Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Animating on Ones, Twos, and Threes

My apologies for being remiss - for about a week I have been a non-poster! Gasp! Aieee! Other interjections of horror!

But now for the meat: this is a post explaining what I mean, and what all animators mean, when they talk about animating on 1s, 2s, and 3s (or 4s, or 5s - you could essentially put any number here). First, you must understand that film is composed of a series of photographs, traditionally running through a camera at the rate of 24 frames (or photographs) per second. For any film student, this is a basic fact, like knowing that the first three letters of the English alphabet are A, B, and C. But this is not common knowledge unless you've made some dabbling jaunts into exploring filmmaking or film in general. So, 24 frames per second (or 24 fps) is the rate to remember when you're discussing animating on ones, twos, and threes.

As a side note, for television and digital cameras, there are actually 30 frames per second, which is why the mediums tend to look so instantly distinct from each other - well, one reason of many.

Nevertheless, whether shooting for TV or on film, animation works on the 24 fps timing principle. Now comes the 1s, 2s, and 3s part: these numbers refer to the number of times you photograph each drawing you create (or pose you hold, if you're animating with stop motion) before changing to the next pose or drawing.

That was a confusing definition, so let's make it simpler. If you animate on ones, you draw 24 completely different drawings per second of film - a lot of work, and yet the animation flows very nicely. Disney animated feature films often are animated on ones. If you animate on twos, you draw 12 completely different drawings per second of film, photographing each individual drawing twice so that you end up, once again, with 24 frames per each second of film. Contemporary American animated cartoons on TV tend to animate on 2s because the quality of the animation doesn't suffer too badly, and this method saves money because you're not demanding as many drawings per episode. Therefore, when you animate on threes, you create 8 completely different drawings per second of film, photographing each individual drawing...you guessed it, three times. If twos are cheaper, why not threes? - you might ask. Well, when you start to animate on larger numbers, the animation starts to look jerkier and stiffer, which American audiences, at the very least, won't tune into with any degree of regularity.

So there you have it. Now you know - aren't you a clever bird? Now try and animate something - it's fuuuuuuuuuuun!

Monday, April 17, 2006

How to Tell the Difference Between Stop Motion and Computer Animation

Want to be the cool kid on the block? You know, the one who can actually tell the difference between a Quay and a Pixar flick? Because it's not easy for everyone, you know (especially if you've somehow managed to come in late, had someone else buy the ticket, and covered your eyes whenever you saw a sign that might clue you in as to the title of the flick you're about to see), and in this vein I've come up with a few quick tips for the layman or laylady (lay) to bandy about the movie theater and, in general, annoy everyone else there.

By the way, this is in no way a good method to watch a film in order to enjoy its delightful story and sentiment. It's just a good way to be a smart ass, essentially. Nerds love this stuff.

1. Look for fingerprints. This takes some concentration, and it will only apply with traditional claymation (or clay animation - yes, it is the way it sounds), which is a form of stop motion. Studios like Aardman, makers of the Wallace and Gromit phenomenon, have become frighteningly good at hiding their fingerprints, but from time to time the familiar shadowed whorls will appear on the soft flesh of the characters you're watching. When this occurs, make sure you say "A-HA!" in a loud voice, while pointing. Of course you probably won't get anymore popcorn from your seatmate after that, so stock up in advance.

2. Look for unusual objects. O.K., this tip is a little more vague, but it will work beautifully if you're at a film festival and Svankmejer or Quay are on the bill. If you see things that look like screws, doll heads, slabs of pot roast, or other odds and ends, the chances are that you're watching stop motion. This, however, is not a sure indicator. It needs to be combined with a few other hints in order to be pulled off successfully. After all, maybe some computer animator wanted to bring to life a virtual pot roast - although this seems unlikely, you can't be too certain. Pot roasts are delicious, after all.

3. Look for motion blur. Motion blur can only be really successfully observed at home, where you have the ability to pause the film and examine individual frames. If you have this capability at the theater, I'll have to advise you not to use it unless you want to end up stuffed in the bottom of a trash can somewhere (ah, high school). Motion blur is simply this: the blur that occurs when objects in motion are moving and photographed at the same time. You can track motion blur best when looking at a particularly active scene frame by frame. Lots of computer animation tends to replicate motion blur (it's relatively simple to do), while stop motion, since it is not made in a computer, will not blur unless the animator went all crazy or fell or something during a take. The exceptions are films like the ever-so-tricky Corpse Bride, where all the frames were doctored in a computer afterwards directly in order to confound lists and generalizations such as the one you're reading right now. That's O.K. We don't (sniff) mind much...

4. Look at the lighting. So this is an extremely subtle way to determine a film's animated style, and is not recommended for beginners. Because objects in stop motion are all done at a much smaller scale than we are (dolls for these films are about a foot - 14 inches high or so), the props are also a lot smaller. Look for props in particular that are made of glass, such as jars, glasses, or mirrors. In computer animation, these props will have appropriate light scatter (due to such amazingness as programs like mental ray), and so will appear to be as big as their "real" counterparts are. In stop motion, they will look quaint and tiny, like the props inside a doll house. Also, because stop motion is dependent on "real" lights being in the scene, whereas in computer animation you can stick virtual lights everywhere, stop motion lighting may be a bit more limited, and will change subtly over the course of the day if they're shooting outside - although this is not always the case. If you had no idea as to what any of this meant, forget about it and move on to number five.

5. Look at the credits. A great last resort, looking at the credits is the best way to tell if the animation was stop motion or computer. Did they have someone to manufacture props? Did they have someone who was in charge of rigging? Rigging is distinctly a computer animation term, and physical props of course belong to the realm of stop motion. If they use the words "3D" somewhere you'll either have to return a pair of nifty glasses to the usher on your way out, or it was computer animated, or both. Look too for the names of computer programs, but be warned, a lot of stop motion will use computers for effects, so don't put too much credence into that.

Great! Now you're ready to be really and truly insufferable! Don't worry if you make mistakes, lots of animated films will combine methods anyway (although it's rare if a truly computer animated film will use a smidgeon of stop motion...possibly unheard of at this point). The best way to learn the differences between the two is to watch a lot of animation. After a while, after about three seconds of watching any film you will definitively know what is stop motion or computer based on observing motion alone. Isn't that frightening? I'm definitely a little scared.

So go out there, and show off your stuff. Just not in public. I'm pretty sure that's illegal.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

New Pic, Old Poem

This is how I feel today:

Creative, but with very little incentive. I've done a sketch for a painting, and written a poem that is a little rough so I'm not comfortable sharing it yet.

Instead, here is a poem from my Tattoo Notebook, entitled Research Project.

I am looking for a depiction of women
I am reading articles, going on the internet,
perusing a book entitled 'Women';
of course I know nothing.
I am not a reliable resource -
of being a woman
these ovaries do not enlighten me.
I am detached, mostly three feet away;
whenever my physical body
is reflected in another's mouth
I am shocked.
Disoriented, I scramble to touch my own breasts
but too often end up touching

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Girl at Work

So I've decided to stop torturing myself - I haven't heard back from the people who work at the TV show I (sort of) mentioned previously - so I've decided to just throw myself into my film whole-heartedly. Scheduled for today (and tomorrow): lots of background creating/polishing, and possibly some animation. I'm a bit behind with my animating, but I am bound and determined to catch up. In case you're interested, I'm animating first on paper, generally animating on 2s (which means that there are 12 drawings per second, instead of the normal 24 that would occur if you animated on 1s), sometimes animating on 1s if there needs to be more fluid motion. Then I scan the drawings into a computer, and paint them in Photoshop. After that, I import the frames into Final Cut Pro, and synch them up to the soundtrack that I've already laid down. In case you want a further explanation on how I'm animating this, write me a comment (anyone can comment on my blog, but I have vetoship due to a frightening amount of viagra offers I've received) and I'll elaborate.

The pic is from a contest we held among the animation labmates to determine what our advertising should look like for the Animation Prom film festival held at UCLA this year. My entry (above) didn't win, and is in no way affiliated with UCLA or the animation lab at UCLA. (I felt I should add that to be on the legal up and up). The advertising info on the pic, however, is accurate and should entice you to come see the show this June. I will be there, and if you mention my blog I will be very excited (if not downright flabbergasted). Whether my current film makes it into the Prom remains to be seen, but I will at least be showing a short there, which is pretty funny (I made it over the course of a weekend as a part of Falling Lizard), and deals with the inimitable question of who is the more dominant and kick-ass - pirates or ninjas?

Friday, April 07, 2006

Writing Parable

This was written three years ago, in the notebook of Lost Music:

She hated their criticisms, their comments, their snide laughter - so she sank the knife into her belly and began to pull out her small intestine - yards and yards of it unspooling, until a little Italian man arrived and put up his hands, as if trying to stop a car from hitting him. He shook his head and said, "They won't eat that. You'll have to make it more appetizing for them."

She nodded and cut some meat from her right thigh, and chopped it very fine, then stuffed it into the intestine and twisted it every six inches or so. The Italian man nodded.

"It might not be very clean, but at least they'll take a bite."

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Bad Timing

So one of my past instructors (who thought that my work in class was exceptional, apparently) has been trying to get me a job on an extremely well-known and popular animated TV show. I'm not supposed to tell anyone yet (in case I don't get the job, plus the instructor doesn't want to start a rift of jealousy or anything), and so I've been sitting on this thing which is a bundle of excitement and anxiety for me all at once. I would love to have this job: in the animation world, it is the equivalent of assistant directing. It would also be my first job in the industry that was not an unpaid internship...my first position in the animation industry period. I've been checking my email fairly frequently, and fantasizing about the position, knowing full well that I just may not get it (there's a test for it, I've yet to go into an interview for it, etcetera). But oh, I would so love to get it. I know I would do my best - I would work hard and try to balance this position in addition to working on my (dear Lord) eight minute film - I would work like a speed addict. But with better precision and clearer faculties.

For now, there is only waiting. Only this weekend I had planned to go away on a mini-vacation that would take me far, far, away from my beloved Mac. Yes, I know that there are internet pay stations, but those are probably the crankiest, slowest pieces of technology known to humankind. Plus, if I need to have an emotional breakdown - of a positive or negative nature - I would prefer to do it in the privacy of my hotel room. Only, alack a day, my laptop bit the bitmap last year. So here I am, excited about the trip, excited about the potential job, and wanting to strangle someone. Pretty much anyone that sits next to me in public.

This should be fun.

Happy Birthday Animation!

Did you know that today is animation's 100th birthday? More importantly, did you know that the first animator was a drag queen? To find out more about animation's storied past (and see what is considered the first animated film, Humorous Phases of Funny Faces from 1906), click here. All I know is, that I have a lot to live up to.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006


Today hasn't been so beautiful or pretty - the one perk was the icy, driving rain I saw outside my window today at about eleven this morning: it was coming in sideways, violently, powerfully, poetically. I prepared to get ready to leave for an animation class (which I thought began at noon); I found an umbrella, a waterproof jacket, and was about to get out my sneakers when I checked my email. Lo and behold, my professor had rescheduled the class for tomorrow - at 10 AM. So I (grumbling a bit - I could have slept more, after all) put away my rain things and sat inside, thinking of things to do. I decided to do my laundry, but when I went downstairs to the laundry room all the machines were taken. Deeply saddened, I perked up quite a lot when I realized that I could go pick up a package from the dry cleaners (in my building that's where all the packages are stowed), only to arrive just as the woman who works there was leaving for lunch. She would not be back until 4 P.M. I harumphed, and went upstairs to surf blogs and peck out my meagre comments. But what depresses me about surfing is that an awful lot of blogs seem to deal with the news, and I've stopped reading newspapers a long time ago to regulate that daily dose of depression. Forlorn, I again became glad when my Sweetie Pie came home from work, and shared half a sauerkraut dog with me. But he was tired (he'd been up all night writing a film review) and went to bed promptly. I should've worked on my film, but I had not had enough punishment for today (evidently) and began blogsurfing again while returning my ex's email in the form of a phone call/instant message/phone call exchange. He ended the call on a sour note, and I think the only good thing about today (so far) is that as soon as I publish this email I can go downstairs and pick up my package. Well, that and the brief moment I shared over the sauerkraut dog with Sweetie Pie. It made me feel sparkly inside.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

L.A. Events

If you're interested and in the area, there are two could-be-good events going on at the James Bridges Theater. Tonight, even though it's not posted on their calendar for some weird reason, there's an Australian film entitled Look Both Ways that's screening at 7:30PM. It's won some awards at the festivals, and has some animation integrated into it (not a lot, and not the most amazing-looking animation, but hey it's only about two extremely short clips, so I'll give the animators a chance). And, if you go, I myself might be there (this is dependent on whether I meet with my father for dinner tonight or not - in case you wanted some delicious golden nuggets of my extremely tasty life). Tomorrow night, there will be a screening of a Matthew Barney project. Ah, Matthew Barney who - for the uninitiated - is the auteur of The Cremaster Cycle, a series of films which are A: beautiful to look at and well-laden with complex symbolism, and B: sold for an awful lot of money (I think thousands) as "real" art in a gallery would. The pic included is from one of the Cremaster films. For extra trivia points, he's married to Bjork and used to play football in high school (which comes up as a theme now and then). Actually, I think he has some pieces touring in San Francisco, too, so get up on that! Although Matthew Barney is not an animator, he's a fabulous visual artist, and I do so love to promo the graphic design. Be more visual, people. Paint something interesting on your walls at home! I would if I could, but I'm a renter, and already in deep doo-doo with regular old white paint getting scratched up and falling like leaves of so much lettuce. In brief, my apartment is molting and my cats think it's grand fun to help the process along.

More fabulousness! God I am so amazing and studly! I'm going to go eat a slice of pizza for my breakfast!

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Felidae: A Rare Film Opportunity

I consider myself a cineologist - far from some elitist, hoity-toity catchphrase, a cineologist is something that you, too, can aspire to! Like any homegrown ecologist sporting a WWF T-shirt (that’s World Wildlife Foundation, not some weirdo wrestling slogan) I also endeavor to preserve rare species and encourage their ability to flourish and reproduce - of film, that is. Because a cineologist, of course, is plainly put a film fanatic bent on sharing the beauty of endangered cinema with the rest of the world.
So it is with Felidae, a 1994 German animated film of rare beauty that approximately 98% of the English-speaking world has not heard of. What is most peculiar is that this film is not difficult to follow, experimental, or abstract - things which tend to repel mass reception in American audiences - instead, this film is a classic murder mystery, with a mystery interesting enough to spend time figuring out along with the characters. Of course, since the story is about murder, this film is not standard family fare. In fact, the violence is probably graphic enough to turn most fainthearts away; but for those who stay the reward is rich indeed.
Based on a novel of the same name written by Akif Pirinicci, the film’s protagonist is a cat named Francis who has recently moved into a new neighborhood with his clueless owner, Gus. He quickly meets another cat, a male ominously named Bluebeard, while exploring his new backyard. Unfortunately, their meeting is not a happy occasion, as it occurs over the corpse of a tomcat whose head has been nearly severed from his neck. Francis teams up with Bluebeard, and they form a good cat/bad cat duo intent on uncovering the killer (or killers) responsible for a chain of murders stretching much farther back than it at first appears to. What Francis does not anticipate (it was probably not a selling point of the real estate agency) is that his new home includes a suicidal cat cult on the second story, an abandoned laboratory in the attic, and further weird experimental equipment in the basement - all of which are connected to a cat called Claudandus. To further complicate the crimes is the fact that many of the murder victims were sexually aroused at the time of their deaths.

What will be unexpected to the average viewer is how well the Don Bluth-esque character designs of the cats, and the vividly colored backgrounds, marry the violent subject matter. The animation itself is very fluid, reminiscent of Disney (or of Bluth again, who is himself a Disney ex-pat), with a feeling of perhaps being shot on 2s (more Disney on TV than feature fare). This familiar territory would normally be an unexpected locale for such violence and gore, but because the gore is animated (as opposed to some gruesome live action attempt) it is easier to accept, and allows the viewer to focus more intently on the story itself. To put it another way, because the viewer is reassured that the violence is not real through the film’s visual style, the audience feels safe enough to trust the storyteller to not actually injure any animals, while the grisly spectacle serves to keep the spectator uneasy and engaged in the thriller/murder mystery aspects of the film. This attempt to color violence with art is often reflected of course in other art forms - such as comics, or live action films like Italian gialli - but rarely found in (mainstream/American) animated features.
Because I got hold of a dub (instead of a subtitled version, which I would have preferred), I feel that I missed out on some better writing and voice acting than I experienced - after all, Akif Pirinicci himself co-wrote the screenplay, and the original German vocal cast appeared to be a strong one. As it was, in the dub much of the voice acting felt “off” emotionally, while the individual voices of the characters themselves felt unevenly written - that is to say that certain lines did not seem to suit many characters who had been built up to act and appear a certain way. I blame this entirely on a poor translation, as the original acting I briefly witnessed on the German trailer seemed much more emotionally genuine and cohesive.
The only other flaw in this film would be the very last scene - the epilogue of the film - where Francis too-cheerfully narrates a moralistic set of candy apple hopes for the future. All right, I misspoke, the very final flaw in the film would be the title song written and performed by Boy George, which actually contains the lyrics: Cat killer on the loose/Deep Purple is dead/Cat killer on the loose/Yes. Thankfully, this musical mishap is limited to the opening and closing credits, and fails to rear its misfortunate head during the actual story.

But the good practically drowns the bad; the dream sequences were quite stunning, in particular look for very fluid mutations in the first one, and in the second a morbid sea of eviscerated cats manipulated by master puppeteer, Gregor Mendel. The fades and xerography used in this scene are exquisite, and quite perfectly evoke the sensation of being trapped in an overwhelming nightmare.
Also, the lighting in the film is very strong and brightly colored - combined with fluid pans and tilts, it evokes the feel of an Italian giallo or a German Expressionist city-cage, where characters can run all they like, but are inevitably entangled in the angles and shadows of a tale far bigger than themselves.
So, join me in cinematic preservation - become a cineologist today so that we may experience this masterfully done sex-crime thriller with beautiful subtitled prints and a gluttony of extras. Email some of your favourite distributors (I’m personally tackling Blue Underground and Mondo Macabro) today! Save the endangered Felidae, and let it roam free across the rolling western plains, from DVD collections to store aisles, as it was meant to!

You can now watch the trailer for Felidae to get a taste of this extremely fun animated film.