Tuesday, April 30, 2013

One Piece at a Time

Ok, so building all of the different angles for a character shaped like a cylinder with a head shaped like a sphere is not that easy.  It took about 6 or 7 hours to work all the kinks out.  But building all the different angles for a character that is shaped like a person is proving to be exceedingly more challenging.

Above you have the pelvis of the Soft Ninja.  Yes, just the pelvis.  Give me a break.

Being able to draw a good character is hard enough by itself.  Being able to draw that same character from hundreds of different angles in hundreds of different every day poses - not to mention the not so every day poses that actually make animations funny - is a completely different task.  You don't just want your character to look recognizable.  You want your character to have "character."  The hands need to look just right.  The way the elbow meets the forearm and bicep need to be just right.  And before you know it a thirty minute task is taking two weeks.
So here is the pelvis with belt and belt buckle.  I'm embarrassed to say that just adding the belt and buckle took an hour and when I was done I realized it needed tweaking.

Now the method I'm using for a relatively smooth turn is the same as I described in the last post.  I have 12 different positions for the pelvis: Front, 4/5 Left, 3/4 Left, 2/3 Left, Profile Left, 1/3 Left, 1/4 Left, 1/5 Left Back and repeat for the right side.

Now the issue I've discovered with this method is that a real person can turn their leg slightly askew without turning their whole body.  So I will have to have more than just 12 different angles.  For example, if I had a ballerina facing front with her feet in first position (heels touching with toes pointing away from each other on a line) her pelvis would be a Front while her right leg would be Profile Right and her left at Profile Left.  So for each pelvis position I'll have to have five or six different positions for each leg.  The same is true for the arms and outrageously true for hands.  

I've got to stop thinking about this or I'll never finish it. I'm just going to make what I think is necessary and then add new positions as I need them.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Head Turn 2.0

There are some issues with this video still, but by and large I think this is a much better head turn.

Issue #1:  Every other rotation it skips the back of the head.  This was just an error of my cut and paste.  It's an easy fix.

Issue #2:  There is a slight up and down bump in the rotation.  I know the reason for this, but I am not sure I will fix it.  It may require starting all over and since the South Park style Soft Ninja is just a learning tool for me, I really don't feel the need to do that.

What happened is this; whenever you create an object it has a center.  The center is the center of the screen no matter where you actually create your object.  So if I create my object a little off center and never fix that then every rotation of that object will be off center. 
These are all of the faces of the South Park Soft Ninja spread out for stylistic viewing.  In the program they are all stacked on top of each other with only the one I need at that moment visible.  Because his head is round and he's wearing a mask that conceals any hair or ears, I only need one back.  Otherwise there would be as many back facing heads as front.

Of those 12 heads I only had to make 7 (6 really).  5 are mirror images and the back is simply the front without eyes.  However, because my main head's center is slightly off center every time I flipped the head it was out of place.  Thus I had to reposition all of the left heads manually.  This is where that bumpiness comes from.  I fixed it as well as I could without redoing the left heads (which - as previously stated - I'm not about to do).

Anyway, this rotation is much smoother and should allow for a cleaner animation.  Now I just need to do 16 body positions and reinsert SP Soft Ninja into my animation.  Jeez, this is a lot of work for a learning exercise.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Head Turn Trouble

Ok there are several issues with this video; the head turn, the body turn, the way it moves too quickly from standing at the side of the house to walking toward the tree... But the worst I think is the switch from the front view face to the 3/4 view face and back.  Second is the switch from front view body to profile body, though I think that can potentially be smoothed out by a position adjustment.  And the issue of the way the Soft Ninja moves too quickly from the side of the house to the tree, is a pretty easy fix.

So, my biggest concern is the switch from the front view of the face to the 3/4 view of the face.  There has to be a way to make this switch smoother.  It may require an in between layer - a 5/6 view, if you will - or it may require some deformation of the front and 3/4 view to merge them both.  I'll have to see if any tutorials exist on this issue and what the prevailing wisdom is.  And then I'll have to decide which is easiest.

BTW: in case you are wondering if I'll ever actually get to animating the real Soft Ninja I can only say, I hope so.

Comments welcome.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013


This is the scene for the first SP Soft Ninja.  I know it has been a while since I posted, but it really didn't take me that long to create this scene.  Everything but the tree and leaves are extremely geometric.  I felt like the leaves in this scene moved too slowly, so I redid them below.
This looks better to me.  Agree? Disagree?

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Some fixes

Ok, so I fixed the issues with the wonky limb movements.  Now my South Park style Soft Ninja moves pretty much like a South Park character.  I did not finish fixing his eyes last night.  I got side tracked watching Duck Dynasty and then half way through the animation I started to wonder if I should add pupils.  The Soft Ninja does not have pupils, but South Park characters do.  So I think I'll add them.  We'll see.  I'm on the fence.  Well, I'm mostly over the fence, but technically still on it.

I hope that by Monday I will have a regular Soft Ninja animation for you.  The SP Soft Ninja is great for conceptualizing a scene and a character's movements, but the animation is easy, kinda like fast food, and I find myself lazily turning to those animations rather than putting in the time on the more difficult toons.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013


So I have found some issues.  The last Soft Ninja (South Park Style) had perfectly circular eyes.  Last night I deleted the layer that had the eyes and started over with more oval eyes.  However, I forgot to tie that layer to the head bone.  Thus... when the head moves the eyes stay put.  I don't know if you've noticed, but that doesn't happen in reality.

As you can see I am also having some issues with the head separating from the body and the arm doing some wonky stuff when it moves too.  I made this fun little video to show the problems in motion:
I will attempt to fix those problems tonight and have all three working for you tomorrow.

The following issue is a little more difficult.  Watch the eyes in this video:
You probably noticed that the eyes went from being circles to something like diamonds.  What's that about?

I used what Anime Studios calls a blend morph.  It is a kind of action that is really cool.  An action is when you have something that you know your character will do over and over.  You basically just have to "make" that action once.  Then you can insert the action whenever you need it.

For this character I made 4 actions:  Blink, Crazy Eye Left, Crazy Eye Right and Scared (both eyes small).  Then I when I made this little video, rather than going to the "blend-morph/Actions" pop up window every single time I tried to be lazy and copy and paste the actions straight into my time line.  I "think" this is why I got this wonky diamond shape problem.

Anyway, I think the fix for this problem is basically to approach the eye concept differently.  I will attempt to fix this tonight also and show my results tomorrow.

NOTE TO READERS:  If there is something that you think I have explained poorly, or left unexplained that you would like more information on, please ask.  The best way to learn is to teach and I am glad to give my process when I can.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Bone Rigging

If you already know this, please forgive me. 

In animation the way you get the illusion of movement is by drawing a picture then drawing a second picture that is slightly different from the first, then a third and a fourth and so on.  When those pictures are shown to the human eye at approximately 24 pictures a second our brain is convinced the objects on that page are moving.  That means a 7 minute cartoon will have approximately 10,080 individual pictures.

From the very beginning animators have been trying to find ways to reduce the number of drawings needed.  The greatest invention for animation was the frosted cel; a transparent  piece of paper that could be drawn on so that backgrounds need only be drawn once and the images on the cels could be laid over the background to produce the impression of one picture.

I think it is safe to say without the cel animation would never have caught on as a commercially viable form of entertainment.  But even with the cel you still have to draw each movement you want your objects to make.

In computer animation your object is made of points (or vertices depending on the program).  The computer program calculates where the lines will go in between the two points and what colors or textures to fill the shapes with.  To create the illusion of movement you simply tell the computer where the points will go from one second to the next and the program calculates the line movement.

But even that is too much effort for the lazy masses, so the animation geniuses have created another short cut; Bone Rigging.  Basically a bone in computer animation works like a bone in your body.  You assign all the points in your object that correspond to the bone and wherever the bone moves, so do those points.  So if I have 30 points in my head I can assign them all to a bone and I won't have to move every single point.

The picture above shows you the bone rig for my South Park Soft Ninja.  It is exceedingly simple.  In fact, I believe I will need a few more bones before I am done.  But for the animation I showed yesterday, that is all I used.

For the following animation I had to use quite a few more bones.

The animation above is the Soft Ninja doing a front kick.  I did this pretty quickly and it shows, but I'm learning as I go. I hid his arms and his eyes for my own ease.

Sadly, this whole bone rig for the Soft Ninja will likely need to be redone.  I have learned things since I did him and it might be easier for me just to start over than to try and work the new things into the old design.

Monday, March 25, 2013

What kind of animation? (yes this post has some)

There are many different kinds, qualities, styles, et cetera, of animation.  Which kind you use is really up to a couple of things:

1.  How much money you have.  
2.  How much time you have.

The more detail you want the more it will cost you.  If you want your animation to look like 1950-1960 Warner Brothers animation, then you need to be prepared to invest a fortune, or the rest of your life, or both.  (For example, a typical Simpsons episode costs about $1.8 million and takes a huge team of artists several months to complete.)  However, if you are content with something approaching the quality of South Park, then you can get a whole lot more done with an incredibly small amount of time and money.  The creator's of South Park typically animate their shows in about a week and it costs about $300,000.  (Don't let that $300 K scare you.  That goes to paying artists and overhead, which we don't have to do.)

You have to look at your story to decide what kind of animation is right for you.  If your story is more dialogue driven, with jokes and plot and such, and scenery and action is more incidental, then you can get away with lower quality animation.  But if your story has slap-stick humor and action in it then you are going to need a higher level of animation.  A story with a high level of dialogue and plot can have a high level of animation, but it isn't necessary.  However, low quality animation will have a difficult time supporting a high action cartoon.  I won't say it is impossible because there are some ingenious people out there.

Please note that when I say low quality I do not mean "bad".  Perhaps I should have chosen a better word, like high and low "difficulty" but I've already typed this whole thing out and there is no way to change it.  It's impossible.  By low quality I really mean that there is not a whole lot of shape changing going on.

In the original South Park all of the characters faced camera for most of the show, even when dialoging.  Only their eyes moved.  In addition their legs never moved even when walking, their bodies just switched from front view to profile.  The majority of the animation was essentially unchanging shapes moving around over a background.

The above animation is an example of an unchanging shape moving across a screen.  This is technically animation, but only technically. ;)

Unless otherwise stated on this blog I will be using Anime Studio Pro.  Currently I am using version 8.  It is a very powerful program and I got it on Amazon for about $70.  I spent almost 10 years wishing I could afford Flash and believing I'd never be able to animate.  I was convinced that this cheap program would never satisfy my needs.  I wish I had purchased it when I first saw it about 5 years ago.

What I have done in the animation above is created a very simple background of a green rectangle and a blue rectangle.  Over that background I have two white ovals.  I placed them at a starting point and then I moved to frame 24 (about 1 second in) and move them to a different location over the background.  I did the same at frame 48, 72, and so on.  When rendered it looks like the above.

Neither cloud changes shape or does anything remarkable.  That is low quality/difficulty animation.  Making a cloud change shape requires more work.  Imagine that cloud in the shape of a person with eyes that blink, a mouth that opens, arms, legs, hands with ten fingers, and perhaps hair, all moving independently of each other.  A single second of animation becomes a mind numbing concept.  The difficulty goes through the roof. But I digress.

For the fun of it I have made a South Park version of the Soft Ninja.  I wanted to see what it would look like to have a SP version of the Soft Ninja doing some of the things I want him to do in the future.  I can already tell just from the picture that kicking is out of the question.  And with those short arms punching is going to be problematic at best.  But let's try a walk cycle just for starters.

There are some issues with it this, but considering I spent about ten minutes on it I think it approximates South Park style rather nicely.  I threw in the head tilt for free.

Now, for my purposes with the Soft Ninja I do not think that South Park quality will suffice.  I will need something in between what I want (Bugs Bunny in Transylvania 6-5000) and what I can afford (something significantly south of South Park).  Still I think it is possible.

That said, these South Park tests will make for a good scene test and learning exercise.  So I will try to do them whenever I can.

Any suggestions or comments?

I actually love South Park.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

First animation

Ok, yes this is the exact same video that I posted yesterday.  I won't normally do this, but I wanted to make some notes about it separate from yesterday's post.

My critique:  This animation is pretty close to terrible.

1. The eye blinks are ok.  There is something hinky about them that I haven't yet identified, but I already know that something as simple as an eye blink will require tweaking.
2. When SN (soft ninja) looks to his left his eyes stay the same width apart.  When I was animating this I didn't think it was a big deal, but the more I watch it, the more I think the eyes should get closer together the closer to either side they get.
   With SN I have intentionally created a character with very few facial features (no retinas/pupils, no nose, no mouth and no hair).  This is great for speed of drawing, but it makes facial expression a challenge.  I tend to cheat and use the top of his mask to simulate eyebrows and the bottom his mouth.   Because of his limited features I need the few expressions he can do to be perfect.
3.  I like the puzzled/angry expression he makes when he is looking to the left.  His mask makes a V shape like angry eyebrows.  However, I found moving this expression to the other side of his face to be almost impossible.  That will take some thought.
4.  When he looks right he squints like he's incredulous or thinking hard.  That's ok, but when his expression relaxes and moves back to the center his eyes are too angular.

Anime Studio is a vector based program so basically you are moving points around.  Based on these points the program determines how your line will look.  A simple circle only requires 4 points.  But if you want to squash and stretch that circle you're going to need more points.  The more points you have the more difficult it is to animate your object and the longer it will take to render your scene.  The fewer points you have the less likely you will be to emulate the smooth flow of cel/hand drawn animation.

The good news about the first animation I have posted is it is not the worst I have ever seen.  Also, I have set the bar pretty low.  It should be easy to improve from here.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Begin with the beginner

Ok, I'm no animation guru.  I cannot point you to anything you can view worth viewing that I have ever done.  However, I love animation and I WANT to know how to animate.

1.  My primary goal for this blog is for me to post my progress in learning animation, my thoughts on what doesn't work and what does, and to invite to you critique (kindly) and offer advice on anything I post.

2.  My secondary goal is to do all of this as cheaply as possible, as I am operating on a mouse's budget.  (A mouse with a government job, at that.)  In doing this I hope that I can encourage others who think animation is expensive and difficult to join me in my quest to learn to animate.

I will do my best to have something to view that moves on this blog at least once a week.  My primary subject of learning will be my character the Soft Ninja, seen on my other blog.