Saturday, December 06, 2008

History of Internet Flash Quality

After making my previous post discussing Flash animation and tweens and such, I remembered my fourteen-year-old self being annoyed when people on Newgrounds criticized certain Flashes (particularly those made by Legendary Frog) for using "too much tweening". I didn't think tweened Flashes looked worse than FBF Flashes at all; they were just "different".

I knew I wanted to get into Internet animation when I was 13 years old once I saw The Return of Ganondorf. I was really into Ocarina of Time at the time, which made this video really stand out to me. You can view it here. Not only did I find the video hilarious, but I thought it was amazing that it was animated entirely by one person. The best Flash cartoons I had seen in the past had animation like this at best:

I still find the video pretty hilarious, and the animation gets the job done as well as it needs to, but it's nothing special. Note, however, that I said the Flashes I had seen were animated like that at best. They were usually much more simplistic and had absolute minimal movement. Unfortunately, the joke sites I visited back then are no longer in existence now. I was able to view using the Wayback Machine, but none of the Flashes were available and, sadly, I can't find them anywhere else. Most of those crappy short 'toons seem to be lost in the mists of time...

Anyway, my point is, I thought that The Return of Ganondorf's animation was amazing. I scoured the rest of Newgrounds for more Zelda animations, but was rather disappointed that none of them seemed to be nearly as high quality in terms of animation (and most weren't nearly as funny, for that matter). See, back in 2003 and earlier, Legendary Frog quite possibly did put the most effort into his Flash animations. Making a Flash frame-by-frame was completely unheard of. However, as time went on and more and more people started using Flash, more people started putting more and more effort into their animations. Countless people could make Legendary Frog-quality Flashes and higher. From what I remember, the first people I saw truly transcend the 2D motion-tween style were John and Richie Zirbes, the creators of Perfect Kirby. The first two episodes (broken up into six Flashes) were nothing that special in terms of animation quality (though I still found them pretty funny), but with the appearance of Perfect Kirby 3.1, the bar was definitely raised. No one (on Newgrounds, at least) had tried to give the impression of 3D movement using shape tweens. In fact, it was so unheard of that many people assumed a 3D program was used for a large quantity of the animation. It was, however, made entirely in Flash, which was pretty mind-blowing.

Looking back on the animation of Perfect Kirby 3, the animation is still really smooth, but the drawings themselves are generally pretty bland and amateurish. The limb joints don't fit together that well, and the 3D tweening often distorts. At the time, however, it was the epitome of great Flash animation. It remained that way until Fallen Angel: Teaser came along in 2004.

The animation was still mostly motion tweened, but a lot more detail was put into the individual drawings than in most Flashes. The first Flash I remember seeing that used a lot of frame-by-frame animation was part 2: synj vs horrid, which can be viewed here. The drawings were rather simplistic, but the cartoon had a lot of fascinating environmental effects, the likes of which I had never seen in an Internet cartoon before.

Of course, that meant I had missed the animations of professional Disney animator Adam Phillips, whose cartoons were the most widely acclaimed on Newgrounds. I didn't think that much of them at first, but after viewing an editable .fla of a scene from Prowlies at the River, I was in awe as everyone else. Phillips mainly animated environmental effects, so that's where his greatest abilities were. Pretty much no Internet Flash animator has surpassed Phillips' abilities yet except Phillips himself, who puts more effort into every Flash he makes than the previous one.

Now, Prowlies at the River was released in late 2004. A bit over a year earlier, The Return of Ganondorf was the epitome of webtoon animation quality. But Prowlies COULD have been made in 2003. The technology was available. No precedent existed, however. Most people were used to seeing stiff, minimal animation in Flash cartoons, so most people didn't aspire to do that much more than what had already been done. Thus, Flash evolved over time based on the fact that people gradually tried putting more effort and time into their work.

Now, it wasn't until very, very recently that I found out that John Kricfaluci was, in fact, the person who made the first ever Flash cartoon. Before The Goddamn George Liquor Program, Flash was pretty much just used to make banner ads and simple games. Macromedia continued to develop the Flash program based on Kricfaluci's input, and he help shape Flash into what it's most known for today: making Internet cartoons. Of course Kricfaluci dislikes most of what's done with Flash today, but he still uses it. To quote his blog:

Flash looks like Flash no matter how hard you try to hide it. At least so far. It is basically an inbetweening program, not an animation program. The inbetweens - like in all computer programs are too mathematical. Hand drawn inbetweens make your animation feel more natural, because things don't move mathematically in real life.

Flash is only as good as the drawings you put into it- and how many good drawings. The less you do, the more fake it looks. Ever since I started using Flash as a necessary evil, I have been trying my damnedest to make it look as little like Flash as possible. If I was able, I would go back to the 60s system of limited animation. The reality of the situation today is that there are no animators capable of what the animators in the 60s did. We have not done animation in the country for 35 years now so no one even knows how it works.

Generally, I concur. Boy, would I love to make traditionally animated cartoons, but it's just not realistic. I have no budget whatsoever and no animators working for me. I have to make the whole thing myself, and the only way I can do that is in Flash. If I want to actually finish more than one Flash a year, I have to use tweens.

However, I disagree with John K. on a couple of things. For one, he mentioned that he prefers 1960s Hanna Barbera limited animation to Flash. As I've said before, I just can't make myself see what he likes about The Flintstones. While the character models themselves can look rather appealing, the animation just hurts. I definitely prefer the animation in The Return of Ganondorf.

For another thing, he said "Flash looks like Flash no matter how hard you try to hide it." It's very, very rare for me to see a Flash cartoon that I don't realize is made in Flash as soon as I see it. However, I occasionally do. For example, I had no idea that those Cocoa Puffs commercials were made in Flash before I read that they were. Another example is a Flash version of the theme song to Azumanga Daioh!, "Soramimi Cake". The person who made the Flash version just traced the original version of the theme song in Adobe Illustrator and made the final product look... exactly like the original. I can no longer find the Flash itself, but here's a link to a blog entry from the person who made the Flash version which shows several screenshots detailing the process.

This post was supposed to be about tweens vs. FBF, but before I got into that I felt I should post this stuff. My next post will be about what I meant for this one to be about.


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