Cartoons, Computers and Antics – Page 3

Pilot studies for an animation project based on the original Tenniel illustrations for Alice in Wonderland. Skeleton animation of the White Rabbit; (top) basic character drawing, painted; (middle) line-test version of the same, with skeleton structure superimposed; (above) same again, but with individual limbs pulled apart to show the component cels.

Camera FX are much the same as on a rostrum camera, but much more flexible, for example, drawings and cels can zoom independently of backgrounds and other drawings., so an “animated zoom” doesn’t need to be drawn, multi- plane effects are easy, and the zoom ratio can go to well over ten-thousand to one.

Graphic FX are mostly used for props and objects; Path for things flying around, or Path and Wobble for a bouncing ball; Bendy for a tree waving in the wind; Pinch for a car screeching to a halt, and so forth.

Skeleton is the main method for animating characters, and is very easy to use. However, as with most things, good animation isn’t necessarily easy – it depends on the skill of the person using it. With skeleton, there is only one basic drawing, so it is extremely important that this drawing is well-designed in every detail. Getting it right usually takes a lot longer than an ordinary drawing on cel, but once completed, there is no limit to the footage that can be animated extremely quickly indeed, usually by drawing a sequence of key-frame matchstick figures, typically three or four per second of action. Skeletons are inbetweened automatically, and if the keys are well-drawn, will result in very smooth fluid movement. It is important to realise that skeleton animation alone is not enough for everything, since the figure essentially remains a flat drawing, though an articulated one – it gives good movement, but doesn’t change the expression of the features, nor does it turn the character to a different viewpoint, from profile to front, for instance, to give “animation in the round”. On its own, skeleton animation is comparable with, for example, the animated cut-outs of Lotte Reiniger.

Other aspects – facial expression, lip-sync, 3rd dimension – are mostly done by inbetweening, though sometimes other effects can be used (skeleton grid, for instance). Coherent inbetweening is done by making sure the key drawings are matched-up with each other line for line – the machine makes this easy by showing you the previous drawing line by line. This works fine for facial expressions and lip-sync, where this line-for-line correspondence is usually very clear and simple, but it can be a lot more difficult in a 3- dimensional turn, where features may appear and disappear -it takes a fair bit of practice to become adept at this.

Machine inbetweening is perhaps the weakest aspect – the machine can not inbetween in the same manner as a human animator because the idiot machine has no sense of what the drawing represents – seeing it simply as an abstract bunch of lines and dots. In theory, advanced techniques such as pattern recognition and so-called “artificial intelligence” might one day be able to do better, but there is no immediate prospect of that. Otherwise, line-by-line correspondence is the simplest way of giving the machine an inbetween it can handle (though other ways are possible).

If inbetweening is used on its own, it will tend to give very mechanical results, unless enlivened by touches like anticipation and overshoot, or hand-drawn movements, by making different parts start and finish at different times, or else by using it in combination with skeleton or other actions. All of these are easy to do with Antics, and can create good results.

Skeleton, and the other FX, all work with a single basic drawing, so it makes no difference how detailed the drawing happens to be. This is one of the powerful advantages of Antics – the possibility of animating images like a Bosch painting or a Tenniel illustration, which would be very difficult to do by hand, or even virtually impossible in some cases. But Inbetween is the only effect that uses more than one basic drawing, so if inbetweening is going to be used a lot, economic considerations may well necessitate keeping the style reasonably simple, as it does in conventional technique.

Animation-in-the-round is probably the trickiest, involving complex inbetweening combined with skeleton – it takes a great deal of skill to get this to work well, and probably wouldn’t be economical for a one-off short scene. However, once done, the character can be used over and over again, with different animation, in thousands of different actions and scenes. The more you use it, the more economical it gets.

However, even this technique has its limitations, and any good cartoon will usually have actions which would push even the “skeleton plus inbetween” approach beyond economical limits, and for these there is no short cut to drawing the complete action frame by frame. This is usually achieved on Antics by drawing each as a single cel – the whole sequence is stored as a complete drawing, which can also have other effects added to it if needed, and combined with other drawings in the usual way. This is much like the colouring systems described earlier, except the line-test drawings are actually done on the machine’s drawing board, rather than frame-grabbed, and this allows much greater freedom tempered only by budget considerations which might dictate economy of drawing style.

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