Saturday, November 28, 2009

Metropol Updates

The art of animation is painstakingly slow pasted. It can take up to an hour to get one frame looking just right. I began this project with a storyboard, scanned in and keyframed in as an animatic on a timeline in Flash 8. Then I began rendering each frame using various tools the software provides. There are oval and rectangle tools. The Oval tool comes in handy when I need perfect circles for something like wheels of a car, or eyeballs. The rectangle tool comes in handy when I need large areas of color blocked in at once. I started out using this tool to create buildings. Then I had to use the transform tool to skew each shape, so I could make the buildings look 3D by putting them in perspective. Granted, a 3D application like Blender would do this much easier and faster, but jumping around from one program to the next only slows down my mental process. I like my work to be as spontaneous as possible. I like to keep my paintbrush always moving. Have you ever watched the Bob Ross show on KQED? Bob Ross is a painter that demonstrates how he can create entire landscapes in an hour using a paintbrush that looks like something you might paint a barn with. It's impressive and fun to take a tool and see how much detail you can get out of it with as little effort as possible. Being able to do that using Flash 8's digital tools for creating animation speeds up the process saving time. Using the line tool (keyboard shortcut being the "n" key) I can block in shapes of buildings in less than a minute without having to edit the shape with the transformation tools later. The paint bucket tool also saves the time that it would take a traditional animator to hand paint each drawing. Flash 8 has linear and radial gradient shaders to help render things with realistic lighting. The gradient transform tool ("F") allows me to stretch and move a selected area of gradient shaded color to create the desired effects. In the song Collsion by Metropol, the lyrics speak of an untamed woman who can't be controlled that is sought after because a man is driven by an uncontrollable desire to make her his bride. Given the romantic subject matter I decided to give this animated music video a narrative theme. A cartooned digital drawing of Ray, the lead singer, seeks her out. She gets away in her Porsche, and he chases after her on a motorcycle. I don't want to spoil the whole story, so I'll stop with the details there. Basically though, he pursues her, and she evades as the lyrics of the song suggest. Here are some screenshots taken from today's progress:
The oval and radial shader tools came in handy on this rendering of Ray's desire...
I really wanted the Porsche to look awesome, so I spent a lot of time on that. The fleur de lis on the hood of the car is a jpeg file that I downloaded from The Grace Collection of battle shields. Should there be any copyright infringement issues, I can always trace over it to create my own later. I drew the car using the pencil tool, and used the oval tool for the headlights. My inspirations for the car were the Bat Mobile, and various sports cars I've seen in Road and Track Magazine.

I began the animation by rendering in backgrounds for the first scene, but the part where the camera zooms out from the parking garage over the city took the longest. The whole town had to be built, and I wanted for there to be cars rolling up and down the streets as Ray's desire's Porsche can be seen racing through the parking garage levels before making a right turn off screen. It saves time to reuse as many elements as possible. A traffic light or a street light can be grouped, copied and pasted as many times as needed. Then I transform them to face the right direction. The buildings are all in groups in a graphic symbol. In Flash, I can select any object and make it a symbol, which is something that gets placed in a library of images that can be reused as many times as needed. Symbols can have individual animations in them. For example, I could took my drawing of Ray's desire and made her a symbol. Then I can click to enter edit mode of that symbol, and make groups out of her arms and legs. Then I can move and keyframe them on the symbol's timeline to create a walk cycle. Then when I click and drag the lady from the library to the desired keyframe on the main timeline of my scene, I get an instant walkcycle. The walkcycle is built into the symbol. If I need a character to move somewhere on screen, I can copy and paste the keyframe containing the walk cycle symbol, select both keyframes and motion tween them. Flash 8 has a motion tween tool that allows me to create smooth animation very quickly with little effort, but it tends to make the animation too robotic looking. If I really need for a character to emote, I might use a combination of motion tweening and hand keyframing. In some situations like for lip syncing I keyframe all of my character's movements by hand.
Hand keyframing is when I have to spend hours moving things a tiny bit, then creating a new keyframe and move it a little more, before the illusion of realistic movement starts to happen. The process is very rewarding, but painstakingly slow. As an artist I prefer to paint and draw than animate. I like to draw cartoons, and paint with acrylics on canvas, so I am actually phasing out of animation. I am interested in producing or directing an animation or a feature film at some point. I want to spend more time cartooning, maybe even screen writing to come up with lots of ideas. Then try to find people to promote them, so that big animation studios can give my ideas the craftsmanship they deserve. Does that make sense?

Well, That's all for now. I got to get back to work.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Metropol Animated Music Video Production Update

Here are some storyboards and concept artwork to show my progress for the Metropol Animated Music Video:

Well, that's all for now. I got to get back to work!

Monday, November 23, 2009

What's Next

The Next Stanimation Production

Well, I just finished a 36"X36" acrylic painting on canvas of the Broadway Plaza in Walnut Creek, California. It's always a feeling of relief when a project of that magnitude is finished. It's like a weight lifted off my shoulders, because it takes a lot of time and patience to do quality work. Sometimes I feel like it's never going to be finished, and I have to be okay with that. People always wonder how do you know when a painting is finished. I have to be very patient. Even when I think it's finished I have to be very reluctant before signing my name on the finished piece, otherwise it will be rushed, and I will have sacrificed quality. There's just no point in doing anything in the first place if it isn't going to be the very best job I can do. I want my artwork to reflect the very best of my ability, so that I can look at it a year or so from now and see how I've grown.
So I've got the Metropol animated music video to work on, but I get frustrated, and I lose my focus and my patience when I work on one project for more than 6 hours at a time. It's good to have multiple projects going on to keep my job exciting and fun. The other thing I'm developing is the next Adventures of Froggie Animation.
Froggie is a frog that lives near a pond in a land surrounded by adventure. Up till now, the entire animation has revolved around Froggie and his quest to find the Raspberry Shrubs. Recently I asked myself, what will happen after he finds the Raspberry Shrubs? The entire story will come to an end leaving no room for a sequel. I will definitely have to develop this animation more to ensure it's marketability. Many successful animations revolve around a fully developed world. Matt Groening, creator of The Simpons, invented the town of Springfield. So I have begun the task of putting Froggie in an imaginary world. I haven't thought of a name for it yet, but in this land there will be many challenges. Froggie, our little green friend starts out as being a very self-doubting character, but when faced with a challenge, and with the support of the friends he finds along his journey, he will inspire us as he finds a way to overcome. There will be PIRATES! NINJAS! OUTLAWED BIKERS! DRAGON AND WILDEBEESTS! to confront and subdue in a land that was once a good place until it was invaded by these troublesome enemies.
There was once a railroad that could get you from the big city streets out to the outskirts of a empty and dry desert land, but it was broken. The people of this land depended on the train system to transport their goods and services. Now with a broken economy, many people are hungry and desperate. Deep within the heart of this land, the forest critters and Froggie gradually become aware of the collapsing world around them. Despite how small they are, they are filled with optimism. I anticipate this production to be a very successful and entertaining story that many even have a shot at an award from the Sundance Film Festival. I've just got to keep developing my ideas and go from there. Another thing I've been working on is my graphic design skills on Zazzle.
to upload and slap on my design work to t-shirts and other merchandise. I've also put high resolution photos of my paintings and illustration work on merchandise. So far, nothing has sold, but if nothing else, it's entertaining. I like to come up with goofy, humorous ideas for shirts. Even if nobody buys them, it keep me creative and inspired.

Well, that's all for now. I got to get back to work!

Animation By Stanimation Productions

What is Animation?

I have lots of ideas. I am currently working on an animated music video for a band from Spain called Metropol. They saw the music video I did for Asocietyred, and decided that it would be great if I could make a video for them to submit to MGM for consideration on a record contract. So far, I have the animation storboarded and in Flash Professional 8 in animatic format. For those who don't know much about animation, allow me to explain what it's all about. Animation is a kind of video that is all hand drawn. Video and television is about 30 frames per second (29.7). That means that when you're watching a movie on a DVD you are actually watching 30 still images every second flashing before your eyes. Your brain processes the imagery and give you the illusion of movement. In film, a special camera is used to expose celluloid to light at 24 frames per second. The camera has a motor that pulls the film around a spool, and a predetermined shutter speed opens and closes to expose the celluloid to light. The Disney animators used to take pictures of their drawings and hand paint the film, which was a very tedious process. Now days the use of computers has greatly sped up productions time. The use of CGI (Computer Generated Images) 3D animation has introduced a stop motion meet cinematic style to the medium. In a 3D animation, the animator can position a character on the screen in 3 different directions: X, which is side to side, Y, up and down or Z, forward and back. The CG camera that captures and exports images in a variety of formats during the rendering process, can be placed in any position, and at any angle without the use of expensive equipment that would necessary to film a scene with actors and props. Personally, I like the style of Ray Harryhausen where creatures in animated movies where sculpted and engineered to perfection. I am also inspired by Chuck Jones's 2D animation style used in the WB comics of Bugs Bunny, Wilde Coyote and the Road Runner. I feel that the computer kills the life and spirit of the artist; taking away from the inspiration I need to stick with the project to the end. While I am using computer software to 2D animate my music videos, there are some things I hand draw using the pencil tool (part of the software that allows the artist to hand draw vector lines on the screen). Vector lines are resolution independent. Computer Graphics that are raster images can get distorted when increased in scale, but vector graphics use an algorithm to preserve the crispness and overall quality. In my current animation project for Metropol, I hand drew the storyboards with a graphite pencil, and scanned them into my animation software. Now I have to go over each frame to clean up my line work, and add color. Like a painting, I start with general visual information, and gradually build it up on a time line to the finished product. Storyboards are like a comic book only they have notes around the boxes that contain camera angle information. I like to start out with a plan, before I begin any a painting or an animation, but sometimes when I sketch I just draw the first thing I think of. In animation, an animator can decide weather to draw the major key frames that were pre-planned from a storyboard, or just draw the frames surreptitiously, adjusting scale, position or rotation of the character one frame at a time until the illusion that the character is alive is achieved. Each of these animation styles has a name. Drawing just the key poses, and refining the in-between frames later is called pose-to-pose, and drawing the frames one after another is called straight-ahead. Ideally a combination of these techniques is used to create realism. The Disney Animation Studio actually developed 12 distinct techniques to create realism in animation called the 12 Principles of Animation:

1. Squash and stretch

2. Anticipation

3. Staging

4. Straight Ahead Action and Pose to Pose

5. Follow Through and Overlapping Action

6. Slow In and Slow Out

7. Arcs

8. Secondary Action

9. Timing

10. Exaggeration

11. Solid Drawing

12. Appeal

Learn more about these techniques at

Well, that's enough animation talk for now. I've got to get back to work.

New Painting from Stanimation Productions

Broadway Plaza
acrylic on canvas
by Stan Levine
This painting took about three weeks to paint. I used a photograph by my wife, Ronda Levine who is a freelance writer and editor. I originally began the painting by covering the whole canvas with a sky cerulean blue. I often chose the basic atmospheric color for the painting to set the mood, and as a way of just getting into it without having to make any big design decisions so early in the project. I always begin with general elements in a painting before polishing in the final details. When I was a student at the California College of Arts and Crafts (now known as the California College of the Arts) in Oakland, I took a photography class with Chris Johnson as my professor. Having the experience of watching a photograph develop in the chemical bath has helped me to conceptualize my process with my artwork.
The painting got increasingly difficult to complete, because once all the basic shapes are in place, the challenge of capturing all the little nuances of the light and shadow that coats over all the shapes of various components in the painting. It was especially difficult to understand the spots of light that appear to be caressing over the shadows of the buildings on the lower right hand corner. It took many hours of patience, focus and experimentation to get the painting to a finishing point. This is the sort of painting I can see fitting in well on the decor of someone's dining room wall, or perhaps on the wall of a nice upscale restaurant.

Well, that's all for now. I got to get back to work!