October 19, 2014

L'employé du Moi Animation: Part 2

As I mentioned in my previous post, my French-language publisher, L'employé du Moi is currently raising funds for their 15th anniversary exhibit at next year's Angoulême International Comics Festival.  As part of that exhibit, each of their authors is working on a small animation based on their logo.

I was hanging out behind the table all day today with my wife Claire at the East Bay Mini Maker Faire, and I brought this project along with me.  I was able to tape my peg bar to a clip board.  I didn't have my lightbox, but I got on okay by just flipping really quickly between two drawings.  Here was my setup:


I was able to make it through all sixteen frames, cleaning up the rough animation.  There are still some problems with the legs, but at this point I think they are as good as they're gonna get.  I also tried to add some "counteraction," which I think was pretty successful in the tip of Argus's beard and his hood, but got pushed too far with his dagger.  I also added a blink which I'm gonna take back out. With a sequence this short (16 frames) it just happens too often.  I'm learning to "Keep It Simple, Stupid." Anyway, here it is:


I'm gonna blame the squishiness of Argus's head on the fact that I didn't have a lightbox.  I'll probably make one more pass to tighten that up a bit, and then also take out the blink, mellow out the dagger movement and add the final details. Then I'm going to ink it!

I took out all of the extra movement from the cart (swinging handle, bouncing carrots) and just inked four frames of this to loop on its own layer.  The jiggling you see is just natural human error in my hand, which I think looks cool.  I also moved the little lump of built-up snow in front of the sled to the ground layer (animated with Argus) so that it has a unique 16-frame pattern instead of looping every four frames, which I think would have been distracting.

I've probably already spent too much time on this thing, but I still have a lot more I want to do with it, so I'll continue posting as I work on it.  Onwards!

October 16, 2014

L'employé du Moi Animation: Part 1

Yikes, it's hard to believe I have not posted in this blog since April!  Ironically, I have been doing a ton of illustration work, I just haven't had time to post it.  Between my various teaching, comics, freelance and relationship obligations (ie having a big wedding celebration!) it was a busy Summer.  Fear not though, I'll do some posts at the end of the year (or early in the new year) to catch you readers up on all the stuff I have been working on.  In the meantime, I wanted to post about a side-project that I'm really excited about...

My french-language comics publisher, L'employé du Moi will be celebrating their 15-year anniversary at next year's Angoulême International Comics Festival.  If they can raise enough funds, they will have a big exhibit at the festival, showcasing some of the work they have published over the last 15 years, including two of my books!

As part of the exhibit, they are trying to get each of their authors to do a small animation loop of the L'employé du Moi logo, which looks like this:



The idea is to edit a bunch of these together and have them on display at the exhibit.  To aid us, they sent along a photoshop file that had a simple walk cycle template drawn into it.  Here's what it looks like, exported as an animated .gif:


There were blank layers built in so you could draw directly into the file, but I don't draw digitally, so I actually printed out all 16 of the frames.  Here was my set-up, using a $15 Plastic Lightfoot Ltd. Round Pegbar taped down to my lightbox, a bunch of copy paper punched with a standard 3-hole punch, a copy of The Animator's Survival Kit, an lead holder with some HB lead and an eraser:


My previous attempts at animation were all pretty rudimentary, so even this tiny project presents a huge leap in complexity for me.  Also I haven't done any of this stuff in about two years, so it felt like starting from scratch.  Initially I punched the holes in the bottom of the template drawings but after working for about two minutes I repunched them all across the top because I didn't like how it felt.  I was learning already! 

I started by tracing my first frame off of the template drawing.  Then, by constantly referencing the Richard Williams book, I was able to add a bit more up and down movement to the walk cycle and to try and get the feet right, which were a bit more detailed in my drawings than in the template drawings.  

I've got a bunch of projects going right now, so it took me about two nights to just rough in the 16 drawings of the character (I decided to use Argus from my graphic novel, Basewood).  Although this was a lot of work, I was having a ton of fun.  At one point I actually felt like I was getting into the flow of things, and I started being able to "see" the movement and what I wanted to do next.  Pretty exciting stuff!

After the drawings were done, I took the plastic peg bar and taped it to the edge of my scanner (not on the glass).  Yes, I have a very nice scanner (thanks, James Patterson).  This was so much faster than setting up Claire's camera and taking photos like I did on my previous animations, and the results were much cleaner as well!


It also meant that all my scans would come into the system perfectly registered.  I just set the scanning software to grab a rectangle where all the action took place and then changed the file name for each drawing as they came in.  Here's what that looks like (click to see bigger):


Once I had all the files in the computer, I ran a quick Photoshop action to rotate them and to darken the line art a little.  Then I used this Script...  I can't remember if this comes with Photoshop, or if I had to install it at some point.  Anyway, it's under File > Scripts > Add Files To Stack... (click to see bigger):


That'll take you to a window like the one below, where you can point it to your folder full of files.  Make sure to name your files with an increasing numeral at the end! Mine were:A_00.jpg A_01.jpg A_02.jpg etc.


That'll create a Photoshop document where each drawing is in its own layer.  Then if you open Window > Timeline (or I think it was "Animation" on previous versions of Photoshop) you'll get a new timeline window.  In the top right there is a little dropdown menu where you can select "Make Frames From Layers":


That'll create one frame in the timeline for each layer.  Usually it brings them in backwards, so you can select "Reverse Frames" from that same menu to get them in the right order.  Once that's done, you have your little animation that you can play with!  Here's how mine turned out -- keep in mind this is just the rough layout!


I'm actually pretty happy with the walk cycle! I can see lots of stuff wrong with it, but for my first one ever, I feel pretty good about this.  I only drew the sled three times on separate sheets of paper, so that I could add it afterwards.  I wanted to have it bumping around a bit, but I'm still playing with it.  My first attempt had it vibrating, so for now I just have one bump in the middle.

Anyway, that's as much as I've done so far.  I'm excited to fix the animation a bit, and to start adding more details (his beard and clothes flapping around, etc.)  It's also been really fun to see some of the other L'employé du Moi artists do their animations.  People are already taking this simple concept in some unexpected directions!  

You can already see Max de Radiguès's animation (with a horse instead of a cart!) over on the L'employé du Moi Kiss Kiss Bank Bank campaign page. That's like a French Kickstarter, where they are trying to raise some money for the exhibit.  If you're able to, please chip in a few Euros!

I'll keep posting revisions of this animation as it gets more flushed out, and I'll try to share any other tips I pick up along the way.  I hope by posting some of my steps above, I'll encourage someone else to try out some hand drawn animation.  I'm also documenting all these steps so that when I attempt this again, two years from now, I'll remember how to do all this stuff!

April 3, 2014

Middle School: Ultimate Showdown

Guess what? I illustrated a chapter book!  It came out this week and it's called Middle School: Ultimate Showdown by James Patterson and Julia Bergen.


This is book five of the Middle School series, starring Rafe and Georgia Katchadorian.  The series is in a "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" style, where the first-person narrator is also supposed to be making the drawings in the book.  In reality, Rafe's drawings are illustrated by Laura Park and Georgia's drawings are illustrated by Neil Swaab.

Well, the series is pretty popular, so Laura was busy drawing the next Rafe book and Neil was busy drawing the next Georgia book, so I was hired to draw a crossover book with both of the sibling characters!  This meant that I had to carefully match both Laura and Neil's drawing and lettering styles for alternating chapters.  Luckily, I was able to talk to both Neil and Laura to get the inside scoop on which drawing tools they use and what size they draw, etc. etc.

Here's an example of me drawing like Laura/Rafe (click to see bigger):


And here's an example of me drawing like Neil/Georgia (click to see bigger):


This was by far the biggest illustration project I have ever taken on.  There were over 200 illustrations and I only had four months to draw them all.  Pretty much everything else I was working on had to be put on hold from July 15th-November 15th of last year.  Here is my chart for this project - the line on the left was for pencils, the line on the right was inks and the straight blue line is the goal.  This really helped me stay on target and made it possible for me to hit the deadline exactly on the nose.


Tonight I went down to my local bookstore (Books Inc. in Alameda!) to pick up a copy in person.  I have made a lot of books but this is the first time I could just walk into a bookstore and it was there on the shelf.  Exciting!

It was also a pretty good feeling, seeing my name on the title page.  Wahoo!  I'm hoping this will be the first of many books that I illustrate.


Anyway, this book is everywhere, so look for it at your local bookstore!  It's a really fun series - I would have read these books like crazy when I was a kid.  It's amazing to think that there are probably kids all over the place reading it right now!

January 22, 2014

Highlights Hidden Pictures #2

Another issue of Highlights Magazine showed up in the mail a few weeks back.  If you see this issue on the newsstand, check it out, it's got one of my illustrations in it!


Most of the hidden pictures I have been drawing are for the "Gaby's Journal" feature, in which Gaby and her family travel the United States, seeing all kinds of historic buildings, museums, national landmarks and parks.  This time it was the dinosaur exhibit at the Smithsonian in Washington D.C.


Since these illustrations are based on real places, I usually start out by collecting a bunch of photo reference.  The internet makes this extremely easy!  I usually find some general "official" photos on Google Image Search and then try to find some more personal first-person photos on Flickr.  I've even found some 3D models in the Google SketchUp 3D Warehouse so that I can position a building just how I want.

My next step is to mash up all this reference in photoshop to work out the composition of my drawing.  Since illustration does not have to perfectly mirror the real world, I can grab one element from a photo that I like and flip it, or draw on top of it to extend it, and then drop other photos in the background or foreground, etc. etc. etc.  Here is an example that I made for this illustration, which uses three or four photos and a lot of digital drawing.


I decided I didn't like that one very much, so I made a second composition, which I ended up using instead.  Once I settle on the composition, I print this out and lightbox the general shapes onto my bristol board.  Then I can finesse the drawing, and make everything look consistent.  This digital "comp" technique saves me a lot of time, so that I'm not trying to figure out all of the perspective and angles of things from scratch.


The last step, of course, is to add the hidden objects!  ;)

January 14, 2014

Today in Weezer History #1

One of my favorite things on the internet right now is the Weezer instagram account which is run by the band's archivist, Karl Koch.  Every day he goes back through the Weezer archives and finds something interesting that happened with the band on that date.  With over 20 years of material, Karl has a lot of really cool, behind-the-scenes stuff to share.

The other day I got an email from Karl, asking if I would be interested in illustrating the infamous "Rhino Lad" story, which had no photo to accompany it.  As you can see below, I said "Yes!"  You can read the story of Rhino Lad in the official Weezer instagram post.


Karl and I both had a lot of fun working on this, so hopefully I'll get to do some more of these in the future!