My first real animation wasn’t supposed to take nine months. Actually, I was supposed to have it finished in two. But a lot came up, I had a lot to learn, and I went through a period of fluctuating self-esteem that crippled my workflow.
But I’m finally done, and it’s been quite the wild ride to this point. So here we are – the super-duper-animation-post-I’ve-been-thinking-about-for-awhile-now.
Let’s get into it!
My Journey To Animation: A Brief History
Like most kids, I’d played around with notepads and stop motions. At one point, I even had this little animation kit thing (it included a zoetrope and was actually really awesome – I wish I had kept it!).
Last year, I made some little animated gifs. They were really REALLY labor-intensive – lots of tracing and stuff. I documented that on Steeplechase in this post.
However, I couldn’t keep folding papers into eighths in lieu of a lightboard. I had to face the fact that I needed to use the computer if I was going to take this from a passing whim to a serious hobby.
Now before you come at me with that “but-Disney-cartoons-are-all-made-on-paper-you-tech-spoiled-millenial” snobbishness, allow me to defend myself. Disney is a company made up of hundreds of people. Disney animators don’t have to worry about:
- sound mixing
- lack of inspiration. (Well, maybe not.)
If you’re an independent animator (meaning you’re a one-man-show), then you have to do all of that yourself. Oh yeah, and animate, too. 😛 A computer program makes it much easier and smoother to make your own animations without a inking, painting, or backgrounds department.
I ended up purchasing a drawing tablet on Amazon. Technically, his name is Cedric, and he’s Constance’s secret admirer. (Clara, I guess I should have warned you about that. ;)) After doing some research, I found out how to legally download an ancient version of Flash, Adobe’s ever-popular animation program.
So I was all set! Now – to actually animate something.
I had heard about Multi-Animator Projects (we affectionately call them MAPs), so I decided I should start there.
What is a Multi-Animator Project (MAP)?
Basically, someone takes a song, divides it into 10-second parts, and posts it up for “auditions”. There are all kinds of MAPs (fandom, original character, vent, positivity, beginner-friendly, etc.) for all kinds of tastes. Most of them are kind of edgy or centered on Warrior Cats, but there are more than a few acceptable ones. Most of the time, anyway.
I decided to go out on a limb and just admit my noobiness to a MAP host and
beg ask for a part. And he was gracious enough to accept!
So here I was, with my tablet, my Flash, my MAP part – and absolutely no idea what I had gotten into.
I started by cutting the audio. I downloaded the song we were using, put it into my fancy audio editing software, and clipped it down to just my part.
Once I had the audio for my part, I imported into Flash and set it in its own layer, so that I could start animating.
(Layers are just what they sound like – different layers of stuff that you can stack on top of each other. For example, if the tail of your character is the only thing that’s moving, you can put the character’s still body on one layer and the tail on another and just animate the tail without having to redraw the body over and over again.)
The next step was to make an animatic – a moving storyboard. I sketched out all the poses that I wanted my character to be in and put them at the right times for the music. (We call those poses keyframes.) As in, I wanted my wolf to stand up at the first “oh-oh-oh”, so I drew him in a standing position and put it at that time in the timeline (the number bar at the top).
(Also, I was a doofus and deleted all my sketch layers. 😦 So I have virtually no pictures to show for it.)
Rough sketches came next. I filled in the gaps between my keyframes with ugly, scribbly drawings. It was important that I made a sketch for every single frame, because I’m not the sort of person who can just freehand pretty drawings.
Before I got into anything fancy, though, I made the background. (It took me two and a half hours and a ton of headbanging, hairpulling, and complaining on how hard it is to do a nice gradient in Flash.) The reason I made it so early on is simple – it’s like painting. You do the background first to get an idea of what your setting will look like before you start coloring things in, so that you don’t end up with a background that looks like a cheap mid-90s green screen job.
After the rough sketches moved the way I wanted them to, I started on lineart, the pretty lines that turn this tornado of chicken scratch into an actual wolf. I traced them over my sketches on a new layer.
With the lineart moving along nicely, I filled in the color. At this point, he looks flat and out of place, but we’re about to fix that with…
…shading! It took me a little while to decide how to do the shading. I eventually decided on running over the appropriate areas with an opaque black (so that the lineart and color shows through, but it’s darker). This was a time-consuming, labor-intensive process that I got through by listening to music.
Shading is all well and good, but without ground shadows, it was still looking funny. Of course, my wolf goes into a heavily shadowed place halfway through the sequence, so I didn’t have to do the shadows after that point, but I did need dramatic ground shadows for the first half. I have to confess that I cheated a bit – instead of trying to freehand the shadows (and inevidably messing it up, because shadows are my nemeses), I just copied the lineart, turned it all black, flipped it upside down, angled it, and set the opacity. Which was definitely much more accurate than trying to freehand everything.
After a few final touches (and a lot of celebration), I converted my Flash file to an mp4, uploaded it to YouTube, notified my MAP host that I’d finished (finally!) and…
here it is!
I know that a lot of you guys are not allowed on YouTube, so Madison has been kind enough to put it into her media files and give me the link, so you guys can watch! If you live in a cave and don’t know who Madi is, be sure to check her out!
(Wait – does this mean I have a sponsor? NO WAY.)
Animation is hard. It’s frustrating, labor-intensive, patience-testing, difficult on perfectionists…
…and SO. MUCH. FUN.
With my first animation now under my belt, I’m going to promptly sign up for another MAP. Why? I live by a little maxim, and it applies to pretty much everything. It goes:
The best way to do it better is to do it more.
So I’m going to go at it again, animate something else, and learn even more than I learned this time around.
Let’s just hope that this one doesn’t take nine months to complete. 😉
Sayonara for now,