HWA snow scene final

Final HWAnimation snow scene

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IT'S HERE!!!!!! A scrappy animated scene from the non-existent anime version of my webcomic, Here We Are! It's a scene from chapter 9 of the comic.

There are soooo many things that could be refined about this, but I have to turn my attention to my many other projects. I hope people enjoy it despite how rough around the edges it is. I really fumbled around at the beginning, but as I approached the final scene I figured out better ways of working.

Some learnings:

  • Vector layers: a good friend that makes getting rid of intersecting lines very fast. Also good for preserving line quality when constantly resizing and rotating things (which happens a lot in animation, it appears). I didn't leverage this until wayyyy to late, but straight up editing vector anchor points, simplifying lines, etc. were useful, especially if you can't draw strokes properly.
  • Mesh transform tool: Warp all the things to save you re-drawing time!
  • Listen closely: I accidentally listened to the voice/dialogue on high volume through earphones (maybe I should've been doing this to begin with HAHA) and discovered I didn't crop some audio cleanly between takes; I ended up fading out the edges of most of the audio in lieu
  • Gap between taste and skill: The gap is quite pronounced, relative to the other creative endeavours I take on. Regardless, it was all good practice. I give myself 5 gold stars for perseverance, and 2.5 stars for drawing.
  • Solid drawing: I don't have this skill! I don't like drawing graduation caps in rotation. Please!! No! MORE! I should've really nailed done my key frames first. I should've drawn 180 degree rotations/character sheets instead of going by intuition. Lacking a lot of consistency across scenes because of this.
  • Incremental efforts: I'm a "futz as you go" kind of person and that likely led to some un-made decisions that couldn't be undone without 40+ frames of rework later on.
  • Reference: I should've looked at reference earlier than I did. I should have relied more heavily on it, though I suppose it's also of merit to try to draw from your imagination too (though the results are likely subpar if aiming for realism). I mainly relied on intuition and whatever brain data bank I had. For the hat and mouth movements, I did record myself. It's amazing that technology (cameras on phones) is so readily available for artists to get reference that they need quickly.

As celebration, I got fries and fried chicken for dinner, and ordered myself stationery (ink samples! fountain pen!!) which I'm sure I'll talk about later.

Today's music post: Whiskey and Rhapsody from Yakuza 4 OST. Listened to this song a lot while working on the final scenes of this animation!

HWAnimation storyboard

Storyboard for HWAnimation snowy scene

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Spoilers for Here We Are chapter 9!

When I first conceived of the HWAnimation project, I confidently said to myself "I don't need a storyboard! The comic IS the storyboard!", but I was wrong. Ultimately I don't draw comics as if you're looking through a camera; at least, not all the time. Sometimes I do for specific panels, otherwise I tend to vary angles, layout sizes, and zooms, which would've made a horrible, nauseating viewing experience when translated to motion.

It took a little bit more effort to move from the comic to the animated sequence. I'm not convinced it is a good translation, since it looks very simple in storyboard (left). The scene itself has a lot of subtlety in expression and body language, so I kept shots pretty clear and static so viewers can focus their attention on the minute motion. Secondarily I kept angles simple because I'm a beginner who doesn't really know how to draw or animate properly.

In the comic (right), the subtlety is done through focused panels and close-up shots.

photo of storyboards for animation on the left, and the representative comic pages on the right photo of storyboards for animation on the left, and the representative comic pages on the right photo of storyboards for animation on the left, and the representative comic pages on the right photo of storyboards for animation on the left, and the representative comic pages on the right

I used these super loose storyboards and made the v2 animatic and then v2 was further refined into v3 animatic.

Some current stills from the next iteration, which I'm slowing working through.

Drawing of Austin in graduation garb, entering a snowy outdoor scene, surrounded by other graduates Drawing of Austin in graduation garb, looking around a snowy outdoor scene, surrounded by other graduates Drawing of various characters in graduation garb, except for an out-of-focus person in the middle of the frame, wearing a maroon/wine coat Drawing of various out-of-focus characters in graduation garb, except for an in-focus person in the middle of the frame, wearing a maroon/wine coat Drawing of Austin walking towards Jake, in a snowy outdoor scene, surrounded by other graduates and pine trees Drawing of Austin hesitating to reach out to Jake, in a snowy outdoor scene, surrounded by other graduates and pine trees

I've definitely learned a lot about drawing and workflow through this experience. Truthfully some of the later scenes are better than the earlier scenes because I learned some new tricks along the way, but don't have time to go back and futz with the earlier parts. I'm also trying to steer clear of Adobe in production; so far I've only used:

  • Clip Studio Paint EX for all the drawing and compositing
  • Audacity to crop up audio files into shorter bits. CSP's audio capabilities are pretty limited, so I will admit that I won't be spending too much time on getting fancy with the audio (I'm already very tired from DRAWING......let alone audio leveling and mixinggggggggggg ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh)
  • Affinity Photo to blur some bgs to make it more lens blur effect (instead of the gaussian blur effect I found in CSP, which are shown above)
  • Sometimes the default video editor that comes with Windows to quickly string together disparate clips (to see how it flows, preliminarily)
  • Handbrake for compression, though the file size and export quality straight out of CSP is pretty impressive though (it does take a while...).

Today's music post: Technology by Fatima.

HWA snow scene v3 animatic

V3 animatic of a scene from Here We Are, created in Clip Studio Paint.

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November 2020 was spent on HWA chapter 12, December 2020 was spent on roaches and Matchy Snatchy with Bea, so this entry mainly details the labour that I spent in January 2021 on the next pass of HWA snow scene (see V1 and V2). Everything is still quite janky, but it's starting to come together. I'm cartoon Grinch smirking...

screenshot of pencil sketch of some rough animation frames, with a few steps of onion skinning on (previous frames are in red, following frames are in green lines). The drawing itself shows some people in the foreground, wearing graduation garb. In the mid-ground, an original character is tugging on his graduation gown hood with his left arm, while looking towards the left of the screen. It is snowing.

IDK the formal term for these animation passes, but I call v3 "the more refined" pencil pass with details and whatnots:

  • solid bodies and key poses - mostly done
  • timing - had to space things out because some motions/actions were moving too fast/compressed
  • clothing - barely roughed in, needs refinement; I don't even know how to draw clothing in static, let alone in motion...
  • hair - didn't pay attention, needs refinement
  • inbetween frames - added a lot more, but still needs refinement
  • sound/music - just plunked in, not leveled at all

screenshot of pencil sketch of some rough animation frames, with a few steps of onion skinning on (previous frames are in red, following frames are in green lines). The drawing itself shows a character walking towards the right-hand side of the screen, reaching his arm out to another character on the right-side. There are other people in graduation gowns in the background, as well as trees.

The bane of my existence is the graduation cap. All hats have mystery perspective and foreshortening that defies my logic and I can't visualize it in my head at all. Why Austin, do you have so many hats? I cut out a square piece of cardboard from a cereal box for reference, but it's something I have to revisit again in v4.

Animation seems like one of those things that you can endlessly futz with forever; the more you do it, the more you realize how much work is left to be done. For those who know how I draw (at least for my personal work), I'm not a person who tends to iterate very much at all, so drawing the same thing over and over again (animation) is counter to every fibre in my body. I believe myself to be quite silly for doing this project given how much work there is to be done, but now I'm committed...as to not let the contributors down, hahaha.

screenshot of pencil sketch of some rough animation frames, with a few steps of onion skinning on (previous frames are in red, following frames are in green lines). The drawing itself shows a graduation gown-wearing character with black hair in a low bun, walking from right to left, across the screen.

Seeing my characters "come alive" is pretty interesting! There's another level of visual storytelling/communication around the nuances of how characters move. A while back, Bea told me about Laban movement analysis. She thought that Austin would move more steady and gracefully (like a bear), while Jake was a bit more jittery (like a squirrel), so I tried to incorporate those aspects into how they appear on screen. I will say that this scene requires everyone to be a bit awkward and lacking confidence, so nobody is moving quite like their normal selves here.

Another thing that was interesting was trying to time mouth movements to audio speech. At some point I drew the mouths in more visually obvious ways, but when it played in animation it looked like a joke HAHA...like weird unnatural mouth movements where you're trying to purse your lips too hard! It was hilariously BAD! I still have some more work to do here.

Screenshot of the Clip Studio Paint timeline window, which shows audio tracks with "labels" associated with them to help with timing along key frames

I'm grateful for some of these "labeling" features in the CSP timeline that roughly give me a sense of where words are landing. Geez, CSP is really incredible. I want to reiterate that I love Bradley and Eddy's voices for the characters! Bradley really nailed the warm and more mature sound for Austin. He did a different voice for Fung in my game, Come for a Drink, who was more arrogant and sarcastic (well, at least that's my perception), so it was neat to hear the differences. Eddy played the awkward vulnerability of Jake so well—I was feeling second hand embarrassment at how his lines were delivered (appropriately). The whispered curse at the end—!! Hearing their different takes was wonderful and they're both a pleasure to work with.

screenshot of pencil sketch of some rough animation frames, with a few steps of onion skinning on (previous frames are in red, following frames are in green lines). The drawing itself shows a character with hi back facing the viewer, progressively turning towards his left side to face the camera. in the background, there are trees and snow.

After I blew the scope of this animation between V1 and V2, I realized I needed an entirely different piece of music than the one I originally commissioned from Nos (for a different scene). I asked some musical friends what kind of instruments reminded them of snow: plucked strings, Kalimba, wooden xylophones, etc.! Then PowersWithin took those as inspiration (as well as the previous piece by Nos) and composed a snowy song that is perfect!

Now that I've used Reuben Lara's CSP animation tutorial tips and shortcuts earnestly, I can say that they're all AMAZING for workflow efficiency. Programming my tablet's buttons to have back/forward movement between keyframes? YES! Auto-numerating keyframes? YES! AND there's so much more!!!

Hopefully I'll be able to make more progress before my life is consumed by playing Yakuza 3-6 on PC, starting January 28...

Today's music post: Susumu Yokota's - A1. Zenmai from the album Acid Mt. Fuji (remastered).

HWA snow scene v2 animatic

Animatic of a scene from Here We Are, created in Clip Studio Paint.

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My goal for September was to make more progress on HWAnimation, which I did, but the scope also grew (my v0, 10 second version turned into...30, haha), so all my timelines need to be rejigged.

I followed Aaron Blaise's Fundamentals of Animation course. He had great voice over about what he was thinking while drawing, which allowed you to make notes and take those considerations into your own work. I watched them each once and then did my own follow-along afterwards. I tried to not be too precious/perfectionist about any of the drawing, since I'm not hoping to become an animation master...just want to know enough to get by, haha.

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Reuben Lara's Clip Studio Paint: Animation Basics videos got into workflow/production/program optimization, which I REALLY appreciated. Now I have all the fancy keyboard and quick-access iconography shortcuts! I even re-programmed the buttons on my tablet (though instinctively, I keep reaching for my keyboard). I love setting things up right ONCE at the beginning, so I can be as efficient as possible afterwards.

Here's the latest animatic v01 and v02 pass.

HWA comic

As for HWA arc 2, I've written an outline for it and started drawing chapter 12. Progress has been slower here as I've been mulling over themes and plot lines (and of course, generally being distracted by world news).

Game design

I also worked on some embargoed character designs for skyharborr's game Fox in the Hollylocks. A demo of the game can be found on itch.io, which I played a few years back and enjoyed. I really like Rei's storytelling and visual art style, so I look forward to how it all turns out!

October "dailies"

I'm doing #tamagoctober (drawing 1 tamagotchi a day) and hopefully daily exercises (with fountain pen!!!) from Alphonso Dunn's Pen & Ink Workbook with #dunn31 (it rhymes)!

New blog CMS

I'm back to Bludit for this freetalk blog and very glad to have things like tags/categories auto-generated, as well as the flat-file commenting function! Woo! Sorry to the 0 people who may have subscribed to the old RSS feed...you'll have to resubscribe to the new URL if you did. I like Kirby but the coding required to get it to do what I needed to (without messing up the rest of my website) was too much for my brain to handle.

Physical exercise

The final shocking news is that I've been trying to exercise ~15-30 minutes, 6x a week (I slowly ramped up to this cadence over September). So far it's a mix of yoga, 7-minute workout (I hate and still can't do push-ups), and lifting my cast iron pan (haha). Sometimes I'll do meditation if I really can't bring my body to workout properly. My city is in wave 2 pandemic (to nobody's surprise) so 6+ months of barely walking around outside with the non-mask-wearing folk in crowded downtown, is definitely catching up to me. I think my body now revolts if I don't exercise. What...a conundrum.

Today's music post: Chloe x Halle performing "Do It".


Preview of short HWA animations that I'm drawing by hand in CSP.

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I'm having fun with these titles (haha). In my head I read HWA as HUA and it reminds me of the pronunciation of FLOWER 花 in mandarin. So HWAcomic and HWAnimation turn into flower-comic, flower-animation (which ultimately makes it more endearing to me).

One of my big projects (aside from drawing HWAcomic) is the HWAnimation. As I drew the comic I felt like there were certain scenes that would've benefited from colour and moving media in some way. It's slated to be something I tackle more meaningfully between September-December 2020, since I have some time set aside to (1) learn how to animate, (2) learn animation software, and (3) actually animate. As if drawing comics wasn't painful/time consuming enough!

Since wrapping up the HWAcomic book I've be laying down some timing and groundwork for what I have in mind. I think most people would storyboard before going to animatic, but the comic itself already felt a LITTLE bit like a storyboard, so I went straight to animatic. That might've been a bad choice, but I had some very particular feelings about subtle nuances and timing to music/sound, and I couldn't achieve that in another pass of storyboards.

For these I've done them as frame-by-frame animations in Clip Studio Paint EX. It's also on my radar to check out grease pencil, but not sure if that would stylistically work for what I'm trying to achieve.

Awkward snowy graduation rough animatic

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I'll be tackling this small segment first. With the added voices, it makes the scene 1000% more awkward than the drawing alone, to the point where I personally begin to feel 2nd hand awk while listening to it. There's something amazing/delightful as well as completely mortifying to have your OCs voiced by real people.

It's amazing/delightful because voice adds a new dimension of life to a character (in my head, they never had audio tracks) and now these characters will continue to have these voices in my head as I draw future things. It's mortifying because as a classic self-deprecating artist, I believe that my creations are big dumpster fires and putting someone through the act of voicing them induces feelings of momentary guilt (e.g., I'm sorry I'm subjecting you to my horrible OCs). It helps to work with professionals, haha.

After that segment, I'll tackle the longer thing, which I currently describe as a "trailer" of some sorts for the slow burn arc of HWA (ch.1-11). This one is quite a bit longer and ambiguously daisy chains dramatic moments from the earlier chapters. I also dumped in some free sfx that I found online.

I actually made this before the ch.9 clip, and realized I should start with something shorter/simpler first haha. I wondered if it was misleading or too dramatic?? Oh well, I'm going all in with the ~drama~.

Shoutout to the cool/skilled people I'll be collaborating with:

Please hire them for your future projects :)

Beyond the brute drawing/animating, I have to think through workflow too. Although CSP is pretty powerful for frame-by-frame and everything I posted above was done within the program, I still wonder if the more nuanced audio editing and some of the effects (like snow) can be done better/faster in a different program. Lots to mull over and I welcome any suggestions!

I was never the type do make 8tracks/OSTs for my work (probably because I never drew longer form comics?!), but since working on the HWAnimation I've been thinking a lot more about sound and music. Some thoughts on character tracks below:

Jake - GoGo Penguin's Raven

WHY? Jake is a complicated person with a bit of drama simmering underneath the surface. Sometimes it boils over, sometimes it doesn't. One thought can easily snowball into a whole sequence of conclusions.

Austin - Phum Viphurit's Lover Boy.

WHY? I feel like it has an easy going, straightforward, sweet, but persistent vibe. This feels like Austin at a surface level. Deep down he likely over-indexes on relationship management and dedication a la LP's Lost on You.

Fake - Cyndi Seui's My name is Dos

WHY? I feel like there is a very peppy jokey side to Fake. I can imagine him humming along to this tune in the office and being very out of step with the existing culture.

Sabina - Jorja Smith's Blue Lights

WHY? She's deeply skeptical of everything and has a strong desire to rebel against formal authority...