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#XPPenanimationchallenge - How I Created My Entry for XP-Pen's First Animation Competition

XP-Pen's Mascot, Fenix, in A Change of Art by TET.
XP-Pen's Mascot, Fenix, in
A Change of Art by TET.
XP-Pen, the makers of a range of pretty sweet pen display monitors, and Reallusion, the makers of some pretty sweet animation apps, teamed up for XP-Pen's very first Animation Challenge with the theme of 'Change'.

Any form of animation was acceptable with entries needing to be a minimum of ten seconds in length.

Entries closed on June 16th, 2020 (sorry, this blog isn't really a breaking news site, I probably should've mentioned it back in March when entries submissions opened) so it's too late to enter, but I wanted to tell you the tale of how I ended up creating my entry in a really late evening, the day before the deadline.

Watch my entry below. Remember the theme is 'Change' and XP-Pen suggested in the rules that including their mascot, Fenix, somewhere in the animation would be looked upon favorably.
 

The Ideas

Skater - My First XP-Pen Competition Idea
Scenes from Skater - My First
XP-Pen Competition Idea.
This was not my first idea for the competition. That may not be a big surprise but what you don't know is I completed up to a full, finished scene edit of my first idea. To finish it I just need to do all the sound design (which doesn't include dialogue since there is none in that animation).

My First Idea

In my initial idea I wanted to feature characters created by Cartoon Solutions. I have an entire library of those characters and backgrounds that I've never really used, even though I like the art style a lot.

I came up with a brief story about how parents keep changing their minds, getting mad when teenagers spend all their time hanging around the house, and then getting mad when their kids stay out too long as well.

The animation followed a teen boy, kicked off the couch at home by his mother who decides he's spending too much time at home, laying around listening to his ipod.

Later the boy spends so much time out at the skate park his mother has to come over and tell him to go home.

In general, I did like this animation but it didn't quite fit the concept of 'change', and nothing particularly stood out as eye catching to me. Plus the XP-Pen mascot didn't really have a place to be. I was going to make him a skater in the background but it seemed like an afterthought.

Not having a better idea I persevered with creating this animation through six animated scenes all edited into a final cut ready for my sound design.

Still, I just wasn't feeling this as an interesting idea.

The Next Idea

XP-Pen's 3D Model Mascot turnarounds.
XP-Pen's 3D Model Mascot turnarounds
with my painted character rig.
While exploring XP-Pen's website I discovered they sell a 3D, paintable model of their mascot, Fenix. Not only that but their site has complete turnaround images of the model, perfect for turning into a fully rigged character in Cartoon Animator.

I thought, what better way to get the attention of the judges than to animate the company's mascot with the competition sponsor's animation software. So I digitally colored the front facing view of the 3D model and rigged it as a Cartoon Animator G3 character with a front facing, morph based head. (Note this rig even has a full set of hand sprites copied and recolored from one of my other characters).

I really liked the final version of the Fenix character rig but it didn't match the style of my first idea so this prompted me in another direction.

At this point I hadn't seen the idea that was just staring me in face. 

Since Reallusion is currently all about motion capture for 2D animated characters, I thought this might be the perfect opportunity to break out the Facial Mocap Plug-in for Cartoon Animator 4 that I bought but hadn't yet found the right project to use it with.

Fenix in an Office Scene by Anton Bakhmat.
Fenix in an Office Scene by
Anton Bakhmat.
Maybe I could have Fenix sitting at a desk talking about some kind of change... maybe slip in some reference to the fact that this performance was motion captured too.

I set that scene up using an office background by Anton Bakhmat.

Usually I can improvise funny dialogue without too much effort but, for whatever reason, I just couldn't find an inroad into a short, funny dialogue about change. It needed to be either funny or a captivating story to stand any chance of being noticed, since the whole animation would be just a character talking to camera.

This is what I was going with right up until the day before the competition closed. I even had the facial mocap plug-in set up and ready to go should inspiration hit that day. It didn't. At least not for this idea.

The Light Bulb Moment

While sitting around, trying to come up with dialogue for my Fenix/Office animation I was looking at my original colored image of Fenix standing next to the unpainted model image. I happened to think to myself that the white model looked very much like a marble statue next to the more animated looking colored character.

Statue of David by Michelangelo
Statue of David by Michelangelo
My mind immediately went to the most famous marble statue I knew of - Michelangelo's Statue of David. From there it was a tiny jump to what if Fenix swapped out what is, let's face it, a very old statue, for something much newer and contemporary... say a statue of Fenix? It was very much a light bulb moment for me.

With just a day to go before entries closed I got straight to work on what I thought was a fun, and funny idea that was doable in the time I had.

Creating the Animation

Cartoon Animator - Statue of Fenix Scene
Cartoon Animator - Statue of Fenix Scene.

Set Up

Using Affinity Photo brush tools I set about erasing the Statue of David from the image shown above. I then found another image of the statue with the background removed already which I broke up into pieces and mixed in some rock images for my tumbled over statue that was David.

I then stretched out the Fenix white model image to give it a more epic 'Statue of David' height that would give good reason for Fenix himself to be up a ladder sculpting away.

I recolored and squashed a lectern prop for the Fenix statue podium. Then placed my Fenix character at the top of a ladder prop I had with an existing hammer prop in hand.

Animation

Fenix's hammering animation is a looping motion file taken directly from the G3 Human Motions - Occupations Pack. It's actually a motion for a side facing character but still looked okay with my front facing Fenix if I turned his head to the side as far as it would go. The only change I made to the motion was to stop Fenix's right hand from moving so it would remain still and look like he was holding onto the statue to maintain his balance.

His second talking motion is called 'Introduce' from the G3 Human Motions - Smooth Moves pack. I didn't have to change anything about this motion at all.

In terms of actual animation I did, I key framed some of the transition between the Hammering motion and the introduce motion to look a little smoother and to get the layers right so Fenix's hammering arm would remain in front of his face as it moved in front of him.

I linked the hammer to Fenix's hand in the character composer as an attached prop, rather than linking it to him on the stage, so that it would layer behind his hand. The hammer was then key framed manually to make sure it was always in the correct position in relation to his hand.

Fenix's facial animation is about as minimal as it gets. His mouth is auto lip synced to the audio file (I may have tweaked this manually just a little). Then I just made sure his head and pupils were facing the right way in relation to either hammering or speaking to camera, added eye blinks, as needed, and it was done.

Finally I animated the camera which, because it starts with a slow pan up from the rubble of the David statue, meant I had even less animation to do on Fenix. In fact it's the sound of his hammer that makes it seem like there's more going on in the scene without me actually having to show Fenix hammering until it's time to reveal him.

Audio

Freesound is a wonderful website. So much so that I ended up throwing them a donation because I downloaded so many sounds for this and another animation I was working on. I managed to find a hammering sound that not only perfectly fit but matched the timing of Fenix's animation without any need for adjustment.

Other than my own voice, which I recorded about five takes of the dialogue into Audacity and then changed the pitch slightly, the hammering sound is all the sound in the animation itself.

The Edit

The final edit was put together in Movavi Video Editor. Which I really only used to bookend the animation with titles and a fun music track.

The Premiere - Oops, I'm Accidentally Topical

 My focus was completely on getting this made before the deadline. Which I did, with plenty of hours to spare, as it happens. It wasn't until people started viewing it that I became aware my little short was also very topical.

As it happens a new #BlackLivesMatter movement had been gaining momentum worldwide. The week I released my animation the world was particularly focused on tearing down monuments depicting anyone who had owned or utilized slaves.

Without getting too political, I don't particularly agree with tearing down monuments whether they're racist or otherwise. To me it's a form of erasing history. Better to re-contextualize the monuments to raise awareness of this not so shining, 'forgotten' history than remove them. That's where I stand.

I mention that only because my animation isn't a commentary on #BlackLivesMatter or the efforts of some within the movement to remove 'racist' monuments/statues. If anything the Statue of David is a monument to the 'little guy', the everyday hero who took on a giant and won. I don't know what, if any, links the statue might have to slavery - though I expect there probably are some given the time it was made.

The idea behind my animation is, as I said, Fenix thinks the Statue of David is quite old. Failing to appreciate its significance he decides to replace it with a more modern statue, stating that it was time for a change, anyway.

---o ---o--- o---

As mentioned this animation was created for XP-Pen's first Animation Competition. Winners to be announced on July 1st 2020. You can view all the entries [ HERE ]. I'll let you know if I'm a finalist.

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