A reader messaged in and reminded me of this great video of Terry Gilliam in his younger days, showing how to make a cut-out animation. His enthusiasm is really contagious. What a dude!
Continuing from Part 1.
You’ll likely face derision, disapproval, opposition or even disbelief when you tell people you plan to create a feature animation by yourself. I guess a key question to ask yourself when facing this kind of response is, “Why is this their response? What is going on with them to form these opinions?”.
There are many reason that the regular person might disapprove of you or what you’re doing. Perhaps they don’t value the arts, or maybe they’re a family member who thinks your time is better spent becoming a breeder or earning money for your family. There are many many reasons why someone who doesn’t have similar values may disapprove and you’ll learn pretty quickly to ignore or reject these opinions as they don’t really have firm basis. They can’t know really know anything about your goals/ambitions, what you really want to achieve or how you want to live your life. As you’ve probably already found out the best bet is to ignore them, live your life how you want to and do it for yourself.
Disapproval from regular people is understandable as it’s expected and could be from a long list of reasons, but why would another animator or ‘creative’ try and dissuade you from trying your hardest and fulfilling your dreams as a filmmaker? One reason is that not all animators or ‘creatives’ are the same, or have even remotely the same values. To be an ‘animator’ you need to animate, that is all. It’s a term that covers from people who work for a company whose sole job making hair move in commercials, to people who want to craft their own films and stories with synthetic moving image. I use animation to create films and narratives that resonate with me, another animator might be perfectly content working as a cog in a studio system modelling rocks. We both do very different things even if we use similar tools. You shouldn’t expect other animators to really understand just because they’re an animator. Perhaps something I should consider is not labeling myself as an animator, even though I do animate. Perhaps filmmaker would be a better description of me even though I am a fan and addict of good animation.
Another thing that will really help you on your journey as a filmmaker is to take advice with a grain of salt unless the person giving it is where you want to be. After all how could your brother know the first thing achieving your goals as a filmmaker if he never did? How could a friend know the best way to become a great filmmaker if all they’ve ever done is motion-graphics for advertising? The only answer is that they can’t really know and their advice is likely more harm than good. Perhaps they are genuinely trying to help you or perhaps they are subconsciously trying to sabotage you, their intentions don’t matter either way if the advice they give comes from a bad source. I’m not saying you should dismiss all advice altogether unless it comes from your favorite filmmaker, but be hypercritical of it if it’s from someone who probably doesn’t know what they’re talking about.
You’ll have to take a lot of shit from people if you follow your dreams, especially if your goals are ambitious or push boundaries. That’s ok! You can’t appease these people and you wouldn’t want to. One thing I find really useful is to channel people’s challenges, doubts and disapproval of me into motivation. If someone says “I don’t think your film will be any good. One person can’t do all that!”, I’ll use it to feed the fire in my belly and think “Just you wait motherfucker! I’m going to make a great film!” and it’ll allow me to work even harder. Don’t let the haters make you doubt yourself, and don’t let people (even if they have good intentions) sway you from your path. You’ve got a fire in your belly making you push forward, don’t let them put a dampener on it.
M Dot Strange is one of the foremost advocates for creating your own animated feature. After making 3 solo feature animations he’s got a wealth of knowledge on how to do it, and he’s also got really valuable ideas on personal auteur cinema and storytelling.
M Dot has a new feature ‘I am Nightmare’ that has just been released and he’s selling it here for real cheap. I’ll be reviewing it as soon as I’ve got the money to get a copy.
For now though check out this 30min presentation where he talks about how to create your own CGI feature and goes through his production pipeline. It’s a really interesting watch and invaluable if you want to follow a similar path.
I made a multiplane camera overview/tutorial for anyone interested in handmade 2D cell/cutout animation.
This last week I’ve been creating the scenes and characters for this cut-out stop-motion animation I’m working on. While it’s fun working on a handmade project, I can’t wait to get back into CGI and digital animation, so I’m really pushing to finish this within the next 6 weeks.
The main material I’ve been using to create these cut-out scenes and characters, is this black matte foil called ‘black wrap’ which is used to block out set lights or make gobos with. You can get it from most lighting stores but it’s not that cheap, so i’ve really been trying to use every last scrap to keep costs down.
The reason I’m using this instead of paper is that it’s more durable, heavier and gives cleaner lines then paper. I originally wanted to get some sort of soft black metal like Lotte Reiniger does in this video, but I couldn’t get my hands on the black lead she used… and i’m not sure how safe it is to use anyway. In my opinion, your health is one of the few things as important as your art so I might stay away from the lead.
I tend cut out the scenes the characters are in first so I don’t mess up the scale too much (like having a giant person in a small car etc.). I sketch out the characters in my journal and figure out their seperate parts, and what layer of glass they will go on on the multiplane bench, so I know what layers overlap other layers in a joint. Then I draw the characters onto the black wrap which takes pencil pretty well, and then I cut out the seperate parts with an x-acto knife. I’ve been told that small sharp nails scissors might be better for this though.
I think I’m just going to use small dots of blue-tack to keep the joints together, however I haven’t tested this to see if it works as well as I hope so that might change.
I’m also not sure how I’m going to paint the cut-outs, or if I even will. This animation was originally meant to be a silhouette animation but I’m drifting more and more away from that into coloured cut-out with maybe a couple of silhouettes.
And here’s my 3 legged cat giving me animation support.
There’ll be more to come soon!
I’m a big fan of certain comic and manga artists, like Charles Burns and Junji Ito but I never thought I would end up making one.
I’ve decided to write a comic because It’s a great story telling medium, It has quicker output than animation which allows me to produce more stories + get better at telling stories over time; and it’s still a visual way to tell them.
Coming from an animation background I’ve never written a comic before so I thought I’d detail my home-made process to encourage anyone else out there who wants to create and make interesting and diverse comics/graphic novels/manga. This process works for me but everyone is different so don’t be surprised if your process ends up different.
1. Detailing Ideas and Basic Concepts
My memory is completely shithouse so when I’m thinking of ideas and concepts for stories I’ve got to write them down right away, otherwise they slip into the fog that is my swiss cheese brain.
So to begin with I just write down ideas and visual ideas that I think of, into my journal(to keep it all together). I also write down questions I need to ask myself like “what is the protagonists motivation in this point?” or “what am I trying to say with this comic” or “why is this character even a human?”. Asking myself these questions by writing them down helps me to answer them by forcing me to think, and if I can’t answer them they’re on the paper so i can come back and work them out later.
2. Sequence of Events
The sequence of events is the scaffold where the narrative starts to come together.
On a blank page I write paragraphs that describe what is happening and basic dialogue. I then separate the story beats and breaks with arrows. The SOE is kind of like a story mind-map.
So an example of would be..
‘Protagonist wakes up in sewer with no legs. Pushes character b off of her(startled) and talks to him. Character b explains his intentions and background(limited). Protagonist has flashback to falling into sewer.
Protagonist finds driftwood and shoves them into her leg holes, creating prosthetic shins. Crawls out sewer grate into bare concrete trench. City can be seen in distance.
I find the sequence of events to be particularly useful in establishing early problems and holes within your story which is indispensable.
The script is where you start fleshing out your dialogue and the concepts that the characters and their interactions will construct. I’ve found that using the same script format as screenplay scripts works best for me. So under your character names the text will be dialogue, then other lines will be descriptions of actions and what is going on in the scene. You can find a script format tutorials everywhere including here.
Writing and formatting your script in a word processor is a pain in the ass so I’ve found that using a screenwriting program like ‘Final Draft‘ to be much better. After a few hours of use the program becomes second nature and makes writing out a script easy and quick.
I tend to write several drafts of the script over several weeks. I’m new to writing for character so I find convincing and ‘natural’ dialogue particularly challenging. After I write my first draft and wait a few days, I’ll go back and view the work with fresh eyes. I often find much of what i had written previously to be… pretty shit, but that’s ok because you can use previous dialogue and work on it to make it better, more complex and more natural.
4. First Visual Draft
The first visual draft is comprised of a series of small boxes representing pages, and stick figures in the boxes representing characters with primitive surroundings. The idea is that you can quickly sketch out what you visual want each panel to look like and not worry about the quality of your drawings.
This is only meant to be seen by you so don’t be ashamed by the quality of your drawing. As long as you can understand what is depicted then your drawing is good enough. It’s about getting the vision out of your head and onto paper to be worked on later.
I recommend numbering your ‘pages’ as it can get a bit confusing after a while.
5. Second Visual Draft
If I was working by myself I would skip this step and go on to step 6. to save time, but my friend Oscar C is illustrating the final work so I’ve created a second visual draft to convey my ideas to him.
The second visual draft should be a representation of the final work. The comic zine I’m working on will be an A5 sized booklet so all pages in this draft are that size. I draw on both sides of each page so when I bind them it will look like the finished book, and you can flick through and see any weaknesses it might have.
The pages and drawing will take longer than the first draft because you the drawing need to make sense to someone else. In this stage you will also likely change pages and panels because you will realize other things work better. This is good, don’t be afraid to change from your first draft.
When all the pages are complete you can bind them with a bull clip to keep it all together. You now have the entire comic in draft form!
The next 3 parts(final panels, editing + digitization, self publishing) will be in the part 2 of this tutorial.
I just bought a book called ‘Making Comics’ by Scott McCloud. I can’t recommend it because I haven’t read it yet, but it stood out from all the other ‘how to make comics’ books I could find. Instead of teaching you how to imitate the style of other comics etc., it concentrates on how to construct a good story, effective panel layout, what to show and what not to show in those panels and stuff like that, which is exactly what I need. It also seems that master storyteller Neil Gaiman recommends it so it’s definitely worth a look. I’m hoping it will improve my comic writing abilities.
– Hamish S.
Being constantly productive and effectively using your time to create your art Is one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to deal with, and I’m far from finding a perfect solution to the problem.
Past Tactics and Mental Breakdowns
Back in 2010 and very early 2011, I was determined to become the best artist I could be which is great! However to attain the level of artist I wanted to become, I decided that the best course of action would be to cut off from almost all social activities and only concentrate on becoming the best animator I could be. It started out great. I didn’t need friends. I had a girlfriend who was someone to talk to and sleep with, an internet connection to download and study cinema, and my art. It took a while but slowly this kind of thinking and lifestyle came back to bite me in the ass. While making great strides with my art and technique I started to slowly get more and more depressed. While I was in on a friday night working, I started to get a foreboding feeling that I was missing out on life. I knew this feeling was bullshit but I couldn’t shake it. Even with an awesome girlfriend I started to get really lonely. This eventually lead to a breakdown and almost a complete loss in my desire to create. I finally realised that unlike some of my favourite artists, I actually WAS a social animal; and although my need to be social is much less than most people’s, I still needed some social contact and friends.
Following my breakdown, after a few months when I had mostly recovered. My maximum productivity tactic was to just write a list of things to do at the beginning of the day and I’d tell myself that I would have to complete that quota at the end of the day or else (insert empty personal threats here) . This tactic failed me for several reasons. The first being that I constantly over or underestimated the time and effort a task or creative job would take to complete. This means that at the start of the day I would either assign myself as much as 24 to 5 hours of work without knowing it until it was finished. This pretty much destroyed any faith I had in assigning myself daily quotas and made them difficult to follow. The second reason this has not worked in the past is the social element. For example, a friend would ask me to go to a party or hang out and I would have 24hrs of work left to do in the day, so I’d say ‘fuck it’ go get wasted and then write off a large proportion of the next days work as well because I’m hungover. Or alternately I’d finish the small underestimated quota I set myself and then I would sit around and watch films all day. The third problem with this idea was that I would have to schedule personal errands such as, grocery shopping and writing letters to people etc. in as part of my quota. This made it seem that I was doing more work than I actually was, reducing my actual productivity and pretty much lying to myself all in one go.
I’ve also come to realise that a large part of why I have failed at being truly productive was the romantic notion that art and creativity will just come to you, and that you will always WANT to use every single spare hour of your life to create things. This is true for some artists such as M Dot Strange, Osamu Tezuka, Jimmi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain and Patti Smith. But I’ve come to have doubts as to whether this mode of thinking is the best for others such as myself.
What I’m Now Doing
This last week I’ve been experimenting with a new way of thinking about productivity and working(for me at least). Treat your art as a full time job. It’s sounds like shit, I know, and totally shatters all romantic artist tropes and poetic notions about the act of creation, but It’s pay-off seems to be far greater than that shit is worth. It’s time for me to act like a pro. So now I’ve been waking up, having breakfast, and working for 8 hours(not including meal breaks), until I’m finished; then I can do what I want with my day like watch a film, or go out to see a gig or even more work if I’m feeling it. I do this for 5 days a week with 2 days off for relaxation/personal errands and then start the cycle again. I’ve found that I’m already being more productive and I have less guilt or anxiety than If I haven’t been doing my work.
It’s that easy right? No, I’m making it seem way easier than it actually is… at least to begin with. It hasn’t been easy at all. One of the biggest problems I’ve been having are with my sleep patterns and fatigue. I’ve been trying to get up at 10am and finishing my work for the day at about 7-8pm. There are days like today however where I woke up late and now I know it’s going to be harder to get my full amount of work done because of the distractions that will be hounding me later tonight. There are artists like M Dot who have reverse sleep patterns. I think he gets up at 5pm and goes back to bed 8am. This won’t work for me at this stage of my life so I’m being boring and working during the day.
Alcohol has also been messing with me. If I have a drink with dinner or an afternoon beer and I still need to get work done later that night, it just crushes my drive to work. So I’ve got to cut that out. Also even I get a good 8 hours sleep after I’ve been drinking the night before, I’m still tired. So from now on I’m giving up alcohol monday-thursday. Some days you will just be tired and there’s not much you can do about it. So instead of going back to bed I’m learning to just push through it and keep working.
The most difficult bit is yet to come. Right now I’m looking for a part time job so I can pay rent and not starve. When I get a money paying job, I’m still going to work 8 hrs a day, 5 days a week on my art :s I’ll let you know how I overcame that hurdle when I get to it!
As always, It really comes down to self discipline and willpower which are things that I’ve always had trouble with. However with a structure or scaffolding in place it will be easier to exercise and keep in control of my self discipline. And remember TOMORROW WILL NOT FUCKING DO. That’s one of the biggest mental spiked pits so avoid that mode of thinking like the plague.
Be a fucking pro and find out what works for you. Once you figure It out, you will produce better work faster, become a better artist altogether and generally feel more fulfilled. You can do it!