Monday, December 7, 2009

Evolution of a Shot

I'm nearing the 7th inning stretch with the Teenage Bottlerocket music video. Thought I'd share some drawings and show the magical metamorphosis of a shot.

We start with the larvae, a detailed storyboard.

It's amazing how much information I can convey, with several deft strokes of the digital brush. Next, the shot wraps itself in a cocoon of sketchy blue lines and enters it's pupa or "rough" stage.

Finally, after hours of pupation*, a clean drawing emerges and thrusts it's gloriously detailed wings to the world.

In the coming days, the shots will fill itself with a rich palette of hues and tones. But these moments of glory are fleeting, for the lifespan of a typical shot of animation in this music video is merely a second. Such is the nature of animation.

Thanks for reading this far, and for letting me stretch that metaphor paper thin. As a show of gratitude, some extra drawings.



* First time ever using that word.†
† Look at me, I'm David Foster Wallace-ing the shit out of this post.¶
¶ I mean that in the nicest way possible. ®

® I'm sorry.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Exposure Therapy

Crowd shots and walk cycles. Two of my least favorite things to animate, and coincidentally, the two shots which have been plaguing me for the past week. They're both for the Teenage Bottlerocket video I'm working on, and I finally finished cleaning them up, and they look pretty coool- so check 'em out.

First out the gait (wamp wamp) is the walk cycle. This was a little tough because it was a 2 point perspective walk. Here's the initial rough test. Matt helped me look it over and figure it out. I didn't approach it with the best geometric planning, but eventually I came out with this.



Here's a quicktime version for better viewing.



Next up is the crowd shot. Oy vey, this took a while to do, but to see it in motion is pretty satisfying.




Surprisingly, it doesn't take too many drawings to create a convincing loop of a jump. The two characters jumping in the back are only 4 drawings. The girl in the front has a little hop and some extra follow-through, so she's 7 drawings.

What it looks like with all the layers on at once

The head nod of the girl with glasses took a little bit to figure out. In the end, it was also only 4 drawings of her moving her head up and down in an even motion. At first, I had her jerking her head up and down, to try and emphasize her nodding to a beat. It looked too much like her boyfriend with the glasses was ramming her from behind, so had to scrap and rework it. I think the final product with looks fairly non-sexual, so I'm happy with it. But the seed has been planted, so maybe now that's all you can see in it.

That's all folks, for now. Sweet dreams until I finish another interesting shot.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Some Sneaky Peekies

Lot's of work going on right now, mostly on stuff that cannot be posted on the internet. However, what I DO have to offer is a sneak peek at the video I'm working on for Teenage Bottlerocket.



It's for the song "Bigger Than Kiss" off their Fat Wreck Chords debut "They Came From The Shadows". Which you should go buy right now.



The album is awesome. All of the songs are rad pop punk jams- there's some love songs, some sci-fi songs, some fast angry shit thrown in there too- it's sweet. I don't know why I'm not writing music reviews for a living. Anyways, if you don't believe my 90's surfer-bro critique, check out the video for the track "Skate Or Die".



My video should be coming out in late November, but I'll have more updates before then, hopefully some tests and colored-in stuff. Until then, catch ya later most excellent blog dudes.


Thursday, September 3, 2009

How To Color (if you're me)

This is a tutorial on How to Color with Adobe Photoshop- or rather how I color with Adobe Photoshop. It is by no means the only method for coloring, or even the best method. It's just how I was taught to color way back in 2002, when computers were still powered by coal and Adobe's primary sales were in huts made out of clay.

I'm going to start with this drawing I made a while back, when I was first tooling around on the Cintiq.
I titled it The Questioner, because it sort of looks like she's pondering something. Though when I look at it now, it seems more like the Virgin Mary getting ready for bed. Anyways, here's the final line art I'll be working with. I added a little question mark thingy in the corner to create some half assed composition.

The rookie Photoshop user would just choose the Paint Bucket tool, and start filling things in. That's not gonna work. I mean it'll work, but it's going to look like this.

Unless you're drawing pixel by pixel, your lines will always have these gray pixels that make up the curves and angles. The paint bucket does not know to fill in those pixels. The result is this ghosting effect; little white outlines around the details.

The proper way to color is by using the Magic Wand tool, layers and blending modes.

Step 1. Use The Magic Wand To Select An Area


Select the Magic Wand tool. Set your Tolerance to 100%, with Anti-Aliasing and Contiguous checked. Then select the area you'd like to color. You can see in this picture I'm trying to select her hair, but because of some incomplete lines it didn't work. I went back and filled in the gap.

You'll have to run some tedious checks for these holes during the coloring process. This is why you don't often see cartoons with sketchy, dashed lines.


Step 2: EXPAND!

Go to Select>Modify>Expand and expand your selection area by 2 pixels. This is usually enough to bite into your line, over top of those gray pixels, but not enough to bleed outside of the line.


Step 3: Create a New Layer


Create a New Layer (duh) and here's the key part- set the layer's blending mode to Multiply. When it's in Multiply mode, the layer becomes translucent, like a transparency sheet that your 8th grade math teacher would use with a projector. It's hard to explain, but play around with it, you'll see how it works.

Step 4: PAINT BUCKET THAT SHIT
NOW you can use that Paint Bucket tool. Fill the area, deselect and VOILA! Color. The multiply mode allows the black line to show through, while allowing the color to cover up all those white and gray pixels.
You might have to go in and fill in some tiny areas that the wand missed, but otherwise it's done! No ghost lines AND the color is on a separate layer. So you can always go back and tweak or do a hue shift without affecting the rest of the drawing.

Bonus Stage: Make An Action

You can record an action so that most of these steps will be automated. Making coloring even faster.


Make a selection with your Magic Wand tool, then go to your Action Tab, select New Action, and do the following steps.

  • Expand Selection by 2 pixels
  • Create New Layer
  • Set Layer to Multiply
Then stop recording. All that's left is to hit the G to choose your Paint Bucket, and fill. Now coloring will be a cinch.

If you're not familiar with Blending Modes, I'd really encourage you to experiment with them. You can do some cool shit.

For example, I made a layer of blue covering just the body of the girl. I tried out the Color Burn Mode, and it gave me this cool look. Next, I tried out Hard Light mode, brought the opacity down to 39%, and it looked like she was standing in the dark. So I erased some of the blue away, and created this lighting effect like she's looking at some glowing, creepy thing. Like a glowing baby Jesus. I dunno, use your imagination.

As I said, this is just the way I color drawings, not the ONLY way. It's a method I was taught based on working with scanned pencil drawings, which usually have a lot of white gaps and holes you have to tackle. Anyways, hope that helps somebody out there. Thanks for scrolling through all of this madness.


Sunday, August 16, 2009

Obligatory Post About Promoting One's Boyfriend

The 11th annual sweaty, 72-hour improv fest that is the Del Close Marathon has finally come to an end. My face and feet hurt from all that respective smiling and standing. Big ups to all the performers, especially Ronin Dojo voices Tim Martin and Emily Tarver. Speaking of which-



Here's a video that was posted a lil' bit ago starring Mr. Tim Martin (Seth/Hank Henderson). It's called the Octopus Job; written by Joe Wengert, directed by my favorite improv teddy bear Will Hines, and also starring John Gemberling- whom Matt and I did a little animation for on "Fat Guy Stuck In The Internet". Naaaaaame droppppiiiiinngggggahhhhh. Sorry, I like to pretend I'm part of the scene.

And while we're on the subject of other peoples videos, For Tax Reasons will be taking part in a free animation screening this Wednesday in NYC called Midsummer Night Toons.



It will feature some sweet animated shorts and several episodes of Ronin Dojo Community College DX: The Digital Pirates of Dark Water Saga. Check out the above trailer, and come out to watch. Here's the info.
Wednesday, August 19th 2009
M1-5 Bar/Longue
52 Walker St. (b/w Church + Broadway)
9:00-9:30

Aaaand finally, I finished the poster for Carlapalooza.

It's a punk benefit for the National MS Society, September 25th-27th in NYC. Lots of sweet bands playing for a good cause.

Ok, I'm going to go rehydrate. Tomorrow, the drawing marathon begins.


Friday, August 7, 2009

A Hastily Thrown Together, Vaguely Themed Post


"Geology is a study of pressure and time. That's all it really takes, pressure and time. . . that and a goddamn big poster. . ."-- Red, The Shawshank Redemption


So here's a quick post about a couple things I've been working on. This is a rough version of the poster for Carlapalooza 2009. It's a punk show Mr. Chadd Derkins puts on to benefit MS. I drew the poster for the 2007 show and Chadd was nice enough to ask me back.

So for this year I
decided to run with the battle theme again. Check it out. Looking a the old poster, I felt like it was a bit flat. I decided this year I should make the angle a bit more dynamic- throw in some perspective. It should be my official motto for 2009- "throw in some perspective". That or "fruit on the bottom". I don't know, I've been eating a lot of yogurt lately.

The project I've been steadily chipping away at is the Teenage Bottlerocket video. (this is my attempt to stick with this post's theme.)

One thing I've learned, while making this video, is it's hard to draw hands holding drumsticks. I don't know why, but it's always looks weird when I do it. I think it's the thumb placement.

It's double-y frustrating when you have trouble drawing hands. Not only are you failing at something so essential and basic, but you have the perfect reference right in front of you and you still can't figure out where a knuckle should go. Baffling.

Something I DO need photo reference for are the dreaded crowd shots.
It's always tough to come up with a bunch of random characters and poses. I usually have to look up some photos from shows and just pick out people from the crowd. Otherwise, I end with these really lame, unimaginative people cluttering up the scene.

Thank goodness for the internet and Flickr though. Because I mean, seriously, how often do you look at a man's crowd shots.


Monday, August 3, 2009

Hardly Art, Hardly Garbage

After wrecking my way through 4 silk screens- I now present TWO NEW RONIN DOJO COMMUNITY COLLEGE T-SHIRTS!

The first one is a sweet baby blue number, which you can see Mr. Tom Callow rockin' in the picture above. I don't know if anything else could make that shirt look as cool, outside of a dragon or something.
The second is a yellow and black on white number, in a very punk rock fashion aka I line all this shit up by hand, so it's got a fun DIY feel to it.
I don't have a cool picture of someone in this shirt, but feel free to order one and take some picture of yourself in it that challenges the epic-ness of flames and a staff.

Both are hand printed onto American Apparel fine jersey tees. Available in the For Tax Reasons merch section in about every damn size that exists INCLUDING the lady sizes- or "girly" sizes as they're called in the industry. Seems more polite to call them lady sizes though.

We're hoping to have some more non-clothing merchandise up soon, but until then go check them out, buy one, and take funny pictures of yourself in it. It'll be sweet.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

I'll Sleep When I'm Dead

Still getting over the post-Otakon euphoria/withdrawal. I never went to sleep-away camp when I was young...er, but I assume this is the feeling you get when you leave camp. You're back to reality, your same old routine, and don't get to hang around all your camp friends all day who are dressed up like Street Fighter characters. That's what happens at sleep away camp right? I mean, I went to day camp. I just assumed when you went away for more than one night, dressing up was a pre-requisite.

Anyways, several news updates. Firstly, Matt and I have some made some massive For Tax Reasons plans for the upcoming months. We're hoping to release some merch to fill out our very small selection. Planning to have some posters and a new t-shirt design.

We WOULD have had the new shirts for Otakon- BUT I've been struuuuggling with silk screening lately. Everything that could possibly go wrong in the making of these new shirts has gone wrong. I've gone through 4 screens now. But I'm not giving up! I have put TOO much money into this operation and have too many blank American Apparel shirts that aren't my size.

Anyways, we should have new shirts coming up soon.

Secondly, I finally joined the Twitter machine. So if you want to see the random thoughts I have as I sit around animating, follow me: twitter.com/ben_levin

Finally, I'm back to work on the music video for Teenage Bottlerocket. We've switched things up and I'm now doing a video for their upcoming full-length debut release on Fat Wreck Chords "They Came From The Shadows". It'll be dropping September 15th, which means, I cannot reveal details of the super secret new song that's in the video. But I will give you a peek at the storyboards I just finished today. Check it out.

I know, right. Total album spoiler. Ok I'm out, my back hurts.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Holy Plug Suit Gatchaman! It's the final episode of RDCCDX: DPODW!

Whew, we just got back from day one of Otakon (day two if you count standing in the pre reg line Thursday night) and it was awesome!

Our panel "Let's Talk Animation! with For Tax Reasons" went off without a hitch, and surprisingly there were more than 10 people in attendance. In fact, the whole room was filled with fans. And they actually wanted to watch each episode of Ronin Dojo Community College DX: The Digital Pirates of Dark Water Saga. We were just thinking we'd premiere the last episode as we'd promised, but they asked for it.

So now that the otaku's have seen it, we're throwing it out to the internet. So here it is- the final RDCCDX: Digital Pirates of Dark Water Saga, it's Episode 4: "End of the Road".



Thanks to the Otakon Staff, Panel Ops, and the A/V crew for helping us out and twiddling with the sound each time I annoyingly asked. Thanks to Alan from Otaku Generation and Scott for helping us with the Otakon stuff. Thanks to all the people who came out to the panel and laughed and asked questions. Thanks to Tim Martin to providing hilarious voice acting, Matt Mayer for making some sweet 3-D titles and helping us with compositing, Darrell for coloring and taking photos during the panel and Zack for video taping the panel and giving us his advice.


Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Shape of Punk To Come



This is a little promo I cut for the For Tax Reasons panel at Otakon, where we'll be discussing DIY animation and screening the final episode in the Digital Pirates of Dark Water story arc. If you're going to be at Otakon here are the panel details.

Let's Talk Animation! with For Tax Reasons
Friday, July 17th @ 1:15 PM
Baltimore Convention Center, Panel 2

As you can see, it's almost a week until Otakon, and we've got roughly 30 or so shots left to finish the cartoon. The countdown is on. If we bust our asses, we can do it. I've been testing out some background colors, here's a rough assemblage of what it's going to look like.

The shot isn't that big, but that's what the whole Photoshop file looks like. Anyways, back to work. I hope people show up for this panel. Not that I mind talking to an empty room, but you know, it always helps you seem not crazy.


Friday, July 3, 2009

RDCCDX: Digital PIrates of Dark Water: Episode 3.5: You Are (Not) Loved

Here it is, the second to last installment in the Ronin Dojo Community College DX: Digital Pirates of Dark Water Saga. It's Episode 3.5: You Are (Not) Loved.



This is the first of the RDCCDX cartoons produced with our new digital workflow AKA draw directly into the computer on Cintiqs. However it wasn't completely digital. We were still using our old head library, which had originally been drawn in pencil on paper, scanned, and then vectorized
* in Illustrator. The sharpness of the vectorized lines in the head drawings help match them with the body and background lines drawn with the Cintiq, but they're not as smooth, you can still see a lot of bumps in them.

If you haven't read my blog before, Matt and I created a library of head positions, mouths and eyes for each character, which we reuse over and over so save drawing time. And even though we had used these head libraries only several months ago, opening them up for this project was a like opening a time capsule. All of the characters looked slightly off model to me, which is a bit strange because there is no official model sheet we have. The heads looked too long, and their features were spread far apart. It's strange how character designs evolve as you slowly progress as an artist, and just evolve with the repetition of drawing them over and over and getting to know them better.

Shit, looking back on the other episodes I can see the progress Matt and I have made, and I'm a little startled. I would change a lot of things. In Episode 2.5, Jerry's head is should be much bigger, his body look too adult for him. And the backgrounds and perspective are so flat on everything. Oh well, what's done is done. I'm not going to pull some Lucas bullshit and redo them. Only out of laziness though. However if anyone wants to give us tons of money, I'll pull some Anno bullshit and redo them in crazy awesome looking movie form.


*if you're confused about what I'm saying when I refer to the vectorizing pencil lines process, read this.

Monday, June 29, 2009

We clamour onward and repeat ourselves

We recorded the audio for the Ronin Dojo Community College DX: Digital Pirates of Dark Water Saga Episode 3.5 today. There's Tim pouring over the script, intensely- because he's a genius. You can also see my thigh and my forearm in there too- they are also intense.

Interestingly enough, this episode takes place in a car with characters- sort of like in my short She She She She's A Bombshell. Once again, I reprise my role as the annoying dude in the back seat. As you can see in this detailed storyboard, that's my character, Mark, sitting in the back seat. Bombshell was 7 minutes long and took almost a year to make- this episode is 1 minute 40 seconds and we're hoping to make finish it in like three days. The difference is, this time we have the luxory of a head library, Cintiqs, and two sets of hands on the job. It will be an interesting comparison.

So with a freshly cut animatic under our belts we're hoping to have this baby out by Thursday. Should be possible, we just have to stick to our schedules and not do too many extraneous things like oh I dunno, write blog posts.


I better go.

Friday, June 26, 2009

FOR TAX REASONS IS GOING TO OTAKON!

Yep, you read it correctly in the blog post title. July 17th - July 19th, Matt and I will be hitting up Otakon 2009! This time, we won't merely be spectators ready to plant their asses in folding chairs for 80+ hours of anime. Nope, this year we'll be hosting a panel!

It's going to be called "Let's Talk Animation! with For Tax Reasons". We'll be there taking questions and discussing DIY animation; how we do it, how you can do it and how it destroys lives. And to top it all off, we'll be screening the final episode of Ronin Dojo Community College DX: The Digital Pirates of Dark Water Saga. Which we have yet to animate. . . yeah we're cutting it kind of close.

So yeah, I gotta get back to drawing the backgrounds for Episode 3.5, which will be coming out next week. And as soon as we get the exact panel times I'll post them. So if you're going to be at the convention, come to the panel and say hi, or shout derrogatory remarks at us from behind a Trigun cross or something. I dunno, I need to have more recent anime references by July.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

How We Animate: Part II: The Software & The Method

Exactly three months ago, I had written a long ass blog post, which I never got to post, about the For Tax Reasons animation process. How we went from paper to digital with out the aid of Cintiq's. But then we ended up buying Cintiqs, and our process was turned on it's heads.

Anyways, so I'm going to post about our old method, because this is the internet- and the internet is for sharing information, and maybe this can help somebody out who wants to work on paper but still produce a sharp and clean animation.

So, with out further ado, the man with a million voices- "How We Animate" Part II. The process of taking animation on paper and putting it into a computer.

HOW WE ANIMATE(D): PART II: THE SOFTWARE & THE METHOD

Teh Warez

These are the programs you'll need.

Adobe Photoshop, for scanning, cleaning and coloring
Adobe Bridge/Adobe Illustrator, for cleaning (you're going to need at least version CS2 so you can use the Livetrace tool)
Adobe After Effects, for sequencing and compositing everything together
Final Cut Pro, for editing together each shot

So this software is kind of expensive, but I found this one website which has some really good discounts on it. So go and check that out if interested in trying out this method.


Step 1: Scanning
So first things first, Windex your scanner real good and tape a peg bar to it. This is how you're going to keep all of your drawings registered to one another. Remember, you're going to have to keep that peg bar taped in the same place, and use the same scanning marquee until you finish scanning a shot. So if you need to use your peg bar for something else, like stirring some lentil soup your making- go do that first, and then tape down your peg bar.

Do a preview scan and select the area which encompasses the entire shot and maybe a little more. It sucks to scan 80 drawings and then realize the last one is outside of your scaning area. Settings-wise. I suggest scanning everything at at least 300 DPI. It helps keep the detail for the Livetracing step later on, and if you ever decide to zoom in with a camera move things won't look shitty. If there are any level adjustments you can do no the scanner to improve your image go ahead and set them now, but most of your adjusting will be done post scanning.

So this is a good chance to introduce ACTIONS. Actions in Photoshop are going to be a huge help through this entire process. Open your Actions window, and click on the little menu thingy on the upper right hand corner to make a new action. Name your action, and then run through these scanning steps. Photoshop will record your each menu item you choose and everything, and later on, when you "play" the action, it will do everything automatically. Actions are big help for the whole process. So here's the scanning action:


a. File > Import > (Your Scanner Name) TWAIN

You'll be routed into your scanners own interface, hit Scan. After it imports the image you'll be back in Photoshop.

b. Image > Rotate Canvas > 90ยบ Clockwise or Counter Clockwise depending what side of the scanner you're using.

c. Double click on the Layer to change it from a locked Background to Layer 0.

d. Then hit
Shift U to Desaturate the layer- or- Image > Adjustments > Hue/Saturation.

I do this because I don't need any of the color information, and it just takes up more memory.

e. Save your file. Now, to make a Save command appear in an action, you should go to your Actions menu, and select Insert Menu Item. Then choose File > Save.

For you newbies: Save it as a Photoshop file, not a JPEG, which would compress it and not allow for layers.

Now stop recording by hitting that little square stop button, and you've got your Scan action.

Here's what one of our scans looks like:

Step 2: Leveling(sp?)

So, you've got all your drawings scanned. Preferably in folder labeled Scans, in a sub folder labeled by shot number. I like to keep my raw scans around, just in case I screw something up. Now it's time to make those Scans look a little sharper by leveling them. Duplicate the Scans folder, and rename the copied folder "Clean".

It's time to use the Level tool in Photoshop.
( ⌘ L - or - Image > Adjustments > Levels)
Drag the Black and White input arrows back and forth, and try to get the white of the paper to be white and the line to be as black as possible with out crunching the image like this:

Click on the image for the full effect.

When you think you've got a decent level which will work for the drawings- make a Level Action with those settings.

Now you can go to File > Automate > Batch and you can Batch level a whole folder of Photoshop files using the Action you just made.

Step 3: Cleaning

This is where things get a little crazy. We're gonna use Bridge and Illustrator to vectorize the lines of your drawing. This is to get rid of the gray half pixels and make your lines more defined and solid black. This will really come in handy when you're at the coloring stage. When you're lines are sharp and solid black, you don't have to waste time zooming in and coloring over white specks by hand. I made a confusing post about this before, but I'll explain it again here.

Open up one of your leveled Photoshop files in Illustrator. Select the layer with the image on it, go to Object > Live Trace > Tracing Options.

Click the "Preview" button so that you can watch how Illustrator traces your image as you change the settings. These are two of the settings I use.

This for a more rounded approximation, but smoother line.
And this for a closer match to your pencil line, but rougher.

You might have to tweak these settings to fit how you're drawings look. It's not perfect, but it really helps the quality of your final image, at the sacrifice of some details. Like these little Flash looking lines the computer makes.
Once you've figured out a setting which works with your scans. Open up Bridge. Select your Clean folder. Go to Tools > Illustrator > Livetrace

Select your Preset, Basic RGB and Choose your Destination.

And BOOM Bridge will Livetrace the whole folder for you. See, not that hard.


Step 4: Almost Coloring

Now you've got a Clean folder full of AI (Illustrator) and PSD (Photoshop) files. Copy those AI files into a new folder called "COLOR". You're going to bring these Illustrator files BACK into Photoshop to color them.

Open up Photoshop and import the .ai files. Make sure you're importing at atleast 300 DPI, and using the Media Box, not the Bounding Box as your selection area. I dunno, Illustrator is weird with it's boxes. Sometimes you also have to rotate your page set ups in Illustrator too if things are like coming in tall ways and they should be wide ways. You'll figure it out.

Save, these new PSD's. These are what you're going to color and stuff. But coloring of course is another post, because this one is all ready way too long.

THE END FOR NOW

So, that was our process for getting a scanned drawing to have a clean sharp line for easy and quasi-professional looking color. This was our work around for both: not having the skillset for drawing directly into the computer using Wacom tablets, and not having the advantage of the more expensive Cintiq, where you can draw directly onto the screen. In some upcoming posts I'll talk about how we color, and how it's been working on Cintiqs. Until then, I'm gonna shut the fuck up cuz this is way too much writing.