Sunday, December 21, 2008

Episode 2 Is Out!

Ah screw it, I know I said Monday, but we're releasing it now. We don't feel like waiting until midnight. Here it is, Episode 2 of Ronin Dojo Community College DX: The Digital Pirates of Dark Water Saga!

A big thanks to Dan Malloy for doing sound design and mixing everything down, and to Emily Tarver who was the voice for Agent Wilkins.

Digital Rights & Robot Rights

Friday, December 19, 2008

Monday. Monday! MONDAY!

This Monday, December 22nd For Tax Reasons will be releasing Episode 2 of the Ronin Dojo Community College DX: The Digital Pirates of Dark Water Saga! YEAH! All right! Self-promotion!

If you haven't already, check out Episode 1, and Episode 1.5 so that you can understand the super complex tale we're weaving. Man, Episode 2 is gonna be so complicated and convoluted that we'll have to release a two-hour feature length version, just so people can wrap their brains around this 2 minute and 30 second cartoon. That's how good Episode 2 will be. Confusingly good. Anyways, yeah, check it out. Monday.

Jersey Nights & Robot Rights

Monday, December 15, 2008

Some Updates From the Front

Matt and I have been clickin' away at the second episode of RDCCDX: The Digital Pirates of Dark Water Saga. I finished all of the drawing up this weekend, and we scanned, cleaned and roughly composited everything in one day. If we get lip syncing, coloring and sound done this week, we should be posting the episode by next Monday.

So here's a glimpse of a couple of the characters appearing in the new episode. Here's the cleaned and colored head rotation of Agent Wilkins, who I previously posted about.

It's kinda scary when they're rotating and yelling. And here's another dude's head, I think this one turned out pretty good- nice stretchy mouth moves.

I bet that guy is from Chicago and buddies with Carl Winslow.

More updates coming soon.

"It's a rare condition in this day and age to read any robot rights on the newspaper page."

Monday, December 8, 2008

Pencil Tests

So, I'm half way through animating the second episode of "Ronin Dojo Community College DX: The Digital Pirates of Dark Water Saga", and I thought I'd do a little update and post some pencil tests.

For those of you not in the know, pencil tests are when you shoot your key frames and roughs to test out timing or see how the movement is looking. For example, here's a rough pencil test where the character drops a spool of DVD-Rs and vomits.

Back in the olden days, like the late 1800's when animation was confined to giant daguerreotype flip-books of Confederate soldiers rotting on battlefields, they couldn't do pencil tests. But with today's technology, it's easy.

If you have a shitty video camera and a Mac, you can use a program called Framethief. It allows you to grab single frames from the camera feed and then play them back. The trial version is all you'll need if you're just doing pencil tests. If you're doing some stop motion stuff, you might need to get the full version so you can insert frames and stuff.

In college, we used these devices called Lunchboxes to do pencil tests, but they're really expensive and require a camera and monitor so you might as well not bother. I just mentioned them because the name is funny.

So for the new episode, I was working on this shot where a character walks while rolling up his shirt sleeve and grabs Barry. Generally, I try to keep my characters standing in one spot whenever possible so that I can save time on animating walks and runs and such. If a character must run or walk- I usually pawn the shot off to Matt. This practice has built up a phobia in my mind of animating any sort of foot movement, and as a result my characters move like they have their feet nailed to the ground. So when I got to this shot of a dude walking around and doing stuff, I got scared. This is how I coped.

First I video taped my self walking around and being angry, to see what exactly the movement would look like. I won't post these pictures because I look gross and ugly in them. So let's just pretend this is what those looked like.

Next I broke down the movement into key frames and shot a pencil test.

Then I did my inbetweens to fill out the motion.

I also brought the PICT sequence into After Effects to futz around with timing, and I put a camera move on the shot. I find that camera pans and the like can help smooth out limited animation.

And there you have it. I overcame my phobia, and it only took hours upon hours of work.

Ambrotypes & Robot Rights

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


Check it out, I got TWO pieces of news.

As I mentioned before, Matt and I were guests on the Otaku Generation podcast. Episode #181 is now up, so go listen to our incoherent ramblings. Big thanks to Alan, Bryce and Jefferson for having us on.

Ok, and second piece news, we animated a little mini RDCCDX episode to tie everyone over until Episode 2 of "Ronin Dojo Community College DX: The Digital Pirates of Dark Water Saga" comes out. Take a look:

Turkey Rights & Robot Rights

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Here are some rough character designs I drew on the train.

Matt and I are still working hard on Episode 2 of Ronin Dojo Community College DX: The Digital Pirates of Dark Water Saga, but nothing new to show yet. However if you're looking for a For Tax Reasons fix, we'll be guesting on the Otaku Generation podcast this coming Monday. I believe the episodes go up every Wednesday, so be on the look out for it on the 26th. We'll also be posting a mini RDCCDX short as well.

Hold Tight & Robot Rights

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

And I could write you the perfect song, and you could sing along...

The final Ergs! shows were this weekend and I trekked out to Asbury Park, New Jersey to see them. Both shows were amazing and sad and awesome and full hilarious pop/punk culture references. What other band would quote both the Simpsons and two different live NOFX records? NO OTHER BAND, that's who.

I'm going to miss them and their sweet, sweet melodies. They were definitely one of the best punk bands of today.

Everything falls apart (and robot rights)

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Lost In Space

I just roughed out head rotation for Agent Wilkins, a new character in the RDCCDX universe, voiced by Emily Tarver. Usually, I wouldn't make a full set of heads for a secondary character, but she's featured in the next two episodes of Ronin Dojo Community College DX: The Digital Pirates of Dark Water Saga, so she's getting the full treatment. We spare no expense here at the For Tax Reasons Spa, Resort & Drawatorium.

For those of you who don't often read my blog, I'll be pairing these with sets of mouths and eyes to be used for whenever she's on screen, yapping away.

And as if I didn't spend enough quality sedentary time at a scribbling around with pencils, I've started working on a music video for the awesome pop punk outfit Teenage Bottlerocket. I'm pretty psyched about it, I've been a fan of TBR since I saw them in Mrs. Jones' basement back in Silver Spring, MD. If you like solid catchy pop punk tune-age, check them out. By the way, that flyer above is old so don't go to the Cake Shop in 8 months and expect that line up.

This is a design idea for a girl in the video. Though to be honest, I hadn't drawn a girl in a while so I used it as an excuse to take a break from making shitty storyboards. She supposed to be a nurse, I drew her in scrubs because I didn't want to use that tired old sexy nurse Halloween outfit version that's in everything. If I did that, I might as well draw a doctor with one of those weird pizza cutter thing strapped to his head. It's time to update our cartoon archetypes people!

She's a Dove, She's A Fucking- Robot Rights

Monday, November 10, 2008

It has begun

Production has begun on episode two of "Ronin Dojo Community College DX: The Digital Pirates of Dark Water Saga", and if you can decipher this shitty chicken scratch of storyboard frame, you already know it's going to be ape-shit crazy.

We boarded everything out yesterday and made the animatic like every good little animator should before they run head first into the mind numbing tedium of making a cartoon. However this time around I've been trying something new with the way I set up each shot. I've been drawing the ceiling.

Even though Matt and I were pleased with how the first episode of RDCCXD:TDPODWS came out,
I didn't feel like I got a good sense of the space that existed outside of each shot. At first I reasoned that I had made the whole thing, so it was hard for me to step back and take it all in as an audience member. However the real reason was our failure to include solid establishing shots, shots that included high or low angles, and set ups that explored the space.

If you look at the short you'll notice that up until the Seth and Mark confrontation, pretty much everything is set up as if the camera was facing the store front, and most of the shots were just close ups or push ins of that basic set up. This was mostly done to save time.

But during the argument between Mark and Jerry we could have included shots where we saw the sidewalk and stores that were behind Jerry instead of the flat windows that he was standing next to. This might have given a better sense of where the store was and how the strip mall was laid out.

We also could have included slight high and low angles to our shots. Showing off the architecture behind the characters helps give a sense that they are near a three dimensional structure, or in a cubed room- not up against a flat wall.

This is what I've been trying to do with the set ups of episode 2. I've been drawing in the ceiling, and the angles of the room. My hope is this will give the audience a better sense of the space while still allowing me to use the library of heads that aren't drawn from low angles or high angles, which would include more of the bottom of the chin or top of the head respectively.

I'm still learning a lot about setting up shots and all of this crap, but from watching how other animators do their thang, I think this whole ceiling concept is something I should look into. I hate drawing backgrounds, they're really hard, and the less of them I have to do the better. But if I can make changes that would make our characters look like they're actually somewhere and not on a two dimensional stage that would be good.

Stalactites & Robot Rights

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


After Barack's speech, I went home and started working on this to celebrate.

We had to finish the trilogy. More on all this later.

Monday, November 3, 2008



Wednesday, October 29, 2008

G.O.P. P.S.A. #2

Here it is, the second G.O.P. P.S.A.! This time Sarah Palin tries to teach kids how to be racist, and a very special guest drops by. Check it out!

I can't wait to see how people get confused by this one.

Remember to vote for Barack Obama on November 4th! I don't want to ever have to use those Palin head drawings again.

Late Nights & Robot Rights

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Wish I had my own

I just finished coloring the last drawings for a second G.O.P. P.S.A. Yep, we're doing another one- hopefully to be finished Wednesday night.

So I thought I'd explain what the hell is going on with these G.O.P. things, since my last entry was only like two sentences long- written just as Matt and I had finished rendering the short and were posting it all over the place.

Somewhere along this road to the White House, possibly at the corner of Campaign Rhetoric Avenue and Bat-shit Crazy Alaskan Lady Terrace, we realized this was going to be the most important election of our lives and we had to do or part to help save the country from exploding. So we decided to do the only thing we could do that would make a difference- draw a cartoon and put it on Youtube. Clearly, the best way to impact the world.

Now at the time, we were still knee deep in finishing the latest Ronin Dojo Community College DX episode, and we didn't really have a solid idea of what exactly we were going to animate. But we knew that whatever it was, it would probably involve the candidates- so I might as well just start drawing talking heads for use down the road.

Now, the tough part of doing a political cartoon turned out not to be the animation (because we barely did any) but the writing. We kept thinking of ideas for cartoons, only to find them to be played out by the next day.
Early on, Matt and I had a parody P.S.A. sketched out where McCain helps a kid avoid peer pressure by being a maverick. Of course by the time we were ready to start animating, the whole maverick thing was kinda old and irrelevant.

So w
e decided to ditch the whole G.I. Joe parody idea and just do something on the debates. After the second debate, we recorded the audio for a cartoon where McCain fields questions that were leftover from the town hall audience. Problem was we wrote, recorded and edited it in one night. What was hilarious at 1 am, turned out to just be a bunch of Transformer jokes when we listened to it the next day. Not exactly biting satire.

With only a few weeks left, we were like screw it, back to the G.I. Joe thing. What's McCain doing now? Calling everyone a socialist. Let's do it. We had the heads drawn, we pounded out the a 7 or so barely animated shots out in less than a week and threw it on line.

And here we are. It's not very funny, maybe a bit too subtle judging by the piles of Youtube comments asking if we know what socialism is, but whatever. We're doing another one. Fuck John McCain.

Now a tiny part of me did feel a little weird about posting the G.O.P. short because, Matt and I don't hate Republicans, and I'm sure all of the people who watch our videos aren't lefty-commie-abortionist-liberals like ourselves. We didn't want to alienate people. But on the other hand, the shit that has been going on is RIDICULOUS, how could we NOT do something like this?

As we should've expected, there were a lot of mixed responses to the video. Some good, some not so good. But when you get messages saying things like "you've lost a fan [you] democratic fags", you know you're doing the right thing.

My Very Own Flag & Robot Rights

Friday, October 24, 2008


A big thanks to everyone who checked out the new Ronin Dojo cartoon, a huge thanks to Scott from VG Cats for posting about us again, and a large extra medium thanks for all the awesome comments- even that one that jokes about stalking us.

Anyways, some quick news. Matt and I whipped up another cartoon, just in time to be barely relevant. More on this later.

Remember to vote on November 4th, preferably for Barack Obama.

Fight For Your Rights & Robot Rights

Thursday, October 16, 2008


It's finally done! Check-check-check-check CHECK IT OUT!

It's the first episode in our four part "The Digital Pirates of Dark Water" saga, entitled, "Release Me!".

A big thanks go to Tim Martin for doing another amazing voice over job, to Andrew Kudlick and Jonah Beram for recording some awesome music, and to Dan Malloy for mixing this shit.

Oy vey, I'm going outside.

Riding Bikes & Robot Rights

Thursday, October 9, 2008

If I'm Ever Bored And Want To Write A Musical-

-I'll know what to write.

Once I figured out the colors I felt like I had to put a title on it.

Foot Lights & Robot Rights

Wednesday, October 8, 2008


Something random I've been working on. Not sure if I like the colors yet.

I feel like it would be a good poster for some weird transgendered queercore pop punk band. Or just a regular punk band. Any takers?

She's All Right & Robot Rights

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Five Stages of Animation

We are PICTURE LOCKED on the new episode of Ronin Dojo Community College DX! All we have left to do is make some music and sound effects and we are good to go. Though this could possibly be done by next week, we're not quite sure what the release date will be- but it will be soon.

Now, this milestone has made me think back to a theory I've had about animation process- which this short along with all my past endeavors have definitely validated. My theory is that going through the process of animating a film is kind of like going through the Five Stages of Grief.

First, there's denial. You're thinking, yeah this isn't so many shots I can totally animate this in like a- month. It will turn out great, I'm going to really do it right this time, it's going to look so much better than my last short.

So you start animating and soon enough you find yourself behind schedule, and you enter the second stage of animation- anger. You starting yelling things like "WHY IS IT SO HARD TO ANIMATE HANDS?! I can't believe I thought this would only take me one night to do?!" and "What happened with this run cycle, it looks like he's going backwards- I CAN'T DRAW?!"

This is when you enter the third stage of animation, bargaining. You go back rearrange your schedule in order to compensate for all the trouble you've been having, and you say to yourself "You know what, this doesn't look so bad, I'll just move it around in After Effects and it'll work." And in a Jon Lovitz voice you say "Yeah, that's the ticket", expecting you're roommate to laugh, but your roommate doesn't hear you so you say it even louder, "Yeah, THAT'S THE TICKET." Then you're roommate asks why the hell are you talking about tickets. So you take five minutes to explain how it was this bit he used to do on Saturday Night Live and then you're roommate says "Oh, yeah. . ." So you respond "Whatever, it was funny" and go back to animating.

After going through the gauntlet of actually animating, you enter the fourth stage, depression. You're scanning and coloring and things are starting to come together, but they look a lot messier than you had thought they would. So you start getting all sad and hopeless, thinking you'll never really get any better and suspecting that all those legendary animators like Chuck Jones were actually aliens or at least time travelers.

Finally, after everything is composited and colored, the sound is all done, and all of the shots are all cut together- you have finished an animated film. Thus, you enter the last stage of animation- acceptance. You're proud of yourself for finishing the short, and it's really cool to watch the drawings come together to create the illusion of movement. Sure it's not as good as you thought it would be, but you know only jerks are completely satisfied with their work. If you're serious about your "craft" or whatever, you'll be able to pick out your faults. But seriously, you should be doing more life drawing- this time you're for real about that. Whatever, that's for later though, you've finished the short and now it's time to go outside and see your friends again.

Seeing The Light & Robot Rights

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


Unfortunately, animation is a learning process. It's not like riding a roller coaster or eating a sandwich. But maybe it's kind of like eating a sandwich while riding a roller coaster. You always think you know how to do it, but some unseen problem comes up and the next thing you know your tomatoes are flying everywhere.

This time around, the bump that has sent my tomatoes flying is line thickness. If that's clear enough.

As I've mentioned before, Matt and I are using this system of head files, we create sets of heads for each character with movable and interchangeable mouths, eyes and eyebrows. It saves us the time of redrawing heads and mouths for each new shot, and for future shorts.

When we drew these heads, we drew them pretty big so that they could be used for close up shots and not look chunky. And for the close up's and medium shots, things have worked out pretty well.

The problem is, when they're used for wide shots, the facial details look noticeably thinner than the rest of the shot, exaggerating the pasted on quality that we're trying to hide.

In addition to that, some of the bodies were drawn really small. So when put against each other, they look vastly different, and messy.

I've tried to close the line thickness gap by adding a 5-9 pixel stroke outline to the heads, but that doesn't always cut it . The sad truth is, even though the computer allows you to paste any separate drawn elements together, if they were drawn on vastly different scales it's going to show.

In the future, we have to make sure that we're drawing these bodies as big as possible so that the line quality and thickness matches with the size of the heads, and that we're cleaning up these drawings with a finer line. If doing that doesn't fix the problem, I might consider duplicating the head files and making one set specifically for medium/wide shots by putting a stroke on the facial details of each component.

For now though, I'm going back and re-cleaning several of the shots. It seems ridiculous this late in the game, being that we're one night of work away from being picture locked. But hey, you can't spell "animator" without "anal".

Sphincter Tight & Robot Rights

Friday, September 12, 2008

Do you smell what Barack is cooking?

Because seriously, is there anybody
else you'd really vote for? Assuming of course you're not writing in Chuck Yeager or any other famous test pilot. Boy, did I waste my vote with that in '04. More on the election stuff later though.

On another note- the new RDCCDX short is nearing nearerness to completion.

The major obstacles left- lip syncing to the dialogue track of Tim, Matt and myself cramming as many words as we could into 3 minutes, and then sound design. I might be jumping into Garageband to make a bit of music for this one like I did for the fight scene in IM IN UR MANGER. Not sure yet.

Check out Matt's blog to see a couple more stills of how it's looking.
In the meantime, I finished up the piece of animation for Steve Borth.

I know it's short, but it's got color, so that's gotta count for something.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

For The Approval Of The Midnight Society

I present the Tale of More Headless Animation:

As you can see, I've been throwing in backgrounds and light effects and pulling this thing together. I figure by next week we should have the lip synced heads composited into all of the shots. Almost done.

A tip for anyone using After Effects to composite their animation- throwing a light or two in can give your shots that little extra something. For those not familiar with After Effects, it gives you the ability to put little spotlights into your compositions (shots). The "lights" are supposed to be used with 3-D environments, not the Pixar kind of expansive grassy field environments, but rather any composition that has elements utilizing Z space- the third dimension. Oooohweeoooh.

The way I use them is similar to angling a light onto a piece of paper. I'm just shooting light across 2-D planes to accentuate characters, simulate natural lighting, or just give the whole shot a slight gradient. Take the running shot for example.
The characters are supposed to be running around a strip mall at night. So I threw in a couple lights and angled one of them from above to make the scene being lit by the overhead shopping mall lights.
I gave them a slight green tint, to emulate fluorescence, and made sure to feather out the edges so that they weren't too noticeable. It adds a sense of depth somehow and looks ok, I don't know.

I remember really wanting to mess around more with lights after seeing a lot of Gorillaz videos, especially Feel Good Inc with all of it's dark red washes. I really wish I could animate that well or produce something that smoooooth.

For those just starting out in After Effects, try using both an Ambient light, to give yourself a base amount of light, with Spotlights to high light the characters or scene. You can mix the intensities of each depending on the look you're going for.

Sinful Lights & Robot Rights

Friday, September 5, 2008

For Batter Or For Worse -and- Backgrounds

The Cake Farmers of America commissioned me to draw this. I thought they were joking when they said they'd give me lots of dough to do it, but guess what showed up in the mail the other day? Yep, a can of frosting.

Anyways, here's some backgrounds for the upcoming Ronin Dojo Community College DX mini saga.

Backgrounds are real tough for me, I've never been good at building stuff and somehow that translates to drawing buildings. I don't know, but if you want to see a real master of design and layout and color- check out this blog entry on 101 Dalmations. This guy has a few interesting posts about the color and layout of the Disney/PETA classic, and man, it's the real deal stuff.

Cellulite & Robot Rights

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

I Have No Head! (tastes great!) I Have No Head! (less filling!)

This is my favorite part of the animation process. When I throw all the colored Photoshop files into an After Effects Comp at once, and it looks all crazy.
This is how the episode is looking right now. We've got all our shots laid out, but are still adjusting things and waiting to put in the backgrounds and lip synced heads. So until all of that is finished- it's just a bunch o' headless people standing around.
But this is what all of the tedious pre-production helped us accomplish. Now that we have head libraries for each character, animating and coloring the actual shots goes a lot smoother. Like with the shot above, all I had to draw was Mark's shoulders and neck. And for the running shot featured at the top of the post, I didn't have to redraw the head over and over, which helps a lot when you have to color little facial details.

If this shot were fully animated, I would have had to drawn each frame of the run with different mouth positions to match up with the sound track. But with this head system, I can just slug on a profile head from Mark's library, and turn off and on mouth layers in After Effects to make him talk. And if the timing or dialogue changes, I don't have to redo any drawings. Plus, I can now reuse the run cycle in another episode even though Mark might be saying something completely different.

This isn't a new idea, cartoons use short cuts like this all the time. If a character is standing and talking, they'll just draw the body and hold that frame while they animate the head or arms. Some TV shows which are animated within the United States use extensive character libraries in programs like Flash or After Effects to cut down on actual drawing time and save money. This can produce mixed results of course, but I think shows like South Park are a pretty good example of what can be done.

Anyways, I'm not saying animation should be made cheaper and quicker, but when you're just two dudes in Queens trying to animate a cartoon- you take short cuts. Sort of. How many months have we been working on this?

10 Yard Fight & Robot Rights

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Side Projects Are Never Fully Animated

In between scanning and coloring and cleaning the new RDCCDX episode, I've been working on a little bit of animation for Steve Borth. If you're a ska maniac like me, you'll know him from Link 80, RX Bandits and more recently Satori. He's got a new musical project, Recall Reality, and he asked me for a piece of animation to go along with some other visuals he's pulling together.

So this is a rough sample of the bit; Steve threading a reel to reel and pressing play. It's still missing two backgrounds, the tape the hands are pulling, color and love- but you get the drift.

Since threading a reel to reel is a lot of tiny hand movements, I tried to conserve drawings by doing a lot of movement in After Effects. It kind of gives it that computer-y Flash look, but it I think it works for what it is. The story of my life. It will look cooler once it's all colored and fancy.

Story Of My Life & Robot Rights

Thursday, August 21, 2008


We're almost done scanning! The first episode of the new RDCCDX mini saga is on it's way.

It's funny, the actual animation of the episode only took a couple days of scanning, all of those head libraries were the real brunt of it. Those head libraries are supposed to be our short cuts of course, so that we wouldn't have redraw a head and set of mouths for each shot.
That's 11 heads, the profile head is just flipped. Each applicable head is paired with a set of 9 eyebrows and 8 eyes. Half of those are paired with 10 up-turned mouths, 8 down-turned mouths and 3 quiet mouths. I flip the mouth sets for the half of the heads facing the other way.
I sort of explained before, but I thought I'd give it visuals. Here's a sneak peek at how some of the cleaned up drawings fit together in a rough After Effects project.
I probably could have saved myself time by reflecting/flipping/reversing the right set of heads into a left set of heads, but some characters aren't completely symmetrical- mostly in the hair department. Also, anytime I flip a drawing around it always looks slightly off. I must tend to lean my lines to one side or something.

I don't know, some things just look different in a mirror reflection. Ever flip a picture of Stephen Colbert? Stupid question, everyone has. Doesn't Colbert look a lot different when his little ear is on the other side?
We're through the looking glass here people.

You know, because it's a mirror reflection.

The Rand Corporation inconjunction with the Saucer People. . .Under the supervision of the Reverse Vampires & Robot Rights

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

She's got bangs! And she knows how to use them!

I fixed up and inked up this possible t-shirt design I was working on. It's a ska t-shirt design. I want it to say "i still like ska" on it, because I feel like that's something people want other people to know- that they still like ska.

I tried to draw this semi-90's rude couple, but I can't decide which hair style to go with. In topical Olympic style, here are the three that would get some sort of medal.

1. long hair with head band:
2. long bangs:
3. short bangs:
For some reason, most girls prefer the design with the short bangs. I can't decide yet so I might end up using multiple designs.

I tried out shading them with dots since I'd like to silk screen it myself and I can only do one color. It took me a while to figure out how to do this, but it's pretty simple:

Make a circle of color on a really small canvas and then go to Edit>Define Pattern. And you can make a pattern to use with the paint bucket tool. I would make little white circles over a black background, they weren't as harsh as black circles on white. Since I was working in 400 DPI, my dot canvas' were ranging from 11x11 pixels - 25x25 pixels- anything below 8 was looking like like gray.

Anyways, I'm worried all these details might be too small for my silk screening skills. I don't know. I might try to just do a print them on paper or something. Anyways, here are the other runner ups:

Step right up folks-I got glasses or no glasses, long bangs with no little side thingies, I even have ones where the guy is in a hoodie with or without sunglasses.
Man, all this gray is making me tired.

Shanghai(r) Knights & Robot Rights

Monday, August 11, 2008

Vectorman -or- Bitmaps versus Vectors and a crap load of writing

I can't remember if it was Vectorman or X-Men 2: Clone Wars that I rented from Blockbuster on the day in 6th grade when I fell on my face, busted my upper lip area open and had to get stitches. It's actually a funny story which why I'm going to be talking about vectorizing bitmap images.

With two shots left for the new Ronin Dojo Community College DX episode- we're entering Scanning Week. It's kind of like Shark Week, but with twice as many dead Australians. In an effort to save myself some clean up time, I've been fooling around with vectorizing my images to make the clean up and coloring process easier.

Normally, I'd start with scanning a cleaned drawing into Photoshop :
It always comes out gray and with strange colors and specks, so I have to de-saturate the drawing and tweak the levels of black and white (Image>Adjustments>Levels):
I've created an action to do this all one fell swoop so it's really not a difficult process. But there's still problems, inevitable lines that didn't get connected and such.
But since I don't have time to ink any of my drawings, there's always little white specks left in and around the pencil lines and black pencil smudges within the drawing.
This image is better than most, but my cleaned drawings tend to have thick lines which contain even more miscellaneous white and gray pixels. Because of this, when I select and erase the area surrounding the character so that I can composite it against a background in After Effects, I get this ghosting effect. Even when the magic wand tolerance is set to 100. (For those unfamiliar with Photoshop, the magic wand is a valid tool not just me trying to make a nerd joke)
If you click on this frame you'll see, close up, that there are white lines and specks around David. I used the Matte Choke tool in After Effects to contract the Alpha Channel so it bites into the line slightly- but it still had those gray and white pixels. Sure this doesn't look like a big deal, and it probably isn't even visible on YouTube, but all this extra clean up takes up a lot of time, especially if it's just going to look "ok" at full resolution.

So I thought I'd try out Toon Boom, which Jules suggested to me in the raging comments section of an earlier post. I don't know much about Toon Boom, but I do know that it can vectorize your drawings when you scan them or import them into the program. If you want to know about vector images scroll down to the bottom of this post- I'll explain it there. For everyone else- onto my date with the Toon Boom Studio Trial Version.
I didn't really delve into the instructions, I skipped right to third base and tried to vectorize a drawing. It actually worked pretty well, and I didn't even have to clean anything. But the limited vector settings left my lines looking kinda wobbly.

And I kind of missed my smooth round lines, even though they had pixel junk around it. If anyone is more familiar with Toon Boom, maybe they could give me some tips on working it. I know that Toon Boom Digital probably works way better, but I can't drop 3 g's on it.

Anyways, I remembered that Illustrator CS2 has that livetrace option that vectorizes images, so I tried that out. You can really tweak the settings so it actually turned out pretty good.
Though close up there were still some funky artifacts from trying to vectorize the smaller details like the pupils. But it sure fixed up my white spots.
I'm pretty sure that you can run a script in Illustrator to batch live trace a bunch of images at once, so I may try to do that. Not sure, but this line looks pretty clean, and decent enough for something I didn't draw in the computer. If anyone has any tips or thoughts on using Toon Boom or Illustrator for this, let me know. I'm gonna stop writing now. Here's a screen grab of my Livetrace settings in case anybody wants to know.

Lite Brites & Robot Rights

What's our vector, Victor?

Vector images- oy vey how am I going to put this-I guess you could think of them in terms of a Lite Brite.

You make an picture on a Lite Brite by putting a single green peg in one hole, and a single red peg in another hole and so forth. That's how a computer stores bitmap images- images like jpeg's or digital photos or what have you. It displays that awesome Jonas Brothers screen saver by making pixel 1 red and pixel 2 green and pixel 3 a dreamy dreamy blue- until you have the Jonas Brothers looking all deep and faux indie.

Now if you turned that screen saver into a vector image, it's like you said to the Lite Brite "Fuck all these pegs! I want everything from peg hole 2 to peg hole 58 to be red!" In a really rudimentary way- it's like instructions for the computer on how to make the image using coordinates rather than being a map of the image.

If you tried to scale up a bit map image real big, it would start getting all weird and pixelated and blurry because the computer doesn't know where to put the new "pegs". It's like "Damn it man, we had a system but now I got all these extra peg holes and I don't know what to put in them! Is this supposed to be a ballerina or Mickey Mouse!?"
But with vector images- when everything is written in these instructions going from one peg to another, the computer can scale up the image as big as you want, because it just scales up the coordinates.

Of course the downside of this is that you're Jonas Brothers screen saver is going look like a still from A Scanner Darkly.
The "coordinates" contain less information so the picture looks like everything is rounded off into patches of color and line.

That's why bitmaps are for photos and paintings and vector images are usually for logo artwork or advertising stuff you want to put on the side of a huge building. But if you use them right- they can work well for cartoons because the lines are so clean and easy to color. The trade off is that you'll have to either draw the pictures using a program like Illustrator or Flash, or you have to vectorize the a hand drawn image, which depending on the program and drawing, can produce odd results. If you go back and read the rest of the post you can see why.

PS- I don't know much about how computers actually work, so nobody cite this on wikipedia.