A Limited Palette, Unlimited Possibilities

This week, The Daily Post asks the WordPress community:

Are animated GIFs the stuff of junior highschool hijinks or, are they the political cartoons of the new millennium? What do you think?

My first reaction to this question was, ‘Huh! Those silly little things! Who makes GIF Animations any more?  When the web has evolved to PNG and a billion colours, why would anyone even think about a format which has only 256 colours?’

But then… I was reminded of something…

There was a time, when I was obsessed with them. My inbox was full of them. I never had ‘important mails’. But cute cartoons, waving back at me, were important enough for me to collect. These virtual creatures became another collectable item, gathering virtual dust in a folder on the hard disk…

And then, I learnt to animate.

Simple Card For E-mailing Family & Friends

A month-long summer programme introduced to me, persistence of vision, and frame-by-frame animation. An acquaintance showed me the terrifying interface of Macromedia Flash. One look at it, and I came running back to the comfort of MS Paint!

I searched the web-world for freeware. It was fun learning to use applications like Art Rage. Using a small GIF Animator, I strung together individual frames and added, what I thought, were cool transitions.

Dragon Blink
Accidentally Breathing

I found a cute dragon cartoon on the net, and coloured it. I made the dragon blink, and saved the in-betweens in Jpeg file formats. I had no clue, why the quality of the image degraded each time I saved it. Two years later, I got the answer to that.

In our graphic designing class, our teacher tried to explain, what lossy compression meant. While most students stared back with blank expressions, I silently patted myself for being smart!

During our sketching class, I casually mentioned playing with wheat flour, as a child. My art teacher pointed out to me, ‘When you were a child, you were willing to experiment. By using flour and Papier-mâché, you were being creative.’

I realised what he meant, and it applied to almost every other aspect of life. The moment we learn the ‘proper way’ to do things, we refuse to accept anything else. And once we do that, we close our minds. We not only lose our willingness to experiment, but also, our creativity.

Creating these GIF animations was just one of the ways I expressed myself. For me, they were, they are, and will always, represent fun, and creativity. They represent a time when I was willing to experiment, and learn on my own.

New Year Card
Limited Palette, Unlimited Possibilities

*  *  *

I never thought I would ever go back to GIFs. But I did end up making one not so long ago, for a post. And that’s because that is the only format WordPress allows for standalone animations!

ArtRage – Even after brushing hands with the big guns, I still love it!
Movies13 – a newer version of my main weapon – available at Jans Freeware

Disclaimer: Potential users are requested to use their judgement before downloading any software. Do not hold me responsible for any harm to your computer. While I have used the above mentioned products, I am not, in any way, endorsing these products.

Hobbies Stories

We Created A Monster!

After months of procrastination, we present to you, our creation. That the topic for this week’s photo challenge happens to be ‘create’, is a lucky coincidence!

The Project:

A 2d animated short film, being made for a student’s competition, on behalf of our institute.

The Concept:

Story Board Extract
Thumbnail story board extract
Story Board Extract
An extract from the story board

Theft of content discourages the the creators of original content. This, in turn, hinders creativity, and ultimately, when creation stops, everything comes to an end.

While this is rather extreme, we used it as the basis for creating our protagonist.

The Protagonist:

Concept Character
In search of our spirit

A formless spirit. People cannot see it, but it watches our every action. It has always existed in some form, but over the years it has grown exponentially. We needed a simple, yet mean creature. After unsuccessfully creating several rather cuddly creatures, we finally managed to locate our spirit.

The Plan:

Putting ideas to paper
Putting ideas to paper

We began with a simple story, with simple line art for presentation. It eventually grew more complicated, with more supplementary characters, and more complicated animation.

The Resources:

A lab – which we shared with five other students, two computers and a pen – tablet.

For the next three months, this room would virtually become our second home. We entered early morning and left late in the evenings – including Sundays. The windows were covered with black paper. The air-conditioning, at times, prevented us from suffocating, and at times made us shiver. The pen tablet came close to becoming my best friend!

The Human Resources:

We searched, and searched, and searched. We knew we needed a character artist. We found none. Eventually, we decided to handle it ourselves.

The Implementation:

Trying out animation
Trying out animation – manually, and digitally

To create one second of an animated clip, we needed 24 frames. A software can make things move smoothly and blend frames, saving a lot of work. But it has its limitations. There are times, when everything must be done manually. For our story, every bit of animation involved manually creating unique frames.

Back when early Walt-Disney animations began appearing, there was no software which could blend and create frames. There was no copy and paste. The artists created each of the frames from scratch. The colours couldn’t be picked from a digital colour palette. They had to mix paints and inks for every frame. Yet they managed to create believable, realistic characters, which had a consistent form, and colour across every frame!

Where We Messed Up:

Testing style
Trying to establish a style
Becoming a little complex
Still trying to establish a style… Becoming a little complex

During the process, we fought. A lot – with each other and with our own teachers. We argued about the best approach towards solving issues. We lost a lot of time, just trying to figure out the style for the film – something that should actually have been a part of the planning stage. While we did do a lot of planning, our paper work was inadequate. It threw our schedule so far away, that our mentors, peers, and even we, began to lose hope of it even being completed. We lacked the foresight, and the skills which, we realised, were essential for taking on a project of this magnitude.

It seemed like our project had been set up to fail.

The Controversy:

Piracy is a sensitive issue, and a grey area. After all, sales of recorded music hardly account for an artist’s income. They benefit distributors. And artists earn millions from live concerts anyway. The concept seemed irrelevant for the digital age. The internet makes the cost of producing and distributing intellectual property almost negligible. A viral video on a video-sharing site is all it takes to get famous!

Ironically, we used music with creative commons licenses for our film on piracy!

At home, debates and arguments surrounding our project became a regular feature. My spending long hours working, only added to the gloomy atmosphere in the house.

The Final Touches:

With just about 3 weeks left, tension and tempers were rising. We asked Google for help. We analysed footage from videos, and animated clips. We searched for music, and shot footage of ourselves for reference. Desperate to finish what we started, we used videos and images as templates, and traced over them!

With just a couple of days left for the deadline, we had a few animations still left to do, and some of the backgrounds were incomplete. We had not compiled our work even once to check if all the pieces fit the puzzle. In a last ditch effort, we worked for 24 hours straight to complete the little bits. There were some glaring mistakes. But we ignored them. Ultimately, we rendered it – just in time for submission.

The title for our project was decided on the very last day!

Final shot
Final shot – The pen tablet came close to becoming my best friend

The Aftermath:

The consequences of the marathon effort on my health were explained in detail in my previous post.

After nearly six months, we blew the dust from the project to fix some of the major glitches. During the rendering, our ghost showed up in a few frames, where we did not put it, and disappeared from some other frames. What can I say… It was being true to its nature.

The Perfect Monster:

The debate surrounding the definition of what constitutes piracy sparked a debate around our house, and divided the family. Several issues popped up during the planning and animation stage, which put some wonderful friendships in jeopardy. Our ghost didn’t help either. It distorted in unusual ways while animating, which caused a lot of head ache. It skipped frames on rendering, and appeared in places where it clearly didn’t exist. It ensured that we spent months, cooked up inside a sun-proofed room. While we brought packed lunch with us, it did not prevent us from eating out. Our health took a severe beating.

It seemed, that we had created the perfect monster.

The Other Side:

While we were blaming our creation for our troubles, the spirit was subtly doing its part to put us in our place! Working on the project, was a huge learning curve. We bit way more than we could chew, and that made us push our limits. We learnt the importance of pre-production, the importance of paper-work, the limitations of our skills, tricks to overcome it, the long road that lay ahead of us before we could even think about calling ourselves animators, how to work in a team (even if it was just the two of us), and to believe in ourselves, and our vision. Most importantly, we realised that nothing can ever be more important than our health.

We had to use every trick in the book to reel in the spirit which was running amok. I’m happy to report, that it has been caught and placed inside a container. It is on display as a video on Youtube. Its still not perfect, but considering that there were only the two of us, working on our very first animated clip, and practically the whole world betting against it, I think it turned out fine 🙂

Please visit the blog of my partner-in-crime, guilty of creating the monster!

The Disclaimer:

We admit we used a lot of references from the internet world. We have tried our best to give credit to our sources. Further, this project was not made for any commercial purposes. It was just an idea, which we feel extremely proud to be a part of, and hope you too enjoy it!