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New Look Toon - Learning Crazy Talk Animator 2

The Cast of New Look.
New Look is a new animated short that I created from a piece of comedy I wrote back in December of 1996. It's a very short sketch I created with a view to it being told as stand up comedy but I thought it was also an ideal piece to help me learn Crazy Talk Animator 2 (CTA2).

Watch the short video below then I'll go through some of the behind the scenes stuff to give you some idea of how it was made. Note that all of the artwork comes from CTA2  G2 Power Tools Volume 1 and that my goal was not to make a perfectly animated short. I know there's plenty of room to improve. This was entirely about learning the basics of the software.



The Script

As mentioned it was written by me in 1996 and is inspired by real life events where I actually did start a new job as a layout artist for a very big Supermarket Group. On several occasions different people did come up to me and say "You look a little lost!"

I wasn't but I must have paused long enough to appear less productive than everyone else or something. I only wished I had gone in one day and actually tried looking 'alarmed' just to see what reaction I'd get.

Storyboard

Most of the time I don't fully storyboard my own animation projects, since I don't usually need to show them to anyone, but this year I've decided to make more of an effort drawing proper storyboards I can actually understand. In the past my personal storyboards have been so bad I don't know what the squiggles mean even 5-10 minutes after I've drawn them.

Below is my storyboard for New Look minus all the scene description to save space. If you compare it to the finished animation you'll see all the shots are pretty much there as shown, with exception to an extra shot I created that appears between scene 3 and 4. It's a wide shot of the main character walking down a hallway that I added in because I didn't make scene 4 long enough to fill out the narration.

Storyboard for New Look.
All the rest of this article will reference the scene numbers shown in the storyboard above when talking about specific scenes.

Crazy Talk Animator 2 to MoviePlusX6

All of the scenes were animated as individual project files in CTA2. Although you could do an entire animation within the software it's really designed to be a scene editor. Once I completed each scene I exported it as an MP4 file and then brought it into Serif's MoviePlusX6.

Bringing the files into your video editing software gives you more options for adding titles, transitions and other effects as well as giving you more audio tracks to work with.

Prop Animation

Scene 1: I only wanted to highlight this scene because it's the only scene that is entirely prop and camera animation. It's not obvious but the building and trees at its base do slide slowly to the right just to give the scene a little more feeling of depth. If it weren't for characters, CTA2 would be a breeze to learn!

To make the camera slowly pan and zoom in is a simple case of putting a key frame for where you want the camera to begin and then putting another for where you want it to finish.

Backgrounds

Perspective View for scene depth.
One of the best things about CTA2 is the ability to give scenes, backgrounds perspective (or a feeling of depth). In my office scene, everything you see in the background is flat up against the back wall with very little depth. Everything in the foreground is set quite far forward so when the camera zooms in or out you get that nice parallax style effect that gives the scene a more three dimensional feel.

If however you don't want that effect, you can change the camera to 'orthographic' and the entire scene will be flat without having to adjust anything else.

Character Animation: Predefined and Custom Movement

You may notice that as the story unfolds the characters get more and more animated. That's why I felt this script was perfect for learning the basics. It starts with basic prop animation then the character animation gets progressively more complex.

The first scene that was a challenge was Scene 3. I thought having the character sitting at the desk, then turning to face the man who walks in, was going to be the hard part but I actually created that movement after about an hour of trial and error. It's a combination of predefined animation modified with my own enhancements to suit the situation.

The man who walks into the scene is also a combination of predefined animation (walking) and custom movements (when he extends his arm as he talks). Also I wanted him to carry something so it looked like he had purpose (to fetch a book) rather than just randomly walking into the scene empty handed.

Learning how to link the book to the character and then change his hand sprite so it looked like he was holding the book contributed to the complexity of his movement.

Speech

CTA2 has automatic lip syncing. It's not perfect but it's pretty good. Easy enough to refine the lip movement key frames too if anything is particularly not right. With CTA2 you can record your voice directly into the program, import audio or use Text To Speech (TTS).

Wherever a character actually speaks in my animation that sound was imported directly in CTA2. All the male characters use my own voice, the female is a TTS voice. The narration was imported into MoviePlus X6 and edited there.

Character Animation: Puppet

If you can't find a predefined character action to suit your needs, and you don't want to key frame something out, CTA2 allows you to puppeteer your characters in real time. You can control the character directly with the mouse (or trackpad) or indirectly through preset sliders for different body parts.

I didn't use puppeteering very much in this animation, except for scenes 8 and 11. In those scenes you can see the main characters head move up and down a very tiny amount relatively quickly as if he's laughing to himself. This was me literally moving the head up and down in real time as the movement was recorded.

Character Animation: Performance

Another handy feature of CTA 2 is the ability to save any sequence of character movement (including the audio for speech) out as a performance motion. Once you've saved it the motion can be applied to any other character.

In my animation I created the alarmed look in scene 9 from a combination of an existing pre-animated movement and my own customization (mostly the facial expressions, hand movements and positions). I then 'collected' the movement up and saved it as a performance motion file.

If you watch the two characters in scene 10 closely you'll notice they perform exactly the same movement as the character in scene 9, just offset a little to avoid their looks being synchronized.

Challenges

CTA2 can be quite confusing, specifically using the Timeline to locate movements that you wish to remove from a predefined motion. For example in scene 5 the main character has his feet up on the desk when you first see him. His hands are doing some rather odd, waving/flapping movements that are left over from the pre-animated motion file that I modified.

At the time I was creating this scene I looked everywhere to try and rid him of this hand movement. I just couldn't find it. Nor could I seem to get rid of it by moving his hands around. I still don't actually know how to fix it.

I have gotten much better at getting the characters to move how I want and putting together scenes much more quickly. For example, scene 3 took me the best part of a day to create. A few weeks and a bit more experience later I put together scenes 9-11 in a few hours.

I still have a lot to learn, particularly knowing the different parts of a character and how they relate to the timeline.

To Conclude

In general I'm happy with how this animation came out. I know anyone with even an ounce more animation experience than me will consider much of the animation to be awful. That's fine though. Everyone's first animations are always a bit dodgy and not something you usually want to dwell on. For me it was just a learning experience. I'll put more effort into what I produce when I'm more familiar with the software.

I'm not overly enthralled by the stock G2 characters that come with Power Tools Volume 1. I feel they lack a sense of style and some of the 360 degree views of them look and feel cobbled together and lazy. The characters are fine for business explainer videos perhaps but not something I'd want in my own personal animations. I'm looking forward to developing my own characters from my own artwork.

I'll continue to learn CTA2 from here. I feel it's a great and powerful tool, ideal for a one person animation studio. If you have this software I'd love to see what you're creating with it and reading articles like this one telling people about the challenges you faced.

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