I was given the task to create and follow my own brief for my final major project and I instantly jumped at the idea of creating an short animated film. Having just come out of animating a 3D game trailer, I was itching to go back to the good old 2D ways of animation. The common response I got from my peers when they heard about this was a lot of, “Animation? Again?” followed by a, “Of course it’s animation.”. Suffice to say, when I start animating I don’t really know how to stop.
Initial Concept and Development
I had a few ideas running through my mind when I began thinking of what sort of film I could animate. I also had a few questions too. What kind of film should I animate? What genres do I want it to be? What can I finish in just over a month? These questions kept bouncing around my head as I sat staring at the blank briefing sheet in front of me. I knew that I wanted to do one of two things – create a story with a serious tone and meaning, or create a lighthearted comedy skit. I knew that I didn’t want to dabble with things like spoken dialogue just yet as I would be struggling enough to get the essential scenes and movements organised and animated in time, let alone figure out how to animate lip-sincs and study the theatrics behind a character’s spoken performance. Just animating a short for my final project in less than two months was ambitious enough already. And besides, with the ideas that I had in mind I knew that dialogue wouldn’t be needed.
My first idea was to create a short, sci-fi action adventure film. The setting sprung from my previous project which was a 3D animated trailer for a sci-fi, puzzle and adventure platformer game. Since I had been playing around with a lot of 3D at the time, the thought of utilising a combination of both 2D an 3D animation crossed my mind several times. It wouldn’t be the entire story, just the climax or the main scenes – enough to more or less let the audience have an idea of the plot. However, after seeing that I only had experience in animating for as long as 30 seconds in the past, I figured that anything over two minutes of animation would probably ruin me with the 8 or so weeks that I had. Time constraints, as always, were the main concern on my mind throughout the whole project. As intricate and visually appealing the idea of a sci-fi story had on me and exciting as combining 2D and 3D animation together was, I knew that it would be on the verge of far too much new material and work to handle with what I was given. It could have worked for a quick and simple animation that lasted maybe 30 or 40 seconds, but not for two minute sci-fi, action heavy animation. I decided to save that idea for another time.
So this lead me to settle with the slightly less ambitious idea of creating just a simple comedy sketch animation that in the end went on for about 1 minute and 45 seconds. The premise of this idea was simple and straight-forward; a boy one day drops his lunch and chases after it as it suddenly springs to life and runs away. It was basic and plain, but it allowed me a lot more creative freedom and room to develop things which was a relief after having tried to handle the overly ambitious and slightly directionless idea that came before it. This story came about when I was really struggling with the sci-fi premise one night. It just wasn’t going anywhere and I was pulling at the strings to figure out a two-minute long narrative for it and I was beginning to lose interest in the idea altogether. I took a break and was then reminded that my brother would be staying with us later on in the week. I started wondering about the sorts of stories he’d end up telling me about his crazy university life like how he always did, and that eventually escalated to me trying to think of a funny story he’d tell me. I ended up with a run-away sushi roll. And that’s how it all started.
Research and Inspiration
After deciding to solely stick to the method of 2D animation, I quickly began research on various, already-existing animations within the cartoon industry for inspiration. I had a look at studios and people that I admired; particularly the new-age, independent and commission-based individuals. Ex-animation students with wonderfully diverse, characteristic and smooth animation styles have always been a huge inspiration to me as I liked to think that I would one day reach that point too. They weren’t Disney’s Nine Old Men (considered to be the first core animators and film makers of Disney) or Warner Bros. most notable creators – but they certainly had the potential to be some of the top, next-generation animators in the cartoon industry. I loved what they did and really wanted to try and emulate the quality of the thesis films they made at university-graduate level with my own final major project.
In terms of the setting, characters and story, I took inspiration from my personal life and started off with my brother. I decided to base my main character around him and have the setting take place in a town similar to the one I grew up in. The town was always famous to me for it’s sheer amount of diversity in the people, particularly with people from Asian backgrounds. Because of that, I grew up with friends and classmates from all over the world and thought it would be a great idea to incorporate people of different races into my animation and celebrate that variety of cultures with my characters. I also had a look at other similar stories to mine such as ‘The Runaway Pancake’ and loosely based my story off of that.
In order to be able to produce the quality of work that I was aiming for, I knew that I would need to have a strong understanding the basics of animation and really dig into the techniques. I started re-reading Richard Williams’s 1957, ‘The Animator’s Survival Kit‘ and really examined the fundamentals of key frames and in-betweening, as well as read up on the crucial elements of timing and spacing. I kept all of this in mind when I was animating later on and adjusted my work accordingly so that the animation was as correct as I could make it.
I looked online and found a website called The Flying Animator that had a load of free, essential resources for animators to use. They had storyboards in difference aspect ratios as well as exposure sheets. I was so delighted to find this, as a lot of other storyboards online were predominantly designed for film rather than animation. The storyboards here weren’t so over-complicated with dozens of fill-the-blanks specifics and unnecessary sections but were substantial enough for me to input the crucial information such as page number and animation title. I printed these out and put them to good use once I started pre-production on my animation.
At first, I wanted to use my college sketchbook as the final sketchbook to present my development work in, but as it was taken in for marking at the time I didn’t have access to it. This led me to frolic around on plain paper and other sketchbooks that I had at home for a while until I came up with the idea of using a folder like how I used on for my previous film trailer brief to present my ideas in. That way, I could organise and rearrange my work however I pleased and add to it in any section I wanted to because I could shuffle and move the pages around. I thought this would be great for me if I needed to edit anything to make the thought process clearer and more understandable. It turned out to be really useful when I received feedback from my tutor and peers about my development work and what I could add and edit. Thanks to them, I added colour swatches and more character art into my sketchbook to help present the thought process behind the design more thoroughly as it was lacking in that before when I first showed it to them.
After I had more or less decided on the character designs, I moved onto the music and sound effects. After settling on creating a ‘silent’ film with no spoken-dialogue, I thought that animating to the music would be the most effective choice here. Combining the visuals to the sound would make the film more dynamic in it’s presentation – and for a sort of action-adventure skit, I thought this would be very suitable. I didn’t have the budget to commission a piece from a musician for my work and asking for an artist’s permission on a song was too risky and time consuming so I went for anything royalty free and under Creative Commons. As I was browsing around, it suddenly occurred to me that most old classical music was in the public domain. This struck the idea of using a very iconic and energetic piece like the William Tell Overture as the backing track to my animation as classical music was a big part of my childhood.
I used Audacity to edit all the sound and music as it is probably the best free audio editing software available. I cut down the music and also edited my collection of other sounds effects (from freesound.org) that I thought would be needed. The storyboard was especially useful in this case for helping me make choices of where to add extra audio.
Choosing which program to use to do that main animation in proved to be a bit of a challenge. I knew that I would definitely be using Adobe After Effects to do the compositing and editing in afterwards, but the actual frame-by-frame animation needed to be done in a separate software. I thought about using Photoshop again like I did last time I animated in 2D, but the animation function on that program was so incredibly basic and the ‘propagate to frame 1’ feature which automatically copied your current frame onto every other frame in the sequence was something I’d much rather not deal with again, especially when concerning the amount of frames I’d need to animate. I needed an actual animation program, something like Flash or TVPaint. In fact, I was very tempted to use those programs, but I was also concerned because I wasn’t familiar with them at all and was worried that learning a new program with the time that I had would be too difficult to handle.
It was around this time that the illustration program that I had been using for the past three or so years called Clip Studio Paint released it’s new animation feature in it’s latest update. When I saw this, I immediately had the urge to try it out and see what it was like. Clip Studio Paint is predominantly an illustration based program which has had previous expansions for comic and magazine publishing. However, this new update which included animation took me by surprise and to my delight, was far more competent than Photoshop’s animation. I was impressed to see professional animation studios in Japan use this software for their layout design and animation and knew that it would be perfect for what I wanted to create. Seeing as the program was so familiar to me, I knew that would be able to get a lot done with this newly added feature. I really liked how customisable everything was, like how you could adjust the colour and opacity of the onion-skin settings. My only criticism would be that you couldn’t copy and edit an already existing frame without also editing the original frame. That would have been so helpful to me during the animation process and I wish there was a way to duplicate frames onto new frames and change them without changing the original…but other than that and the exporting, I couldn’t find any other faults with the program. You could use all of the previous functions as well as the animation functions at the same time – it felt more of an add-on rather than a different section of the program like Photoshop’s. Everything was integrated and it just made things so much easier to navigate and use. I was quite impressed.
Thanks to my storyboards, I was able to get a clear idea of what I wanted out of each scene, allowing me to have a good understand of how to create all the pans and layers for the scenes that needed it. With animation, it’s always trickier to animate things like pans and camera movements because you always need to draw the entire background to cover everywhere that the camera will move before you start animating. This, I’ve come to learn, often leads to very unusual canvas sizes in order to compensate for the camera not being static. As much as I really appreciated the fact that you could render and export your animation into an .avi movie file straight from Clip Studio Paint, I was disappointed that you couldn’t animate the camera to move around. This meant that any pans or more specific shots all had to be saved as stills frame-by-frame and put together to be edited in After Effects afterwards. This gave me a lot of grief when having to create folders upon folders of just animation stills to then import, cut down and animate in post production. But I got it to work in the end, so that was all that really mattered to me. If I ever gave feedback to CELYS (the developers of Clip Studio Paint,) on what to improve and add in future animation updates, it would be to firstly have the animation cells copy-able without effecting the original cell, and to be able to animate dynamic camera movements.
I spent three weeks solely working on all the backgrounds first before moving onto animating the key frames. Having a background to animate the characters onto works a lot better than trying to do it the other way round, as this way you are already given the solid ground to have your character step on and interact with. Try it the other way and you’ll likely find you’re character wobbling on nothing with a skewed and inaccurately drawn background added in later on. It was important to establish the perspective and angle of the scene before animating the rest. I spent the next five weeks just solid animating. It was a really crunch time, but to me that’s the fun part of animation.
For the majority of the overall production process, I would immediately edit and composite scenes into After Effects after the animation was completed to save time and really speed up the post-production afterwards. Before the editing began, I was given a word of advice from my tutor to split the film into sections and edit them separately to avoid ending up with a huge file size that could slow down my work process and crash the program. I’m glad I listened to him, because even as I was finishing the final edits on the separate parts I could tell that After Effects was beginning to lag. Had that have been all in one, it would have been almost impossible for the program to run whilst trying to deal with the massive amounts of edits and frames. The file would have possibly fried my tablet and there was no way I was risking that. Splitting the film into more bite-size sections made the whole editing process much more manageable and less overwhelming to work with.
I then used Premier Pro to bring the four parts together and add the music and sounds in. Sorting out all the sound files and music choice earlier on really helped smooth out the post-editing process.
I rendered the final film and uploaded it onto YouTube and Vimeo and then proceeded to collapse onto the bed and sleep for 10 hours. It was 5:00AM.
End Of Year Show
At the End Of Year show at my college, all the classes had to present their work as part of their grading, but also as a send off for completing the course. I was given the equivalent of roughly two A3 pages of work to mount and display.
During the final weeks of my course, I had to print, cut and spray mount stills from my animation for the show as well as posters and turnarounds. I exported frames from After Effects and carefully resized my works for printing and set the colour profiles to CMYK. Since I had an inkjet printer at home, I did the majority of my printing there and then brought them into college to have them cut and spray-mounted onto foam board. I was shown how to use a scalpel safely and how to correctly spray-mount my work by my tutor, who then let me help others with their work.
However, I also wanted to take this chance to create a fun promotional poster for my animation and have that displayed too alongside the rest of my work. I wanted this piece to be properly printed at a specialised printer, so I did an online search for local printers. Unfortunately the prices for a lot of printers were quite expensive and the delivery times were all due after the show date. So I decided to go to Boots to use their on-day printing service. Having had previous experience with their printing service, I reckoned that they did the best job of delivering relatively cheap, quality prints in a short amount of time in the area. When I got my prints back, I was not disappointed.
The day of the show was incredibly busy, but in the end it was a lot of fun. In the morning, I was busy helping the class prepare for the show. As I had finished early, I helped my classmates cut and mount their pieces onto foam board and helped clean the room ready for the show in the evening. I had my animation playing on loop on one of the PCs and also had my work displayed on the MDF boards. I stayed throughout the majority of the show and received many comments of praise on my animation from teachers, children, parents and even other animation students. Overall it was a really positive experience and I’m glad I got to spend it with my colleagues and tutors. My brother came to congratulate me too. He seems to be quite pleased with sushi boy.
My final major project has taught me a whole variety of new skills – from time management and self-directing, to building on feedback and presentation – all whilst learning my ways around digital animation and new software. I think that I could have added some more frames in the animation to smooth out the movement out a little bit more, but considering everything that I’ve done it’s a miracle I’ve managed to get this much completed really.
It’s been a real learning curve and exercising point for me as an aspiring animator, but above all else it’s been a very valuable experience which I hope will help propel me forwards into the future.