Tipping My Hand

Me animating

Since my last post, I've received some great responses through comments and emails about my thoughts on sharing what I'm concocting animation-wise down in my basement. I appreciate the dialog and the feedback. It's what I was striving for when I decided to write that post -- to get the word out there and see what others think. I guess that would be my main gist for going 'live' about my short film in the first place. Sometimes as animators, we tend to be holed-up as we work on our projects and maybe lose track or sight of the initial vision, and here, I just wanted to get it out there. Let the people know, sort of thing. As I mentioned in my post, I was thinking about having my production blog available for public viewing at a later date. I've since decided against this because I feel that this would ruin the surprise. I think now what I'll do is make the pro-blog public AFTER I have the film finished and officially released. That way, if you happen to catch it at a festival (wishful thinking) and wanted to find out more about it (more wishful thinking), then you could do a google search and stumble upon the blog. Think of it as an online Bonus Features of sorts.

I had a couple of people respond to my complaints of not finding any time to work on the film. Noting the fact that, well, you're spending time right now talking about it, why not use this time wisely and actually work on the thing? I just had to laugh because I was very well aware of this realization -- why aren't I doing something constructive with my time here?

Actually, my answer is simple: the time spent talking about my film actually counts as working on it. There might be some ideas that I need to bounce off of someone and to be able to have some sort of platform to do so is indispensable. I consider myself lucky to have as many readers as I do who could offer me some productive feedback.


On my previous post, there was a comment left by 'SD' that was rather lengthy, yet very informative. Instead of replying to his/her comment in the comments section, I've decided to answer some of the questions here.

Regarding the notion that I might be "tipping [my] hand too soon, or to the wrong audience can potentially kill [my] own momentum in unexpected ways", I would have to say this: no worries, I don't plan on revealing too much up front anyway. Especially now, since I've had some time to think this through. Like I mentioned before, I'll most likely reveal bits here and there, but nothing that would ruin the entire experience for anyone.

Right now, I'm riding on some great momentum, thanks in part to the fact that I've pretty much finished the writing stage -- there's still some things that need to be sorted out, but the main section that was going to be the main hurdle for me story-wise has been crossed and am now ready to start on storyboards. Of course, once I 'board out the thing, there'll be some changes made, story- or gag-wise. Can't avoid that. That's a given! That's the nature of the beast.

For the rest of SD's comment, SD wanted to know some "non-specific generalities of [my] impending project", asking so many questions that I decided to answer them in a Q & A format. Call it an 'instant interview' if you will. Here ya go:

What medium & production process do you intend to work in?

My short film will be animated traditionally, with pencil on paper. Backgrounds will be either drawings scanned and then painted digitally in Photoshop, or actual paintings (gouache and/or cel vinyl paint -- of which I've recently discovered and am head-over-heels in LOVE with it), or a combination of both. I haven't decided yet. I'll then composite everything in After Effects.

What pre-production elements have you pinned-down so far and what's your process been like in developing your idea?

The basic idea was something that I've had swimming in my brain for a very long time but it wasn't until two years ago when I suddenly remembered it. It's been itching to get out there and finally I'm doing something about it.

How long of a project are you aiming to create?

I expect the final film to be about 6 to 7 minutes long. I'm paying homage to the great cartoons of the past, so I'm guessing that the film will be about this long as well. Honestly, right now, I have no clue how long it'll be. It's up in the air for me. Once I do a scratch track, I might have a better idea, but again, I won't know for sure.

How many characters?

One main character, with several side ones.

Do you plan to incorporate dialogue? Or narration? Or music alone? Or sound-effects alone?

This will be the first film of mine that will have dialog. My previous efforts were merely pantomime, with no words at all. In fact, those two films started out as a visual concept, and were 'written' out solely through storyboards. Nothing was written down, story-wise. This new one is completely opposite of that. I've been writing everything out first (with a couple of ideas drawn out), and will soon be storyboarding it all. I can't wait to get started on that! Music will be a big part of this film. I've got a great source I'm tapping into, but I can't really say who or what for fear of exposing too much.

Will you use a sound studio for your audio work?

See above.

Will the project be executed entirely by you in your basement -- or might you rally assistance from friends and/or other professional services?

I've thought about accepting help from others, but it's way too early in the process for me to know just how much assistance I'll eventually need.

As you alluded to with your study of "Symphony in Slang" & other golden age cartoons, are there any specific shorts or illustrations or stories that you look at as having similar qualities to what you're aspiring to make?

Tex Avery is king to me, so I'm really studying up on anything that he's done. His timing, pacing, camera moves, etc. I've also bought several DVD sets that have been extremely helpful in my research. I recently bought the Tom & Jerry Spotlight Collection Vol. 1, Looney Tunes Golden Collection Vol. Three (and soon, Vol. Four), not to mention this great set: Warner Brothers Home Entertainment Academy Awards Animation Collection - 15 Winners, 26 Nominees (award for the longest DVD title EVER). That last one has some classic stuff on it! Highly recommended.

(For the record, I'm holding off buying the Tex Avery's Droopy - The Complete Theatrical Collection -- word on the street is that there's been some terrible film transfers for many of the cartoons in this set, including several that exhibit the awful DVNR process, which basically ruins the quality presentation when it comes to any animation on DVD.)

What sort of finishing style & technique & aesthetic texture & colorization values do you plan to implement?

Wow. Good question. One that might not be answered at this stage, though. Even though I plan on emulating the look and aesthetics of classic, golden age cartoons, my goal isn't to copy those films outright -- I'll give this film my own distinct look, with characters and backgrounds designed by me, done in my style.

What medium & style for backgrounds?

I think I answered this earlier on.

How ambitious or complex is the animation you envision?

The animation will be full -- a combination of ones and twos (one frame per drawing or two frames per drawing for those unschooled in animator-speak), but I plan to utilize some limited animation techniques here & there. It'll be a nice combination -- hey, whatever is needed to make it look good, you know?

What sort of editing pace/scene count for the piece?

It'll be brisk, but I do plan on having some mellower scenes to balance the piece out. But really? Still too early to know. Again, once I have a rough scratch track made and then an animatic, I'll know for sure how everything's coming together. But, yeah. Way too early to know for sure right now. Stay tuned!

Based on your current notions, what length of time do you plan/hope to be in production?

I don't want to place a time frame on this. I'm no good when it comes to schedules -- even more so when it's a home project. I might put some general deadlines out there for me to try and hit, but it's not worth all the trouble.

Allow me to end with a quote from a post on the production blog:

I've been working on the story a little bit each day. Some days, I'm on fire. I get several pages done. Other days, nothing. It's been a slow and arduous process, but I think it'll be worth it in the long run. I'm on no particular schedule with this -- I didn't establish a deadline for this film on purpose because I don't think I need one. Why set a deadline when I KNOW I'll never reach it? I have no clue just how long everything is going to take to get done, so there's no need for any sort of scheduling. I'll work on it when I can. Honestly? I get more work done on something that I feel real strongly about, and recently I've been getting more done on [the film] than ever before. The more it's in my head, the better. I'm allowing it to progress on its own, and it's been very fulfilling so far.


  1. Ooh! Ooh! Can I help, Unca Ward?

    I can clean-uppp, and animate little secondary things while you work on the important thiiiiiings, and inbetweeeeen, and we live in the same tooooooown....

  2. This is exciting stuff, Ward. I truly hope you do traditional painted bgs. Cel-vinyl acrylic is great fun to work with.

  3. I have a question about your short. How will you go about inking and painting your drawings? old school style? computer style? I often think about better/faster ways of inking and painting for animation.

  4. Hiya Ward,
    'SD' again. Thanks so much for your generous response to that unsolicited interrogation I dumped on you! (From the moment I hit 'submit' & faced the giant monolith of blackness clogging up your comment queue, I'd've liked to replace the entry with something more sensible like "Sounds awesome! Best wishes! Looking forward to seeing more!")

    'Beginnings' are rather fun-and-exciting occasions, though, and worthy of good discussion, so I got a little carried away. My thought was that a bunch of sincere questions regarding the nuts-and-bolts of your filmmaking process might help give you an *in* for publicly exploring the development of your project without having to disturb the personal gestation of the creative content itself.

    I'm relieved! From your response, I think you received the questions in that spirit as well, and weren't simply reciprocating to an over-exuberant, nosy commenteer (a.k.a. "a Creepy Fan") out of sheer graciousness. Either way, thanks a lot. I, for one, find the information to be very interesting & hope that other folks do, too, so that it was worth your while.

    The private production blog sounds like a perfect choice. You'll have your trusted Brain Trust tuned in to it, so you'll have valuable feedback and a reason to make periodic entries --- but every now and then, hopefully you'll throw we masses a bone, too. (To be honest, even the richest production blogs can be excruciating to follow due to the long production cycle of animation. Like trying to watch a film play at a rate of one frame-per-week. Getting access to the whole shebang at once sounds swell to me!)

    One more technical process-related question that comes to mind is:
    Since you'll be drawing traditionally, what sort of line-test apparatus will you use?

    Your impending film sounds aesthetically magnificent -- something almost smack-between Termite Terrace, UPA Studios, and the best of classic Hanna-Barbara TV (?) -- and I really look forward to hearing more about it and ultimately screening it at a festival!

    For the sake of your audience and your own personal fulfillment, I hope your internal drum-beating, whip-cracking Drill-Sargent has been training for the long haul and is really great with kids as well -- to channel and inspire the enthusiasm of your inner child, keeping the fun and curiosity alive and thriving through completion.

    Well, I've gone and plugged up your comment queue again. What I meant to say is:

    Sounds awesome! Best wishes! Looking forward to seeing more! LOL BFF ETC... --SD