Trials and Tribulations of Traditional Animation (May 2014)


(written May 12, 2014)

I love animation.

I love traditional animation.

I love to draw.

Then why am I so exhausted only after a week?

Anyone who reads this blog often (very few do, I know) knows that I love animation and have been trying to encourage it through a new art style, a sort-of “modern psudeo-3d” style for 3d games. This allows 2d art, or any form of 2d pictures live-action, drawn or otherwise, to be used in any 3d game you can think of. After a mediocre attempt with “James – Journey of Existence” getting mixed feedback, I started work on a revised version of the game, with a newly animated character. This time, I would reanimate the character from scratch with the full intent of doing it properly (previous attempts were intended to be redone and were only a “proof-of-concept,” which only spurred questions of my ability as an artist), with the new game “Drew and the Floating Labyrinth.”

I hoped to finish more of it more quickly, but after one week, I only finished about 10% of the animations for this one character. With the deadlines I’m setting for myself to complete the entire game, this isn’t good. My hands are numb, my mind is tired.

But the good news: it looks good. Really good. This is biased coming from me, who thought and still thinks “James” looked good, but even he looks like a dead puppet to me compared to “Drew.” A little time, a little care, and less recycling of frames in favor of making her look good goes a long way. I still wouldn’t dare call myself a proper animator, but I can’t wait to see and show the final product based on what I have so far.

To meet deadlines I’ve set for myself, I need to finish about two perspectives of the character every day for the next two weeks. Better get back to work.

(written May 14, 2014)

I feel ashamed with myself.

After a busy weekend, I took Monday off, watching tv, movies, and general lazing about. But I can’t afford that, not now. Animation needs to be done.

What’s more, I found reasons to set my deadline for completing the animation earlier, before June. The task involves animating one character from 24 different perspectives (if you haven’t seen how I do this, you can look at this youtube video to get an idea). I had hoped to finish it by now, but have only barely completed 4 out of the 24 perspectives as I write this. I need to complete at least two a day at this point to have any hope at finishing in time.

To make things easier, I have resorted to finishing half the animations by simply flipping the others horizontally. Not ideal, but the general visual effect is kept with little effort, and slightly updating the flipped version can make it look new again. Only one person I’ve seen actually took time to notice that past animations using this style took the time to draw everything without duplication, I don’t think this will be noticeable.

I also tried to use a workflow involving rough animation first, then tracing over it to make a final render. It was a great idea, but time tells me to finish the rest by just comparing with the perspectives done so far. I have noticed one or two iffy continuity issues between perspectives already, and am trying to fix them with the in-between perspectives. I hope I can maintain quality here, I don’t want to go back and do it all over again.

If you can’t tell, I am exhausted. I have mountains of books, movies and games begging me to play them after months of neglect, and my body and mind would do anything to sleep for days at a time without moving. I hope that time will come by July, but until then I need to force myself to keep working, keep moving forward. I have less than three weeks left. Hopefully, I’ll have a video next post to show you how the animation actually looks so far. I hope you’ll appreciate it as much as I do.


(written May 16, 2014)

Ok, progress is being made. I’ve completed roughly 1/3 of the animations I need for the main character, and feel confident in completing the rest before June as planned. As it turns out, listening to high-energy anime openings on Youtube is a great way to keep you awake to work well into the night.

My feelings towards the results so far? I like it. It’s not perfect, mind. The hair in particular could have a few more variations. I’m walking a fine-line between taking shortcuts and having perfect frame-by-frame quality, while staying within range of what I am actually capable of with drawing ability. I also purposely attempted a sketchy/hand-drawn feel, but no doubt some will pass it off as poor art when they see it. If art-appreciation taught in school has taught me anything, is that anything can be art, no matter how ugly or plain, usually as long as the artist intended the reaction you have towards it (even then, the viewer can make up several other redeeming qualities). But this only counts when spectating a art piece, if asked to pay for it everyone has a very different attitude. Personally, as a fan of unique animation, I still think this is the most incredible thing I’ve seen as far as video game visuals are concerned.

My gut feeling is that I am doing the best I can at my current state. I’ve gone back and changed a couple things to fix the animation a bit to keep some level of quality. I can say that this is the best I can do right now… I’m sure with practice, I might be much better years from now, but as of this moment, I am making the character look and move as well as I can on my own, as a self-taught animator who works with computer programming by trade. Whereas my previous videos involving “James” got backlash for poor quality, I was clear that those videos were of rough animation that would be redone. Here, I can’t say that. If you don’t like it, I apologize, there’s nothing I can do without hiring a proper artist/animator.

So far, the horizontal perspectives are done, left to do is the perspectives from higher points-of-view. I remember this being challenging to make look good from past experience, hopefully this won’t take longer than I think…

And to leave you off, here’s a test video of the animation to help you know what I’m talking about.

Here’s “Drew,” current animation.

And here’s an old video of “James,” old animation. Hopefully you see a difference in quality (“James” should be worse). The general style of animation hasn’t changed much at all, but more frames help it a bit. Instead of using about 9 individual pieces of art to form the body, “Drew” only uses 3, but uses more unique animating frames, ultimately leading to (somewhat) better quality while using about the same about of individual frames (a bit over 1,000 when finished).


(written May 18, 2014)

So, I got some great feedback and comments so far. I’m thankful that the feedback was either positive, or politely constructive so far, it gives me hope for the Internet.

One comment made below was that there was no bobbing of the head when running. There was, I was careful to put it there, but I agree that it was barely noticeable, making for unnatural animation. Which I could play off as a style I did on purpose, it does sort of fit with the story. But I didn’t do it on purpose, and felt compelled to try to fix it before continuing.

So, about two days later, I was able to take about two weeks-worth of animation and add more of the bobbing-head thing. I am thankful that I didn’t have to edit much, and the division of parts that make up the animation has changed to make future animations better. But how does it look? Well, it looks better, but still not too noticeable from far distances, one flaw of the gameplay is that distance is required to see and solve puzzles. Also can’t make the bobbing too obvious as that would effect the face (eyes, mouth), which is a separate part that doesn’t move when the body does, and I don’t want to animate that to move too unless I have to. Even then, bobbing any more would look comical, exaggeration works well for animation but would be silly to do more than that.

I’m incredibly grateful for people who make suggestions, and I think what I have is better for it. But the difference is more functional than visual, and deadlines are approaching fast, I can’t spend more time fixing it again like that until later. Still think I can finish in time, but when I start resting and watching films and reading books, time catches up fast…

(written May 21, 2014)

I was doing so well…

About half-way complete with the animations for Drew, with less than 10 days to go (I’m trying to finish in time to show this off in a indie game competition). I was trying desperately to get ahead, to give myself a bit of free time. And I was close, too… but then a wave of exhaustion would come over me, I can’t keep my eyes open, and I fall to sleep. A terrible weakness… if not for that, I might be done already. Instead, I’ve almost fallen behind.

The new angles normally look weird, but they seem to look ok… so far. Won’t be able to tell until later, but by then it might be too late to go back and fix things to meet deadlines I’ve set for myself.

I still think I can finish in time, but it’ll be a tight squeeze. And I found the demo levels I have need to be redone, so I need all the extra time I can get. I need to get over my weaknesses, put away distractions.

I don’t need to sleep… I don’t need to sleep…

(written May 22, 2014)

Time… to rock and roll… time to lose control…

Time… to rock and roll… time to lose control…

Time… to rock and roll… time to lost control…

Lose control. Lose control. Lose control. <whip> <bang>

Her name is Koko, she so loco, I said “oh no”… 

(written May 23, 2014)

I apologize for the last post, starting to go a little insane. Shout out to “Jormungand.”

I successfully completed another 1/3 of the animations for the character. It was done within four days… not bad. I was able to push myself to get to it.

It looks ok. I’m happy with it, but I wonder how you might react. Next week I should have all of it finished, and will upload another video of it. Hopefully I’ll have enough time to make a new level to show Drew off in, before June. Also wanted to make a proper trailer of the game before E3, but that’s not a necessary deadline.

I’m tempted to take a much needed break, watch some movies, play some games. But I need to control myself. Just a couple more weeks…

(written May 26, 2014)

I don’t want to animate, I don’t want to animate, I don’t want to animate, I don’t want to animate, I don’t want to animate, I don’t want to animate, I don’t want to animate, I want to animate, I don’t want to animate, I want to animate, I must animate, I don’t want to animate, I don’t want to animate, I want to animate, I don’t want to animate, I want to animate, I must animate, I must animate, I must animate….

(written May 27, 2014)

Finally. I’ve finished.

Here’s the final animation for Drew, for all the angles planned, as she will appear in the final game.

Yep. That’s it. I’m not planning to redo the entire animation. I might add a little more (idle animations, for example), but not much. I can say I did the best I could. This is what Drew will look like in the final game.

And what do I think now that I’m done?

Overall, I’m mostly pleased. The angles for the animation have three vertical levels: the top level looks a little odd (I’ve always had trouble drawing from a top-down perspective effectively), but acceptable. It definitely looks better than James did months ago. The top two vertical levels also don’t bob up and down as much as they should when running, even when a commenter warned me to do so, and I had improved it for the horizontal (lowest vertical) level. I should have paid more attention. One of the biggest things I’ve learned from Disney movies and books is the importance of exaggeration when carrying out motion, even if the individual frame looks silly.

It took me about three weeks of hard animating to finish this character. I started off really slow, but near the end was able to animate two angles of Drew within a day, suggesting it is possible to finish animating a character in as little as two weeks (I used 24 perspectives for Drew). And I’m self-taught, so I imagine a trained animator could finish even faster, with better results. It sounds like a long time for a single character, but ultimately makes up less than a minute of total animation when combined, since like most games, animations repeat in cycles throughout. If a team of a dozen animators worked on a similar project, they might complete 24 unique characters within a month. For a large team of developers for AAA titles, that’s not unusual, so I hope they pay attention here at the viability of modern pseudo-3D animation.

Speaking of which, how well does the game run? Flawlessly when compiled, although there’s poor frame-rate issues when I run the game in the Unity editor. The build version also takes several seconds to load before starting. Since I’m using Unity Pro, I can finally make a proper loading screen during this sequence, but will need to keep an eye on it during development. This character actually uses up MORE frames than James did, and yet uses up about 1.5 GB of RAM, and barely uses any of my third generation i5 CPU. This is partly because I don’t have a second character (I am planning to have up to two characters in a level, the second being a guide of sorts), but I’m hopeful that this will allow people with as low as 4GB of system RAM to play. This is also at full quality, reducing it just a little in the past has shown to have little visual impact, but frees up that RAM easily.

Thanks for reading this blog post. Do your best in all things, and if something you want doesn’t exist, then make it yourself, starting from scratch…

(This blog post will be updated regularly throughout the month to discuss my feelings and thoughts as I finish animations for the game in question. Stay tuned…)






6 thoughts on “Trials and Tribulations of Traditional Animation (May 2014)

  1. Very cool work! I can tell you’ve put in a lot of work on getting every angle to look consistent.

    One animation trick that could be worth trying is having Drew’s head bob during her run cycle – it should be a little higher when one of her legs is extended straight towards the ground. I think that give her animation a more lively feel – with her head staying rigid, it is a little reminiscent of this scene from Mars Attacks:

    Good luck with your project! Good on you for taking on this ambitious style.

    • That’s fair advice. I did try to make Drew’s head bob a little, but you’re right that I could make it more obvious (I also made her head slightly higher when both legs were NOT on the ground, although I think your suggestion is more accurate). I’ll try to get back to that if I have time in the next few weeks.

      Thank you for the comments! (also checked your website , beautiful artwork!)

  2. Wow very cool! I just found your site from reddit added it to my feedly list.

    What are you using for development? Is this like unity or are you using another engine? I’ll probably find out as I read your blog more but though I would ask.

    • Yes, I’m using Unity3D. I find it flexible enough to do some cool things with it really quickly.
      I’m glad you appreciate my posts!

      • Very cool. I mostly do business applications and have had an itch to try some game development for a little while. I’ve messed with ImpactJS but I think I want to make the leap and learn Unity3D Seeing your project makes me excited to fire it up and try it out this weekend. I like the alternative animation style I think it’s very cool, sort of like paperman from pixar.

        Do you do this night and weekends? Is your income from your development of these games?

        • Unity3D is one of many applications well-suited to game development and visual applications/mobile apps. If you are a trained programmer, you can take advantage of C# or JavaScript to build your projects from scratch as desired (the animation style you see needed a bit of custom scripting and a lot of drawing). Otherwise, many tutorials and provided sample scripts also help get people started, making simple games within hours. I wish you luck in your experiences with it.

          I worked part time and took student research work to save up for years, and am living quietly off scholarship money while currently working on this project all day, every day until classes start again.

Comments are closed.