ZeMarmot work in progress: from animatics to animation

While production on the animation is still going full-steam, we thought we could show what exactly this is about. How do you go from static images to animated ones? Well this is all like progress layers, one step after another.

The Storyboard, then the Animatics

We have already talked about these at length so we won’t do it again. Feel free to check out our previous blog posts on the topic. These are the first 2 layers: comics-like static images (storyboard), and static images displayed in video (animatics).

Key Framing

In the digital world, “keyframes” is used with different meaning. On video formats, it is usually used to distinguish a standalone image in the stream with partial images which cannot be displayed by themselves. On 3D or vector animation software nowadays, it is usually used as extreme points in smooth transition which are computed by algorithm (interpolation). This is more or less the definition given by Wikipedia: “A key frame in animation and filmmaking is a drawing that defines the starting and ending points of any smooth transition.

This definition is a little too “mechanic” and tied to modern way of animating with vector or 3D (actually it is not entirely true even in 3D and vector but this is what one might think when discovering interpolation magic). Key frames are actually simply “important images” as determined by the animator in a purely judgemental way. Keyframing is part of the art of the animator, more than a science. It is true that they are often starting/ending points of movements, but this is not a necessity. Also called sometimes “key poses”, these are what the animator feels make the movement good or not, in one’s guts as an artist.

Pose to Pose vs Straight Ahead animation

When animating, there are 2 main techniques. The first method is to decompose the movement in key poses (keyframes) as a first step. Then later, when it looks good, you complete with intermediate frames (inbetweens). This is the pose to pose method and demonstrated a bit in the above video.

When you are a big studio, keyframes would usually be drawn by the main animators, and the inbetweens would be left to the assistants (less experienced animators). This allows to share the work with more multitasking. In ZeMarmot‘s case unfortunately, Aryeom does everything, since we don’t have the funds to hire more artists as of yet.

The other method is called “Straight Ahead” and consists on doing all frames one after another without prior decomposition. Timing is much harder to plan with such a technique and you may end wasting more drawing. On the other hand, some animators prefer the freedom it gives and by making movements less perfect, you can also avoid them being too mechanical (in other words, perfect movement are not always what you are looking for when you want to represent living being in their whole perfect imperfection).

Observing Aryeom, she uses both methods, depending on the cuts, as is the case for many animators.

Conclusion

Hopefully you appreciate this insight on the work behind animating life, and this small video where we display the same pieces of a scene at different steps in the work-in-progress, first one after another, then side by side.

You will notice that we mostly show always pieces of the same scene since we really want to try and avoid any spoiler as much as possible. 🙂

Have fun!

ZeMarmot team

Reminder: if you want to support our animation film, made with Free
Software, for which we also contribute back a lot of code, and
released under Creative Commons by-sa 4.0 international, you can
support it in USD on Patreon or in EUR on Tipeee.

ZeMarmot end-of-year report

Hi everyone!

How are going your last days of 2016 so far? It’s been a strange year? Well let’s not diverge, and focus on ZeMarmot, then, shall we? First be aware that our dear Director, Aryeom Han, is getting a lot better. She was also really happy to get a few “get well” messages and say thanks. Her hand is still aching sometimes, in particular on straining or long activities, but on the whole, she says she can draw fine now.

Reminding the project

I will discuss below what was done in the last months, but first — because it is customary to do so at end of year — I remind that ZeMarmot is a project relying on the funding by willing individuals and companies, with 2 sides: art and software.

I am a GIMP developer, the second biggest contributor in term of number of commits in the last 4 years and I also develop a plugin for digital 2D animation with GIMP, which Aryeom is using on ZeMarmot. I want to get my plugin to a releasable state by GIMP 2.10.

Aryeom is using the software to fully animate, draw and paint a movie, based on an original story which I wrote a few years ago, about a marmot who travels the world for reasons you will know when the film will be released. 🙂 Oh and the movie will be Creative Commons by-SA of course!

Up to now, our initial crowdfunding (~ 14 000 €) has allowed to pay several months of salary to Aryeom. I have chosen to not earn anything for the time being (not because I don’t like being paid but because we cannot afford it with current funding). Some of it is remaining but is kept to pay the musicians.

Now we are mostly relying on the monthly crowdfunding through the Patreon (USD funding) and Tipeee (EUR funding) platforms. But all combined, that’s about 180 € a month, which amounts to barely more than a day of salary (and with non-wage labour costs, that’s not all of it for Aryeom). 1 day per month to make a movie, that’s far from enough, right?

My dream? I wish we could some day consider ourselves a real studio, with many paid artists, producing cool Libre Art movies going to the cinema (yes in my crazy dream, Creative Commons by-sa films are on the big screen!), and developers paid to improve Free Software so that our media-making ecosystem gets even better and for everybody to use!
But right now, that’s no more than an experiment mostly done voluntarily.

Do you like my dream? Do you want to help us make it real? You can by helping the project financially! It can be the symbolic coin as the bigger donation, any push is actually helping us to make things happen!

Click here to fund ZeMarmot in USD on Patreon »
Click here to fund ZeMarmot in EUR on Tipeee »

Not sure yet? Feel free to read more below and to pitch in at any time later on!

Note that not only the money but also the number of supporters is of great help since it shows supports to bigger funders; and for us that’s good for morale too! A good monthly crowdfunding can also help us find producers without having to abandon any of the social and idealistic aspects of the project (note that we have already been contacted by a production who were interested by the film after the crowdfunding but we refuse to compromise too much on the ideal).

The animation

We illustrated Aryeom’s work by 2 videos presenting extracts of her work-in-progress. In this first video, she shows different steps in animating a few cuts of the main character:

In this second video, we examine some cuts of another character, the Golden Eagle, main predator of the marmot:

There are a lot which can be said on these few minutes shown about the work of “animator”. Many pages of books on the art of animating life could be filled from such examples! We will probably detail these steps in longer blog posts but I will still explain the basics here.

Animating = giving life

Aryeom says it in the first video and you can see it in several examples in both videos. When your character moves from A to B, you are not just “moving” it. You have to give the impression that the character is acting on oneself, that it is alive, inhabited, in other words: animated.

This is no surprise one of the most famous book on animation is called “The illusion of life” (by Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston), also the bedside book of Aryeom. Going this way has a lot of ramifications on the animator job.

Believable, not realistic

Before we continue, I have to make sure I am understood. Even though realistic animation is also a thing (Disney comes to mind), making a good animation is otherwise not necessarily about making it “realistic”, but instead about making it “believable”.

It is very common to exaggerate some movements for various reasons (often because it is funnier, but also sometimes because exaggerating it may sometimes look even more believable than the realistic version!), or the opposite (bypassing anatomically-correct movements). There are no bad reasons, only choices to achieve what you want.

Now that this thing is clear, let’s continue.

You can’t just “move an arm”

The very classical example beginners will be given is often: “lift your right arm up”. That’s it? Did you only move your arm and the rest of the body stayed unchanged? Of course not. To stay in balance, your body shifted to the left as a counterweight; the right shoulder lifted whereas the left shoulder lowered; and so on.
A lot of things will change in your body with this simple action. Even your feet and legs may move to compensate the shift of the center of gravity. As a consequence, you don’t “move your arm”, you “move your whole body” (in a configuration where your arm is up).

This is one of the first reason why to just move a single part in a body, you cannot reuse previous drawings and change just this part. No, you will properly redraw the whole body because if you are to fake life, you may as well do it well.

Note: when you say “animation” to computer people, their brain usually immediately wires to “interpolation“, which is the mathematics to compute (among other things) intermediate positions. Because of what I said above, in reality, this mathematical technique is barely used in traditional (even when digital) animation. It is used a lot more in vector and 3D animation, but its role should definitely be minimized compared to the animator work even on these fields. In vector/3D, I would say that interpolation only replaced the inbetweener role (some kind of “assistant” who draw non-keyframe images) from the traditional animation world.

Timing, silence and acceleration

You often hear it from actors, poets, writers, singers, anyone who gives some kind of life: the silence is as important as the noise for their art. Well I would also add the acceleration and the symmetrical deceleration.

You can see this well on this first example of the video 1 (at 0’41). Aryeom was unhappy with her running marmot which was nearly of linear speed. Marmot arrived too fast on the flower. Well he slowed down, but barely. Her finale version, Marmot would arrive much faster with a much more visible slowdown, making the movement more “believable” (we get to the bases!).

The eagle flight in video 2 (at 1’09) is another good example of a difficult timing as Aryeom went through 2 stages before finding the right movements. With the wrong timing, her flying eagle feels heavy, like it has difficulty to lift itself into the air (what she called her “sick” eagle in the video); then she got the opposite with an eagle she felt more sparrow-like, too light and easy-lifted. She was quite happy with the last version (obtained after 8 attempts) though, and in particular of this very last bit in the cut, when the eagle gets in glider mode. Can you spot it? This is the kind of difference which just lasts for a few hundredth of seconds, barely noticed, yet on which an animator can spend a significant amount of time.

Living still images (aka “line boil”)

A common and interesting effects you find in a lot of animation is about a shaking still image. You can see it in the second video (at 0’33), first cut presenting the proud eagle still on his mountain. Sometimes you want to show a non-moving situation, but just sticking to a still image feels too weird because in real life, there is no perfect stillness. Even if you make all efforts to stay still for a few seconds, you will imperceptibly move, right? So how do you reproduce this? The attempt to stay perfectly still while this being impossible? Well commonly animators will just redraw the same image several times because as much as you can’t stay still, you can’t draw perfectly identical images twice either (you can get very close by trying hard though) and you loop them.

You usually don’t do this for everything. Typically, elements of the background, you accept them to be still much more easily. But this is common for your living character or sometimes to pull main elements which you want to tick out of the background.

Avoiding cycles

Now, loops are very usual in animation. But the higher quality you aim for, the less you have loops. Same as stillness does not exist in life, you never repeat exactly the same movement twice. So even though loops seems to be the first thing many animators will teach (the famous “walking cycles”), you don’t actually use these in your most beautiful animations. When your main character walks, you will likely re-animate every step.

Of course, it is up to you to decide where to stops. Maybe for this flock of birds in the background, far away, just looping (and even copy-pasting the birds to multiply them!) may be enough. Though this is all a matter of taste, time, and money ready to spent on animator-time obviously.

Camera work

This part has not really started yet, even though it has already been planned (from the storyboard step). But since Aryeom started (first video at 1’06), let’s give some more infos.

Panning and tilting

In animation, where the movement is by essence 2D as well, these refers to respectively a horizontal and vertical camera movement. Why do I need to say “in 2D animation”? Because in more traditional cinema, these will rather correspond to a tracking shot done on rails, whereas panning and tilting refer to angle movements of a static camera. Different definitions for different references. Note that even though 3D animation could be using one or the others, they mostly kept the animation vocabulary.

This gives you a good hint on how characters and background are separately managed. If you have a character walking, you will usually create a single image of the background, much bigger than the screen size, and your camera will move on it, along with the character layers. With fully digital animation, this usually means working on image files of much higher sizes than the expected display size; in traditional physically-drawn animations, it means using very large papers (or often even sticking papers together). As an example, at a Ghibli exhibition, they would display the background for a flying cut of “Kiki’s delivery service” and it would take a full wall in a very large room.

Animation is a lot of drawing

I will conclude the section on animation by saying: that’s a bloody lot of drawing!

As you can see, Aryeom spends time redrawing the same cuts so many times to get the perfect movement that sometimes she becomes crazy and thinks that she is just drawing the wrong animal. The story about the pigeon is a true story and I am the one who told her to add it to the video because that was so funny. Some day, she comes to me and show me her cut she has been working on for days. Then she asks me: “doesn’t it look like a pigeon?”
Hadn’t I stopped her, she was ready to start over.

This is an art where you even draw again when you want to show stillness, and you forbid yourself from using too much shortcuts like using loops. So what do you want: you probably have to be a little crazy from the start, no? 😉

There are actually several “schools”, and some of them would go for simplicity, shortcut and reusage. Japan is well known for the studio Ghibli which goes the hard way as we do, but this is quite a contradiction in the country industry. The whole rest of Japan’s animation industry is based on animating as little as possible. Haven’t they proved so many times that it is possible to show a single still image for 30 seconds, add sounds and voices, then call it an animation?

Sometimes it is just a choice or a focus. Some animation films focus on design rather than believable movements, or scenario rather than wonderful images. For instance, I don’t think you can say that The Simpsons has a wonderful graphics appeal and realistic animation (they even regularly makes meta-jokes inside episodes about the quality of their animation!), but they have the most fantastic scripts, and that’s what makes their success.
So in the end, there is no right choice. Every one should just go the way they wish for a given project.

And this is the way we are going for ZeMarmot!

Music

Just a very short note on music. We have started working with the musicians, remotely and on a physical meeting on December 1st.  We have a few extracts of “first ideas” but they won’t do justice to the quality of the work.

I think this will have to wait for much later.

Software

I went so long about animation that I hope I have not lost half of the readers already! If you are still reading, I’ll say what I worked on these last months.

GIMP

I am trying to do my share on GIMP, to improve it globally, speed up the release of 2.10 and because I love GIMP. So I count 259 commit authorship in 2016 (60 in the last 3 months) + 48 as committers only (i.e. I am not the author, but the main reviewer of a patch which I pushed into our codebase). I commented on 352 bug reports in 2016, making it a habit to review patches when possible.

I have a lot of projects for GIMP, some of the grander being for instance a plugin management system (to install, uninstall and update them easily from within GIMP, and a backend side for plugin developpers to propose extensions), but also a lot of ideas about the evolution of the GUI (this should be discussed topic-per-topic on later blog posts).

Also I have been starting to experiment with Flatpak so that GIMP can provide an official release for GIMP.  For years, our official stance has always been to provide a Windows installer, a OSX package, and GNU/Linux… yeah grab the source and compile or use the outdated version from your package manager! I think this situation can be considerably improved with Flatpak and similar technologies which were born these years.

Animation in GIMP

As explained already, I took the path of writing it as a plugin rather than a core feature. Anyway GIMP is only missing a single feature which would make it nearly as powerful: bi-directional notification (basically currently plugins don’t get notified when pixels are updated, layers are renamed, moved or deleted, images closed…). That’s actually something I’d like to work on (I already have a stash somewhere with WIP code for this).

The animation plugin currently has 2 views:

Storyboard view

GIMP's animation plug-in: storyboard view
GIMP’s animation plug-in: storyboard view

This actually corresponds to the very basic animation logic of 1 layer = 1 frame, which is very common by people making animated GIF (or MNG/WebP now), except with a nice UI to set each image duration (instead of tagging the layer names, a very nasty user experience, feature hidden and found only on some forums or old tutorials), do basic compositing and even comments on vignettes if-need-be. All this with a nice preview in real-time!

Cel-Animation view

GIMP Animation plug-in: Cel-animation view
GIMP’s Animation plug-in: cel-animation view

This is the more powerful view where you can compose a frame from several images, often at least a background and a character. In the above example, the cut is made from 3 elements composed together: the background, the eagle and the marmot.

You may usually know more of the “timeline” style of view, which is basically the same thing except that frames are displayed as horizontal tracks. I tried this too, but quickly shifted to this much more traditional view in the animation world, which is usually called an x-sheet (eXposure sheet). I found it much more practical, allowing commenting more easily too, easy scroll, and especially more organized. There is a lot you don’t see in this screenshot, but this view is really targetting a professional and organized workflow. In particular with layers properly named, you can create animation loops and line tests of dozens of images, with various timings,  in a few clicks.

I am also working on keyframing for effects (using animated GEGL operations) and camera movements.

Well there is a lot done but definitely a lot more I am planning to do there, which takes time. I will post more detailed blog posts and will push the code on a branch very soon (probably before Libre Graphics Meeting this year).

That’s all, folks!

And so that’s it for this end-of year report from ZeMarmot team! I hope you appreciate the project. And if so and can spare the dime (or haven’t done so yet), I remind the project accepts any amount on the links given above. Some people just give 1 Euro, others 15 Euro per month. In the end, you are all giving life to ZeMarmot!

Thanks and have a great year 2017!

Timing your movie…

A big question when you write a scenario is: how do you time your movie?

CIMA museum's clock, by Rama (CC by-sa)
CIMA museum’s clock, by Rama (CC by-sa 2.0).

From the scenario

You can already do so from your written script. It is usually admitted that 1 page is roughly equivalent to 1 minute of movie. Of course to reach such a standard, you have to format your file appropriately. I have searched the web to find what were these format rules. What I gathered:

Format

  • Pages are A4.
  • Font is 12-point Courier.
  • Margins are 2.5 cm on every side but the left margin which is 3.5 cm.
  • Add 5,5 cm of margin before speaker names in dialogues.
  • Add 2,5 cm of margin before actual dialogue.
  • No justification (left-align).
  • No line indentation at start of paragraphs.

I won’t list more because there are dozen of resources out there which does it in details, with sometimes even examples. For instance, this page was helpful and for French-speaking reader, this one also (and it uses international metric system rather than imperial units), or even Wikipedia.
It would seem that the whole point of all these rules is to have a script with the less possible randomness. A movie script is not meant to be beautiful as an object, but to be as square as possible. Thus exits any kind of justification (which stretches or compresses spaces), as well as any line indentation (which does not happen every line) because they don’t have a behavior set in stone. They were made only so that your document “looks nice” which a script-writer cares less than in the end than being able to say how long will the movie last by just counting the pages.

Free Fonts

Some people may have noted that 12-point Courier is a Microsoft fonts. For GNU/Linux users out there, you can get these with a package called msttcorefonts. On Debian, or Ubuntu, the real package is “ttf-mscorefonts-installer” and it does not look like it is in Fedora repositories. That’s ok because I really don’t care. I use personally Liberation Mono (Liberation is a font family created by RedHat in 2007, under a Free license). FreeMono is also another alternative, but the Liberation fonts work well for me.

You may have noticed that these are all monospace fonts, which means that every character occupy the same horizontal space, i.e. ‘i’ and ‘W’ for instance uses up the same width (adding spaces around the ‘i’ for instance), which opposes to proportional fonts (more common on the web). Once again, proportional fonts are meant to be pretty whereas monospace fonts are meant to be consistent. It all comes back to consistent text-to-timing conversion.
Not sure why Courier ever became a standard in script-writing, but I don’t think that any other font would be much of a problem. Just use any metrically-compatible monospace font.

Side note: I read 3 scenarios in the last year (other than mine) and none of them were using Courier, nor actually most of the rules here. So really I am not sure how much this rule is enforced, at least in France. Maybe in other countries, this is more an hard-on rule?

Writing with LibreOffice

Right now, I simply write with LibreOffice. Now I am not going to make a tutorial about using LibreOffice, because this will diverge too much but my one advice is: use styles! Do not “hardcode” text formatting: don’t increase indents manually, don’t use bold, nor underline your titles…
Instead create styles for “Text body” (default texts), “Dialogue speaker”, “Dialogue”, “Scene title”… Then save a template and reuse it every time you write a new scenario.

While writing this post and looking for reference, I read weird stuff like “use a dedicated software because you don’t want scene titles ending a page”. Seriously? Of course, if you make scene titles by just making your text bold, that happens. But if you use styles, this won’t (option “Keep with next paragraph” in “Text flow” tab which is a default for any Header style). So once again, use styles.

Note: dedicated software are much more than just this basic issue, and they would have a lot more features making a scenarist life easier. I was also planning on developing such a software myself, so clearly I’m not telling you not to use one! I’m just saying that for now, if you can’t afford a dedicated software, LibreOffice is just fine, and styling issues like “scenes titles should not end a page” are just lack of knowledge on how to properly use a word processing software.

So that’s it? I just follow these rules and I get my timing?

Of course, real life hits back. First of all, every language may be more or less verbose. For instance German and French are more verbose than English, which in turn is more than Japanese. So using the same formatting, your page in French would be less than a minute on screen whereas a page in Japanese would be longer than a minute.

There is also the writer’s style. Not everyone writes as concisely and you may write the same scenario with a different timing than your colleague.

As a consequence, writers evaluate their scripts. You can try to act them out for instance. Try to see how long your text really lasts. And then I guess, you can either create a custom text-to-length conversion or adapt the text formatting to end up with the “1 page = 1 minute” approximation. If your scripts are usually going faster, then you need more text in one page. Make smaller margins or use a smaller font maybe?

Of course, it may also be that you use a much too verbose style. A scenario is not a novel: you should not try to make a beautiful text with carefully crafted metaphors and imaging. You are writing a text for actors to read and understand (and in our case, for painters and animators to draw).

ZeMarmot’s case

Moreover the 1 min = 1 page rule is not consistent in the same script either: a page with no dialogue could last several minutes (descriptions and actions are much more condensed than dialogues) whereas a page with only dialogue could be worth a few seconds of screen. But that’s ok, since this is all about average. The timing from scenario is not meant to be perfect. It gives us an approximation.

Yet ZeMarmot is particular since we have no dialogue at all. So are we going to have only 5-minute pages? That was a big question, especially since this is my first scenario. Aryeom helped a lot with her animation experience, and we tried to time several scenes by imagining them or acting them out. This is a good example which shows that no rule is ever made to be universal. And in our case, it took a longer time to accurately calibrate our own page-time rule.

Animatics

This is more animation-specifics: the next step after storyboarding (or before more accurate storyboarding starts) is creating an animatic, which is basically compiling all the storyboard’s images into a single video. From there, we can have a full video, and we will try to time each “image”. Should this action be faster or last longer? This requires some imagination since we may end up with some images lasting a few seconds and we have to imagine all in-between images to get the full idea. But in the end, this is the ultimate timing. We are able to tell quite accurately how long the movie will last once we agree on an animatic.

Should timing lead the writer?

The big question: should the timing lead us? You can get a different timing than you expect, and there are 2 cases: longer or shorter.

The shorter one is easy. Unless you are really really too short (and you don’t qualify anymore as a feature-length for instance), I don’t think it is a problem to have a shorter-than-average movie. I’d prefer 100 times a short but well timed and interesting movie than a boring long movie.

Longer is more difficult because the trend nowadays seem to have longer and longer movies. Now 2h30, sometimes up to 3h, seems to be a standard for big movies (and they manage to lengthen them in the “director cut” edition!). I have seen several movies these last years which were long and boring. I am not even talking of contemplative art movie, but about hard action-packed movies. No, superhero battling for 3 hours, this is just too much.
So my advice if your movie is longer than expected, ask yourself: is it really necessary? Won’t it be boring? Of course, I am not the one to make the rule. If you work in Hollywood, well first you probably don’t read me, and second you don’t care whatever I say. You will make a 2h30 movie and people will go and watch it anyway. Why not. I’m just saying this as a viewer. And since I think this is really not enjoyable, I don’t want to have our own viewer experience be boring (well at least by movie length!).

And so that’s it for my small insight about timing a movie. Of course, as I already told, I am mostly a beginner on the topic. Everything I say here is a mix of my searches these last months, my own experiments, Aryeom’s experience… So don’t take my word as is, and don’t hesitate to react in comments if you have better knowledge or just ideas on the topic.

By the way: ZeMarmot‘s pilote (not the finale movie) has been timed to be about 8 minutes long. 🙂

Reminder: if you want to support our animation film, made with Free
Software, for which we also contribute back a lot of code, and
released under Creative Commons by-sa 4.0 international, you can
support it in USD on Patreon or in EUR on Tipeee.

Excerpt of ZeMarmot’s Animatic

We made the choice from the start about ZeMarmot animation film to not show too much during production process because we don’t want to totally spoil the fun. By the past, I already had the case where I saw a movie animatic before the finale movie, and it really spoiled some fun out of the finale artworks.

But since we realize that you’d all would like to see some of what is happening “behind the stage”, here is a small excerpt of our animatic for the pilote (about 30 secs off the first scene). As usually, whatever is digitally-drawn (some parts were pencil-drawn) was done with GIMP.

What is the animatic

So I think I may have already vaguely told about it. The animatic is basically the next step after the storyboard: you take all the images from the storyboard, and chain them with the right rhythm, as well as basic effects (pans, zooms…) to get a “feeling” of what your finale movie will look like. It still requires some imagination because that’s basically a few static image every second or so. Not enough to be called a proper animation yet!

But with the right mindset, this is enough to get an idea and also time your movie!

In animation-making, this is also the moment when you freeze your story, the script, the scene and many direction choice. Whereas feature films allow for last second camera or script changes, it would be much more costly in animation films, unless you feel OK asking your painter to redraw several times the same scenes with various perspectives and to throw away days, if not weeks of work. This is why at some point, you need to make choices and try to stick to it as much as possible (last minute changes may always happen, but you always have to weigh the pro and cons).

ZeMarmot’s animatic

We finished ours around April, and have 2 versions: one without sound, and one heavily commented by myself (in French) for the musicians to get an idea of what they have to work on. We are currently working with them on a few songs. I hope we can soon give you more feedbacks about this particular part of our production too.

Currently the full animatic for the pilote is about 7 minutes. But this is likely to change slightly.

Reminder: if you want to support our animation film, made with Free
Software, for which we also contribute back a lot of code, and
released under Creative Commons by-sa 4.0 international, you can
support it in USD on Patreon or in EUR on Tipeee.
The animatic excerpt above is drawn and edited by Aryeom and also
released under CC by-sa 4.0,

Character design (2): clay models

Another aspect of character designing that we did was making the characters actual 3D. No I am not saying modeling them in a 3D software, like Blender. I really mean like “real world physical 3D“: you can touch it with your fingers and feel bumps here and there. I know, this is incredible technology! 😉

Doing clay (or other suited material) representation of characters, objects or even places is a pretty common tool in animation and film making, before actually making, filming, drawing, 3D-modeling (or whatever technology your film uses) the finale images. Such a technique is done in probably all animation schools and animation studios. Therefore this is not about doing props used in the movie, but really for the movie (i.e. not used on camera, and never seen in the actual film). This is a design tool, or a reference for 3D modelers, painters, animators, actors or directors.

As a side note, we saw some cool exhibits of this while visiting Weta studio in New Zealand (a famous studio which does props used in most big Hollywood movies). Amongst other cool stuff, they had this huge fake gorilla — actual size, like more than 2 meters high — in the visitable part of their workshop, which had not been used other than as a reference (I don’t remember which movie, or even if they told us).

So you remember when I was saying in an early post that character sheets are used as reference, right? What if instead of a turnaround character sheet, you had your real physical character you could really turn around? Well we don’t have the real marmot, but we can do clay models.

That’s really cool, right? 🙂

These were actually made back in November, and at the time I only thought of making a small message on @ZeMarmot twitter account in December. Their first usage was helping designing the current version of the main character, by experimenting physically with various shapes. Later they may again be used, as said above for instance for perspective drawing, positioning (or 3D modeling if we ever needed a 3D marmot), and many other cases.

You may also have spotted a few of these statues in the video interview of Aryeom, on her desk. But then, I thought it deserved a blog post on its own, don’t you? 🙂

Note: originally a private post whose link was only given
to Patreon contributors over $10 on February 27, 2016, and made
publicly visible on March 3.
If you like, consider supporting ZeMarmot project on its Patreon page too!

Reuse: all photographs in this blog post are works by Jehan,
portraying Aryeom, under Creative Commons by-sa 4.0 international.

Launch of Patreon page for ZeMarmot and interview of Aryeom

Great news everyone!

Today we are launching a Patreon page for ZeMarmot project! If you don’t know what this is, Patreon is a crowdfunding platform with a recurring logics, therefore mostly used for continuous creative contents. As ZeMarmot pilote is currently being produced, sponsorship through Patreon will happen monthly. After all, Aryeom just works all the time (daily) for it! And I kind of do too, but differently.

Patreon is in English. Since our project is so international, we also updated the movie website: as usual you can also find French, Korean and Italian versions there. 🙂


To mark the event, I recorded a small semi-impromptu interview of Aryeom yesterday.

So if you like what you see, go and click the big button “Support ZeMarmot on Patreon” above. 🙂

Storyboarding (1)

Today, let’s talk about storyboarding. Often considered optional on feature films, in animation though, bypassing this very important step would be likely self-destruction (unless you go for random or glitch animation. There are a few concept movies in festivals that may have been done without clear storyboarding, I suppose).

Once your scenario is done, the director can set up the stage. The scenario will tells that “in this scene, character A does this, while B does that other thing“. But the director will decide where the camera will be, how it will move, where A will appear from, if maybe B is already in the camera field from the start, where each item and background elements are, and so on.

In feature films, the director choices are often bound to the filming set, and cameras as well. You cannot set your camera(s) anywhere (at least not easily. Prepping cameras on difficult conditions can sometimes take hours). This is probably why storyboards are often forsaken (unless 3D incrustation was planned, in which case more preparation is needed, I guess) because anyway what you imagined on your desk may not be possible once you arrive on the set. Limitations aside, the layout of the location can also give you cool ideas that you couldn’t have had before. For instance you spot a tree with a shape so strange that you think “I have to get this tree in the camera field“. Just because it is there.
Another reason is that many directors love the freedom of “last minute changes”. I guess it is in the creative process. In other words, flexibility is more important
Note: my experience is limited, and on French productions only. On big Hollywood movies with a lot of 3D, preparation steps would be a lot more detailed.

In animation films, on the other hand, flexibility is the root of all evil. No problem for changing the script back and forth. But when you ask your animators and painters to draw detailed scenes, 24 frames per second, you cannot just tell them a month later: “oh finally let’s get the character come from the right, rather than the left, and have the camera pan differently. Eh that’s only 2 minutes of movie (3072 frames) wasted!
Also animation cameras have absolutely no other limitations than the storyboarder and director’s minds. You can have a fixed camera, but also a camera falling from the sky if you wanted to. And you can have whatever you want on the screen: if you think a strangely-shaped tree is cool, just draw it in the background. So these cannot be a reason anymore to last-minute changes as they are in feature films.
These are the reason why you need to stop being flexible at some point and “freeze” your choices. This is done in the passage from script to storyboard, which is the last time where you are allowed flexibility.

Contents of a storyboard page

Storyboard - scene 2 page 2
Storyboard – scene 2 page 2

Here is an example of our storyboard for ZeMarmot. It has actually been modified since then, this is an older version, but this is for the sake of explanation.

Header

The header is important, it contains the scene number, and a page number, in order to keep your documents organized. As you can guess, Aryeom keeps these pages all well ordered in a ring binder.

Timeline

The timeline below contains key frames on the left with all main elements (main characters and important items) in their expected rough position, direction and doing the scripted action.
This gives a very good idea of what will appear on screen, while not being perfectly detailed and measured yet. You can notice that some images get out of the frame format (like the 3rd frame on the above page), and the small “Pan” arrow indicating that a camera panning will be done here. Therefore the finale background will be drawn bigger than the frame.
This is indication for the painter, animator and the editor.

The right part contains various indications of matter for the script, like specific moods, action details of the character which may not be clear on a static image, specific sound effects, rhythm sync (when you need perfect sync with a music)… Anything which needs precision. Indications are also spread on the images themselves on the left side, with arrows or various indicators when it makes understanding easier.

Actually it is not uncommon to have vertical panning drawn on several boxes of the storyboard, or horizontal panning eating the “comments” part. In the below example, panning was as big as 3 frames, so Aryeom would stick an additional piece of paper with scotch tape to the left, and fully draw on the comment box to the right:

Storyboard - Scene 2, page 3
Storyboard – Scene 2, page 3

This is where we see that perfectly organized boxes and field are not always adapted to all situations and that it is good to improvise. 🙂

Paper and Digital

Well we are also quite technological people, right? Aryeom uses both medium. She often writes on paper storyboard when not in the studio, or when she wants to have the analog feel. But she also uses the computer to prepare the storyboard.

It is much easier to “add” boxes, or change some of the layout ideas with a tablet pen, right? Here for a sneak peek of the storyboard in progress by Aryeom, drawn on GIMP, as usual:

Storyboard - scene 2 WIP
Storyboard – scene 2 WIP

Well I hope you enjoyed the update and the storyboarding information. We will probably post more on this topic, so here again, I add a small (1) in the title. 🙂


Note: as often, all the photographs and images in this blog post are
works by Aryeom,under Creative Commons by-sa 4.0 international.

Main character design (1)

Today let’s discuss character design! This is a complex topic, and I can foresee several other blog posts to be done on this topic. What we call character design is often called “study”, because this is what it is: the “study” of a character. It is more than just a graphics style as you could do for a standalone artwork. And as such, it involves many attempts and experiments.

About character sheets

With Aryeom, we have discussed and reviewed a lot Marmot’s design. This is the main character after all. So she did and redid him a few times. You may remember some of the early designs, which we posted exactly a year ago, and you will likely recognize the design we used in our teaser.

These types of design sheet are called “turnaround” sheets, since they show the character on various angles, usually at least front, back and one side (or both sides if the character or one’s clothing are not really symmetric). Sometimes you may have more angles, or even specific sheets with smaller angle rotations, focusing on a particular side of the body (like a few angles on the back, etc.).

There were actually a lot other versions of Marmot, for instance one of the early conceptualization was very cute, and I still like it very much.

Marmot research

As you can see, this is a different style of character sheet. You often find these under the name of “rough” character sheet since these are quick sketches (which is what a rough is) of the character in various poses or situations. These different kinds of character sheets are complementary and in the end, you have many of these for the same design. Rough ones are usually earlier in the concept design, though it may depend on the artist.

So what are these for? They have multiple purposes. Of course a main goal is collaborative work: if several artists have to draw the same character, one has to make sure everyone doesn’t draw a personal variation. Consistency is important. But even if you were to work alone, you need consistency with yourself! With time, memory and your previous work as only reference, you lose the chosen style and the character attributes. You cannot even use your own scenes as reference because you would slowly diverge, from scene to scene. Indeed maybe the character in scene 30 looks like in scene 29. Same for scene 29 and 28. But what if you were making slight changes while barely noticing, or letting them slip since these may be seen as minor glitches, which would add up, so that the styles between scene 1 and scene 30 are actually quite different in a very noticeable way?
This is why you need a stable reference fixed in time, always the same. So you prepare your reference for various cases, on all angles, and plan a whole bunch of possible poses and actions to refer to later. These references are the character sheets.

Note that even (more?) for 3D films, you need character sheets as a detailed reference for the 3D modeler.

Finally another good purpose is to build a solid character. When you draw and redraw, you get to understand him/her, to grasp one’s purpose and behavior, one’s particular attribute. Why is he wearing this? How did one get this scar? Should one have a birthmark here? What kind of action is one likely to do? Is it a character who runs? Who cries often? Who is happy? Without this, you end up building up the character in the same time as you produce the film, and create irregularities, or changes which don’t add up. How many times have I read webcomics where a character would be right handed or left handed on different scenes, or attributes as important as scars would be forgotten sometimes. Why? Likely because these attributes had no real meaning for the creator (of course mistakes happen to anyone, with or without character design. This is not a perfect fail-safe tool. But it helps).
Once again, this is about consistency, but also about a deep character that people will love or hate, and in any case in who they will believe in.

Note also that this is all just “common knowledge”, and there are “styles” where detailed character sheets (or even character sheets at all) might not be necessary, or — why not — even undesirable (that would be rare though, but why not!). Rules are here to be broken, as long as you do it on purpose while knowing what it entails. In the end, use your common sense.

Marmot’s current design

Something we heard a few times with our teaser was: «this cat is so cute!». Now we don’t want to do a scientific documentary, but we still want that people recognize which animal we are drawing (ok it wasn’t that bad. Many people still directly recognized a marmot; also it turns out that in many countries, marmots are quite an unknown animal, which explains failure to recognize). On the other hand, we don’t want too much of anthropomorphism in our movie, but this is still an animation about a marmot traveling with a swag on the shoulder, so there is a good share of anthropomorphism anyway, right? So this makes it OK to leave some scientific aberration for the purpose of a fun movie. Let’s just make a good compromise between scientific rigor and fun.

After seeing and photographing a lot of marmots in the Alps, Aryeom tried a whole new bunch of designs. For reference, here is a real Alpine marmot:

Alpine Marmot in Saint Veran (2015-09-21)
Alpine Marmot in Saint Veran (2015-09-21)

To cut to the chase, here is the current design for our main character.

Marmot: character design 3
Marmot: character design 3

Note that we still allow ourselves to change the design before actual production (i.e. finale drawing) begins, but we thought it may be worth updating you with this new design. which you may already have noticed in our new year drawing.

What to say about it? First it obviously looks a lot more like a marmot while still keeping its share of anthropomorphism. In particular the feet look shorter than most our other designs, the snout is closer to the real deal, eyes are on the side rather than in the front, and the ears are lower than the teaser version (ears in particular were probably the attribute which made people believe it was a cat). Fingers also properly follow marmot’s anatomy with 4 fingers on the arms and 5 on the feet.

The color scheme has also been updated, brighter, brownish. The grey color was making it too close to a mouse (even though many marmots are really grey-ish). On this topic, you can notice how Aryeom places the character color palette directly on the design to easily pick from it later (because a colorized character sheet would not only be about painting consistency but also color consistency).

I think this is all for now. Soon more on character design and other topics!


Note: as often, all the photographs and images in this blog post are
works by Aryeom,under Creative Commons by-sa 4.0 international.

ZeMarmot in 2015: research, script finalization and character design

ZeMarmot is slowly coming to shape… well not in animated images yet, but hopefully soon. A small summary of what happened in 2015 and early 2016:

Research

As you know, we have been to the Alps (as well as 1 day to the Massif Central) in September.
We got more than 100 GB of data (for 4 days of research, considering we lost most of the first day data), consisting mostly of photos, videos and sounds. We will share the full raw data with you under a Libre license (likely CC by-sa) at the end.

As a side note, we are also now in contact with a scientist, specialist on marmots (yes it does exist!). Not that ZeMarmot is any kind of scientifically-accurate film, but it is always nice to get some scientific background as a basis, even if it means later breaking the rules of nature (which is ok when done on purpose). We’ll tell more about this if the contact evolves into a real cooperation. 🙂

Music

October was rather slow since we were planning to go to the Creative Commons Summit, which we unfortunately failed to attend to, very sadly for uncontrolled reasons. Then Aryeom has been absent for a week for a trip to Italy (not ZeMarmot-related, but it ended up with some resources that we may use).

In between though, we met the musicians of the AMMD cooperative during the 15th birthday party of their founding music band. This was a cool and very enjoyable first meeting.

Redesigning

In November and December, we have worked quite a bit on a redesign of the main and secondary characters. We will post later details in a dedicated news.

Script

November and December were quite eventful on the scenario side as well.

First of all the format of ZeMarmot: for quite a long time, I hesitated on the exact format that ZeMarmot should have. Heading for a short, we would definitely not have the time to do anything close to what I envisioned for the story. A featurette on the other hand, we can do something cool, but will we manage to ever finish it? We just don’t have the funds. A series is a cool idea, but I was really looking forward a film in the end. Series are a cool format, with their own good points, but also bad ones. Yet in our situation, we may not have much of a choice.

Working on the script, with Wikipedia on!
Working on the script, with Wikipedia on!

So already since October, we decided to release ZeMarmot in the form of a series, but with the actual goal of having a feature film in the end. This is actually quite a hard gamble and I seriously hope we will manage to make every episode interesting, while also making sense as one movie. This is similar to the planning of Cosmos Laundromat from the Blender Foundation.
The funding is used to finalize the first episode (the “pilot“), which hopefully will trigger people interest to fund the rest! 🙂

Pilot treatment is over

And now we finished the treatment of our pilot on January 20!
I am quite happy with it and think you will all find it very cool too. But I don’t want to spoil the fun and reveal details. This said, we are working transparently since it is a Libre movie. So we will look for ways to share script details to people who don’t care about auto-spoiling themselves (if you are such a person, just contact us). 🙂

Working on ZeMarmot treatment
Working on ZeMarmot treatment

Next Steps

And now? Aryeom is working hard on the pilot storyboard (as you may guess on the above image, this is already work in progress), which should result into a first animatic. In the same time, we will start working with AMMD for the few scenes of the pilote which require music.

Stay tuned!

Rewind on Aryeom and Jehan’s Open videos

Before we met, Aryeom drew quite a bit of animation. You may have a look at her (outdated) 2013 reel. She did a few relay animations with other artists, tried on various technics (sand animation, stopmotion, paint-on-glass animation…) worked on the “Boy Meets Boy” movie in 2008 (she directed a short animation which was included in the movie, as well as a separate music video clip), directed by Kim Jho Kwang-soo…

When I met her, she was working on her graduation animation film, Grandma Ocean with Kang Hui-jin.

Needless to say, when software were needed, these were all done with proprietary software, mostly Adobe ones.

[2012] Our First Open Movie: « Firefox and You »

The Open Movie adventure would begin when we heard of the Firefox Flicks contest, organized by Mozilla to promote Firefox. I was already a GNU/Linux user and Firefox was my browser of choice. We decided to participate, spent about 2 or 3 weeks to make a script and draw a small animation, for which we won a first place in “New Technology” category.

The concept was an interactive video included in an HTML canvas. People could upload a photograph and an address (using OpenStreetMap assets), to show their support to Mozilla, and their image would show embedded during video viewing on the right coordinates in the drawn world map. The actual page which won is still up, with the interactive video version.


Firefox et Vous

It was released under Creative Commons BY-SA/Libre Art licenses for the assets, and AGPLv3 for the code. On the other side, the software used were the usual Adobe Photoshop + After Effects/Premiere. Our first Open Movie, but still with closed tools.

Nevertheless this triggered me to submit my first patches to GIMP a few months later (my first patch being September 2012).

[2013] First Open Movie with FLOSS Tools: « Interview with the Red Panda »

The next year, we did not participate again to the Flicks contest, but Mozilla proposed us to do a small interview or video to promote the event for newcomers. We thought it could be funny to do it in the form of another animation film (out of contest).
This time, we tried to go full-steam Free Software: GIMP, Blender, Ardour. Let me tell you it was not easy. You can also see that the animation has not too many movements. I’m not sure because I don’t remember in detail, but it was probably on purpose.

Interview with a Red Panda

This was again CC BY-SA.

Of course, this is a period with increase of my contributions to GIMP (I was given rights on the repository a few months earlier), but also my first patches to Blender (2 bug fixes: broken offset/crop in VSE and broken render because of the ffmpeg fork affair).

[2013] Promotional/Rotoscopy: « Dance of the Sugar Plum Butterfly »

About at the same time, as an experiment, Aryeom tried a rotoscopy animation on her own. We made a video of the contemporary dancer Hysao Takagi, from the dance company “Le Lien” and drew over the footage in GIMP, later edited in Blender. Let me tell you this was not easy either, and I think to this date, there are still no Free Software to facilitate drawing in rotoscoping technics.

Dance of the Sugar Plum Butterfly

[2013] Our first Libre Graphics Meeting: « Space Girin on the Wall »

A few months later, the GIMP team would invite Aryeom and I to Libre Graphics Meeting in Madrid. Our first time.
They had this very awesome screen-wall which could be programmed, display images, and react to a camera targetted at the place. Aryeom drew our Space Girin (girin = giraffe in Korean) in GIMP which was displayed on the wall, and I wrote some code so that its eyes would follow people walking by, thanks to the street camera. The whole code and images would be released as GPLv3.

Space Girin on the Wall

[2014] Pausing… or not

In end of 2013-2014, we would be in New Zealand, traveling and such. I would code a little, and in particular would start the idea of symmetry painting in GIMP, after seeing the feature in Krita. Well honestly we did not think it was so necessary in GIMP, but it looked like a fun and easy (what a mistake!) thing to add in GIMP, and I thought it could be an interesting occasion to try out a small crowdfunding. This feature would be later implemented in GIMP early 2015.

It is not really true that we totally paused animation-making. We played a little with stopmotion animation, and this is how I discovered Entangle (I would later propose the maintainer to join us in LGM in Leipzig). The fact is that we don’t have real good software for stopmotion, they are all either inactive, or very unstable and limited to webcams, not good cameras. So I played a little with adding stopmotion features to Entangle, a quality software, and very stable for tethered camera control.
We did this small video with the daughter of a landlord we had for some time, to experiment with Entangle:

Shannon vs Octopus
Note that we had the permission from the parents to upload the video, but we never asked for making it a Libre Movie. As a consequence, this movie is under Creative Commons BY-NC-ND. This is more of an experiment and not to be considered as part of our Open Movies.

We are so animation-geeky that Aryeom even draw animation frames on blank cards, with song that we played and sang, and we sent the frames as postcards to family for Christmas (so each person got one frame of the whole animation, which can be seen on the web).

[2014] Contemporary Dance International Festival in Alger

For “Le Lien 07” dance company again, we made a film, this time purposed to be projected as background during a choreography for the “International Contemporary Dance Festival” of Alger.
This film used shootage under Creative Commons BY found around the internet, as well as images which were graciously lent to us by their makers, and others taken by the dancers; and our first attempt of 3D animation with a cherry tree under the wind. Here is the show recording. You can see our movie in backgrounds at some point.

"Le Lien" in International Contemporary Dance Festival in Alger

[2015] Our first big project: « ZeMarmot »

Note that during all this time, in 2012 and 2013 in particular, Aryeom had jobs doing marketing videos, or even on TV shows in backstage, but she never used Free Software for any of the professional paid jobs. What does it tell us? Maybe that Free Software, as much as we loved them, were not ready, not efficient enough, or scary. In particular, crashes were too many on GIMP. I already told it in an earlier post but crashing when unplugging a graphics tablet is not acceptable in a professional workflow, neither is actually any kind of crash. Nowaydays, thanks to the hard work of many contributors, GIMP hardly ever crash. Well at least on Linux and in our machines. I don’t say it is flawless yet (which software is?) and we have regular reports of issues in our bugtrackers, which we continue to track down. But in our own lives, we hardly see them anymore. Aryeom can’t even remember the last time she saw GIMP (stable release at least) crash, even though she uses it intensively for hours every day!

So mid-2014, we started thinking doing a real nice project with GIMP and other software. Now let’s be clear: the Free Software workflow and software ecostystem is still not there fully. It is much better for 3D (though not as good for all parts of the production) thanks to the awesome work of the Blender Foundation, and it is going much better for vectorial, thanks to Synfig Studio or Tupi. But for 2D digital cell animation? Well close to the void. This will be hard, but that’s a void we are willing to fill. And we do hope you will help us do so by participating to our crowdfunding!


ZeMarmot teaser

I will probably detail our planned improvements in a next post.

And after?

We are not planning on stopping there. We want to finish ZeMarmot first. This is a story with a start and an end, not a series with unlimited episodes. If we can get it funded, we will work on our custom software that we will release soon as GPLv3, improve GIMP, Blender, and any other necessary software (Ardour maybe too if we have issues there).

And we want to continue. Actually Aryeom already has some very cool ideas of Stopmotion movies, for which we will continue to use GIMP, Blender, but also probably Entangle for photography. I have actually contributed to the Apertus AXIOM crowdfunding (where I was also a minor code contributor and made a few talks to promote the project a few years back), so I should be able to buy one of the first AXIOM cameras ever. When this happens, I’m thinking one of the first things I would do would be a patch to Entangle for the support of AXIOM, and continue my contribution to give it stopmotion features.

Stopmotion contribution in Entangle

This all coupled with more GIMP, Blender, Ardour, Synfig, etc. improvements, we should soon be able to have a very powerful ecosystem on GNU/Linux for any kind of movie making and animation.
Of course, this also depends a lot on you all who are reading me! If ZeMarmot does not happen, all our nice plans for the future might end up in a hole, as a dream that were and never will (or at least not as soon).
I hope you’ll be many to support us! 🙂

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