Monday, June 26, 2006

Coloring in Photoshop

Everyone has a different method for coloring their images in Photoshop - I have developed a very specific pathway to help me zip along with my animated film, but of course it might not be the correct pathway for you. When coloring, experiment a little. If you don't like the texture or look of an image, don't settle for it, just keep on pushing!

First I draw an image on a piece of white animation paper. Sometimes, I draw directly onto a Photoshop file using my Wacom tablet. I looooove my Wacom tablet. For the uninitiated, it's a super-sexy sort of mouse pad that uses a sensitive pen (with eraser on the opposite end) to pick up not only the length of a line, but uses a pressure = line thickness ratio that is divine. The only people that I've heard complain about it either A) don't pick their pen's settings themselves (which are extremely adjustable and easy to do) or B) wanted a Tablet PC in the first place.

After I've scanned my image in, I open it up in Photoshop, and make two new layers underneath it. Since I'm animating, I've previously made the backgrounds and merely drag and drop the background layer from existing artwork in another tiff or jpeg file.

One layer I name "edgefinder," and make it a bright, obnoxious color that is markedly different from my current color palette. The edgefinder layer becomes useful in helping me spot where I color outside the line. Then I change the original drawing layer settings from "Normal" to "Multiply," which you can do in the layers box.

I name the layer sandwiched between the original drawing and "edgefinder" something with "color" in the title. Then I select colors from my color comps (using the eyedropper tool, and then saving the colors in the palette box), and use a brush tool to color the area. Sometimes I use the fill bucket, too.

Once I turn off the edgefinder layer, I save the new file as a jpeg or tiff with no layers, and I'm done!

Since my belly is full of strawberry shortcake, and writing in my blog is just a fancy form of procrastinating, I'm going to go work on my film. Happy coloring!

All images on this website: copyright Michelle Lopes 2006.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Storyboarding: Step One in Filmmaking

Let's say you want to make an animated film - or actually any kind of film at all. Where should you begin? The best place to start is with a storyboard.

Crafting the storyboard: Don't be intimidated by a lack of drawing skills. A storyboard isn't meant to show off your artistic talent, it's meant to communicate the placement of characters in shots, and the action that occurs within. Storyboards are now a common extra on DVDs, and I recommend you take a look at a few before you start your own. Remember: The Matrix was storyboarded with a bunch of stick figures, you can surely do the same! Storyboards should be made once you've figured out, through whatever creative process you normally use, the beginning, middle, and end of your film. If you write, fine. If you doodle, fine. Even if you're making an experimental film, it's a good idea to plot where it's going to go, and realize ahead of time that audiences grow bored if there isn't any change within a film, no matter how interestingly it's shot or written. Change, or conflict, is extremely important when you make a film. We all change, and that is why such things as character arcs ring true to us.

If these terms I'm flinging around seem entirely too new to you, I would advise that you read up on the art of storytelling, or take a writing class at your local community college. Story, by Robert McKee, can be a good (if an intimidatingly weighty) place to begin. Or, a la Tarantino, watch a lot of films. I mean A LOT of films. Watch Westerns, Horror Films, Romances, Cult Classics, Film Noirs, Sci-Fis. Don't start with color films or anything from the nineties on, start with stuff from the thirties and forties. Watch a Chaplin. And take notes: what do you enjoy about the film? How was your favourite scene staged? In what order did the shots occur? Watch more films. Are there any similarities or patterns that arise, despite the differences between genres? I'll bet there will be.

A storyboard is sort of like a comic book of your film - a bunch of illustrations that describe the action that should take place in the course of your piece. Figure out what order they should go in, and start drawing out different panels that represent shots. Notice that it's often good to vary the type of shots you use: the typical Hollywood pattern is wide shot, long shot, then either medium shots or close ups. Like someone walking into a room for the first time, you notice the space first before you notice details. Without an establishing shot, or wide opening shot, the following space you cut within can be confusing. Some filmmakers like to make the audience feel lost - if this is your intent, then that's fine, but realize that your content better justify that decision - as should be the case whenever you break the rules. Try getting a hold of the book Film Directing Shot by Shot, written by Steven Katz. It's good stuff to start with.

In the Industry, storyboards never have "action shots" or splash panels like comic books do. What that means is that storyboards make show Mr. X on the left hand side of the screen, and in a second panel show Mr. X on the right hand side, but you never draw him walking in between unless it's important to the story. If Mr. X is supposed to be exhausted for some crucial reason, then sure, draw an extra shot of him zipping along. But normally, don't bother. If someone jumps, you show the character take off and land, but you don't draw a mid-air panel. You only draw changes in a storyboard: if a new character enters, if a prop is moved, if the location changes, essentially if there is change - these things are indicated. Otherwise the board just gets overly long and dull.

It's nice to make these illustrations as big as you can, and to pin them up on a large cork board or some other board so that you can look at your entire film at one time. Walt Disney began the process of storyboarding with his first feature, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and since then it has begun common practice to use storyboards in live action features as well. If you get a chance to rent the DVD, look for the extra that shows Walt pitching (or presenting) his storyboard in front of a group of animators. Note how he pitches the storyboard as if he were telling a story. This is important. You should try pitching your own story in front of a group of (hopefully kind) friends to start out. Then you can gauge for yourself: where do they lose interest? What should I speed up or slow down? What should I remove altogether? What, frankly, isn't working? Never fall in love with your storyboard - the only thing you should realize that you shouldn't change is the stuff that makes you want to make the film in the first place. This is very important: I've seen a lot of great ideas become a burden to a filmmaker or animator because they changed too much, and lost the heart of their films. Don't do that! Accept criticism from critics that understand what you're trying to communicate, and change stuff that isn't necessary to tell your story - realize that a lot of stuff you like a lot can and should be cut - but don't change the heart. This is tricky, and takes a great deal of judiciousness. Take a few days off after a hearty critique and think about what your story should mean, what you instantly fell in love with. After all, why do you want to spend months, and possibly years, working on this project? Figure that out, and you should be O.K.

Get started, kids, and once your storyboard is a work of flawless storytelling genius, come back.

Monday, June 19, 2006

A Completely Techie Post for the Especially Nerdly: Reconnecting Files in FCP

O.K., so I finally figured it out - files will not reconnect in FCP automatically (or at least the "reconnect files" window won't pop up with only the relevant clips listed) unless you have FCP open at the same time you save your new files. What does this all mean? If you're animating like I am, plugging individual tiff files into a Final Cut timeline, and you want to change the animation along the way or somehow alter the tiff files so that you need to resave them, the cool little reconnect files window won't pop up and allow you, well, reconnect, the necessary files (or plug the new, updated tiffs in). Instead, you have to go do it manually, going into File/Reconnect...and thereafter swimming through an extremely long list of tiffs and jpegs. Do the smart thing (that I eventually figured out): save while you have your file open. You'll be so cool that way.

Final Cut Pro tip of the day: A particularly handy one from my instructor - does your sound have some hideous clicking going on, particularly once you've made a final QuickTime movie in FCP? That's because you put an MP3 sound file in FCP, and FCP hates MP3s. Hates them! Arggh!!! Simply go into ITunes and convert your MP3 into an AIFF. Or spend a ton of money on some other sound file converting program. Your choice.

Have a delicious day.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Claymation Vs. Stop Motion Animation

I found out that the other day someone was looking for the "difference" between claymation and stop motion animation, and came to my site for assistance. Alackaday, the person in question left dejected. As I'm deeply saddened at leaving people dejected halfway round the globe (I think the surfer was from Germany or something), I'll explain in detail. Firstly, there is no difference between claymation and stop motion animation, this is because claymation is a type of stop motion animation. And as a postcard is a type of a letter, or a romance novel a type of book, stop motion is a broad category of animation divided into genres.

Stop motion animation is primarily defined in this way: it's the animation of any object, animate or inanimate, in front of a camera, with the exception of drawings or cut outs on flat pieces of paper (or cels, etcetera). Primarily, stop motion animation is defined by depth - three dimensionality occuring in real space, as opposed to created space in a computer or on a piece of paper, generally occurs. I say generally because there are always exceptions, especially when you start to mix mediums.

Claymation is a form of stop motion animation that involves, you guessed it, clay. Puppets or dolls, many of which are outfitted with metal armatures (or inner metal skeletons), that are made out of wet clay are manipulated frame by frame in front of a camera. Gumby is a good example of claymation. If you're interested in creating your own claymations, Claytoon carries an excellent product line of clay that remains pliable while working with it, and does not tend to melt underneath the hot rays of film cameras. They carry their own series of plastic armatures, called Bendy Bones, but while Bendy Bones make for fairly tolerable maquettes, they haven't proved to be sturdy enough for the prolonged experience of stop motion animation (in my humble experience). Instead, I'd advise you craft your own metal armature using the appropriately named "armature wire" (available at most art stores), or check out the extremely sexy armatures at

So what is stop motion animation? It is animation using about any handy object lying about, barring wet clay. Jan Svankmejer likes to use meat, dress shirts, stones...truly just about any sort of item, really, including clay. When he uses wet clay, it's claymation, but his work is not, obviously, necessarily limited to the moist bosom of terra firma. The Quay Brothers also use a broad array of items in their animations, particularly dolls, screws, and other odds and ends. Stop motion animation does not have to limit itself to found objects, however. Puppets not made out of clay, such as the wonderfully crafted dolls of Corpse Bride, fall under the broader catagory of stop motion animation. Meanwhile, the frame by frame photography and animation of a human being is called pixellation. So you could build an armature for a solid figure or doll just as easily as you could for a clay one, you just have to treat the joints differently.

Well, I hope that was helpful! As I work on my 2D animated film over the summer, I'll be sure to update this blog with my progress. In addition I'll be giving blow-by-blow advice for crafting your own stop motion projects, as I have a few of those babies under my (shiny, ostentatious, Texan) belt (buckle) at this point, and am confident in doling out advice for beginners.

Happy sculpting!

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Animation (Definition of)

Finals are coming, and the weather is gray and dim, but hot at night so I sleep in restless fits until morning, when I grow sound and weary. To animate is to spend your time replaying motion in your head again and again, trying to slow things down into distinct parts, trying to fracture time.

Repetition is the soul of animation, time is its law. When you animate, you are splitting human beings into atoms while they laugh, dance, run.

My technical definition: Animation is the stylization of natural movement through the creation of a series of still images which, when seen in rapid succession, appear to be alive. Animus, another word for soul, is the root of the word animation (which in another definition, means "movement"). The soul, apparently, is described by movement.

Something to ponder, anyway.