Cartoons, Computers and Antics – Page 2

Frame-grabbing is used to feed images direct into the machine with a video camera, scanner, or any similar gadget and there are facilities for retouching, tinting, colour balance, posterising, solarising, high-contrast, and enhancement. At present, this is used only for background images. Such backgrounds can also be full live-action, and perfectly matted to overlaying animation. Or, animation may be traced from the live-action background (“rotascoping”). Especially useful, you can simply trace key skeletons from the live-action frames and use them to animate any suitable drawing.

Antics is not a full 3-D system in the sense normally understood in the computer graphics world, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do 3-D with it. An artist normally gets 3-D effects by using the rules of perspective, and you can do the same with Antics. Some of the graphic FX, like Flip, Tumble, and Sphere, give true 3-D results and there is also a special facility for making a full 3-D drawing from a matching plan and elevation, which can then be painted and animated using any of the usual Antics techniques (this is sometimes known as “2½-D”). So although the 3-D side is not yet fully developed, there are many ways of creating 3-dimensional effects very easily -and it’s usually far simpler, quicker and cheaper than a full-blown 3-D system.

This is just the basics, there is much more. Suffice to say, Antics has been a proven economical tool for many years, but most of the work to date has been graphic animation – only a small proportion has been character and cartoon work – but there have also been a number of successful cartoon shorts, so there’s no doubt good character animation is possible. However, a large-scale cartoon production project hasn’t been attempted yet, so the economic aspects of this can’t be regarded as proven. The arrival of cheaper, faster hardware makes it feasible as never before, but it is a new technique, and so is not something to be rushed into without a clear understanding of how it could work in the context of a major cartoon project.

Antics technique has many similarities to conventional eel technique, but also many differences. Some things that are difficult to do by hand are easy to do with Antics, and the reverse can also be true. It is important to understand its strengths and its limitations, to make maximum use of its advantages, and avoid the pitfalls.

The same is true with cel animation, of course. For any readers unfamiliar with this, recommended reading is an article in issue 20 of this magazine, by David Jefferson and Terry Ward, which gives a very good description of some of the problems and pitfalls involved in creating a TV cartoon series on a limited budget, in this case The Pondles – and emphasises the vital importance of very careful planning right from the storyboard stage, based on a well thought-out stock system.

To begin with, Antics will require a very similar general approach, though many of the actual details will be quite different. For example, Pondles characters are restricted to one set of clothing each, “They learned this lesson from Bananaman, who was forever changing costume, making it very difficult to file re-usable footage”. With Antics, you’d probably also want to economise on costume changes – but something like changing just the colour or other details of a costume is very easy.

A big advantage of Antics is the ease with which most things can be modified. In conventional technique, even small changes may require a scene to be completely remade. With Antics, most things can be easily changed without affecting the rest. For example, any stored action can be modified for re-use, so never need be an exact repeat of the original – there is much greater freedom and flexibility in the use of existing material, which means you can get very much more “mileage” out of a well- planned stock system, without having anything exactly repeated. This will almost certainly prove to be the key to successful cartoon series production.

As a generalisation, Antics character animation falls roughly between graphic animation and full-scale cel animation. Antics graphic animation tends to use a small number of basic drawings, animated mainly with camera and graphic FX. Often, there can be literally hundreds of these, with very complex animation charts. Traditional eel animation tends to use lots of drawings, but only rostrum camera FX are available, everything else is done in the drawings. Antics character animation tends to have less drawings than eel animation, but more than graphic animation. Most of the work is animated with skeleton and inbetweening, plus a few graphic and camera FX, so the animation charts usually tend to be quite simple.

Illustration of three graphic FX: Wave, Twist and Pinch.

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