November 16, 2016

Steward Animation by Rick Farmiloe

A post from Owen Dennis' Tumblr page.

99% of the 2D TV animation you see coming out of big studios is drawn overseas, often in Korea. The storyboarding, editing, sound, design work, and things like that are done in the US, but the actual physical drawings are done by a bunch of talented and hardworking people in Korea. It’s probably not actually 99%, but I don’t feel like that’s too far off, so that should give you a good idea of how prevalent it is.

Occasionally, not very often but occasionally, when you’re working in TV animation you have a moment where you need a lot of control over the movement in a particular shot. In these cases you might end up either animating something yourself or hiring someone local to do it because it’s so specific.

I did this for one shot in Infinity Train. I hired Rick Farmiloe, who’s credits include Rescuers Down Under, Aladdin, How to Train Your Dragon, and Boxtrolls, to animate the Steward as she overtakes Tulip. This shot was very hard, and her movement was so specific, I thought it would be quicker and easier to just do it ourselves. We have a less of a time constraint than they do in Korea, so we could spent more time on this one shot.

Here are my original storyboards for the shot:

I wanted the steward to really move with force and weight. I wanted her to push her legs forward first, and then move her head along with it after. I wanted her to move like all of her legs are a giant confusing swarm, but still each one moves with a very specific purpose. Every moment that you see the Steward, she should make you feel scared and uncomfortable.

Wanna see a reason I wanted to do this animation here? Because the first time I told Rick what I wanted, I didn’t tell him it was a panning shot. Just neglected to mention this extremely important detail. This is one of the reasons we make pilots: to give completely inexperienced people like me practice before we’re given more responsibility and it costs the company tons of extra money:

When I apologized a million and a half times for making him do all that work, he redid it much closer to what I wanted. The steward walks across, trips Tulip, then gets all up in her face.

There were things I liked about this version and things I wanted to change a little bit. I liked the movement of the head, the timing, and some of the poses were all good, but I felt like I wanted the legs to be more of a constantly moving mass instead of sort of taking two massive steps. I also wanted the legs to sort of snake through the air, claw first, and then pound into the ground with every step.

I decided I would animate some of this myself, so I scanned in Rick’s drawings:

This is a layout guide that animators use when figuring out the sizing and movement of characters:

The problem is, it’s REALLY hard to keep track of all those legs! So over the course of a weekend, I took all the legs and drew over the top of them, each one getting its own color so it was be easier to follow. This showed me how many legs there were total, if there were any missing in any frames, and made them easier to watch and predict in general. I even ran out of colors and had to start using dotted lines. I then started adding legs, taking away others, and changing poses here and there, and generally finicking with what Rick had already done. I eventually ended up with this:

After I had that all figured out, I started drawing in the thicknesses of various legs and changing their timing here or there. That was a whole other bit of difficulty because I had to make sure legs were overlapping each other correctly and weren’t interacting with in weird ways. For example, I had to make sure that in one frame if a leg was snaking by, in the next frame another leg didn’t go to where that first leg was, which would make it look like a leg was sort of standing still for a frame or two. Since I wanted each leg to have purpose wherever it was placed, I guess it kinda makes sense that I spent so much time on each individual leg? At least, that’s what I tell myself so I feel better about spending all my waking ours working on this one shot.

I went over it a couple more times, changing things here and there with my supervising producer (Mike Roth, of Regular Show, Rugrats, and Spongebob). Eventually we sent the animation off to Korea and they gave us this final shot!

So there it is!

This is just all part of the process. I wanted you to see this because often people have this idea that “cartoons are made with computers right?” which kind of flippantly negates the tons of man hours and people that have to craft all this stuff themselves, by hand.

Another thing to know is that no matter how much time you spend on something, nothing will ever be perfect, because while I was making this post I just saw that the handle on the door in the background is SUPER low. What’s it doing down there? It’s like a foot off the ground!

Here’s a link to the pilot if you haven’t seen Infinity Train yet:

Owen Dennis created Infinity Train and also wrote and storyboarded on Regular Show!


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