we have part two of the floating girdle tutorials: The Shoulder Girdle.

The shoulder girdle and torso on a man is a tricky bit of machinery. When developed it is easy to find the forms needed to structure the torso, but when there is no definition, it is an indecipherable mass that is difficult to draw. Unlike women, men have no flared hips to provide land marks for the torso. Sure there is the rib cage, but the rib cage is not a very inspiring structure to draw. There needs to be more to keep the artist interested in the body and maintain volumes when turning a male character around.

Most life male life models use the doryphoros stance as their main 20 minute pose, but what an animator and sequential artist needs is movement. Few models can hold a dynamic pose for 20-40 minutes, so what I suggest is taking screen captures from film footage and tracing over the subject to study the forms. If you really want to get meticulous you can import video into Flash, early versions of the applications are best if you still have you old computers around. They import video without a bunch of aS3 settings to deal with or you can simply open an aS2 file. However, for this tutorial screen captures and Adobe Illustrator will be used.

Moonwater

First we gesture draw to loosen up.

The dancer in this piece has a nicely defined torso and is moving in a way that is useful for comics and film. He may be performing interpretive dance, but it is easy to appropriate the poses for a superhero creating energy fields with their powers and characters fighting. This is great reference.

The kinesiology (muscle and bone) I used to structure the gesture of this character are the

  • clavicle
  • rib cage
  • pectorals
  • rhomboids
  • latissimus
  • obliques
  • trapezius

—and of course governed the weight with the pelvis. The head is the heaviest structure, but the pelvis is the ballast (counter weight) of the body. Notice how in the pics that don’t feature the back the muscle groups are still pulled towards the rear? This is because I am using the Kite as the governing muscle group.

The following images are of the kite visible from the side. The latissimus is the most visible muscle here and it’s a great way to split the body down the sagittal plane in profile shots. Isn’t Arnold and his colleagues great for this study?

The Kite is the largest muscle group that pertains to animation (with the diaphragm membrane to counter it in the front across the abdominals) in the torso, therefore all of the other muscles are attached to it either directly or via a neighboring muscle that is attached to the Kite. When drawing form, you must draw what is not visible. You do this by drawing using construction lines in a rough technical drawing before erasing what you don’t need after the “math” is done and then applying the final clean up line. That’s illustration. In animation, another sheet of paper is placed over the rough, which serves as an under-drawing and then a clean up line drawn on the fresh sheet of paper.

Below is a good example of the latissimus on adolescent boys. This is great if you are working on an action-adventure show like Teen Titans or Ben 10.

Let’s break down the reference.

This is a sequence from Angels With Dirty Faces. The boys are playing basketball and become aggressive when vying for the ball. This is good reference for fight scenes and working on sports themed cartoons like Space Jam and An Extremely Goofy Movie as well as the Bugs Bunny and Crusher shorts.

Swing struggles with the ball with another player. He is crouched over, so his back is partially exposed. This is a very difficult pose to draw from imagination. Usually, I map out the line of action to govern the gesture before drawing, but not here. There are a lot of obscured structures that must be eked out, so I drew the overall shape, using the egg and flower sack method and then sought the pelvis (drawn in blue) first. Weight is very, very important!

For the second tier of the exercise I included the line of action (green) and drew through the forms. While revising, I toggled the drawing layer on and off to find mistakes. My findings exposed my misinterpretation of the direction of the head in the reference layer, which I corrected. Then I corrected the anatomy. For example, the pectorals begin more at the center of the underarm not the rear. To make sure of my assumption, I found another scene which showed how the pecs attach under the arms neighboring the latissimus muscle which is part of the Kite to confirm.


As usual, good ol’ Swing provided the reference I needed. Here’s a good example of how the latissimus splits the body in half in the sagittal plane (side to side).

In the final stage, I deleted all the construction lines and tightened up the character. I now have a clean pose to use toward my animation or sequential art panel.

The Pectorals
Another part of the torso that is tricky is breaking up the pectoral muscles and attaching them to the shoulder girdle. A common mistake is to draw the pectorals like a breast and simply drawing a short line down the middle of the chest to suggest the pectorals for lithe build or puff breast indicated by a U-shape for a heavier build. This works great as a design that is not going to move much, but not for animation. Animators need more information.

From Tutorials


Studying the female form is not to bad of an idea for studying men. Especially women with well defined deltoids or who’s greater pectorals that are flat at the top near the deltoids are clearly distinguishable from the rest of the breast like Tilda Swinton in Orlando ( shown immediately above). The deltoids are the muscle on top and side of the greater pectoral/breast that spreads the cap of the upper arm. This muscle group includes the deltoid, pectorals major ( where the form is puffy or flat in areas on some women like the first female model shown) and pectorals minor ( where the nipple is). I have not learned of a euphemism for this structure, so let’s call it a “shelf”.

In this photo of Iggy Pop, you can see that he has very nicely developed deltoids. I broke it down a bit so you can see how everything connects. Note: I drew the map of the deltoids going through the pectorals, they really don’t attach that way. However, for the sake of execution a solid drawing I drew though the forms they neighbor. Remember drawing through shapes creates form. It’s what all animators must do, suspend your sense of reality sometimes.

Now as the arms move, the shelf flexes and contracts (or puffs up and flattens out if you prefer). It is very common for novice artists to draw this structure unchanging as the character moves, which is a mistake. It squashes and stretches just like the rest of the body, but remember all of that squash and stretch must work as part of the flow of the body. Easy enough. Just draw a line of action and you’ll know what the structure is doing according to the how the body is distributing it’s weight. For example, when the subject is lifting something and the arms are not extended, the shelf will contract. When the arms are extended the shelf will flex (flatten out). The body is meant to be functional. With the few exceptions like overly swollen breasts, an athletic body is designed aid the body in movement,not hinder it. So, as you see, no matter how puffy your muscles are, they will flatten out when they’re relaxed, just like Arnie and his friend’s muscles are here.

Putting it all together.
The muscle structure that connects the two halves of the body are the group around the waist, the abs, diaphragm membrane and obliques. Most animation character designers omit this area, so unless you have an obsession with the structure, you can skip it for now. Your character will probably run better without it anyway. However, if you design creatures, it may come in handy, so if you feel inclined, go find some nice oblique and abdominal reference. Have fun devising a name of your own to call it.

To whet you palette, here’s a good example of the obliques on the Transformers. Don’t scoff, this is a good way to study planes (no pun intended).

Here’s how I handled the obliques and shoulder girdle in the upshot of Fred. The obliques were actually necessary for this shot.
Underdrawing

Revised Rough

The ink of this character will be much more solid now that the lapels of the suit are drawn to convey the forms of the shoulder girdle muscles underneath.

REMEMBER TO USE A LIGHT TABLE TO CORRECT YOUR WORK
Your equilibrium will always correct distortions, so flip your drawings over a light table so your audience won’t see all of your mistakes.

I really can’t stress the importance of a light box enough. Even if you are a digital artist, you will still have to draw by hand sometimes, just for the precision of key scenes. Invest in a light table or light box. They can be pricey, but if you shop around schools, you’ll find that they’re willing to sell old equipment as they make room for the digital age. A class only needs a few light boxes, but previous generations of the course had thirty light boxes, one for each student. Hunt about and see if you can make a deal.


I’ve collected several light boxes over the years, including this whopper of a treasure for BG layout.

After learning how to structure an athletic ideal, draping girth on the body should be easier. Think of girth as clothes; just drape it off the muscle like starched clothing. Note the way I outlined James Cagney’s body here within his clothes. Can you think in reverse and substitute the cut of the suit for girth? Try it.

Eventually, when you are comfortable enough to actually have fun with the male form, you can play like Daemion George Cox here. For the women who this tutorial is mainly for, you’re at a disadvantage. Daemion is a guy, therefore he has a biological advantage for abstracting the male figure. Women who don’t see obliques when they look in the mirror everyday. But don’t despair. Daemions skill is not unattainable, but for a woman, perhaps it will just take a little while longer to match or even surpass. Regardless, have fun and loosen up when get the hang of drawing the make form.

Make it a habit of breaking down forms like this with screen captures. People move too quickly to jot down dynamic poses for tie down purposes from life. Sure it’s important to draw from life. That’s how you learn movement, so this technique is not a substitute for that. However, when it comes time tie down gestures, this is good practice. Here are more examples of analyzed forms and a more screen captures for you to drag to your desktop and practice on your own.

Good luck!

More Arnold

Oh, those darn obliques and now abdominals. Here’s a cartoon example of what to do with those darn things.


Here’s Edward G. Robinson He’s a stocky man, but he’s still elegant and agile in a suit

Also, try men of different ethnicities. See how much fuller the legs on this model are without having a wide super hero torso? It’s a trait on men as you move further east into Eurasia. This Native American yoga instructor, did not have to build his full legs. They’re just part of the natural flow of his body. Charlie Chaplin, who was Romani (originally from India, despite popular belief that Gyspies ( now a pejorative term, are from Egypt), had the same build. However, mankind does not just stay in one place and gene pools to integrate. Gene Kelly, who was Irish had full legs too, but he was also a dancer, so it’s up to speculation whether they were built along with his dance practice or an anomaly in his genetic make up. Most men we see who are of European decent, especially the North Sea, have thin legs while Asians, as mentioned before, have full legs.

Here’s an angle you probably wouldn’t think of out of your head.

Chris Hemsworth

Bruce Lee

Rocky Horror

Abercrombie and Fitch

Pop Quiz: Find both Dr. Frankenfurter’s shoulder girdle AND pelvis. Oh, those floating girdles. Tricky, but fun!

If you need a refresher on the pelvis, see the pelvis tutorial.

In a future post I’ll talk about how apply your sartorial aesthetic to the male figure. Now go make interesting male characters. It’s a boy’s world in the animation industry nowadays, ladies. But don’t despair and just make do, make the characters look better!

Kittens and Unicorns,

Ashanti

Animation Seminar at The Center Las Vegas

I taught an animation seminar at the Gay and Lesbian Center of Las Vegas last week. A good time was had by all. I learned that I can hold the attention of a room full of people in a teaching context and the kids received valuable information about the best art colleges on the West Coast–if not the country. It was great fun. I can’t wait for the master class!

Drawing Lola broke the ice of course. Thank you, Easter Bunny. Cal Arts, USC, Art Center and Otis-Parsons. You can’t go wrong with a commercial art degree from these fabulous schools!

Here’s a short video someone took with an iPhone. However I do wish they had caught my Rape of Persephone lecture. I told the class how it is the basis of all little girl lost stories. It was the perfect response to a student’s statement of how Howl’s Moving Castle is such a story and it may resonate with her, because, like Sophie and Persephone–a girl can not come out of her shell or grow up unless she leaves her mother’s influence and although subsequent she doesn’t have to be raped, but the girl is mentored by an older mysterious male.

Film Festival

What I promised

Dear students.
I can not upload the completed layout reel at this time. Reason being, I met with a potential client today who was not honest with her intentions. Therefore, I shall not submit the reel for it reveals too much information that should be the domain of a university and I feel you should be content with the following advice until further notice:

  1. Do not offer to break down stories for your client
  2. Do not offer to free artwork in proposals. Always ask for a proposal fee. They are going to use your designs build on when they hire someone else cheaper. Don’t do the teenager who is hired any favors.
  3. Lastly, don’t reveal the production pipeline to your clients until you’ve signed a contract-deal memo.

There are lot people out there who think animators are cheap goods to be exploited. You’ve paid for what seems like simple, yet valuable information. Don’t give it away for free. A lawyer doesn’t give away free legal advice, why should you give away filmmaking knowledge? Make your clients pay you enough to put a dent into the $50k-$100k in education loans that you owe–plus rent and updated equipment and software licenses.

If amateurs want to send all of our jobs overseas. Let them try. Concepts developed by Americans are still the biggest money makers in the world of commercial art, they’ll come back.  Furthermore, the artform is preserved for at least they did not get your most valuable skill—your ideas and abilities to execute them well! Do not work on spec. I have taught you how to produce films on your own. Make your own films and other creative projects in lieu of working for free. Employers do consider personal project as legitimate experience. The internet is marvelous for distribution, so why work on someone else’s idea for free? Viral marketing does work. Someone will notice you, and respect that you too need to earn a living wage and will pay you.

I regards to sneaky clients, if you find yourself backed into corner to justify your fee like myself this morning don’t give away information. Instead refer the “client” to the Animation Guild I.A.T.S.E 839 at (818) 845‑7500. The people there will give them the information they need to consider hiring an animation artist and give your client an earful on the collective bargaining agreement and wage surveys, all employers who hire artists should adhere to. If you don’t stand up for yourself,  you’ll end up living back home with your parents. Be brave. Your work is worth a little arrogance on your part to earn a living wage.

Good luck with your careers and email me if you need further help.

Much love, my darlings.

Ashanti

VFX, Kai and Marketplace

Dear Kai and Marketplace,

do you think you’ll ever produce a feature on the fate of the visual effects industry? Life if Pi just bankrupted one of the last VFX studios in LA and Mr. Lucas sold his VFX company, Lucasfilm, to Disney partly because VFX as a business no longer pays enough to keep the lights on. Furthermore, there are thousands of students paying upwards of $80,000 to learn the skills for VFX, but our jobs just got shipped to Taiwan and Canada. This trend would be a good theme on the cost of training in college only to fall into debt graduates can’t pay back due to outsourcing. I call for student loan forgiveness if the U.S. does no do something and soon! Would you please consider a feature on this subject?

 

 

Ashanti Miller

San Francisco KQED Public Radio 88.5

Further Explorations

I have plans to animate other songs by the B52s or at least excerpts from them. I use these examples in my character design, traditional animation directed study and Flash classes at the Academy of Art University. My students like it when I am working on a film of own as I teach them the grueling process of layout on their own films. I know darn well that I am torturing them. The JOB is torture. However, misery loves company, so I make little films here and there.

So here are screen captures from Song For a New Generation and Wig using inspiration from modern art and my favorite BG artists Maurice Noble and Ernie Nordli. I’ll adapt a few ideas from Rowan and Martin’s Laughin. It’s perfect for the B52’s and the B52’s music is perfect for cartoons. Although eventually I should move on other musicians before I end up in a rutt.

The opening cadence for Song For a New Generation. This can use the Laugh-in treatment. I don’t want to mimic Laugh-in completely. I just want the essence of it. It will take some more research to find a proper design for this title.

 


Cuddles the Bull from a Martin and Lewis film.


Hi! I’m Kate and I am a Taurus! I loOve tomatoes and black capped chickadees!
The BG is a near copy from a Chuck Jones/Noble Bugs Bunny cartoon. Maurice Noble and Phil Deguarde always inspire me.

 

Wig: On the neon side of town! There will more from Wig which will be a simple-simple film using Flash’s tools and very few hand drawn character animation principles. I recently lost a commission for a Flash job, because the lack of the use of tools. The recruiter said that the other candidate had more character animation on his reel. I saw the reel and there made of been more character animation, but priciple weren’t applied. There was heavy use of Flash tools like tweens, but no weigh on the characters as they ran and the timing was that of a first years student. This is proof that recruiters outside of the best studios have no idea what they’re doing and I should simply comply. So, a tween film it will be. You never know, perhaps the recruiter is thinking economics and character animation with the principles applied does take a great deal more time.

This is the first version of wig. The foreground characters in the standard linework style does not work with the pasten BG’s, so I have to give up one or the other. After losing the aforementioned Flash commission I’ll work in favor of the pastel. It’s time for a different style. I loaned this style to Sesame Workshop which adapted from my film Detour Through Your Mind which in turn is derived from comi. Producers and directors will feel that I am a one trick pony for working in one style for so long, so it’s best to switch. Character designers should have at least five distinct styles on display in their portfolio.

-A

Asterix

Omigosh, I’m in love. I always loved the inking in French and Belgian comics, but I never spared the time to to really sit down and appreciate it as a resource until now. I first encountered the loveliness as a student on a study abroad trip to Paris in 1997. On the cobble stone hill above Rue de Gobelins heading toward the Seine, there are comic shops with Spirou, a French language comics journal, that featured a Belgian and French world’s “Homer Simpson” known are Gaston le Gaffe. Who predates Homer Simpson by about 20 years, but you get the idea. He’s the French fuck up, but without a hot wife. Actually, Gaston le Gaffe is French’s answer to Jerry Lewis in the sequential art form.

Regardless of the content of the comic, it is beautifully inked and the characters have a flow to their construction that similar to my own. The line action dictates the structure, not the other way around. I dig it.

However, there is a mainstay in French comics that is the preference when you ask a Europen what is the French ( or the whole of Europe as some circles would decree) equivalent of Mickey Mouse. That character is Asterix!


Asterix is a “Belgian school” style comic by Rene Goscinny and Albert Uderzo about a steadfast village in Gaul that refuses to fall to Roman Conquest. It’s a comic version of post-Iron Age history and pokes a great deal of fun at Roman occupation and expansion. Think of it as Larry Gonick’s Cartoon History of the Universe that centers around the point of view of a single region and it’s two heroes.
The stories are rather pedestrian. They are products of their time, but still charming, so you have to be in the mood to read them. However the ART is something to revisited 100x over! Albert Uderzo’s staging and solid drawings is everything the studios are urging that everyone accomplishes on storyboard tests. Stage at 3/4 and remember that layout is crucial no matter if there IS a layout department overseas. The staging is also tight if not cramped which is something television animation tends to do unless you’re on a Genndy or Crain project. Had I drawn from Asterix as preparation for the Nick tests I took, I probably would’ve passed, for the staging parallels Sherm Cohen’s advice.

The staging is simple, 3/4 two-shots, 3/4 crowd scenes, upshots, down shots and 3/4 close ups. However, it’s the acting makes the comic so endearing and beyond academic. Obelix is so polite that you just want to hug him and you never see Asterix lusting after women or slogging around feeling sorry for himself. Asterix and Obelix solve problems, bring home the elixir and save their villages. There are no bevies of bimbos fawning over them as a night=time reward, no otherwise strong female characters going against character and kissing the hero before God and everybody at the end of the tales. It’s eat, drink and be merry in security of one’s HOME. Home is worth risk and sacrifice. It is food, shelter, and identity. All other rewards fall within it’s realm once it’s won and Asterix and Obelix know it.

Why aren’t there male character like this nowadays? I’ll cite Frank Oz’s answer to the question: “Why aren’t the Muppets the same as they are now before…well, y’know :’-( “
Frank: Because there are different people.

The current generation in Hollywood consists of and panders to a “Me” generation that expects reward without personal growth: “Why can’t the goofy looking guy get the cute girl? Where’s that story?” Well, dweebs, you got your wish and now there isn’t a story in the industry that doesn’t use that now stock trope, no matter how inappropriate it is to the story. How to Train Your Dragon was a near perfect film—until the girl kissed the protagonist. The hero grew as a person and he wasn’t such a bad underdog to begin with, but that stunt was totally unnecessary. It ruined his character for me. Uniting the world of dragons and humans should’ve been enough for the hero. He didn’t need the promise of a female to conquer every night as well. She would’ve been in his friend throughout life. That’s a given. Why beat it over the audience’s head? Then don’t get me started on characters by Seth Mc Farlane and Matt Groenig. The latter has more integrity. It’s evident in his Life in Hell series, but the former’s past works, is evident that he wouldn’t know how to convey valiance in a character and I fear that more writers like him will be prevalent in the film industry’s future for a long-long time.

Damn postering Patriarchy…

Anyhoo, Asterix is a jewel or a comic. Check it out for yourself. Read it for the art, read it for the characters. After a few volumes, perhaps you’ll be the next generation of industry writers who will learn how to write an imperfect male character who valiant, fun and knows to be sated with true goals in life. The goals with results that benefit others.

Here’s hoping.
-A

Detour Dada

Detour Thru Your Mind is an Alice in Wonderland story. Alice in Wonderland is a Divine Comedy story and the Divine Comedy is derived from Homer’s Odyyssey and the Rape of Persephone. All neurotic girl stories are derived from Persophone’s adventures into the realm of the subconscious known as the Underworld, but when it’s a man, he not only encounters mentors who show him the way out, but he must return to the surface to right a wrong. A girl, however returns compromised. I made Fred walk the girl’s path. These three tales are all allegories of the Subconcisous and for that I used the art of the subconscious: the Modernist and Post-Modernist period.

At present, we are in the Trans-modernist period where the traditional world and modern world are reconciling. The animosity is still there, but artist are making efforts to extend their hands to religion through their works to show that not only do they respect the ordered world of faith, but go as far as to apply the teachings on the conditions that other religions be represented. Pantheism is coming into vogue. Harry Potter and the Da Vinci Code are early examples of the trans-modernist movement. They’re themes of tolerance against religious extremism is a critique of Religious Right’s exclusionist practices with solutions of reconciliation. The benefit of Harry Potter and the Da Vinci Code is that so many alternate faiths that have been buried for ages have resurfaced to enjoy a new following. My comic book Superficial and my novel The Pantheist explore these concepts with tales of the worlds of the goddesses who have never gone away from the volatile world of political change and freely mingle with mortals in everyday life as executives, mentors and forces of nature.
Detour Thru You Mind isn’t a trans-modernist work, it’s a post-modernist effort. “It’s play with a purpose”, to paraphrase professor Kathleen Elkins. Fred loses Quiche Lorraine and follows her down a rabbit hole through his psyche where he encounters his heralds Kate and Cindy who give him a tour of his subconscious to find out why he is so attached to a ungrateful dog who ran away. Fred’s mind is populated with the art of the 20th century ranging from Dada’s Kurt Schwitters, Georges Braque and Miro to the Post-Modernists, for which I chose my friends and school mate, Gigi Rabago and the found object sculpture and media student’s work of the San Francisco Art Institute’s Walter McBean Gallery’s Spring 1992 installation. Modern art, particularly conceptual art is supposed to make you think. All art does that, but the modernist threw out the illustrative beauty of the pre-modern periods purposely to force the viewer to stop looking at all the pretty colors and go straight to the concept, but not too easily. Stand there and figure it out. Walk away confused and angry and figure it out later as you dream or wash the dishes until you come to an epiphany of understanding.

Critics of modern art don’t understand this concept. They don’t see how the sampling of existing pop culture artifacts amalgamated to sculpture or collage can be called art whereas animated cartoons  for a wide audience is not considered a fine art. Cartoons are a popular art, although hand drawn animation is fading away into a fine art, because soon it will no longer be supported by popular subsidy. It will be liked by some, paid for by fewer hence becoming supported by elite subsidy. However, experimental animation which strives for originality and the creators personal vision will always be a fine art compared to character animation which is aimed at mass appeal. This paradox angers the commercial arts community. Understandable for all art is hard work, but it best not to get caught up on hierarchies where there are none. Mickey Mouse has his world, Mona Lisa Descending a Staircase has hers. Why argue?
What critics of modern art do not see is the concept artist postulated the concept and the commercial artist abstracted what he or she could from the fine artists piece and made it accessible to public as an ad, a cartoon or package design. The critics don’t know where the origin of their iPads and cereal box design come from and they don’t care. It wouldn’t matter so much if these critics didn’t have so much political power. Dangerous power that threatens to dismantle our government institutions that uphold the arts time and time again because they refuse to open their minds enough to understand it, stifling the minds of future generations. Piss Christ wasn’t a slant against Christ. It was a critique of the corruption of Christ’s teachings over time. Had Jesse Helms understood the concept, he would not have campaigned to defund the National Endowment of the Arts our nation’s most prestigious institutions of the arts.


One of the arguments against public funding for the NEA is accessibility. I scoff at that claim for much of the programming on PBS is underwritten by the NEA, which leads to another problem: too few people watch PBS! A non PBS viewer would never know that Great Performances is funded by the National Endowment for the Arts unless a high school teacher showed the production in a classroom environment. With art so under represented in public schools and many other learning institutions, how was Helms and his constituents supposed to be able to interpret Piss Christ correctly? Modern art is supposed to provoke and post-modernism has done that very well. However, the stronger modern art would prevail over the less than stellar efforts like the asshole who adopted a dog from the pound only to starve it to death and film it as a conceptual piece, if more people were taught 20th century art though pop culture in a context they would relate to. Detour Thru Your Mind is my attempt to do so. There hasn’t been an animated art history lesson since the Muse, which is about a character from a painting ( I forget which) who docents a curious new admirer of art through her museum. A previous effort (albeit indirectly) has been the Yellow Submarine. Heinz Edelman used Hannah Hoch’s Neo Dada works for Pepperland.
He changed her earth toned stains to bright colored pop art that appealed to a wider audience. A more direct effort is Corny Cole’s rendition of the Impressionist and Post-Impressionist artists in the UPA feature Gay Purree. The film’s antagonist had the heroine’s portrait painted by the artists of the age. The works shown are of Mewsette whimsically incorporated into the works of Cezanne, Gaugin, Seurat, Modigliani, Degas, Monet, Van Gogh and Picasso. It was my first art history lesson at 9 years old. 60 years later Detour Through Your Mind follows in the footsteps of Corny Cole and Heinz Edelman as an art history lesson of it own.


Reconciling Fine and Popular Art.
I always wanted to make my own Warner Bros. cartoon. So, for the familiar poplar art sequences of the film, I referenced the style of the Fleischer Bros. Betty Boop and Popeye, De Carlo’s Josie and the Pussycats, Chuck Jone’s star animator Ben Washam for the looseness in the drawing all the while retaining anatomy and tried my best to emulate Maurice Noble, Erie Nordli and Phil deGuard in the backgrounds.

The characters where a snap, but the BG’s proved challenging since I am still new to the profession of BG layout. Noble and Nordli use a great deal of 3pt perspective, which I am capable of but I ended up going Hawley Pratt safe for the wide shots. I found little reason for the characters to be staged at low angles with the exception of scenes 14-19 or the “Giants” sequence. There will be plenty of opportunities to play Maurice Noble there, except the buildings will be built, so you won’t get the Noble-Nordli distortions.

S’alright, there’ll be room to do so in scenes 10 and the 11, the Large Orange Room. The initial way I have the set modeled was quite standard. I was a neophyte with lighting and textures and I just wanted to get the algorithms right. Now that I have learned 3pt lighting and have tried true settings for global illumination in a pinch, I can play and distort the set until it’s suitable for Witch Hazel to live in, that’s is she had a live-work space on Taylor and Washington in San Francisco!


Thematic Characters.
The late Ricky Wilson will never be forgotten and he and Keith will provide much needed subtext and exposition in the background. If you’ve every seen the B52’s perform in concert, you’ll notice while Fred, Kate and Cindy do their job as frontman/women, Keith is part stage manager and band leader. He leads the musicians and the organizes the set. He also hosts the show and warms up the crowd for the lead vocalists before they appear on stage. He handles his job with charm with a darling cleft chin smile which retained it’s appeal when he had to disappoint a pumped up crowd that the show has run long and cannot end with it’s Love Shack finale that warm summer Saturday afternoon in Golden Gate Park. The old hippies turned capitalists residents of the Haight can be such crabby party poopers! It would’ve been great to hear Cindy say “Tin Roof….rusted!” live and just 30 feet away from me that day, but the rest of the performance made up for it. The B52’s sang a just about every hit and mild hit in their repertoire, unlike the Manhattan Transfer who got away without singing Birdland. Now THAT was a let down of a concert with little appeal. All ensemble performers can learn a thing or two from Fred’s starkly changed personae of outraged performance of Quiche Lorraine!

Keith will be the stage manager once again as the voice of reason who tries to warn Fred that he got a used dog in a bad way, Charlie Brown, as a feature in paintings, a pet shop owner with Ricky who will always have an “I told you so” expression which Fred is to enamored with the poodle to notice. I have never seen the dearly departed Ricky in concert, so this is the best I can do to assess his personality. He’s the Carpenter to Keith’s Walrus and March Hare to Keith’s Mad Hatter. I hope Cindy will be pleased that her brother’s memory lives on as an animated character cavorting through Schwitter pieces.


Rock the Cradle of Love
How am I going to do this? 2D experience, I have plenty, but my 3D skills are at student level. Even if I manage to generate funds for a proper crew they will still need direction. My experience as an intern at Sesame has proven that since 3D animators do not produce material work, many do not have the ability to art direct from a boarded sequence. instead they speak at length about what they intend to do with the producer and eke out their vision against a deadline with using a combination of internet searches for fast reference and compositing skills. There is no meeting where everyone draws at the table. However, in their defense, I’ve noticed that hand drawn artists balk at all of the steps necessary to complete the simplest tasks in the 3D pipeline. So, there are plusses and minuses on both sides of the spectrum. As a creative producer and director, it’s my job to bridge the gap by having working knowledge in both disciplines.


Compositing influences include the past videos: Billy Idol’s Rock the Cradle of Love ) or at least how I remember it) where he appears in the Warhol piece with Marilyn Monroe will be great for Keith and Ricky’s travels through the Dada paintings in the Large Orange Room sequence. Now that I think if it, the same technique was employed in the paintings of the Harry Potter films. Scenes 7, 9, 12-13 will be depth fogs with textured overlays. Doable. The Giants scene with have painted buildings which will be a challenge, but a fun one. I just know it will take all summer to texture map that midpoint. Paintings galore. Fun! I just need to remember to pre-viz it first before getting too happy on it. Scenes with a flow like that are always pitfalls for continuity errors and compromises. Scenes 34-38 will be fun too. I’ll just pop in the Muppet Show while creating that set. Which leaves the characters….


Rigging.
Goddess I hate rigging. Everyone hates rigging. That’s why you always see the job postings for character TD’s. The listings just hang there for no one likes that task in the animation pipeline and no one is going to be a character TD for less than six figures either—and they deserve EVERY penny! We’re artists. We trained for this industry to avoid algebra, not dive right into it, but as Tom Lehrer sang, there is no way avoid mathematics.

To psyche myself up for this chore, I’ve revisited my high school math in order to build mel scripts to make rigging easier. I gotta do it. For no one else wants to do it and for the sake of the film, I must do a good job. However, I will start out in accordance to the mantra , “BG’s carry the film”, so I’ll put off character rigging while I work on sets over this summer. As Sweet Pickle’s Goose Goofs Off would say: “I’ll do it tomorrow”.

Onward
Hand drawn layout is done. 3D, the real test is at hand. May the modernists masters help me through all challenges. For through all the gimble locks, circuit crashes, and lights that just won’t work, they’re achievements will inspire me to push on. The environments will be done first as a mental carrot on a stick. You can’t help but persevere through the tedium of character layout, technical direction and rigging once you’ve built such a wonderful world for the characters to live in. Detour just has to fabulous. It will be. It must be. Then the current generation of art lovers will have a new art history they can dance to.

-Ashanti

Character Layout

Character layout is the process of establishing characters within their environment with the use of perspective and placement for the camera. Whether you have perspective anxiety or hidden dyslexia will determine which aspect of the job will be the greatest challenge to you. Just be thankful that you are conquering these demons while you’re in school on not on the job. Character layout is a short, but vicious learning curve.


Here are some guidelines. I would’ve liked to have known #3 straight out in the 90’s Now, gladly the pass the wisdom on to you.

1. Stay on model. Everyone says don’t trace the model sheets, but artists do it anyway. The trick is not make the character look like a model sheet cut out as it moves across the screen. Eyeball your scenes and then enlarge of reduce the turn arounds on the model sheets and “pull” the character on model by comparing the proportions. Lucky for you all, you are working on your own characters and already have your characters design imprinted on your brains.

2. Character within it’s environment. Perspective. No, it’s not over. Perspective is more than a tool for BG’s and vehicles, it applies to characters as well. Make sure all the areas on the character that appear above the horizon line arch upwards and what lies below the horizon line, arc downwards. Don’t be too drastic with this technique. Compare the arcs with the rest of the vanishing points in the BG so that the sweep of the arcs will be gradual as they lessen and deepen above to below the horizon line.

3. Do not animate for the animator. I was often guilty of this, See examples below. Layouts are just poses. In regards to your films and working on televisions, layout poses are keys, but in any situation, the animator has the power to change your acting or even the pose. It’s the perspective and position in the scene the animator needs. Just do the basic poses with animation principles applied. If you do more in layout and find that you have changed your mind in the animation stage, you will have completed a lot of useless drawings. Be thrifty and meet or deadlines with fewer drawings.

4. Overlays. Is your character interacting with anything? I glass of water, or sitting on a couch with cushions that move with the character’s weight? These are called overlays and underlays. Their names coincide with which side of the character they are on. A glass grasped with the inside hand showing is an overlay. A couch cushion is an underlay.

5. Labeling. You’ll drive your director insane if you aren’t detailed oriented enough to label your scenes and everything in it. Just think of the scenario of the animator who does not number his drawings, animates a 18 foot scene and drops his stack of paper on the way to the pencil test machine. A good two hours of time will be wasted putting that stack back in order and the pennywise producer is watching!
Scene labels go as follows:

Scene numbers
Frame or key numbers
w/w: Works with; this is used mainly of overlays and underlays. w/w scene_42_03
OL: overlay
UL: underlay
Fry_01: Character distinction in a scene with multiple characters.

Camera
This is one mean machine. Thank heavens for After Effects! You may not get that marvelous film grain ( unless you apply a filter) but you don’t have to worry about whether you interpreted the story artists instructions correctly when you hand your scenes off to a camera person. Pans, dollies and zooms are easy to layout, but there is one camera move that all layout artists hate to work with no matter how cool the effect is: the adjust.

The camera adjust occurs when a camera is focused on area in the scene, but shot at a smaller aperture or in animation talk, field size. In 4:3 television aspect ratio, the largest field size or wide shot is a 12 field, the smallest 6. What an adjust will do is shoot an area of the scene in 6 field or some other field smaller than 12 and follow the character around the scene within the 12 field size.
This process is really simple nowadays with Flash and After Effects, but in the days of analog and multilane/motion control cameras, it dredged up dyslexia that a person did not know they had. The best way to get over it is to shoot your own film, which we are doing now. Try an adjust to get a visual of what the camera is doing. This is a kinesthetic lesson for sure. You may be one of those people who passed algebra and calculus and can process this concept entirely in your head, but for everyone else, learn by seeing and doing. Visual and kinesthetic practice with the camera will save you a lot of grief on the job and save you time and help you meet the Spring Show deadline.

So, that’s the whole of character layout. After this process is complete you can ANIMATE, which will be like connecting the dots if you’re working on your own film. Character layout only takes about three weeks to learn, but it takes about two seasons on a show to master. By the time you practice character layout on your films, you’ll be broken in at least. Push yourself with cameras and perspective and produce an ambitious piece within your current skill set. Doing so will give you an advantage in storyboard revisionist positions, for layout is the precursor to storyboard, and the industry directors will be forever grateful that you have prepared wisely. Good luck!

As always, let me know when you get stuck!

-Ashanti

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