In Search for Perfect Animation Software

Quite a few animators with few exceptions* sometimes dream of a Machine or Software that would allow them to export images from their brain directly to an HD quality Quick Time Movie (.mov).
You’d press the Brain Impulse Capturing device to your skull, focus deeply and intently on the character design or specific movement of the character, or imagine the whole 5 minute film sequence by sequence and voilà! – it is captured through a software onto your hard drive! only minor tweaks and the film is ready for an audience!
No more broken pencils or furniture destroyed against the studio floor when venting the frustration of your own incapability to animate this complicated dance move of a character in a hat with an ostrich feather.
All you’d have to do is to focus on the images in your brain and they come outside your brain to live long and successful lives on screens big and small.
While waiting for the Technology to catch up with the Ultimate Animators Fantasy animators spend years searching for Purrfect Animation Software (PAS). Every program in the market has faults.
– After Effects? It has no exposure sheets! It is a nightmare when a scene has 1000 drawings and 12 layers!
– Flash? It can do a lot but can’t do what I want. To make something look handmade in Flash one has to spend 3 hours on just one drawing.
– ToonBoom? Not compatible with macs.
This PAS search often translates as:
– If I could only find a great program I’d make a film!
– Isn’t that just a Perfect Excuse? If you want to make a film, make a film! – I’d say.
– My process has to be flawless. I don’t want to spend time on technical stuff like scanning, coloring or writing stupid exposure sheets. I just want to create.
Well, some people artificially create obstacles for their creative process with spectacular results. Take “Madam Tutli Puttli”.
It took 4 years to frame by frame to digitally attach live action footage of eyes to stop motion puppet.
Creativity is a funny beast – when things are too easy, it doesn’t come. When you are squeezed by harsh conditions like lack of funding or terrible software, or a crazy idea like marrying live action eyes with a puppet, it thrives.
My own animated filmmaking process is horrible and full of hinderances. Not sure why am stuck in the digital Stone Age, that is a question for a shrink (I don’t have one, although I would love to – but only pro bono). I waste a lot of time on uncreative/technical work. Let’s see:
1) I do my animation on paper with 4B pencil that I need to sharpen every 4,5 minutes. Sharpening interrupts my work on drawing for approximately 4 – 5 seconds. During those 5 seconds I think of Nothing.
On a good day I go through 3,5 pencils. Each pencil requires 20 – 30 sharpenings.
2) To do a line test I scan drawings in 100 dpi. Each drawing takes 8 seconds to scan when I think of Nothing, just stare at window or my unmanicured fingernails (never done manicure and do not intend to unless it involves small fish nibbling off my old skin but I hear it’s illegal in NY state now). On a good day it can be 80 drawings to linetest.
3) I import the files into my old glitchy Premiere 6.5 for the line test and distribute them along the timeline intuitively. At this stage I don’t have exposure sheets, not even in my head. Just a fleeting feeling of how to connect drawings with time and story. To make the top layers transparent, I highlight a drawing and push apple+G, then chose ‘multiply’ mode. One file at the time. If I try to select multiple drawings my moody Premiere 6.5 “quits unexpectedly”. Takes a long time to ‘multiply’ 80 drawings, while thinking Nothing but automatically pressing apple+G = ‘multiply’.
4) When I am happy with the line test, I take my 4B pencil and draw in shadows for each drawing. It takes 7 minutes for each drawing. Those 7 minutes are spent of ruminating on whether I should have steamed broccoli for lunch or sauteed pig’s skin, or both. The other 7 minutes on another drawing are spent on equally uncreative problem.
5) Rashida then scans the finalized drawings in 300 dpi. It takes about 58 seconds for each drawing to scan, she spends that time staring out the window or texting her friends (I assure you an animator can write a brief novel in 58 seconds).
6) I take the timing of each drawing off the Premiere timeline, creating a paper one would call ‘exposure sheets’ except it rather reminds of a scrap paper taken out of a mentally disturbed prodigy’s waste basket – it’s wrinkled, covered with numbers and makes no sense to an outsider (even to an animator who doesn’t work in my studio). Creating ‘exposure sheets’ involves dragging the arrow to each image, writing down the drawing number then pressing apple+R and writing down the time. Getting this done for a 5 minute segment takes 9 hours of immersion in the following thoughts:”001 is 4 frames, A112C is 13 frames, wait, was it 12 frames, yes, it was 13 frames, 002 is 3 frames” etc.
7) Coloring one drawing in Photoshop can take 20 – 30 minutes. We work with 4 layers (color, drawing, shadow, shadow drawing). All that time is spent on thinking about everything else but the project. You know, personal stuff, like eating, sex and what she/he said and what she/he really meant by it.
Time to time a technically savvy person walks into my studio, sees my process and attacks me with suggestions how to make my process more efficient. But I am wary of any improvements. I have seen people get their process more efficient and stop making films altogether. My way at least I have animated 20 minutes in the last 6 months.
Make what you want. But make it the way it excites your brain.

* I asked Bill Plympton once, if he would like to get his images directly from his brain onto screen. Without stoping to think he said NO.

– I get great pleasure from drawing. Why would I want to eliminate this pleasure?

I should have asked him if he would consider drawing on Cintiq.

** Recently we went for a brief lecture on TVPaint, an animation software developed by a French company. It has been created specifically for more artistic projects, and it has some amazing painting features. It also has quite advanced ability to do camera moves. If you want to be intuitive, you can do that. If you need a communication between lead animators and in-betweeners it is perfect for that too. If you want to do drawing on paper, it welcomes the scans. If you want to draw directly into the program it is made for it. You can make things look handmade but you can also make them look super clean and digital. It is loaded with special effects. I don’t think there is something in the realm of animation TV Paint cannot do. At the end of the overview we asked the presenter:

– Are you working on your own film? You know the program inside out, we marvel what would YOU do if you made a film.

The presenter blushed and said:

– I do know the program but am not sure what to do with it. I just don’t think that way. You know, story and stuff…

*** in the wake of the latest contraception controversy, Sandra Fluke vs Rush Limbaugh,

a drawing:

Do you grab the Foulmouth Monster by his tongue and hold him accountable or do you sit out and let the others touch the nasty slime?

About rocksinmypocketsthemovie

I was born in Latvia, educated in Moscow, live in New York. I have made about 14 animated shorts so far.
This entry was posted in Hazards of being an artist, The Work in Progress and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to In Search for Perfect Animation Software

  1. Marie says:

    I use Toon Boom’s Storyboard Pro and Animate Pro on a Mac and highly recommend them. I used After Effects in the past but found it frustrating since my method is similar to yours, drawing on paper then scanning the drawings. Animate Pro has an exposure sheet function and Toon Boom’s in-house and user support are helpful when you run into problems. I suggest you download their demo version and give it a try.

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