Category Archives: Animation

Making the Kickstarter video

Since I launched it over 3 weeks ago, thousands of people have watched my Kickstarter video, but I haven’t watched it again myself since that first day. I knew if I watched it I’d find new problems with it, and remember all the things I wanted to fix. It’s too late.

I had fun creating it. I wanted something with a hand-drawn feel, because to me blogging is about individual creative expression. It’s about not being afraid to publish something that isn’t perfect — something that is personal and a little rough, like a quick sketch.

Because I love traditional animation I wanted to draw all the frames with a pencil and paper, not digitally. Here’s me flipping through some of the drawings:

At 30 frames per second, doing any animation at all is extremely tedious, even with these little sketches. I made about a hundred drawings and scanned them in one at a time. I composited everything in Apple’s Motion, then ended up using Motion for sliding objects around and fading them in or out, which cut back on the number of drawings I would have otherwise needed.

The inspiration for introducing the video was the early 1920s-era Max Fleischer and Walt Disney cartoons, like Alice’s Wonderland. I also thought it would more naturally cut from me talking at the camera to illustrating the story of why independent microblogging matters.

I’m not sure whether I will ever do another Kickstarter campaign. But I hope to have the chance to make a video like this again. I learned a lot from it.

The Lightbox

In 1999, I started a link weblog to collect news about animated films. I updated it for a few years, until there were plenty of other good news sources from industry writers more qualified than I was to run such a site. I was just a fan.

The site was a homegrown MySQL database and set of PHP scripts. Somewhere along the way, I lost the archive, and never noticed that the site had broken until today. To make matters more difficult, I had blocked it in my robots.txt, so the Internet Archive copy (which existed, at least in parts) wouldn’t load cleanly.

I took some time today to piece it back together as a new static HTML file and (partial) RSS feed. I’ve preserved the original design and HTML tags. Fun rediscoveries in the HTML include spacer GIFs, <blockquote> to indent the entire page, and RSS 0.91.

I called it The Lightbox. It was just a linkblog. But now 16 years later, I’ve enjoyed skimming through the old posts.

Glen Keane drawing in 3D

Here’s a wonderful video of Glen Keane drawing with VR goggles. I’ve been watching and listening to Glen explain animation for a long time, on bonus videos going back to my small collection of Disney feature LaserDiscs. It’s great to see him still in the spotlight after leaving Disney, and the great work he did on last year’s Duet.

Speaking of the Disney company, I really enjoyed last night’s American Experience on Walt. Part 2 airs tonight on PBS.

Update: Shortly after posting this, a new film from Glen Keane showed up in my newsreader. It’s a good month for animation.

Floyd Norman’s sketch of Steve Jobs

Disney Legend Floyd Norman has an excellent blog, usually recollecting on the early days of the Walt Disney studio, or more recent animation ventures. This week he wrote about Steve Jobs:

“An animated motion picture goes through many iterations while in production and screenings were held on a regular basis. I honestly doubt Steve was trying to curry favor with Disney. Being a shrewd negotiator Jobs didn’t need any extra help to get his way. I think he brought Apple gifts purely as a gesture of friendliness. After all, shouldn’t everybody have a Mac Laptop?”

The post includes a fantastic sketch of Steve. My only regret from WWDC this year is that I didn’t have a ticket to see Floyd speak at the conference. Although Apple doesn’t usually release the video of lunchtime sessions, I very much hope it was filmed and will show up on YouTube or Vimeo one day.

Disney closing animation park attraction

In a couple weeks, Disney will close its “Magic of Disney Animation” attraction at Hollywood Studios. This area of Disney World was always one of the better ideas I’ve seen at an amusement park, mixing a ride with an actual working animation studio that produced Mulan, Lilo & Stitch, Brother Bear, and bits of other Disney features. Cartoon Brew writes:

“It’s a bittersweet ending for an attraction that introduced many young people to the art of hand-drawn animation and inspired untold numbers of budding artists to consider animation as a career. One of the park’s original offerings after it opened as Disney/MGM Studios in 1989, it gave attendees the chance to watch Disney animators at work.”

Before I had kids, I visited the park in the late 1990s and spent some time watching the animators. I asked the park employee if I could hang out after the tour had continued on, just standing there looking through the glass as an animator shot a pencil test for some rough or cleanup animation for a scene from Tarzan. I’m not sure how long I stayed there; it could have been 15 minutes or it could have been an hour. But I remembered every detail from that animated scene when finally seeing Tarzan in the theater, and for years after until today.

By the time we could take our kids there, Disney had already closed down their animation studio in Florida, turning the ride into an empty shell of what it used to be. I wish my kids could’ve seen it as it was meant to be.

We need more bad ideas

Shawn Blanc has been publishing a series of essays leading up to his new book and online course, The Focus Course. In a recent post, he writes about how we all need to get through more bad ideas. It’s easy to assume that because your friends’ lives appear perfect on Facebook, that you should reserve only your brilliant ideas for posting:

“One of the things that comes with having the internet in our pocket is that we can share moments and slices of our life with the world. But most of us are sharing the highlights. We share the best photos of the grandest places. Which is fine. But it also can cause a slight sense of disillusionment.”

The essay reminds me of something that always stuck with me reading about legendary Warner Bros. animation director Chuck Jones years ago. He said that when he was young, his father would give him and his siblings essentially unlimited paper to draw on, unused supplies from his business. We all have 100,000 bad drawings in us. The sooner we get through all the bad drawings — in Shawn’s essay, the bad ideas — the sooner we can start producing our best work.

Like scripts in animation

This line in a blog post on Cartoon Brew made me laugh:

“It’s certainly possible to write a Looney Tunes script, just as it’s possible to eat a hamburger with your feet, but there are smarter, easier, and better ways to do it.”

Every industry that gets big probably has some of this. There’s the old school, the folks who know the right way to do things — for example, you start an animated film with sketches and storyboards, not words — and then there’s everyone who comes in afterwards, without the history and culture of what made it all work. Look at what the App Store has become, compared to how software development worked in the 1990s or early 2000s. If it wasn’t for all the money some of these new developers are making they’d be completely embarrassing themselves with technical naivety and depressing lack of vision.

On the other hand, great ideas often start with newcomers. But please respect the past before you break from it.

The Blue Umbrella holiday calendar

In the 90s I bought a LaserDisc player because it was the best way to get bonus features like director’s commentary and “making of” shorts on some of my favorite movies, before DVDs took off. But I’ve resisted getting a Blu-ray player, even though studios seem to have completely shut out DVDs from the behind-the-scenes material we’re used to. Luckily artists can still share their work directly via the web.

I love this new site from Pixar artists, just in time for the holidays, on the making of their short film The Blue Umbrella. It’s presented as a holiday calendar with a new page revealed each day. From day 3:

“The second test I had made after having just been to a concert of Sarah Jaffe. I fell in love with her music and voice and desperately wanted to pitch her an idea for a music video. But I needed a concept for it. While walking through the city and listing to her songs I suddenly got this idea for a music video where a whole city would sing one of her songs.”

It’s one of those rare sites that is so wonderful that I make an exception to not following it if there’s no RSS feed. Added to my bookmarks.

Multiplane

“We spend a lot of time on a few great things.” — Designed by Apple in California

In 1940, Ub Iwerks, the animator behind Walt Disney’s first Mickey Mouse shorts, came back to the Disney studios after a 10-year absence. Ub had famously produced hundreds of drawings alone each day for one of those first Mickey Mouse shorts, but Ub’s return to Disney would also be remembered for his contribution to the technical side of film production, with advances in cameras and special effects. In an industry with extreme specialization — you either did backgrounds, or animation, or ink-and-paint — Ub’s talents bridged both the artistic and technical.

One of Ub’s inventions while away from Disney was called the multiplane camera. Perfected by others leading up to Snow White, in a massive camera stand over 10 feet tall, the multiplane’s innovation was to allow a background to be split into levels. Foreground trees might be painted on the glass of the first level, then the characters sat underneath that, and then farther back layers for a building, with others behind that for hills and sky.

To provide a sense of depth, camera operators could vary the distance between each plane. And movement for each level could be synchronized at different speeds, giving it a beautiful parallax effect. Distant background levels moved more slowly and were naturally blurred and out of focus.

80 years after Ub’s invention, the multiplane is alive in iOS 7. Previous versions of iOS were built on a single plane with raised and textured areas on that surface, like a topographical map except with buttons instead of mountains. iOS 7 is instead designed with multiple flat layers. Each level is strikingly flat, but by layering two or three, spaced apart, Apple has achieved an overall sense of depth.

It’s a return to basics. Simple things can remain simple, readable. When clarity is needed, everything goes flat. But it’s a framework that allows for subtle motion and depth without changing what works about the new, content-first flat design. iOS 7’s control center blurs the layer below. The home screen background sits deeper too, as if only the app icons are touching the screen. Photos scroll under the navigation bar.

Each plane is painted flat as if on glass. There can be no text drop shadows, no textures, without ruining the effect. And the result of this strict metaphor is equally valuable: there are no drop shadows to distract or obscure an app’s real content.

Disney’s multiplane camera, first in a dedicated rig and then recreated in software, lasted for decades, until the era of 3D computer animation. iOS 7’s new look won’t last that long, but the core concepts should carry Apple for years. I really like where they’re headed.

Animation roundup, Richard Williams to Brenda Chapman

Richard Williams turned 80 years old last month. Although his body of work is extensive, including Roger Rabbit and the unfinished masterpiece The Thief and the Cobbler, I think he will be most remembered many decades from now for the extraordinary book, The Animator’s Survival Kit.

I referenced this book all the time when I was working on a little hand-drawn short film several years ago. Now an iPad version of the book is available. Floyd Bishop, writing for Animation Scoop:

“The timing of the animation examples in the book have always been hard for me to get my head around. This app shows the drawings come to life through animation. You can loop playback or scrub through the animation. I found this feature to be the most useful thing about the app.”

Nowadays, I’m too busy with software side projects to have time for animation as a hobby, but as a huge fan I’ll occasionally catch up on news and all the beautiful work artists are doing.

A few of my favorite short films over the last year:

  • Chipotle’s stop-motion video. I was really happy to see it run during the Grammys last year. When I had showed my kids the video on YouTube earlier, they immediately fell in love with it. Kudos to Chipotle for giving it some high-profile national airtime. And don’t miss the amazing Flickr set of the production.

  • Disney’s Paperman. You’ve probably seen this by now, and behind-the-scenes similar to this profile from Fast Company. Disney hadn’t innovated much in combining 2D and 3D since deep canvas on Tarzan and the character work on Treasure Planet, both over 10 years ago. It’s great to see them back on the cutting edge.

  • Mickey Mouse in Croissant de Triomphe, supposedly the first in a series of new Mickey shorts. I would’ve preferred this to be more in the 1930s style, but this is still a lot of fun, and captures the spirit of the old Mickey shorts well.

And finally, I was really excited that Disney’s Pixar won an oscar, and to see the reaction from director Brenda Chapman. Circling back to Richard Williams, she actually worked early in her career on Roger Rabbit, and then as a story artist at Disney and director on Dreamworks’s Prince of Egypt.

Brenda said on her blog, about the Oscar win:

“And when I was fretting over having just one guest ticket, my husband, Kevin Lima, insisted that I take our daughter, Emma, with me. ‘You should share this with her,’ he said ‘it’s a mother and daughter night!’ Having Emma with me that night not only let me share with her one of the most wonderful nights of my life, it allowed me to tell the world how very much she means to me.”

So incredibly well-deserved. Animation is a painstakingly slow art form. The work of all these artists, from Richard Williams to Brenda Chapman, isn’t a 3-month mad dash to ship the next gimmick app to the App Store; it’s work that is measured across decades. Taken as a whole, I view it as an inspirational story of perseverance — a reminder that creating something great takes time.

La Luna and Paperman

Since I follow Enrico Casarosa on Twitter, I’ve been hearing about La Luna for what seems like a year. I was so happy to finally see the film run in front of Brave last weekend. Beautifully done and possibly my favorite Pixar short, perfect for a short film. (As an added bonus for seeing it at Alamo Drafthouse, they ran 7 other Pixar shorts before the feature started.)

There’s so much interesting work possible with short films. Disney apparently has another great one up their sleeves in Paperman. Some of the early hype:

“From what they told me and from what I’ve glimpsed in these concept drawings and videos below, it could be a game-changer for hand-drawn animation. In fact, it’s a new holistic hybrid of 2D and 3D, thanks to an interface called Meander that they ‘hijacked’ for the project from a young Disney programmer named Brian Whited, which was then refined by animator Eric Daniels and others. It’s a vector-based tool that empowers the animator with digital in-betweening and puts the drawings back on the screen.”

Also check out the series of YouTube teasers from the director: the idea and the look. And the first still shots from the film.

This kind of has why am I still programming written all over it for me.

The Princess and the Frog

Walt’s nephew “Roy Disney died this week”:http://www.cnn.com/2009/SHOWBIZ/12/16/roy.disney.obit/index.html. In 2003 I blogged about “Roy leaving the company”:http://www.manton.org/2003/12/roy_leaves.html. I said:

“It’s a shame that Roy is the one to leave. It’s clear that Disney (the company) has lost its way, and Eisner has no vision for what the company could be.”

Luckily for us, since that time a lot has changed, and the animation division does have leadership in John Lasseter. One of the most visible changes just opened in theaters last weekend: The Princess and the Frog. I’ve seen every theatrical release out of Disney feature animation since I could afford the few bucks to go to a theater, so I wasn’t likely to miss this return of 2d animation.

My daughters and I really loved this movie, not just because of my love for hand-drawn animation, but for a story that works and characters that are rooted in something real — singing Cajun fireflies and voodoo magic aside, of course. There are some really touching scenes here. “Sandro Cleuzo says”:http://inspectorcleuzo.blogspot.com/2009/12/milt-kahl-day-12.html the animation was rushed, but I think they did a heck of a job.

The credits are almost as if nothing has changed — Eric Goldberg, Andreas Deja, Mark Henn, Nik Ranieri. “The reality is slightly different”:http://www.dreamonsillydreamer.com/, but there’s a mix of new animators among the familiar names. A lot is riding on the success of this film, and it managed a respectable $25 million over the weekend.

Great job, Disney. I’m glad Roy got to see the beginning of the next 2d comeback.

Coraline

While not a major blockbuster, Coraline seems to be quietly doing pretty well. It has recouped about half of its production costs, and according to “Box Office Mojo”:http://www.boxofficemojo.com/weekend/chart/?view=&yr=2009&wknd=07&p=.htm actually added a few theaters in its second week of release.

One of the artist blogs I follow is by Matt Williames. I didn’t realize “until he posted about it”:http://handdrawnnomadzone.blogspot.com/2009/02/coraline.html that he worked on facial expressions for the film:

“A couple years ago I got a call from this new studio called ‘Laika’. They were doing a new Henry Selick film called Coraline and needed someone to design and animate the facial expressions (including design mouth shapes for dialogue) for all the characters in the film. And they wanted it ALL to be 2D upfront (it would later be modeling in the computer then molds would be made from that). It was a sweet gig– I lived in Portland for 6 weeks, all expenses paid and was scared to death every day of failing miserably.”

Cartoon Brew also links to a collection of “YouTube clips from an artists panel”:http://www.cartoonbrew.com/feature-film/coraline-production-artists-panel.html about Coraline. It’s a shame the “art of” book seems so incomplete.

I thoroughly enjoyed the movie. A packed theater and applause when the credits rolled only added to my impression that this movie is something special that is being carried by word of mouth.

Leonardo tips

Leonardo calendar Every year my New Year’s resolutions look about the same: draw more, journal more. (Blogging more is never one of my resolutions, but I’m nevertheless off to a good start this year with a goal of about one new post a day.)

This year I knew I needed some inspiration to keep drawing more. I ordered a calendar of drawings from the in-progress short film Leonardo and pinned it to the wall above my desk. My idea was pretty simple: every day I will see this calendar, and I will mark off the days that I actually draw.

The calendar is still blank. Guess I’ve failed, so far.

In better news, animator Jim Capobianco is nearing completion of the film. He’s been posting some “excellent tips on his blog”:http://leoanimation.blogspot.com/2009_01_01_archive.html about what he’s learned during production. I saw a rough cut of his film at the 2D Expo. Even in storyboard form you could tell it would be great. I blogged briefly “about the trip to California”:http://www.manton.org/2004/07/california_adventure.html for the expo and WWDC back in 2004.

His day job is at Pixar, where he’s been responsible for other hand-drawn efforts such as Your Friend the Rat (on the Ratatouille DVD) and the WALL-E closing credits.

Sita

As we start 2009, I continue to be inspired by what independent artists and developers are able to create with limited resources. Here’s one example.

Roger Ebert recently “posted a thoughtful review”:http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2008/12/having_wonderful_time_wish_you.html of animator Nina Paley’s independent feature Sita Sings the Blues. Paley is still in a small bit of copyright trouble with the songs and is trying to “creatively find a way out”:http://blog.ninapaley.com/2008/12/28/sitas-distribution-plan/. The copyright problem was news to me. I subscribe to Paley’s blog but haven’t been keeping up with it lately.

Early in 2008 I invited Paley to screen her films at “STAPLE!”:http://www.staple-austin.org/, but she was busy finishing Sita and preparing for its premiere in Europe. She has some great older shorts too, including one of the first Flash to QuickTime animated shorts I remember seeing, Fetch, which was linked years ago off Hotwired’s defunct animation site.

(Speaking of STAPLE!, “Stan Sakai”:http://www.staple-austin.org/guests/ will be our guest in March. If you are in the Austin area, please stop by.)

Sita Sings the Blues will find an audience eventually. I gave some money as Paley was soliciting donations to finish the feature, and I know I’m not the only one inspired by what she’s created. Making an indie feature film is an amazing accomplishment.

Ollie Johnston

Last week Traci asked me if I had heard about the animator who had died. Now of the 220 feeds I subscribe to in NetNewsWire, a full 60 of those are in a group called “Animation and Comics”, so I should have heard about any news from a variety of artist blogs or industry sources. But I’ve had my head down working on a number of programming projects — both Rails and Cocoa and just keeping up with the never-ending flood of email and Basecamp messages — so that NetNewsWire group was closed, and I was sadly ignorant.

My first question to her: “Was it Ollie?”

And of course it was. Ollie Johnston passed away at the age of 95, the last of Disney’s “Nine Old Men”. See the epic Cartoon Brew post for more. I had blogged about the death of his friend Frank Thomas in 2004, and also of colleague Ward Kimball in 2002.

For those who don’t know me very well, and even many who do, I’ll let you in on a little secret. One day my boss is going to wonder why I don’t answer his emails, and it will be because I’ve thrown the computer in the trash, set my USB devices on fire, and returned to the first passion of my life.

Sure, I have an old-school animation desk (old office 2005 and new office this year, next to computer stuff) and a bunch of paper and sharpened pencils to play with. Sure, I’ll still always love building software, designing user interfaces, and am grateful for the friends I have at work and in the Mac development community. Sure, I can’t support a family and giant mortgage doing silly portraits on the street corner.

But damn it. Ollie Johnston died.

Animation podcasts for a Super Tuesday

Need something to listen to on your iPod while waiting in line to vote today? Try out these fantastic recent episodes of two of my favorite podcasts for animators and animation fans.

“Spline Cast with Ed Catmull”:http://splinedoctors.blogspot.com/2007/11/original-spline-doctor.html. I’ll be honest, I’ve followed the careers of John Lasseter and Steve Jobs a lot closer than I have for Ed Catmull, but this podcast shows pretty clearly the depth of impact Ed Catmull has had on the computer industry and the Pixar culture. It’s a great listen not just for anyone who cares about animation, but also for entrepreneurs who want a look into how you stay successful year after year.

“Animation Podcast with James Baxter”:http://animationpodcast.com/archives/2008/02/04/james-baxter-part-one/. There are many great animators, from well known independents who receive Oscar recognition to those who work 12-hour days in relative obscurity at a big studio, but there are only a handful of true masters of the art form. Baxter is one of my favorites. The powerful sequence with Moses and the burning bush and the mannerism of Belle fixing her hair were both always really memorable for me.

Enjoy! Happy Super Tuesday.

Lowbrow Monster Mash

Late notice, but I’ll have a watercolor piece in tonight’s Monster Mash art show at the Lowbrow Emporium on South Lamar. If you’re in Austin, drop by between 7 and 11pm and say hi. (Address and other details on “the poster by Jason Chalker”:http://austinsketchsquad.blogspot.com/2007/09/they-did-mashit-was-monster-mash.html.) The art is from participants and friends of the Austin Sketch Squad, some of whom will be doing live art at the show. There will also be free beer and candy!

I snapped a “photo of my desk with art stuff”:http://www.flickr.com/photos/manton/1558857105/ while I was preparing for the show. I forgot to scan the final art, which sadly didn’t come out nearly as nice as my first sketch, but I’ll get a picture of that tonight. It was fun to work on and a nice break from late-night programming this week.

STAPLE! 2007 weekend wrap-up

“STAPLE! The Independent Media Expo”:http://www.staple-austin.org/ was last Saturday and it turned out great. The “animation panel I wrote about last week”:http://www.manton.org/2007/02/animation_panel.html was a lot of fun and didn’t seem to suffer too much from my amateur moderating abilities. The projector worked, the films were great, and we filled an hour and a half with questions from the audience. Special thanks to “Damon”:http://www.damonclinkscales.com/ for working the lights and providing feedback afterwards.

My only regret is that I didn’t take a few minutes to snap photos or set up a video camera in the back to capture it. I left my camera in the car the whole day. Luckily other attendees took pictures of the rest of the show. Here are Flickr sets from “Freddie Avalos”:http://www.flickr.com/photos/freddieavalos/sets/72157594570835464/, “Toby Craig”:http://www.flickr.com/photos/ithinkican/sets/72157594574373510/, and “Marianne Ways”:http://flickr.com/photos/mways/sets/72157594569262131/. Update: Damon “snapped a picture”:http://flickr.com/photos/digitalnomad/413875252/in/photostream/ after all!

Sunday night was the “Animation Show”:http://www.animationshow.com/ at the Paramount and Don Hertzfeldt answered questions afterwards. His latest film may be my favorite of his yet. I worked with Robert at the Animation Show on cross-promotion between their show and STAPLE!, and they were so great to work with I hope we can join forces again next time.

I came away from the whole weekend inspired. Monday a new idea for an animated short film hit me. I think it’s time to dust off the animation table again.

Animation panel and web site for STAPLE! 2007

“Chris”:http://ycrtft.rethunkmedia.com/ and I headed over to Northcross Mall yesterday to take a final look at the conference center rooms before next week’s STAPLE! Expo. Although I’ve been on the planning committee since the very beginning of the conference over 3 years ago and actively involved for each of the previous 2 shows, this year is a little special because I’ve been organizing a panel on animation to complement the mostly comic book focused show. We have three great local animators this year: Aaron Romo, Evan Cagle, and Lance Myers. See the “STAPLE! guests page”:http://www.staple-austin.org/guests/ for more information on their work and our other featured speakers.

I also redesigned the web site last week, late Thursday night. In order to accommodate some CSS improvements and images from our new program, I had to abandon a few things from last year’s excellent design by “John Rubio”:http://www.johnrubio.com/ (who also did the logo). I hope to bring back elements of the old design for next year, though. There’s just not enough time in the day, and March is days away. I hate you February, for being so short.