Saturday, July 30, 2011

Batman Zellers Commercial Series: Joker, Catwoman, Penquin, and Riddler

I've gathered all four Batman Zellers Commercials. Each has a "Guest Starring" Villain.

As you watch all four in sequence, you can't help but note that the animation falls into one of three categories. Scenes are either:
1) reused in its totality from commercial to commercial;
2) totally unique to that specific commercial;
3) reused with some adjustments for the dialogue specific to that commercial.

I will be talking in future posts about the reality of how to get the biggest bang for the animation dollar when trying to produce a quality piece. There's much more to it than just drawing quickly and putting in long hours hunched over your drawings.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Thoughts on Script Writing For Animation #4

Let's pick up where I left off. We now continue with Scene 3 of my sample script pages, explaining why I chose to write what I did.

Again, for visual design, think of the Dick Tracy world of 1943, with all the caricatured images that suggestion creates in your mind. 

Scene 3


As Pearl glides along the carpeted floor, MALE and FEMALE CUSTOMERS call out to her.
(Pearl resumes being pleasant and charming. This sets up the calm before the storm.)

                                   "How's your son, Joey?"

                                   "He's fine. Stationed in San Diego."
(Dialogue establishes that Pearl is a mother.)

                                   "Where's Carl?"

                                   "In the Gaming Room."

                                   "Don't think so. I just came from there."
(Dialogue sets up the rumbling of the coming thunderstorm between Pearl and her husband Carl.)

As Pearl continues gliding, a flash of understanding passes through her.
(The first flash of lightning!)

Her expression changes from happy to suspicious to false pleasantry.
(Pearl momentarily loses her composure, but quickly slaps on a smiling mask to hide her anger from the public/paying customers.)

Without missing a beat, she turns on her heels and heads for the dancers' backstage dressing room.
(Pearl does not put off what needs to be done immediately.)



CARL JULES (mid-40s, dark haired, wiry, a ready smile) watches the ten laughing and chattering CHORUS DANCERS (lots of ostrich feathers and long legs) file back from their performance onstage in the The Caravan Room. The music of Cab Calloway and his orchestra is loud and jumping. 
(This sets up the scene for the impending confrontation.)



Carl gently pulls aside one of the dancers (GINNIE, 20 years old, red head, long legs) and chats her up -- how are things going? And so on and so forth.
(Shows Carl as being a smooth-talking skirt-chaser.)

Loud dance band music drowns out all conversation.
(Forces the audience watching this scene to concentrate on imagining what is being said between Carl and Ginnie.)

Pearl marches up behind Carl, swings him around.
(The fuse is lit!)

Ginnie escapes into the dressing room.
(Ginnie doesn't want to get caught in the crossfire between her two bosses/wife and husband.)

Pearl reads Carl the riot act, jabbing her finger into his chest. Carl gestures "What'd I do now?" Pearl jabs a final point and leaves to go back to her duties greeting customers.
(Pearl is warning Carl and ALL the girls in her employment to keep hands off each other. Pearl is staking her claim on Carl as HER man! And that's THAT!)

Carl gestures after her "I'm innocent!"
(Shows Carl trying to save face. This also plants the seed in the audience's mind that perhaps Pearl is overly jealous and jumps to conclusions.)

 So, to quickly recap: SHOW your story on the screen, not TELL your story; and use dialogue (as sparingly as possible) to reveal what can't be shown on the screen.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

1st Pass Roughs, Semi-Roughs, & Clean-ups: Hank the Spider Monkey & Batman

Every animator has his/her own way of creating their animation poses.

I normally make three passes at my animation drawings: Rough 1st pass (focusing on the essence of the pose), followed by a semi-clean up on a second sheet (tying down all the elements of the design). Finally, I clean that pose up on a third sheet, making a careful drawing. I cleanup my own drawings as I haven't had a clean-up assistant in the past ten years.

1st Rough Pass
Final Clean-up, Scanned with Blue Line Dropped Out

For fast actions, I rework the rough 1st pass drawing on a second sheet with blue pencil, making adjustments to the tilt of the head, thrust of shoulders, etc. Then, I buff down that semi-clean up and apply my final black line on that drawing.

The following are examples of how much I will adjust the thrust of the different parts of my character's body from 1st pass to that final phase on the second sheet. Note, I'm showing the final version of each pose as scanned in color for this posting. Normally, I would scan the final drawing to Photoshop in grey scale, setting my scanner to drop out the blue lines and just scan the black line. Then, I would adjust the Contrast and Brightness settings of the Photoshop file.
I made adjustments to the head tilt, hat drag, the hands, shoulders, mid-section. In this pose, the head is cocking back as a quick antic into the next pose, which is leading into the lift-off.

Major adjustment was twisting the upper torso, leading into the lift-off.

Twisting the upper torso (shoulders, etc.) to corkscrew up off the ground.

Hank's head and left shoulder are now leading the corkscrew motion up off the ground.
Now for those who prefer a more "realistic" style of character, the following are some of my semi-roughs I did for the series of Batman & Robin commercials about which I've previously posted. I'm planning on posting all the semi-rough drawings I did for this particular scene to give all those interested a chance to practice cleaning up an animator's drawings and finishing all the inbetweens. It is more difficult than it appears, as an assistant needs to be able to think like an animator and not lose the vitality of the drawings. This was the old school path to becoming an animator. Post a comment if this interests you.

This pose is an antic into the following pose #37

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Batman & Robin Commercial Series for Zellers Department Store

I haven't thought about this series of commercials for years. That is, until Bob Jaques  made mention of them on his blog, and I'm flattered that he remembered them.

I animated them back in 1988 under unusual circumstances. For those who don't know, Zellers is a Canadian nation-wide clothing store chain. At that time, the Batman franchise was heating up and the first Batman live action feature was heading toward the theaters. I was asked to animate the commercials, but I did not live anywhere near the studio that was producing it, so we settled on my drawing at home and faxing the drawings in to the studio. Yes, I said faxing each and every one of my drawings.

Also, these drawings were all done on 8.5 x 11 inches photocopy paper...not the standard sized studio animation paper (10.5 x 12 inches

Fortunately, I bought the best fax available at the time, which sent out a very crisp and clean representation of my drawings through the telephone lines. The studio received the copy output on their end and repegged them using my cross-hairs I placed on each drawing for registration on that end. This is years before the internet as we know it today, so the sending process took hours. At the end of each day, I'd stack up my drawings on the fax machine's automatic feeder, push the button and let it go.

The series featured Batman & Robin dealing with four iconic villains: The Joker, Catwoman, The Penquin, and The Riddler; each in a separate commercial for broadcast rotation.

Anyway, shortly after reading Bob's blog post, I went on YouTube to look for some other movie clip and POW! BAM! there amongst some "suggested" clips was a mention of these commercials.

Now, I did receive video copies of them for my portfolio (months after finishing the job), but I had never seen them on broadcast TV. Also, I animated all this without benefit of pencil testing the drawings before faxing them. There was no time to fax the first pass roughs to the studio, have them repegged, shot in pencil test, then have a video cassette shipped to me to look at, etc, etc. Time was of the essence. So, I had the layouts and X-sheets with general timings on them. A cassette of the soundtrack had been sent over-night to me right at the beginning of the project. That's what I worked with. I'd rough out the poses, flip them, refine them to semi-rough stage, then send them by fax. The studio DID pencil test the drawings they received and we'd talk on the phone regarding what adjustments (if any) needed to be done to the timing, each of us referring to the filled-out X-sheets I'd faxed along with the scene drawings.

This is why X-sheets are so important! (see my previous blog post on X-sheets)

Since I have all the drawings I created for this series of commercials, I intend to do a thread using them. But that entails lots of scanning and then shooting pencil tests. For now, I'm including some artwork from the Joker commercial, along with the link to the finished clip on YouTube.

Note in this commercial how extreme the mouth positions are for the dialogue and the punch the timing has. The pacing of the animation is revved up on purpose -- the advertising agency wanted it that way. I intend to take some of the scenes with physical action and re-time the drawings to show how the animator's exposure of each drawing affects the animation. A drawing on 2 frames here, a drawing on 1 frame there, can make a subtle but real difference.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

X-Sheets, Exposure Sheets, Dope Sheets

X-Sheets, Exposure Sheets, Dope Sheets...these are various ways I have heard them referred to over the years. However you call them in your country, these are of extreme importance.

Here are the X-sheets for the Hank the Spider Monkey scene I've posted in the past. This is how a director can tie together all the elements of a scene.

The elements are:
Music (as represented by the "Beat" notation in the "Action" column every 16 frames;
Action (as described in the "Action" column);
Voice (as indicated in the Dial[ogue] column);
The animation drawings (in whole and on separate levels);
Camera moves (as indicated in the "Camera Instructions" column)

The far left hand column with the heading "FR" is for the exact frame count in the entire sequence this scene appears in. This starts with number 881. The red numbers that I wrote on the right hand side of the "Action" column indicates the number of frames of this particular scene. I might redesign this X-sheet, replacing the next column heading "SB" (short for "Storyboard") with "ScFR" (short for "Scene Frame").

Using this method to plan out an entire animated film is no different than a composer writing down all the notes of a symphony to be played by a 50 piece orchestra, and giving indications as to how each note is to be played by the musicians.

In planning out my animation, I describe all the particulars of the action, coordinating it with the beat. For example: I call for hitting a specific pose on the beat (Fr 935) 6 frames ahead of the word "Africa" that starts on frame 941. I then have a four frame "Magic Fingers" cycle that works within the 16 frame Beat.

It's being this specific that saves a lot of reworking of the animation after the first pencil test.

Some may ask, "What do you leave up to the animator?" My answer: "Depends. How good is the animator?"

But no matter how talented the Animator, the exposure sheets are still the Director's plans for the entire picture, tying everything together for all departments to see and coordinate with each other.

To illustrate the results of my use of X-sheets (and even bar sheets for the "West Side Story" sequence), here's a link to my first directorial assignment at Nelvana (August 1979). This is the middle section of "Easter Fever" one of the TV Specials that Nelvana produced and were aired during the late 1970s. Perhaps in a later post, I'll describe the backstage efforts it took to do this TV Special. Or if you have specific questions about the piece, I'll incorporate my answers as part of my post.

My Sequence begins at 0:29 of this clip and goes to the end of it.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Thoughts On Script Writing For Animation #3

Picking up where I left off, let's continue with Scene 2 of my sample script pages, explaining why I chose to write what I did.


The war is raging on both fronts in Europe and the Pacific. The joint is packed with 800 SOLDIERS, SAILORS, MARINES, and CIVILIANS all jumping to the live music of CAB CALLOWAY and his orchestra. Patriotic signs and banners decorate the walls. The Caravan Room looks elegant. The tables are set with white linen tablecloths, sparkling crystal, and the best silverware.
(Establishes high energy opening for the story. Creates an expectation that this story is taking place in an unusual setting that is also historical.)
                                                                                                                     CUT TO:

PEARL MAE JULES (late 30s, blonde, dressed to kill) glides through the room, greeting
customers (BIG SHOTS and COMMON FOLK alike) with a handshake or a touch to the arm, always a brilliant smile. Her unmistakable laugh -- controlled, never giddy -- can be heard over the crowd. Wife of Carl Jules and co-owner of The Oasis, the lady is steel encased in silk and velvet.
(Focuses on Pearl as co-owner of the club. She is a classy but tough lady.)

She marches into the kitchen, her sights fixed on the CHEF. She confronts him, ready to bite his head off.
(Shows through action that she is not to be messed with.)

(controlled anger)
                                                 "This ain't a greasy spoon. You don't slop
                                                  the food on the plates like you're feeding
                                                  hogs. The next time I see a customer served
                                                  a plate with gravy dribbling off the sides,
                                                  I'm coming in here and kicking your butt
                                                  into the Licking River. Ya hear?"
(Dialogue is necessary to explain why she is angry.)

Chef quickly nods his understanding,
(Indicates he knows he's been slacking off on the job and that he better not do that again.)

as Pearl spins on her heels and marches out -- smile on her face.
(She knows she has power and enjoys it.)
                                                                                                                     CUT TO:

This first script page has quickly introduced:
                                                    1) The Setting (with a twist);
                                                    2) High Energy;
                                                    3) a Major Character (Pearl Mae Jules)
Next time, we'll see how the second script page introduces Pearl's husband Carl Jules and develops tension between the two.

The key thing to remember is to use ALL the story elements to keep the audience interested in what's happening on the screen.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Tools of the Art: Pencil & Paper versus Computer & Cintiq

In a comment by David Nethery regarding my previous post ("Animation Drawings: Seen and Felt"), David expressed an interest in seeing my rough pass pencil test of Hank sliding in, etc. Unfortunately, I don't have that anymore. However, I do have some of the initial rough pass drawings, which I will show in a future posting on cleaning up rough drawings. I also have the X-sheets which will also be the subject of a separate posting.

However, as a decorative element for today, here are the three stages I take my Key drawings through.

This is my first rough pass at a pose

My semi-rough of the same pose

My final clean-up

To the tune of Irving Berlin's "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off":
"I draw with Pencil,
 You like the Cintiq..."

As an artist, the tools I use are incredibly important to my ability to work comfortably and with precision. I have a very light touch, and at times draw tight movements, so my pencils and paper have to be responsive to the pressure of my fingers.

I draw with pencil on Ingram Bond paper, using Col-erase Blue and Red for construction lines, etc, and California Cedar's line of Palomino Pencils to lay down my black line. I roll my drawings back and forth between the fingers of my left hand, laying down my pencil line with my right. I do this for all the phases of my drawings, whether they be Keys, Breakdowns, or Inbetweens. This enables me to feel the drawing in motion as the line starts at my finger tips and passes through my pencil and on to the page...after all, the poses are always coming from somewhere and going somewhere else.

Over the years, this has become an automatic back and forth motion: draw line... roll pages... draw line... roll pages... line... roll... line, line...roll...etc.

Very much like a pianist's fingers striding across the keys. (No pun intended.)

Now, I understand the Animation Industry's reliance upon the Computer and Cintiq as money-saving manufacturing tools to link together artists and studios from different parts of the world.

But if you had your druthers artistically, which would you use? Pencil & Paper? or Cintiq & Computer?

Discussion time!
What are the pros and cons of both sets of tools?

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Animation Drawings: Seen and Felt

Some drawings are meant to be seen (such as attitude poses), while other drawings are meant to be felt. These are drawings that convey movement that are accents and action.

When figuring out how to draw an accent or action, I start by imagining the emotion I want to convey, then analyze what tempo conveys that emotion. Let's take the emotion of enthusiasm. That would be a bouncy tempo...maybe a 4 to 6 frame beat.

Then I imagine what type of action my character will perform to convey his enthusiasm. In this case, he's going to spin in the air, making a complete rotation in 4 frames...and so on and so forth.

The above is all timed out on my exposure sheet before I make any drawing. (Note: I use the old school reference of 24 frames per second.) The reason I time everything out first, is that my analysis of the character's timing will dictate how the forces moving that character affect the body in motion. Thus, I draw the body squashing and stretching based on that analysis.

I offer as an example, drawings from the Hank the Spider Monkey test I posted previously. In creating these drawings, I started each drawing from the area of the body that was instigating that particular phase of the movement: head, shoulder, leg, etc.


























And below is the finished animation in color.