Saturday, March 21, 2009

Finding my inner Pintoff


If there's anything worse than my Inner Critic, it's my Inner Tycoon. This is the guy with the appetite for a 14-course gourmet banquet even though he barely has resources for a drive-thru snack. The Inner Tycoon's boundless ambition manages to turn every personal undertaking into something so grandiose that no less than a lifetime of work and a multi-million dollar underwriting would do it justice. And as a consequence, I give up before I even start.

The other night both the Critic and Tycoon shut up long enough for me to start noodling around with DigiCel's FLIPBOOK program again for the first time in almost a year. With nothing in mind, I just started out with a simple figure, which I drew and colored in AutoDesk SKETCHBOOK PRO. On separate layers, I did four leg positions for the left leg, then copied them and shifted them around on the opposite side of the body for the right. I copied the body and made a second position (a "down" to match the "up"). A single arm sufficed, which I shifted around to swing slightly. In relatively no time, I had composited the elements to make four keys for a walk cycle, which I exposed in FLIPBOOK on 8's.

I fully intended to inbetween it, but I was surprised to find it didn't look all that awful on its own. I think the color had a lot to do with it, which says a lot for how much color can validate a drawing. I decided to push on forward and see how much I could do without:

No Inbetweens

No Squash & Stretch

No Anticipations

No Follow thru

No Overlap etc...

These are the things that are considered essential,especially in "full animation" obviously. These are the things that took me long hard years to learn. And I'm not sorry I took the time to learn them. But I kind of realized as I stripped them away, that maybe I had confused them with what "makes" animation, when maybe they are really just things that enhance animation. Maybe all these years I have been confusing the forest with the trees. This stupid little clip is not much to look at, but it was kind of a breakthrough for me. It still manages to come to life in its own crude way, despite the minimal extent and number of expressions and drawings. There wound up being less than sixty images in all, exposed over the course of about 253 frames at 24fps. (Afterward I added a long hold at the end to match the Hoyt Curtain music I could not resist borrowing for the clip.)

The other big deal is that this took all of about 5 hours do do and contains about 14.5 seconds of real animation. In color no less. Considering that my average as a feature animator was around 8 feet a week (6 seconds), this means I was able to beat my week's average in about two hours. Of course it can't compete with the big studio animation I have done, but as an individual, I never can anyway. On a basic level it still achieves the same thing full animation does: communicating visually through 2 dimensional symbols. I could do better, and I intend to, but I have been putting things off with all kinds of excuses, like feeling I need more powerful and expensive software. Maybe I don't. Maybe I just need to curb my appetite a bit without dampening my enthusiasm. My favorite quote lately comes from Teddy Roosevelt, who said: "Do what you can, with what you have, where you are."

Of course, my friend Len Glasser learned all of this when he was about 19, from a beatnik named Ernie Pintoff, who made the award winning animated shorts FLEBUS, THE VIOLINIST and THE CRITC. Len went on to make his own award winning short films and TV commercials, ultimately going on to "out-Pintoff" Pintoff, in the astute and accurate words of Amid Amidi.

Here's a typical Len Glasser classic on YOUTUBE.


pud said...

HI Will

It so feels like you're making a cartoon when you are able to do this.
It gets your mind reeling ... what short can I do ?

You describe the similar feeling I have gone through learning the FLASH program.
It has it's own language and sometimes seems overly complex... but... it at the same time has been so much fun.

And animating in FLASH has been an exercise in what NOT to move ....
it can seem limited ... but... my kids have totally enjoyed my FLASH animation in a funny positive way.
And in an odd way, so have I ?
More than the feature work. { dare i say .... yah .. i will }

As a single piece of work ... a single scene ... there is something about how simple and clean the ideas need to be for it to work. For it to be funny.

It can be so much more fun to work on ... hitting the beats that are needed .... it just feels like I am making a real cartoon.
And as Darrell Van Citters was saying at lunch on thursday... once the animator is done with the scene... it's pretty much ready for TV.

It has opened the door for ideas. Sort of kicked me again regarding making cartoons and how much fun it is to animate.
Now the show I am on is an animators paradise with all the silly characters and voices.
And that is making the time fly by :-)

I'm going to post some shots when i am able on my blog.

Will Finn said...

Hi Mark, glad you are getting the same feeling. I think a lot of people are.
The satisfaction comes from a finished scene that is 100% yours. I have not learned FLASH yet, but I hope to eventually. DigiCel FLIPBOOK, however is very handy and quite easy to use.

chrisallison said...

Hey Will! I love your style of doodling and to see it come alive is a real treat!

I have to second Mark in his recommendation of Flash. While the drawing tools might not be the best (but are certainly managable), there is no competitor in my mind to Flash.

The biggest thing for me in Flash is INSTANT PLAYBACK. If I remember Flipbook, you have to render it out, and the exposure sheets were a bit bulky to deal with. In Flash, you can press enter and your scene plays back in real time, no problem. You can switch timing in seconds. Also, Flash has onion skinning (comparable to a lightbox) and key shortcuts to easily flip between drawings (just like paper).

I think that when you're producing your own stuff, time is the most important element. So if you're switching between programs and have to render stuff, you're taking away from time you could spend being productive (drawing). I would love to sit down to lunch sometime and show you the basics of Flash (which could be learned in a lunch hour no problem)!

Looking great, can't wait to see more! The world would be a better place if we had more story artists and animators of your caliber doing their own stuff!

Will Finn said...

Thanks, Chris, i will take you up on the Flash tutorial, though I probably won't spring for the program for some time (i just spent my quarterly allowance on Photoshop CS4).
FLIPBOOK actually has instant playback now, which is absolutely cool. You can import and alter drawings on the Xsheet and watch your timing in the work window as you do. It loops also, which gave me a good sense of the walk cycle I did while I was building this.

bclark said...

Funny I just did this same thing on some software for the nintendo DS. I animated a section of a book I read to my kids, Polo...
I just sat down and drew it and started going.. few hours later, I had a very crude yet fun and colored animation that my child loved. I never have that kind of instant feedback and satisfaction with my real work.

Great post and your not along in feeling this way, thank you for sharing.

David Nethery said...

Fun stuff Mr. Finn ! I'm eager to see more.

Your words on the making of this little piece were very thought-provoking and inspiring.

I'm guilty of the same thing you are talking about : sabotaging myself by planning things that are way too complicated for one person to do on their own, consequently I never get started .

It's so easy to procrastinate and never get anything done because we tell ourselves that it "won't be good enough" . ("good enough" for what ? )

Someone else who seems to have found a Pintoffian minimalist muse is Graham Annable. Are you familiar with his short films ? I think he also uses Digicel Flipbook.

If you don't know his work then check out his short films on his YouTube channel:

Graham Annable's "Grickle" channel on YouTube

I look at stuff like that and I think : there it is . It's offbeat, it's funny, he probably had fun making it. It's not "feature quality animation", but who cares ? It's weird and fun and he's making his own animated films his own way. (while I continue to sit around and whine about not working in full animation anymore , accomplishing nothing). Simon Tofield (the Simon's Cat guy ) is another. Beautifully timed minimalist shorts (animated in Flash) . Up with Minimalism ! Go for it.

Teddy was right:

"Do what you can, with what you have, where you are."

Nicolas said...

I really enjoyed this article. I've been producing animation for my own website for about two years now, but I've always felt that animators would be insulted by my output. When you're one guy trying to make animation after an 10 hour work day, I feel you have to focus on the overall effect and worry less about perfect animation. The fundamentals are still very important, but to me actually getting it posted before I lose complete interest has a high value as well, because I don't have a staff to help with inbetweens, lip sync, or even the animation. Thanks for writing this.

Nick ( )

Andy J. Latham said...

Hi Will, it's nice to hear that someone like you has the problem of over-complicating personal work. I do the same thing. I get these ideas that I can only imagine in full flowing traditional animation.

My trouble is that I find it difficult to come up with an idea that would suit ultra-limited animation, so to do it I have to take one of my big ideas and filter it down into something that would work in a limited way. Are you able to come up with thing directly for this kind of animation without having to 'modify' a grander idea?

Cheers Will :)

Daryl T said...


How did you do this? I'm making a hand-drawn animated student film right now and the clean up and colouring is doing my head in.

Thanks. Really liked it by the way. It's amazing how your mind can add the inbetweens even though you never drew them.

Will Finn said...

thanks for all the comments.

Dave, i have seen GRICKLE BOY, although not recently. I liked it a lot. thanks for reminding me to check it out again. i will look for NICREATIONS too.

I am also am a big fan of Don Hertzfeldt, the master of doing a lot with a little.

Tech Tip: I had to save each composite image as a "bitmap" to be able to import it into FLIPBOOK. Then i output it as a movie file and took it to iMovie for music, title and fadeout. Then I output it as a Quicktime file and uploaded it here.

On the one hand, this is not much, but it only took 5 hours, give or take. On the other, who has 5 hours to spare? But when you can find even a little time, you can do something. The big lesson here is the demonstrable difference between what i WISH i can do on my own and what i actually CAN do, realistically. Again, not all that much, but better than nothing.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Wow! A terrific post, Will!

Pete Emslie said...

Hi Will,

I hope you won't mind this, but I am going to be the voice of dissent here. When you take so much out of the equation, the bare essentials you're playing with just don't do it for me. Yes, your drawings are funny and well executed as ever, but the lack of inbetweens combined with the absence of squash and stretch just doesn't say "animation" to me, though technically it may still be.

If this is all that remains, then quite honestly I'd be more content to see it as a comic strip. In fact, I believe there is a greater sense of animation in select comic strips like "Pogo", "Calvin and Hobbes" and, yes, even your own "Fossil Fools", as there is plenty of squash and stretch happening from panel to panel in these examples. The difference between a comic strip and an animatic however, is that in the former, the mind's eye fill in the "inbetweens" and sees the continuity from panel to panel as flowing animation, whereas in the latter, it is only too painfully obvious that there is missing information as the images jump jerkily from one to the next.

Again, sorry to play the devil's advocate here, but this is why I am still not a fan of Flash-style animation with its held symbols. On the other hand, you know I'm a huge admirer of your cartoon work (and full animation) so don't take it personally!

Will Finn said...

To each his own Pete, but thanks for your observations. No offense taken.

All the same, I honestly don't think this walk cycle would be improved by inbetweens, in fact it would work less well, IMO. And I got a huge kick out of doing this, whereas doing the comics can be something of a chore. Yeah, there is a lot of limitation on what can be conveyed with this sort of thing but in my book, clips like the Len Glasser ad I linked to can be as entertaining per second as any multimillion dollar production.

And thanks Eddie! Glad you liked!

Sherm said...

I love the snap that sometimes comes from great drawings with no inbetweens. Reminds me of Yogi Bear in "Pie Pirates" --very inspirational!

Whit said...

Tex Avery found that by pulling unnecessary inbetweens his gags still read perfectly. Colored drawings play as solids rather than lines, helping them immediately register. Your cartoon played fine to me.

Bob said...


I think you are on to something here! This is amazing! Great post! Fantastic work! I've been thinking about the possibilities of doing a film short.

This... this is good!


Virgil said...

very cute, and I think 'appeal' is sometimes enough to make animation very interesting to watch, even when it can hardly be called animation... but try to make a feature film with such limited animation and you'd be in major trouble, cuz people would get tired after 5 minutes or so. well, unless it's something like south park and has an insanely entertaining story, dialog, characters...

Claudio Acciari said...

Hi Will,
don't you think the sketches of Mary Blair are extraordinary fantastic especially because of the synthesis and abstraction related to shapes and colors contained in them?
Why it shouldn't be the same for animation itself.
Products like Top Cat or Super Chicken are always considered "limited" animation (only the number of drawings is limited), using the same criterion I should consider "limited paintings" the sketches of Mary Blair. And what about comics, are they worse than limited animation because they don't even move? ahah.
I think, under an abstract point of view, full animation will never have the same potentialities limited animation has.
I totally love what you just posted.

Floyd Norman said...

Animation is all about moving drawings . It's what drew me to this crazy business in the first place.

I love what you've done here. It's not slick and polished -- but gosharootie, it's not CG!

And, that's a good thing.

Boris Hiestand said...

Wasn't it Kimball who said that it's almost impossible to improve upon the pose test?


Awesome post. I love the way you break down your thoughts before you animated it, what you learned in the process and final result. It really gets me thinking.
It all seems so simple but you point out some interesting examples where and may be why this work. This type of animation with the right story, director and great designs and art could be a lot of fun. Thank you

prwilliams said...

another top class post Will, and an inspiration as always...

really must find my inner pintoff, then when im inspired, my inner disney...

great quote there by the way!

VizArt said...

Billyam Finn!
Pontificating old poop that I am, I want to echo your forest/trees observation, and piggy-back onto some of what you and Mark and others have said:
Your cartoon works so well because it's a very specific character and very specific story.
I think it’s a happy accident that this story happens to take advantage of the economy of this particular tool. But don’t confuse the instrument with the person playing it.
As much as you feel freed by having found a way to make this alter-ego vs id tale work well in the limits of the program, it doesn't mean you were over-complicating your previous feature work. Not at all. Nor does it mean this tool can't be "played" in a more complex fashion, and be used to create characters who require a lengthier approach when being realized. It can.

I guess it’s akin to arguing whether or not Mozart is still Mozart if played on a synthesizer vs a violin. That depends on a couple of things – first, whether or not you believe Mozart was composing music, period, or music for the violin, and secondly it depends on how accomplished both the keyboard player and the violinist. Not to offend those who fall into the “for the violin” camp, but the master of the instrument doesn’t guarantee mastery of the music - whether your interpreting Beethoven or the Beatles.

You're right, Will, adding in-betweens to the walk cycle of your piece wouldn't help it, they'd make it something else, something it isn't. It wouldn't be 'wrong', it would just mean a different character, a different story, a different approach. You found a character and character universe that are better illuminated by a more economical style. Had you gone to greater length with a slow in and out as he pulls the pencil out of the pocket and ponders his perfectly rendered door it wouldn't have been at all right for this guy and his specific story. But you still can do that in this program, and
have fun doing it.

I’m reminded of Ward Kimball, who discovered the same delight and personal preference in films like "Toot Whistle, et al" But that predilection for economy and that unique “beat” is there in Lucifer and the Hatter and other characters. It’s even there in Jiminy Cricket, but I’d never argue that the cricket would have been better had he been animated with the same economy of Kimball’s films from the 50’s.

Which brings me to this point: you humbly ignore your own unique and highly refined sense of comic timing. You've always had a sensibility that many animators don't. Think of it has Finn's Firehouse Five Plus Forty Four, if you will; a little on-demand orchestra living happily inside your seriously bent brain and you always understand who to hire for each gig, and how to conduct each toot and tap. That instinct played a big role in how you achieved this piece. It also has impacted your feature career - how you got cast, when you were in your groove, and what made you happiest as an artist. Still does.

And while I understand Pete Emslie's comments, and acknowledge that there is a great deal of room for arguing the difference between characters that live in a longer format and inhabit a more complex world and whose stories require some greater nuance, that isn't the only kind of storytelling deserving of being called animation.
Soooooo...I'd humbly remind Pete that to dismiss Flash as not being animation is like dismissing Lucy in the candy factory as not being acting, simply because you prefer Streep in "Doubt". Not your cup of tea? Cool. But not animation...come on.

No matter the tool, for my money, the devil is still in the details: specificity of character and specific character choices are what matter most. You served the character, Will. A character a lot of people couldn't create or honor because they simply don't know how to play the same instruments you do. They could learn it, truly. The reasons they don't are many - some valid, some not. Either way, and regardless of the tool, art only follows when the intention, and the commitment to that intention, are solidly in support of the subject, not the medium.

What a happy accident that you and this tool found each other, as surely great animation awaits!

Reynaldo said...

I have been using Flipbook since early 2000. Is such a great and simple tool that make your transition from traditional onto digital very easy.
I actually scan all my animation drawings into Flipbook, so I can animate on paper with a pencil, (like cavemen did).
On the other hand, I recently learned to use Flash. Is a great software too, but it lacks the traditional feeling. I miss my Flipbook.

jongsean said...

Hey there,
I was shown this post by a very good friend of mine.
Economic Animation can sometimes be the smartest thing to do !

Thats exactly what I tried to do with this 1 minute short I made for a French TV broadcast.
It took me 3 weeks to make everything from A to Z on my very own.
I thought good storytelling and good storyboarding would be enough for this little short.