Monday, January 28, 2013

PEMDAS: The Process, Part 2

Now that my initial brainstorming and animatic is finished, I can finally move into the heavy design stages of production.   For this short in particular, design proved somewhat challenging to me initially.  I know that there was a simplicity that I wanted to achieve but at the same time I wanted to give it my own touch.  Simple can be hard to do without looking bland.  I wanted to incorporate mathematical concepts into the background, but how should I go about doing that?  How 'round' should I make the Land of Pi?  How the hell am I going to design this dragon and get him animated on schedule?  The clock begins counting down...
Some things clicked right away: the Musketeers, the horses, the supporting characters... all transfered from brain to screen, no problem.  Their shapes were easy to communicate and didn't require as much tinkering.

The Musketeers looking mostly enthusiastic.

Early design of Digit Horse (proportions altered further in animation)
Then there was the matter of designing the Digit Dragon.  I needed to make sure that not only was the design appealing; it had to animatable within the time constraints and be able to work within a variety of scenes.

Early design of Puff the Digit Dragon
While elements of the early dragon design made it into the final, he was way too unruly of a beast to animate along with everything else in two weeks' time.  His legs weren't flexible enough to walk and frankly there were just too many numbers to tell what was going on anywhere.  I also realized that the one-tone color scheme wasn't doing me any favors, so I began work on what eventually became the final version.  With a good variety of sizes and shades of numbers coupled with more prominent eyes and an upright posture, I could already sense more personality coming out of this guy...

Close-to-final design of Puff the Digit Dragon
But where in the hell were all of these characters going to live???  I had to figure out how to make this Land of Pi round and full of numbers.  Would they be grounded in backgrounds or float about over colors and textures?  How abstract did I want to get with it?

Various stages in the Land of Pi development.
Above illustrates the progression of how I got from Point A to Point Reasonably Finished over the period of about a week.  The Land of Pi was a lot more difficult for me to conceptualize than I initially imagined, so I kept it simmering on the back-burner while I went ahead on other designs.  When I began production on this project I initially expected everything to be on lined or graph paper to give it that 'doodling in the margins' feel, but as time wore on I realized I needed something more concrete to fit the style of the rest of the design.  Then it was a matter of roundness... what is too round and what is not round enough?  I'm no Antoni Gaudi... my round houses ended up looking more like tiny Hitler faces than something that looked like actual households, so I decided to keep the "kingdom" at a distance and build any extra scenery that might be needed (i.e. The Senate).  I ended up translating the notebook paper into the color scheme and overall feel of the landscape, something I feel I could've pushed more if there were time.

The Land of Pi
Here are a few other misdirections, ghosts of version numbers' past...

The Planet of the Land of Pi -- Nixed idea for opening, complete with golden spiral for The Mathies™
Original Design for "Robot Things" -- Anyone think a pile of old Nintendo Virtual Boys makes for a good joke anymore?  ... Anyone?  Exactly.

Original Tree Design -- back when I was going to go more painterly with the backgrounds... damn you, time allotted! 

NEXT TIME on THE PROCESS, Part 3: Finishing Up, Final Thoughts.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

From the Archives: Levi's® Purple

This past January marked the fifth anniversary of my move from Chicago to Brooklyn.  During those first few months in NY I spent a lot of time working on a weird variety of jobs for LFS, one of them being Levi's®.  Many a nights' sleep was lost to adding dots to capes and feathers to helmets, but in the end the client wanted something that was so oddly color-corrected that you couldn't make out much detail, let alone what's going on if heaven-forbid they cross in front of a dark background.  Ah well!  It was a fun project regardless and as I mentioned in my original post, a good way to justify some of college.

Monday, January 21, 2013

PEMDAS: The Animatic!

Following up with my previous blahg post, here is the original storyboard animatic that I put together for TED-Ed.  Next time I'll write more on how I got from this to the final animated short!

Friday, January 18, 2013

What Was I Animating 10 Years Ago?

Everybody starts somewhere.

A couple months back I was cleaning house and going thru some old stacks of CD-R's... or as our kids will call them, "SPINDLES OF WORTHLESS DISCS"... and came across an old archive of some college projects.  Exactly how far have we come in ten years?  I was still laying this sh*t off to VHS!  Look at those tracking problems!  Do most people even remember tracking?
... but I digress, please enjoy these four animation exercises from back when multi-plane animation wasn't just adding another layer in After Effects.  I did these for Lisa Barcy's Stop Motion 1 class at Columbia College Chicago -- the first project featured on the video was the first proper stop-motion I ever shot!  Yikes.

Have a great weekend everybody!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

PEMDAS: The Process, Part I

I've recently posted some pre-production goodness over on my site for my TED-Ed animated short, PEMDAS or How To Defeat a Dragon with Math (YouTube).  I wanted to take some time in this blog to walk thru how I go about making a project for TED-Ed from start to finish.  It may not be the model way to do things but it gets the job done, son!  Overall the whole process from pre-production to final posting takes anywhere between a month and a month and a half.

To get things started, TED sends me an audio file -- sometimes of my choosing, sometimes not -- and from there I begin listening to it over and over annnnd over.  I'll listen to it while I'm on the train, in the shower, grocery shoppin, etc etc so I can start brainstorming ideas & listening for workable rhythms in the narration.  I rarely cut up the audio, to whatever benefit or downsides that may provide.  Mainly I don't do it because I'd rather present the material as how it may play out in someone's head during a lecture.  Plus I don't need it to be any longer than it already is, I have a lot of ground to cover in a short time.  Initially, I start sorting out what could make for funny sight gags and what the characters might look like.

And then I let my brain crap all over my notebook for a few days, like this.

The scribble at the bottom eventually became the last shot in the animation of the desert.
First dragon drawings
Working out how I wanted to represent the musketeers
Fleshing out the dragon, if time permitted I was originally aiming to make him much more complicated.
More musketeer work where I decided on making parentheses 'just arms'
BONUS: Brain Crap isn't just for math design, here's an elephant from my last TED-Ed short.

Ahhh... wasn't that refreshing to get that all out?  I'm always jealous of some of my artist friends who keep amazingly well-kept sketchbooks full of beautiful drawings and proportion studies.  Mine looks like a four-year-old's with randomly fleshed-out drawings peppered in...
Due to the compressed nature of my TED-Ed productions (i.e. just me & producer) I usually start on storyboarding before or during initial character design, so my animatics typically end up looking nothing like the final product.  Certain parts will get chopped up, reworked or removed altogether.  This is true of all my TED-Ed projects but especially this latest one, with a much higher concentration of character interactions and backgrounds than my first two, which had long spans of charts and text animation.

Here are a few select storyboards and screenshots to compare storyboard vs. the final product:

My original design for the imperial senate.  The robot things were ... just that.  Overall, it looked too small and confined for me in the end.
The final design for the senate.  I added a truck with the words spelled out to better flow with the narration and changed the robot things to Star Wars® trash can droids for ease of animation.  Plus -- the guy was making a Star Wars reference and I needed to give it some sort of acknowledgement.  EXTRA NERD BONUS: The Imperial Senate has imperial units of measurement worked into its design. 
This was the animatic's original "Happy Ever After" shot... I had no idea how I was going to represent the Land of Pi design-wise and didn't have it down solid until about 10 days before final delivery.  So instead I had numbers and balloons.  Creativity.
The original "PEMDAS! There's another spot!" ... I wasn't really sure who I wanted to have yelling that line out so I just made a generic person.  The mouth was fun to draw.
This was the way I originally intended to show the musketeers riding their steeds toward the dragon.  After I got around to designing the horses, everything looked too jumbled up and busy so I went with the following design instead... 
The final version of the musketeers riding their steeds.

Finally, we come to the storyboard that eventually became the first image of this blog post.  This went through a few different changes, from the phone yelling to a wanted poster to a Street Fighter-style VS. screen to the musketeers sliding down a fire pole onto their horses.  Sometimes it's better just to keep it simple.

.... to be continued!

TOMORROW:  What Was I Animating 10 Years Ago?
MONDAY:  The Animatic! 
NEXT WEEK:  The Process, Part II  

Tuesday, January 15, 2013


I'll be posting more behind-the-scenes whatnots for this and other TED-Ed work shortly, and probably some sorta nipples for good measure.