The Cat Piano - Animation with Photoshop

I recently discovered the 2009 short animated film, The Cat Piano, by Adelaide based studio, The People's Republic of Animation (who are also responsible for quite a few of Adelaide's local animated commercials on Television).

The film is based on a poem by studio co-founder, Eddie White who also co-directed with fellow collaborator, Ari Gibson. It features the voice of Australian music icon, Nick Cave.

The synopsis is as follows...
In a city of singing cats, a lonely beat poet falls for a beautiful siren. When a mysterious dark figure emerges, kidnapping the town’s singers for his twisted musical plans, the poet must save his muse and put an end to the nefarious tune that threatens to destroy the city.
Filled with strong visuals and some gruesome ideas in a story that is told quite economically it's not hard to see why this short is multi-award winning and as been screened at short film festivals world wide.

What caught my attention though (apart from it being a local production in my home city) was that it's creators animated the film by hand drawing every frame directly into Adobe Photoshop using Wacom Tablets. A technique that the makers say is becoming a signature style of The People's Republic of Animation.

That's interesting because it shows that top quality animation can still be achieved using more traditional hand drawn techniques without the need to learn more complex software such as Adobe Flash or Toon Boom Studio. Proving there is more than one way to 'skin a cat'. 

Watch The Cat Piano below.


Featured GoAnimator: Angron - Dragon Man

GoAnimator Ẫᾔḡṝớῄ is the January winner of my GoAnimate, Get Featured in TET's Blog contest. Angron has had his account with GoAnimate since June of 2011 and in that time has created 34 animations.

Angron chose the very first episode of his Dragon Man series to be featured in my blog. The series tells the story of a Dragon Loving Hero. In part 1, 18-year-old James Howard has to rescue his widower Dad from one of evil Mayor's minions.

The animation features mostly, GoAnimate's Lil' Peepz, Chibi Ninja theme.


Dragon Man Episode 1 by Ẫᾔḡṝớῄ on GoAnimate

Animation Software - Powered by GoAnimate.

Angron says about his choice...
The reason why I chose this one is because this is one of the cartoons from my childhood, and it was so awesome I could finally make something originally from paper to animation. :-) 
My inspiration was that I always loved Dragons, so I made a superhero named "Dragon Man", which happened back in 2006, and later in 2012, the idea of making a series was in thought, and, later in October, I made the first episode with the voices of Me, Smirks, and Hollywood3514 
I made the logo for the video with Doink.com, sadly it shut down [though still available as an iPad/iPhone app - TET]. For my voice work, I used Audacity. All I had to do was lower the pitch. ;-)
For those of you that noticed those impressive opening titles and were wondering where to find them on GoAnimate... They're actually created at another site, flixpress.com. You'll need at least a GoPlus account with GoAnimate to upload your title videos to the GoAnimate Studio.

If you've enjoyed Angron's work then why not check out more of his animations on GoAnimate.

Runner up Featured GoAnimators for the month of January included:

Part 3: Evolution of a GoAnimate Contest Entry

Contests are always difficult because you want to do something that really captures people's imagination or at least gets their attention. So, when you don't feel you've achieved that, it can be a little disappointing.

If you've yet to read Part 1 or Part 2 of this series following the creation of my GoAnimate, What's Your New Year's Resolution contest entry then you may like to read them first before continuing.

You can view my completed animation below noting that all the voices are mine. My natural speaking voice for my character and a digitally altered, lower pitch and faster tempo version of my voice for Kevin.

Being More Ninja, TET Resolves by etourist on GoAnimate

Video Maker - Powered by GoAnimate.

Once you've watched the animation you'll see there's nothing particularly ground breaking. It's a straight up conversation with a couple of cut scenes to illustrate specific points being made by the characters.

You may also notice, if you've watched the video of me performing the very first draft of the script, that the final version is considerably shorter and missing quite a few lines. This was a result of some seriously harsh editing.

Originally I animated the full script with pretty much everything included from the first draft of the script. However the more I watched it the more I realized it was just unnecessarily long, not that funny. I also wasn't able to come up with any cut away scenes that could add in the humor that was missing. So I chopped out more than a minute of dialogue.

What you're left with is what I consider to be the funniest part of the script I wrote, though I'm not entirely sure if it's all that funny anymore. It can get that way when you've seen a joke over and over. You just have to trust it will be funny for people the first time they see it like it was for you when you originally thought of the idea.

I'm also not that happy with the voice I came up with for Kevin. Digitally altering a voice rarely results in something that sounds anything other than digitally altered to me. You kind of end up with a TTS voice that is able to be expressive but still doesn't quite sound natural.

There's not too much else to say about my entry. I don't think it's bad by any means. I just don't think it has the spark to really stand out from the pack. Though I never know with my audience. I've seen other top level GoAnimators produce work of similar standard that really connects with their fans. I may be pleasantly surprised.

Wish me luck in the contest.

Part 2: Evolution of a GoAnimate Contest Entry

Continuing on from Part 1: Evolution of a GoAnimate Contest Entry, I did transcribe my script from the video into written form. For script writing I use Celtix, the free script writing software just because it completely automates how the script is laid out and you can focus entirely on writing.

I already mentioned that the idea for the script was inspired by Kevin Smith Podcasts so I named Friend 1 and Friend 2, Ralph and Kevin (after Ralph Garman - from HBO and, obviously Kevin after Kevin Smith).

The script its self I transcribed word for word, then I wrote in  two cut away scenes, the first of a Ninja actually killing someone and the second of a person photographing their lunch (with a visual gag happening in the background).

I don't usually storyboard scenes for my own personal GoAnimations because there's no real need to do that if you're not showing the idea to someone else or, in this case, the majority of the animation is just two people talking with quick cut scenes.

Opening Ninja scene.
Since the cut scenes are the hardest part of the animation I went straight into the GoAnimate studio and started animating the two I'd written. In particular the Ninja cut scene has to look good since the whole premise of the animation is about Ninjas.

I always planned to use the newer GoAnimate themes for the cut scenes. As you can see in the thumbnail still image above I've use a Ninja Anime character along with one of the new Space Citizen theme characters. The photographing lunch scene uses regular Anime theme characters.

For the two characters talking I decided to go with the Lil' Peepz theme since those characters are the most expressive thanks to the large number of action packs you can buy for regular poses and expressions.

As you may have noticed from the Lil' Peepz image at the top of this article one of the characters is now my Lil' Peepz representation of me (and my dog, Oscar, is also in the scene). I figured since I'm voicing both characters, why not just have myself as one character?

The other Lil' Peepz character looks suspiciously like Kevin Smith - or at least as close as I could get to him. Kevin is actually about the same age as me so in some parallel universe we could be friends (well I can dream).

I was pretty happy with my cut scenes and character designs so next I moved on to recording the audio. For your interest I've put together a short video below to show you my audio setup and just how low tech it is.



The key points when recording audio are (if you don't have a professional setup):

  • Record in a room with no echo. Generally this will be a room with no bare walls, lots of curtains, bookshelves etc. Anything that breaks up the surface of the walls. Carpet on the floor helps too.
     
  • Use a microphone that at least has a sponge cover. This will also help to reduce noise and give you better sound.
     
  • Recording with Audacity, the free sound recording and editing software is all you need.
     
  • Use the 'Normalize' effect (default setting) to even out your sound and boost the volume.
     
  • Export sounds in MP3 format rather than WAV as it will give you significantly smaller file sizes.

I'm certainly not an actor but I do know when it comes to recording voices for animation it helps to exaggerate expressions and generally talk more expressively than you would in regular conversation. Also, speak up and form your words clearly.

 ...and that's where I'm up to.

Next I plan to edit all the conversation scenes together. My tip for a editing conversation scenes in GoAnimate is to leave all the camera placements last. Focus on adding in all the audio and getting the expressions and character movements down, then go back through and frame each shot.

I'm hoping to finish the animation some time towards the beginning of next week, hopefully before part 3 of this series so that in the next post I can talk about the finished animation.

Part 1: Evolution of a GoAnimate Contest Entry

GoAnimate recently launched their What's Your New Year's Resolution? contest on Facebook and I plan to enter. Since the deadline for entries is January 31st, 2013 I thought this would be a great opportunity to document the creation of my entry in a series of three 'highlights' posts leading up to the closing date.

Ordinarily I like to show viewers my finished animations first then talk about the behind the scenes stuff afterwards in this blog so this will be a new experience for both you and I.

Unfortunately there will be spoilers. Stop reading if you would prefer to see the finished work first and come back here after my entry is complete to find out how it all unfolded.

House keeping out of the way, let's dive in...

Inspiration

The contest is about New Year's Resolutions. The kinds of things life coaches and motivational speakers love. Quite a few of them base their philosophies around the teachings of Ninja. GoAnimate has two Ninja themes... can you see where this is going?

I had the idea of someone saying to a friend as their resolution "This year I want to be more Ninja."

I listen to a lot of Kevin Smith's podcasts (Kevin's a well known film writer/director whose career began with the 1994 film Clerks). Shows like Hollywood Babble On and Smodcast where it's just two people swapping stories and bouncing jokes off each other. Which is how I imagine my entry will be.

It starts out with the above mentioned statement and then the person's more cynical friend chimes in with their interpretation of what the first friend means by 'Ninja'.

So my initial concept is to have two friends discussing the idea of 'being more Ninja' inter cut with scenes of Ninjas acting out some of their ideas.

The Script - First Draft

Thinking about what these two friends say for about an hour I had their opening lines clear in my mind:
Friend 1: This year I want to be more Ninja.
Friend 2: You want to be more Ninja? What? You want to hide in the shadows and kill people?
I actually had much more than that sorted in my head with friend 2 counter pointing that friend 1 should have said he wanted to be more like a camera - which won't make much sense to you... yet.

Sometimes when I have a fairly clear idea of a script in my head trying to write it down can really slow down the development process. A quicker way to get your first draft done is to just perform it. Yes, I said perform it.

Now you could just record your voice but I'd also planned to write this blog post. I recorded myself performing my first draft as a video so you could see the ideas forming as I say them out loud for the very first time.

Fair warning, the video below is rough, recorded on my camera phone, with several jump cuts to remove lengthy pauses and one or two minor ideas that went nowhere. I also don't perform to the camera. In the video I'm playing two characters talking to each other and switching between the mindset of each by turning my head.

The important thing is not how it looks, it's about getting the ideas out quickly. So pay no attention to all the weird thinking/acting faces I'm making!



Note that this is not my final script. To me it's not funny enough and needs more refinement and ideas injected into it. Plus some of the ideas didn't come out or play the way I intended.

From here I'll transcribe what I said into an actual written script and start to revise it with additional ideas and  a few visual jokes for the scenes that act out what the characters are saying.

However I wanted to show you this part of the process as a useful tool for those of you that aren't 'writers'. There's no rule that says you have to actually write a script - especially if you're only making films by yourself and don't need to give anyone else a script.

At this stage that is as far as I've gone with my entry. Hopefully by the next post I'll have my script done, storyboard finalized and perhaps even started to animate.

Part 2 will be posted next week.

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