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New Animation Project

Greenbelt Land Trust in Oregon called me in late May of this year, asking if I'd be interested in creating a short animation for their website. GLT Executive Director, Michael Pope, and Development Director, Jessica McDonald, were looking for something that would, in thirty seconds to one minute, show what they do. They wanted to to be fun and not pedantic. Although I'm not a pro animator, I was intrigued by the subject matter and thought about it for a few days.

As a long time professional illustrator, I have the necessary skills to submit sketches and, when the client makes changes (which they most often do), I whine for a while, but I always come through with the goods. However, since I've only created my hand-made animations for myself. Which, of course, means I can enter into the project with an idea in mind, but, since I haven't shown storyboards or even an outline to anyone, I can change course at any point in the project. That's why, despite all the work involved in making motion pictures, I've enjoyed creating them over the years.

With that in mind, I decided to write to GLT with this proposal (edited):

I've done some animation commercially, but only as a designer, meaning I provide characters and backgrounds, etc. A professional animation company creates the finished animation. The animations that I've done entirely on my own that have been created as personal projects. I'm not faced with a deadline and there's no client needs to be met. Since there is no input from others, I simply do what I want to do. All of my personal animations are done in traditional 2D style. They are loads of work and, despite all the great computer software now available, all animation takes time to produce. I'm also a musician, so I get the opportunity to create the music and soundtracks.

If you are still interested, I'd be happy to make a fun, Elwoodian animation for Greenbelt Land Trust, but unless I were to hire a pro animator to do the actual animation, I would want lots of freedom to do what I've done in my own personal animations. You'd have the right, of course, to decline what I come up with. I'd want some kind of small kill fee for the hours spent on the project if you reject it, but we can discuss that fee to make it fair.

Michael and Jessica loved my 2D animations and were game to give the project a go-ahead as I presented it. I worked on ideas off and on while finishing up final art for a kids' book and began working on the project in earnest about two weeks after I accepted the assignment.

In this article, you can view some of my early sketches for the Cave Man and the Modern Man. I initially tried to create the art in Photoshop's frame animation program (which I'd only recently discovered), but found it unwieldy. Partly, I'm sure, because I don't really know the software. I may return to it one day.

I ended up going with the great vector software, Toon Boom Studio, my old standby. I normally output the work as a QuickTime movie, which is bitmap, but beginning with vector allows me to output a variety of file sizes, from HD to tiny iPhone movies.

Link to Toon Boom Studio

I used a borrowed Wacom Cintiq 18SX tablet, drawing directly into TBS. (Maggie bought me the amazing Cintiq 21UX for my birthday, but the unit was back ordered. Sadly, I wasn't able to use it on this animation, but happily my new Cintiq arrived last week!

Link to the Cintiq 21UX

I exported a large QuickTime of the animation from TBS and imported it into iMovie "11 for final editing, including adding the sound effects and musical score.

I created the music in GarageBand--where, much to my amazement and delight, I can create symphonic music, even though I can't read a note of music!)

Here's a link to my Mac MobileMe Gallery where the animation now resides:
E.S. GLT Animation
(If you can't play it, just upgrade your QuickTime player to the latest
Oops! I just realized that I'd forgotten to add some images and descriptive text. Sorry about that. I guess I tossed out my rough sketches, but here's a first run at my caveman. He's closer in feel to my normal illustration style and, while I liked him, I wanted the art to be simpler and more rolly polly and squat.
Ditto for my Modern Man.
Here they are, basically the same characters I used in the final animation. These are drawings I wanted to use as my models in my failed experiment using Photoshop's animation program. I love the watercolor texture in these, but since I ended up doing the art in Toon Boom Studio, it became vector art, which in Photoshop would have been bitmap. I'll have another go at the Photoshop system as soon as I have time.
Unlike real animators, I don't create pencil tests or do storyboards. One can argue that my animation suffers because I bypass that important process, but it's how I've chosen to do these things and, while I know there is lots of room for improvement, I'm happy with my results and, over time, I know I'll get better.
However, I do write a short outline for myself and I work out rough sketches and a timing sheet. The one shown here is a more finalized timing sheet, done after I'd worked up a nearly final animation in Toon Boom, but hadn't yet added color. I used this sheet to create my soundtrack and it gave me an idea where the sound effects would fall.
The Attacker characters as drawn using the vector animation software, Toon Boom Studio.
Foliage elements created with pen on watercolor paper that were never used, but were models for the final animation.
A screenshot of my Toon Boom Studio workspace while working on the GLT project.
Screenshot 2 of the GLT project in TBS.
GLT Soundtrack in GarageBand.
If anyone wants to see larger images of any of these, let me know and I'll publish them as images only. -ES
Topical: Animation  Tools  Music  
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