May 31, 2013

The Rewards of Blogging and the Frustration of Big Personal Projects

So here's my written post for the week! I binge painted all long weekend; Monday being Memorial Day. My written post didn't come together in time but I happened to have oodles of art done so the visual and written post got switched this week. Here I am at a cafe with my laptop:
Each Sunday morning I go to a cafe with my laptop and work on a blog post for Tuesday. I spend about 2 hours answering emails and writing up at least a rough draft of a blog post. Basically I do something on my computer until the battery dies. It's become quite the ritual for me. I have come to find a lot of satisfaction and contentment in blogging.

Some of the benefits I experience and reasons that I blog:

-I have a regular schedule/ritual which gives me some stability and comfort
-I document the making of my short film
-I share my progress and life going-ons with friends and family around the world
-I retain new information that I research and I am able to look back to posts if something learned slips my mind; tags and linking are especially helpful for this purpose
-Blogging encourages me to keep up with news and watch movies/learn about artists or at the very least jot down thoughts on daily goings ons and be analytic about information that is "coming in"
-It brings awareness to my short film
-I offer something to fellow animators/artists via tutorials and researched posts about applicable subjects - if a non artist type person dares to skim over these posts and read the personal bits they can still get a sense of things that I'm learning and doing and how it makes me feel

My laptop sticker collection reflects the adventures I've been having in San Francisco. There's room for a few more stickers yet.
Since I commited myself a couple of months ago to doing one written and one visual post a week, it really encourages (forces?) me to learn and work on my film and reflect on things in my life. I've been doing a bunch of Toonboom tutorial posts recently since I thought they would be something helpful to offer to fellow animators also getting into the animation software. I keep realising that there is so much more about it to learn!

I have written before that I believe I "bit off more than I can chew" here with this project. I am sometimes frustrated because I want to improve as an animator, a film maker and a storyteller. One great way to do that, as Ira Glass says; "the most important possible thing you can do, is do a lot of work. Do a huge volume of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week or every month you know you're gonna finish one story." Now, maybe a story or animation every week or month is a bit much. Ira is talking about writing and story crafting, he himself is a public radio personality. But the idea of producing a great volume of work so that you can look back on it and improve over time is a really good one. So while I'm happy with the project I took on, I just wish it didn't take SO long to complete. Check out these videos of Ira Glass discussing storytelling. That link there will take you to the first video of four.

I spoke recently with someone about how it can feel frustrating to have this project (my short film) on the go that is taking so long to complete. They suggested that maybe I should just "wrap it up". What does that mean? I instantly went on the defensive to say that I'm happy with the film and it's what I want to do. How on earth could I just wrap it up? I instantly visualized a version of my film with rushed paintings for backgrounds and still frames of character poses instead of any animation. It was a piece of advice that perhaps came from a well-meaning place. But I can't imagine just quickly finishing this film and being ok with that. Often it seems that people naturally seem inclined to suggest solutions to problems that aren't necessarily even problems, or issues that I wasn't actually seeking advice on. Sometimes that is helpful. For the most part, when I tell people that I've been working on my film in my spare time the usual reaction I get is; "oh it's good to hear that you're still working away on that", which is great. I actually love to hear about other people personal projects and going-ons as I find that sort of thing highly inspiring. It's exciting to be able to direct your own project and get it just the way you like it! Do you have any personal projects or goals on the go? What are they?

This past weekend I reached a milestone on my background paintings. I've got all the backgrounds that serve as backdrops for character animation done or nearly done. A handful of shots I'm going to leave for now and finalise the lighting when the animation is done. That way the action will get framed just right and I won't have to paint it twice. I would like to shift gears a little bit at this point now that I've accomplished so much on the backgrounds. I will probably relax my dedication to Pickled for a couple of months and in that time try to get to the gym, life draw, play my ukelele and learn more about animating in Maya. I actually picked up my ukulele this week for the first time in about a year and a half! I just didn't want to look at a computer screen anymore.

May 28, 2013

Visual Post - I got lots of painting done over the long weekend!

Normally Tuesday is my weekly written post but I'm going to change things up this week! The long weekend let me get a good bit of painting and not much writing done. I binge painted pretty much. Yesterday I touched up the cathedral. It's been bugging me for ages that the light in the wedding scene is yellow but there is nothing to make the light yellow. I had figured ages ago that to fix this I'd make the natural light more white and was just putting it off until I had the time. Yesterday I opened up the background in question and couldn't bring myself to nix the yellow light which I really want to have in there and which is so appropriate. So I just added stain glass windows with yellow panels over the windows! Here are some crops of the cathedral background:

I've let shots 26, 27 and 29 go for now. Those are the ones I've been working on recently. I was starting to just get obsessive about detailing and texturing them and when it came to putting down the light and shadow layers I decided to just hold off. I can do the animation first and then make sure that the lighting frames the action as needed after animation is roughed in.

I threw down some texture on shots 31 and 32. I haven't touched those backgrounds in a looong time. The lighting on these is a rough suggestion, I'll jazz that up with some nice brushes when the animation is working.

So I had my paintbrush on 5 paintings this weekend! Not that any of them were started fresh this weekend, and only one of those is final. But the 4 incompletes are close to being done and I'm going to finish them up when animation is done. I feel accomplished!

May 24, 2013

More painting getting done!

Hey, so this week I actually found some time to dig in on painting backgrounds! I went a bit further with background 26 and then laid down some basic colour on 27 and 29. It's exciting to make progress!
Next I'll take 27 and 29 into Corel painter for a base texture layer. I love Corel's brushes. I think I'm going to bring each of these to completion in stages at the same time. That should help me stay consistent with style, colour and brushes.

May 22, 2013

Painting Forever

I've been painting a lot in my spare time recently, (not that I have a lot of spare time). Today I actually stayed at the office until 8:30 pm to help ensure I hit my Friday deadline. A few other artists stuck around too and it was cool. When there are a handful of people who stay beyond dinner and the sunset at the office to crunch on a deadline, I feel this kind of glamour... I love the idea of working hard to make a deadline on a project that you care about with other people. It gets sad to stay behind at the office and be the only one there in the cold and in the dark. Anyway. I feel so desperate to finish up these background paintings! I've been painting here and there in scraps of spare time since... April 2011 ish! So just over 2 years. Even though I say to myself that I have 5 paintings left to finish up, there are actually even more. The title card, a bunch of food prop paintings and then the credits. I'll work on the 5 scene shots first.

In honor of feeling like I'm stuck painting forever, here are two rejected concepts. One is a background I sketched up and colour concepted but then deleted entirely from the film, the other is a colour concept for the kitchen that I decided not to use.

May 21, 2013

How to Animate Pivot Points in Toon Boom Animate - Toonboom Tips #3

Admittedly, now that I've been using Toonboom to build a few rigs and animate some characters, I realise that the information I'm about to write about here is just about the first thing I should have learned about. I was animating a character and was having difficulty understanding what was going on with the pegs. The first time I started using Toonboom in 2008 I was told to always animate on the peg layers, not the drawings. That was great advice, but it's not like it's got to be that way.

* Don't forget to check out my previous Toonboom Tips on Symbols in Flash vs. Drawings in Toonboom and Symbols vs. Drawings vs. Pegs.

There are multiple ways of doing pivots and multiple layers of pivots:
You may use the pivot tool to set a pivot point on drawing layers. The reason this is useful: When you have a character rig/build and there is for example a hand layer with multiple hands, the pivot point will be correct on all the hands if they overlap in the right spot. But when you swap to a different view, (e.g. from front view to 3/4 front view), and the position of the hand changes, the pivot will be correct for those hands since their pivot is also on the drawing layer. (right?) So, the time that it's most important to set a pivot on the drawing layer is when you have multiple views on the same timeline.

* Sometimes as an alternative, some people will dodge needing to set drawing level pivots by separating the various views into their own hierarchies. Meaning separate templates for front, 3/4 front, side, 3/4 back, back views. I've actually found that it's far easier to do this when using Animate and not Animate Pro.

So, You want to Alter a Single Layer that has a Child that you don't want to Alter?
Now here is some important and valuable information right here. If you set up a basic arm hierarchy, for example, with a hand parented to a forearm and that forearm parented to the upper arm, and the pivots are set properly on each drawing with the pivot tool, you will easily be able to animate the position (e.g. rotation) of each of these drawings, but what happens when you want to skew, squash or stretch a single layer that has a child that you don't want to squash? For example, squashing the forearm but not the hand? You will want to be able to manipulate each piece of the hierarchy separately and individually. This is when pegs come in handy.

So you will want to take those 3 arm elements out of it's hierarchy, then select all 3 drawings and hit on the "add peg" button to add pegs to each drawing layer. So now each drawing layer is outside of a hierarchy. To put it back into a hierarchy, you will want to drag the PEG of the hand to the peg of the forearm, and the peg of the forearm to the peg of the upper arm. Now you have the ability to select the pegs OR the drawing layers and you may squash/stretch/skew on the drawing layer, but animate the position (e.g. rotation) of each element in a hierarchical system via the pegs!

Fixing the Z Depth:
You will have to make sure the Z depth is set properly for each layer. Elements will most likely not be ordered properly at this point. I am using Toonboom Animate so to place an element further away on the Z depth, (for example nudge the hand under the forearm), I'll select that drawing layer and then hit ALT + up. (Conversely, to nudge a layer up, I would hit ATL + down. I basically just remember to hit up when I want down and down when I want up.) AND MAKE SURE THAT THE ANIMATE BUTTON IS OFF WHEN YOU ALTER THE Z DEPTH! This is pretty important. You must make sure your animate button is ON when you're animating and OFF when you're not, otherwise you are going to hate yourself later. (If you're using Animate Pro, you will just need to reorder the connections (compositing order) in the network, very visual and user friendly.)

Making sure the Pivots are Correct Across the Timeline of your Character Build:
You'll notice now that when you select any of the peg layers, the pivot is in the center of your scene and not where you set them on the drawing layer. This is because pegs have their own pivot points. This is where I started my research on setting pivots as I couldn't understand how to edit the pivot on a peg layer. It's not the same as setting a pivot on the drawing layer, (where by you would simply use the edit pivot tool).
So now you have a few options:
1.) leave the peg pivot point where it is and just deal with that
2.) use the rotate tool to set the pivot on a peg layer
3.) use the drawing layers pivot and promote them up to the peg.


2.) The issue with this method is that if you change the pivot on say, the hand, and you are creating a character turn around, the peg pivot will be changed for all view and it won't be in the right spot. So editing the pivot this way is nice if you don't have multiple positions/views for elements on the same peg. Editing pivots in this manner is going to work if you have created a character with separate templates/hierarchies for each view.

3.) Now if you do want to do multiple views in one timeline, promoting the drawing layer pivot to the peg layer is the way to go. (Unfortunately, this won't work for Animate, only for Pro). You can open up the layer properties of a drawing layer (for Pro users click on that layers yellow box on it's nodule in the network) and on the middle drawing tab there is the option for embedded pivots. To apply the drawing layer pivot to the peg of that layer, and select the option to apply the drawing layer pivot to the parent peg. See this video for instructions on doing this and watch from 2:57 to 4:36.

I am going to find a solution for myself in Animate, as I do want to have character rigs with turnarounds that share a timeline. I believe they are more accessible for the animator. When I look back at the first character rig I built, which was of Birdie, I can see that it's sloppy and that it should be fixed up before I start animating with it.

A tip! When you're editing the pivot on the peg layer, make sure that in the layer properties of the peg that the pivot values (bottom two numbers) are set to 0 and 0. Otherwise, when you promote pivots to a peg, the pivot values of a drawing will be added to those numbers. And that will cause your pivot to be offset.

If you want a video and audio demonstration of this information, check out these two videos:

Toonboom Tip of the Week - Pivot Points in Animate, Animate Pro and Harmony - part 1

Toonboom Tip of the Week - Pivot Points in Animate, Animate Pro and Harmony - part 2

May 17, 2013

Hand Painted Munny - Samus Style!

One of the reasons I've been too busy to do more artwork on Pickled recently is that for a couple of weeks I used every scrap of spare time I had to work on this hand painted Munny! I've painted it to look like Samus, from Metroid. It was a birthday gift for my husband.
I used this toy as inspiration after I saw Steve write about wanting it on his game company's website. As we're on a budget, spending $200 on a toy was hard to justify. So I decided I would just make one for far less dollars!
I spent about $30 on paint, $6 on Krylon spray, $2 on paint containers, $5 on a brush and $10 on the vinyl toy itself. Then my friend Ania loaned me some of her acrylic paint and brushes. (Thank you Ania!!) If I had bought every colour I needed this project would have been much more expensive.

Here it is, drying off on the fire escape.
Here are a bunch of work in progress photos:
I custom mixed all the paint colours (except black and silver). The paint containers I bought were to hold custom mixed paints so that I could do multiple coats of paint over days.
I finally ripped off the head to add some final touches.
Here it is drying after getting a coat of Krylon Crystal Clear:
Steve likes it! Happy birthday and happy anniversary!

Soon to come... more Pickled art!!!

May 14, 2013


I'm not sure when I first heard about Me and My Shadow; an upcoming animated Dreamworks film. But when I heard about a CG feature with hand drawn elements to play the parts of the character's shadows, I was instantly a fan. What a great idea!!! Here is the poster that's been released by Dreamworks:
This is the only visual to the film that I've seen thus far. The film was first announced in late 2010 but currently it's not to be found on the Dreamworks slate of upcoming films. Though I've read that it's scheduled for a March 2014 release, I'm pretty sure that in reality this film is on hold.

The plot as I understand it: Stanley Grubb is the world's most boring human. His frustrated shadow Stan longs for adventure but is stuck with Stanley, a very timid guy. When a crime takes place in the shadow world which puts both their lives in danger, Stan is forced to break the very rule of shadow land; "they lead, we follow", to take control of Stanley. They go on an adventure to solve this crime and stop the shadow villain from taking over the human world. Along the way some heart warming lessons about life take place as they tend to do. The voice cast currently includes Kate Hudson, (Almost Famous), Josh Gad (The Book of Mormon) and Bill Hader (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs). Written by Tom Astle and Matt Ember. Directed by Alessandro Carloni.

What a great idea! Mixing CG and hand drawn animation seems thrilling. The human world will be animated with CG and the shadow world animated with hand drawn animation. There will be incredible flexibility and I believe this mixed medium choice is going to help make a lot of creative descisions. I'd love to see that on the big screen in a feature film format.

I'm pretty excited about the path that Dreamworks is taking with their animated features. The Croods was fantastic. And they've been making a lot of really great films of late. (I loved Megamind too! And How to Train your Dragon!)

A few related links:

What does the future hold for Dreamworks?

Dreamworks drops Me and My Shadow from schedule

First look at Dreamworks Me and My Shadow

May 10, 2013

Further Work in Progress on the Cellar Sequence Backgrounds

It's been another busy week! This past weekend involved a lot of chores and file cleaning. I did find some time to get some painting done on background 26 of the cellar sequence:
This image is super work in progress. I'm going to move the pickle jar. Currently the state this background is in is like the above, but with zoodles of perspective lines all over the place as I get the new jar figured out. I think the visual flow is going to work better with the new version. As I make progress with this one I've been saving it as new versions so that I can whip up a gif of the process.

May 7, 2013

Where is Hyperspace? What is a Bag of Holding?

This past Saturday I was at a bit of a loss as to what to do with myself. I recently finished a big task, (I completed my Toonboom Cash rig) and now I've still go so much work left to do on my film; I hardly know where to start! I figured, what with the bit of free time on my plate it was high time I do a little computer cleaning. I've got a couple hard drives... One is somewhat new and I forgot I even owned it. After I bought it I just shoved in a drawer. I have a tradition of naming my hard drives. While trying to think of a name for this new hardrive that's purpose is to store files, it was suggested that I call it "Bag of Holding".
I think Louis Vuitton was inspired by Felix's Magical Bag.

I knew exactly what a Bag of Holding was, but I had never heard that term before! According to Wikipedia, a Bag of Holding is "a fictional magical item in the Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying game, capable of containing obects larger than it's own size. Since it's introduction, it has appeared in other roleplaying games and media." Now, D&D may have coined the term, but it didn't invent the concept of a bag or space that can contain more than it should be capable of. According to, a Bag of Holding is "a specific portable item which is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. Much bigger. It may not look it, but that's because it contains Hammer Space. Because the holding capacity of the bag comes from internal Hammer Space, a thoroughly-packed Bag of Holding will weigh no more than a full normal bag. Odds are, it will weigh no more than an empty normal bag".

Upon learning the trope of this concept I thought of Felix the Cat and his Magical Bag of Tricks:

And there's Mary Poppins:

Jessica Rabbit has a Victoria's Secret Compartment to keep anyone from frisking her:

Here's another Victoria's Secret Compartment.

Hammer Space is the space within a Bag of Holding is anywhere that items can be stored and accessed from and where they go back to when not in use. It's common for cartoons and anime/manga characters to pull a hammer seemingly from nowhere to smack another character with. I have always appreciated and accepted Hammer Space. It exists often from behind a person's back or from behind thin things such as trees and lampposts. Even hair can contain Hammer Space. Hammer Space could exist potentially anywhere so long as it is hidden from view before and perhaps while the item (or hammer) is accessed. From within clothing is a common place for Hammer Space.

I appreciate this trope so much because it is a very accepted notion in film and games and it is used for fantastic comedic effect. Cartoons do what real life cannot. Live action film certainly has the power to do as real life cannot but typically more "realistic" expectations are put upon live-action film. When a live-action film acts "cartoony" and allows the impossible to be believed and experienced such as in Kung Fu Hustle, Raising Arizona or Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World; the effect is thrilling.

Some more examples of Hammer Space / Bags of Holding:
Bender's chest compartment (Futurama)
Baby Herman (in Tummy Trouble)  (*see this short at the 1 minute and 46 second mark!)
The Tardis (Dr. Who)
Marge Simpson's hair (The Simpsons)
Ramona Flowers' bag (Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World)
Yakko Warner's bag (Animaniacs)

May 3, 2013

Cash Toonboom Rig is DONE!

The Toonboom rig of Cash is DOOOOOONNEEEE!!! Finally! It took 3 weeks of spare time and at least a few full Saturdays to get 'er dun. My goal was to finish it last Friday (April 26) and I ended up finishing it up on Saturday. So, only a day past my goal, not too shabby.
I may just spend a little less time on my film for a little while since I've got a lot on my plate these days. When I'm in the middle of getting something done on my film I find it very difficult to stop thinking about it, (e.g. animating a scene or building a rig). There was a scene that I had started to animate way back when I was still living in Australia and then I had to put it down for 5 or 6 months. That was scary, to come back to a scene and try to be in the moment of it again and remember what the heck I had done so far!

These days I've got a lot going on at my day job, I want to practice using Maya and I want to get back to the gym. (Actually I made it to the gym on Sunday WOO!) I figure that a little bit of exercise on a regular basis will do me a world of good.

Feels fantastic to finally get this sucker done so I can move on!

*EDIT - Just a note... I tweaked this rig after I thought I had finished! So the screen cap above is ever so slightly out of date. I got obsessive over the skin tones and the shape of the ear. I ended up darkening the skins tones slightly and made sure to save all my new swatch data in Photoshop and Toonboom. I have the leisure to obsess since there's no deadline... which can be a danger since I just spend SO much time on getting everything just the way I like. However, it is satisfying :D

Take a Deep Breath...

Here is a small taste of a big scene I've been working on! It's been so addictive to work on this. I hate doing a bunch of work and ...