Archive for November 22, 2014

Animation: Bringing Your Story to Life

amimationcartoonsHave you ever made a story come to life in video?  If you are a creative person, you haven’t lived until your stories have lived as well.

I was never content with just watching cartoons.  I made my friends act out little cartoons I made up myself or sat with a pencil in hand and jotted down every event within the cartoon that could not be done in real life.  Or, I would get upset with the plot and proceed to write my own, in my head at first and later on paper when I got old enough to write.

Yeah, I was a peculiar child.  The creative ones usually are.  But it has made for an interesting and actually fairly profitable adulthood.  People love to watch animation, good animation that is.  Once you use your skills correctly, your audience will be a captive one.  That works out well for a marketer such as myself.

If you want to make an animated video, even if it’s just a short one like for a mini-commercial or an explainer video, you will need to know some basics.  You will need to create a story that includes a past, present and future.  Although the character may have only one small line, you yourself will want to give him or her a story.  Decide where they are from and where they are going.

The plot itself needs to go somewhere and have a message even if the message is that there is no message at all.  Ideally, you will want a good guy and a bad guy or a protagonist and antagonist.  They don’t even have to be people.

If you are doing a commercial about a product, you will want to do the same.  Take for instance if you are promoting an acne remedy, you can have the teen-age boy be the main character.  The audience should related to the poor kid who has unsightly pimples all over his face and it’s the day before the prom.  How dare the acne do such a thing!  Acne becomes the antagonist.  The protagonist is actually the acne medicine in this story as it saves the day for our main character.  Doesn’t it make you want to run out and purchase some?

If you are creating a longer video, don’t forget the effectiveness of some good rug-pulling.  That means that you fake a good ending.  The main character has a problem and just when it appears that the problem is solved, the worst happens.  Then the story has to rebuild again until it is closed in a different manner.

A writer loves to see his or her work in print.  There is nothing like it.  Imagine the feeling when that writing actually comes to life by way of animation.  If it wasn’t for the thrill and effectiveness of exactly that, I would never have attempted to learn the art of animation.  I am so not into technical arts such as stop motion or effects that are a painstaking process.  I lack the patience and the gift of geekiness.

But the day came when I needed to put my thoughts into animation and the desire to do so led the way for me to learn.  The first time I saw the pictures in my head could take life on screen, I was hooked.  If writing a story to life is heaven, animating it to life is indeed the seventh heaven.

Anime: Learning the Ancient Art of Animation the Japanese Way

They say I’m a tech geek.  Calling a spade a spade, I guess I am.  When I was just a young kid, I was taking things apart just so I could fix them.  That included electronics.  The second my parents left for work, I would start disassembling.  I knew I had better have everything put back together and in ship shape condition before they returned…or else!  So I became the master of fix-it.  That skin spilt over into everything else so when I got old enough to get a computer, there was nothing I couldn’t fix and no online issue I couldn’t solve.

Anime is my thing.  I have watched it ever since I can remember.  The first thing I did when I got old enough to get online was to figure out how to make my own.  Of course I create my own characters and the story lines too.  I go for the programs that are detailed and difficult as you can imagine.  Sometimes I secretly hope for a problem to come up…just so I can fix it.

“Can you make this guy sweat bullets?” someone asks me.  “Of course,” I answer.  Then there are those who can’t get the anime to act like anime.  The character looks right.  The scene is well set.  The plot is properly twisted but…something’s just not right.

There’s an art to making an anime production.  Not only do you need to watch hours and hours of genuine anime, you really need to analyze it too.  Each character will take on his or her own personality as they would if they were done by a Japanese anime producer.

In order to create like a Japanese, you must think like one.  In the Japanese culture, blood type and personality type is synonymous.  You’ve got to master these things.  Type O is an optimistic, strong personality.  Type A is creative and a bit reserved and perhaps over-responsible but stubborn at the same time.  Type B is passionate, irresponsible and self-centered.  AB Type is forgetful yet adaptable.

Birthdates and names are ultra- important too.  And don’t stop there.  Give them a job, a goal and a story that includes background information.  You will want to know where the story as a whole is going to go and what part each character will play in it.  The character’s appearances will have a lot to do with their personalities.  Their eyes will reflect their hearts.  Big dramatic emotion-filled eyes are usually on characters that we can all relate to as being good, kind or at least have some positives.  Evil ones will bear slanted eyes and harsh facial markings.

Once you have given your characters character, let them come to life.  Let them move around accordingly.  They will begin to act out their own fantasies but you must be in tune with the process.

If you want to make the best anime, you must study the best.  That is the bottom-line.  You must get into the role of a Japanese artist because there is no better anime creator than a true Japanese.  Research not only anime history and philosophy, but anything and everything else that has to do with Japan.  As your knowledge and feel for the culture begins to blossom, so will your work.  Remember, when it comes to anime, you don’t have to be Japanese to do it, you just have to make them think you are.  Practice makes perfect and only when done the Japanese way can anime be exactly that.

A Friend’s Inspiration

Animated characters are my forte. I get inspiration in weird places. No matter. They help me build an arsenal of scary, evil creatures that populate an imaginary magical realm. I want them to be new and fresh, with traits that have yet to be seen. With so much work out there, it’s getting hard. You look deep within for ideas. You look without for motivation. Whatever it takes to spark ingenuity is welcome.

Artists get inspiration in strange places sometimes. Picasso got it in women—not unusual at all. Cézanne got it in apples and oranges—mundane. Now Salvador Dali got it in melting watches on the beach. That’s eccentric and odd, in keeping with his personality. Animators are the same. They get charged up by anything in their surroundings that can be transformed into another time and place. Making the familiar strange is the definition of creativity.

You sit in front of your computer waiting for the ball to drop, for the mood to take you over, for the infusion of mystery and madcap–that is what makes art. In one case, as I was drawing from the depths of my gray matter, I remember something I saw on a friend recently—toenail fungus.

Toenail fungus is indeed the makings of ghoulish imagery. Evil beings can ooze a blackish yellow goop between their toes. Actually, the affliction lies under the toenail bed, but no matter! Viewers have to see it in all its ghastly glory. Sorry, friend. I don’t mean to insult you or to say you are hideous. It just makes for great gasps of disgust.

It is certainly not an infectious disease like the Ebola virus and nowhere near as serious. But you can rev it up for the right audience, make it nasty as heck like they did in this New York Times article. It is a simple thing akin to athlete’s foot but is hard to treat. It keeps growing, and gnawing away at your healthy feet.

My anime character will be otherworldly, of course, with tiny legs and giant feet. Claws will poke out at their ends like prickly cactus spears. The body will be thin, but the head enormous. It will fight for dominance with the feet. Hence the idea to add the flourish of fungus to make them stand out.

I can exaggerate the yellow color and the powdery texture to make it terribly unappealing. My friend just laughs. He hides his beneath a clean pair of socks and goes about his life as usually. My being will moan and groan with pain and roar with rage. He’s angry and ready to retaliate against the gods wielding mold and yeast. He turns from green to red when he looks at his toenails.

I hope this creative surge appeals to you as much as it does to me. Again, I get ideas where I can in all the weird and right places. Who knows? Maybe next time inspiration will come from a kitchen appliance or a faucet! There is always something you can do to transform the ordinary into the fabulous.

I Get my Best Ideas in the Shower

I like to think I am a creative. Who doesn’t? It saves us from the monotony of a bland life. I certainly admire the imaginative work of others in the fine and practical arts, especially in the field of animation. The Japanese anime tradition appeals to me the most in terms of imagery, draftsmanship, and expression. If I can’t do it myself, I can watch the ever-present streaming videos. Anime has been around for about a century and remains super unique. I have the habit of emulating the artists in this vein upon many an occasion. Dreams of conquering the field with my own characters, colors, and designs fill my sleeping (and waking) hours.

During the morning when I awake, I get my best ideas. As the shower head roars to life, and water washes over my moribund soul, I begin to conceive of ways of executing my fantasies. Since I am imbued with anime creations, I try to immerse myself in their folkloric tradition. They have a rich mythic path with religious and magical connotations. It is all part of a supernatural realm of gods and alien creatures that have some connection to Japanese history. If you can master the pronunciation of the titles you are a born aficionado.

I remain inert under the spray of a great shower as I think about my target audience and how far afield I would get—I don’t want to go too far from the fold. What genre would I use, like science fiction or fantasy? (Am I getting too esoteric for you?) Should I copy popular aspects of the Japanese style and borrow characters and stories? That would please me a great deal. So many questions are arising in time with the rising shower mist.

I twist the shower head to adjust the flow. It slants to the side and hits the tile wall of the stall abruptly. I move it back to focus the spray on my exposed face. Water pulsates as I move the lever to a new setting. My eyes are stinging, but are coming to life. I turn off the liquid cascade, towel myself down, and exit the bathroom. One more day and a new chance to change the world.

A shower is a great way to start off. You get creative right from the first morning thought. I don’t always get good results, however, but sometimes the ideas are distinctive and worth noting down. A daily shower is my ritual and hands-free rubdown. It massages my brain and spirit. It provokes and evokes in the way that only water can do.

I am floating on a cloud as I sip my freshly-brewed coffee and check my online emails. I reply to a few and jump over to CNN for the headline news. I look at my calendar and to-do list, and suddenly the excitement of the shower ideation is almost gone. The work day is beginning and a normal regimen is soon to begin. But not to worry. Tomorrow is another day.

The Wonderful World of Animation

When I first began looking for animation programs, I was looking for easy.  I needed a simple but effective program to put together videos relatively quickly.

I am in no way a technical person so when I say I needed easy, I speak the truth.  The problem was that many of the more elementary ones were exactly that…elementary.  They were for kids.  I needed a program that would allow for plenty of creativity but that would do so on a level I could grasp.

I found a lot of crummy programs but found some really good ones too.  I am not opposed to trying them out with a free trial but I don’t really like to.  Plus, there are always watermarks and stipulations so I prefer just to take my chances as a rule.  Needless to say, I wasted a good bit of money on finding my favorites.

Something to note before beginning the search is that there are 2D and 3D variations.  The difference is, of course, dimensions.  Another difference is that 3D uses digital modeling while 2D relies on the onion tool function.  2D is the easiest, in my opinion at least.  But sometimes you may have something in mind that only the use of 3D dimensions will rightly portray.

Another thing to think about is your purpose for the production.  If you are using it for your own personal use, your options will be broader for some programs.  If you are planning to use it for commercial use, be sure to check out the policy regulations regarding such.

Muvizu is a pretty good program to get a feel for making animation videos.  You’ll definitely know if animation is up your alley or not.  When I downloaded the free version, I used it and really liked it but that’s where it ended.  You can obtain a license to use it commercially or “rent” the rights on a month-to-month basis but that wasn’t for me.

Toon Boom is another program I like.  It offers both 2D and 3D.  Toon Boom Studio is one of the best, I think.  Anime Studio Pro is awesome.  It has great bone/inverse kinematics tools that make for realistic movements and also features a fantastic lip sync tool too.

Gotta say thought that Reallusion with Crazy Talk and IClone wins, hands down, in my book.  It’s a world all its own.  What I like is that there are all different types and levels of programs to choose from all under the same roof.  Many of them you can use together or add on to.  They even offer anime characters.

I started with Crazy Talk which is pretty simple but made for some pretty cool ads I created.  The program allows character heads to talk.  You can use the models that come with it, purchase kits to make others or you can use any photo you have for a totally original character.  It has super easy technology where you place points on certain facial spots in order to make the lip sync and expression look more real.  But, for me, a talking head can only go so far.

I then purchased the IClone Crazy Talk Animator 2 that allows for full characters who can interact.  Like the original Crazy Talk, you can use text-to-speech, record your own voice or even order a professional voice to put on it.  It took some time before I felt I had this program mastered but I sure like what all I can do with it and its business friendly too.

IClone has some very innovative programs.  Some are rather complicated and some just look complicated.  That’s what I like is using one that isn’t difficult but looks as if it is.  You can use pre-set facial features and movements or you can create your own.  There are programs for real life footage like Newsroom and you can add in special effects and props.  There is also a very innovative add on to the animated programs where you can make gestures and movements with your own body that will cause your animation character to mimic you on the cartoon.  Now, that’s my kind of technology!

The world of animation is a wonderful one. The more I learn about it, the more I want to learn so I can unleash more and more of my imagination as only animation allows me to do.

Movie Etiquette

People do not seem to know how to behave in movies. As a fan of the cinematic experience, I don’t want my time ruined by bad behavior. So here are my tips (requirements) for basic etiquette on the part of kids and adults alike (I’m not sure who is worse!)

  • First and foremost, keep your mouth closed (unless eating, if you must). We don’t want to hear what you think of the film.
  • Keep your hands off women. That would be your date unless you are a bit perverse, but try to hold off until you get home.
  • Keep your hands and feet off the seat in front of you. There is nothing more annoying and your shoes probably smell.
  • Do not kick the seat in front of you. I don’t care if you have super long legs.
  • Kids, don’t throw popcorn or candy in the air or at anyone. If you need to practice your aim by tossing some in your mouth, you better be agile or risk some dirty looks.
  • Shut off that darn mobile phone. You don’t have to show stills or videos of the movie as people can get them on line. You don’t have to text anything. Go outside if you are a stubborn mule.
  • It is best to go to the toilet before the movie. It is disruptive if you have to walk in front of people when leaving your seat. Think ahead! If you can’t control yourself, don’t buy a drink until after the show.
  • Self-control is good advice. Your behavior is a reflection of your maturity. Don’t let bad actions give you away.
  • Don’t talk about other people in the theater. Some guys can be mean and defend themselves or their viewing mate with anger and a few swift blows to the chin.
  • Gum chewing is just plain disgusting. Don’t smack your lips or leave your mouth gaping while you do it. Try to be courteous and quiet if you must indulge. Never crack the gum unless you want serious repercussions.
  • Try to get to the movie on time so as not to disturb others. Do not step on the feet of those who did make an effort to get to their seats before the start of the movie.
  • Do not spill food, put gum under the seat, or leave used tissues on the floor. Yes, there is a janitor to clean it up, but why not help out and toss these things in the trash as you leave. Be a good sport!
  • Do not take a small child to an adult film. They squirm when bored or worse yet will run around the theater in circles screaming for attention. Babies are just as bad unless you have drugged yours.
  • If you are at a kids’ movie, let the little ones visit the toilet beforehand so as not to miss a precious moment. They get hung up playing with things in the bathroom like fancy bidet toilets fitted in some movie theaters or shopping centers or talking to other children. This makes those tykes late as a result.

There are probably a few more things I could add, but you get the picture. Try these tips out and find how a better quality movie experience is a welcome relief for you and all those around you in the theater.

The Finest Fire Pokemon

The dragon-like Charizard evokes reverie in Pokemon fans like me. He is a fire-flying monster supreme. Of all the numerous Japanese anime characters, I go for him, the awesome final form of Charmander. For those not in the know, Charizard has evolved from this early creature at level 36 (with Chamelon along the way at level 16). Got it! Charmander appeared early on in Pokemon—I Choose You! Charizard is more powerful and is the mascot of the Red and Fire Red versions. Have a look at those colossal wings, tough claws, and mighty countenance. Fire spews from his tail. So cool.

Imagine warming your room with this being – turning him on and off like a portable pellet stove to keep the cold at bay. Of course he would be tamed. Kids fabricate all kinds of fantasies about these characters, making them come alive in their own private environments. They take care of emotional and psychological needs. I know one child who took a small heating stove and placed a large image of Charizard on top. How clever is that! (Don’t worry. It was fireproof and parent approved.)

Many Pokemon beings populate my mental world. I single this one out for his unique nature and appearance. Of course they are all very special and I have other favorites. You can see this orange animated phenomenon in Pokémon Ranger, Pokémon Stadium, and Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Sky boxarts. The tail and mouth flames are his hallmark and creates his identity as a fire entity. What else do I see? There are those fearsome blue eyes, that cream contrasting underbelly, and a super long neck. There are flaring nostrils and a rectangular head from which project two blunt horns (that kind of parallel the appendages that jut out from each teal wing). Some animator went to town on this one. The colors are magical and the flame attributes are magnificent.

I have been known to draw him from memory in varying positions of active attack. This is every little boy’s dream. In fact, they do see him in their sleep along with other assorted Pokemon images. Then when you grow up, they have all been indelibly etched in one’s brain. Don’t miss the fangs by the way. They are among the best features. Also, don’t let those skinny arms fool you or the thick stocky legs. Charizard can be a formidable foe. Don’t cross his path or raise his ire. (Let’s not even talk about Mega Charizard X! He is even more fit and fabulous.) This monster is always looking for a good fight, ready to blow fire and venom at the drop of a hat. He can melt a glacier if provoked or start a major forest fire.

So get on board with me as a fan of Charivard, the flame Pokemon character, and enjoy some great creative anime expression. Discover the wonders of this wonderful Japanese art form as many others have done. You will be glad you did!

Animation: The Best of Both Realism and Escape

Some years back, I began looking into animation.  I am a marketing manager for a number of online companies and needed an edge to get products in front of customers.  I had tried everything, it seemed, but I wasn’t getting the results I needed.  That is when I discovered the amazing world of animation.

Animation is captivating.  You need only to take a look at YouTube to see how you can get sucked right in to a good piece.  That is exactly what I was after so I began searching for great animations to find out what it took to make a great production.

That is when I discovered anime.  Of course, authentic anime, by definition, is produced in Japan.  But I am not a stickler on that.  If it’s good, it’s good.  So I watched hours of it and tried my hand at making it too.  Can’t say I’m the best at it but I’m not all that bad either.  When I check the stats of viewers, I am quite pleased so evidently the general public thinks I’m pretty decent at it too.

One thing that watching and even creating anime has done for me is to make me better at producing regular animated clips too.  Once I have drawn my audience in, I can reach them and tell them about the products or services I am advertising.

YouTube changes the game plan on a regular basis but at the moment, the object is to attract a viewer to the site and for them to watch not only the flick at hand, but another YouTube production as well.  That means that, as a marketing manager, I need to not only have one great piece, but another that the viewer will want to click on to.  That scores points on YouTube which ultimately means…I get further on my advertising.  So “good enough is not good enough”.  My productions have to be compelling.

In it all, I have found not only a great marketing tool, but a newfound hobby.  I love watching and making animation.  It brings me back to my childhood, in the days of watching cartoons.

I remember watching cartoons as a kid.  I would watch for a little while and then go make up my own, recruiting my neighborhood friends to act out my renditions.  My friends quickly bored of it and furthermore, it was frustrating that I could not make them fly and do all the crazy things done in the cartoons.  Animation gives me the edge I never had.  I can make my characters do anything and…they can’t quit on me.

I’m not a natural animation geek.  I have never been that technical.  I function more on the creative side of my brain, I must admit.  But out of necessity and desire, I have scratched the surface on learning and am pleased with my progress.

Animation is a powerful and creative tool.  I have been introduced to tons of great animation programs.  I for sure have my favorites.  There are some that are very time consuming and complicated but give me great range in characters and actions.  Then, there are easier ones that save me time and frustration.  I am not sure how I survived marketing without the use of animation.

Animation is a magnificent and marvelous world in which I can advance my marketing skills.  It also has become a way to release some personal creativity as well.  But sometimes, it’s also refreshing to just kick back and watch a good anime flick and escape reality for a while.

Defining Anime: Defining Me

Most kids outgrown cartoons when by the time they hit Middle School at least.  I never did.  In fact, it was about then that I discovered anime.  I was hooked.

Anime, to me, is perfect for us grown kids.  The graphics are awesome.  There’s something about the characters with their distinct sharp lines contrasted against exaggerated, dramatic eyes that sets the stage for the rest.  I love how the emotions come to life like literally sweating buckets in huge tear drops or a guy bursting into a nose bleed because he’s in love, or in lust as the case may be.

“Cardcaptor Sakura” was my first real encounter with anime.  It was originally a manga series that came to life as an animated television series, first in Japan but then we in the Western World were lucky enough to catch it later on.  I was intrigued by Sakura Kinomoto then and still am to this day.

I think the Japanese are geniuses for coming up with anime.  It’s so full of ancient Japanese culture.  I don’t limit myself by believing that anime is only authentic when created in Japan by a Japanese artist.  If it fits the bill and is worth watching, anime is anime to me.  But the fact of the matter is that Japanese are the best at anime and manga too.

The art of anime creation comes more natural to Japanese because they grew up with it like we have grown up with American cartoons.  Actually, even more so.  Cartoons and American animation are popular and there are even some adult shows like the Simpsons, South Park and American Dad but they are not mainstream huge hits like anime is in Japan.  Anime IS Japan so of course their artful expressions in anime are going to be in their blood.  They just have the upper edge on it.

“Hellsing” is the ultimate as far as I’m concerned.  I especially dig 1-4 when it was done in the Satelight studio, before Madhouse took over.  One thing that made it the best was the amount of characters but the plot was great too.

“Naruto Shippuden” is a cool one too.  I loved “Naturo” so you know I was elated when there was a continuation of it.  The show is a perfect mix of demons and magic and humor too.  If you haven’t seen it, it’s a good one to get you started.

Anime seems to have a sigma about it.  When I express being into it, people either think I am an overgrown kid or a pervert.  The majority of American’s just don’t understand my love affair with it because they don’t know much about it.  If I was to tell a Japanese person that I was into anime, they would most likely say, “Of course you are.  Who isn’t?”

I would love to learn the Japanese language.  In fact, I am working on that.  It’s a difficult feat because it is very complicated but anime is so much better in the native language.  The words just fit.  When translated, it just doesn’t flow as well like an American movie that is dubbed.  A lot is lost.  For now, when things don’t quite fit or something seems really out of place, I just keep that all in mind.

Anime defines the animation world of Japan.  I defines Japan.  And, in some weird and wonderful way…anime defines me too.