Saturday, November 29, 2008

Determining What Constitutes Good Flash Animation

Flash animation is often criticized for being cheap and limited. And, indeed, it often is. Ever since Mucha Lucha came on, more and more Flash shows have made their way onto the air. Why? Because Flash is much cheaper and easier than the traditional pen-and-paper method; you draw directly into the program, move stuff around using automatic tweens, and voila!

Unfortunately, most Flash animations take advantage of this for the sake of time and money and at the expense of quality. The truth is, you can animate pretty much anything in Flash (anything 2D, anyway). For example, take a look at this Cocoa Puffs commercial:

Just by watching this commercial, I had no idea it was animated in Flash. It wasn't until reading about it at Cold Hard Flash that I found out how the commercial was truly made. Why? Because the cartoon doesn't use any automatic tweening... or if it does, it does so very surreptitiously. More television Flash cartoons should be animated like this: frame-by-frame. It's still way cheaper than traditional cell animation, and it's pretty much indistinguishable. Instead, television studios usually just take the easy route and automatically tween practically everything along a 2D plane, and when something has to move along a 3D plane, they make the movement as quick and jerky as possible:

Mikey, supposedly animated in the "American" style, is super-duper 2D, and his motion primarily involves sliding his limbs around using automatic tweening. The Japanese characters, supposedly animated in the style of "Japanese animes", are animated frame-by-frame. However, their motion is pretty minimal and, when they do move, it's obvious that the animators don't care about going off-model. In fact, there doesn't even seem to be a standard model that the animators stick to. Yes, anime generally has a lower frame rate, but more detail and care is generally put into every frame. The animators of Kappa Mikey try to emulate anime style and fail miserably.

Here's an example from the first episode of the anime Death Note. Yes, yes, the English voice acting is awful and it ruins the whole show and all that. Just focus on the imagery.

There are several points during this clip in which there is little to no motion at all. However, it still looks good because each still frame has a lot of detail. Every shot is well-composed and dynamic, even if it's barely moving. Camera movement also helps add a sense of motion to an otherwise static picture. Sure, Death Note certainly had a higher budget than Kappa Mikey does, but the point is that even when Death Note used limited animation, it was still done with a sense of art and purpose.

And you know what? That Death Note clip could have hypothetically been animated in Flash (minus the 3D flythroughs; you'd need a separate 3D program for that). Heck, not just Death Note or another show which uses limited animation, but any cell-style 2D cartoon could hypothetically be made with Flash. Sadly, the fact that Flash makes things easier tends to make animators lazier. They resort to using practically nothing but 2D tweens instead of using them to supplement frame-by-frame animation. Frame-by-frame animation in Flash cartoons also tends to look like it was done by people who don't know how to keep the proportions the same between keyframes. This is probably because animators who learned Flash in animation classes and whatnot only learned how to use Flash's functionality, not basic-intermediate drawing and animation principles.

Now, do I think that a show that mostly uses tweening is always bad? Certainly not, as long as the tweening looks natural. Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law wasn't exactly perfect at making tweened animation look natural, but they often did a pretty good job within their limits (only two months to animate a single episode):

I think that clip looks pretty good. In fact, I'd say that, since Harvey Birdman had a very limited budget, its animation quality benefited greatly by moving to Flash. (Actually, in the first one and a half seasons, before it used Flash, Harvey Birdman looked a lot more like a classic Hanna-Barbera cartoon, partially due to the fact that the animation was so limited).

So, yeah... I think that Harvey Birdman's Flash animation works for it. It's practical and, while not entirely natural, it still works pretty well. In Kappa Mikey, the clumsy animation distracts me from the story and the jokes (which, in Kappa Mikey's case, is probably a good thing).

But what about Internet cartoons? Surely a single person can't be expected to constantly churn out television-quality animation? Yes, for Internet animation, I can understand lowering one's standards. Animation considered great for a Saturday morning cartoon could seem cheap and bland if used in a theatrical cartoon, and in the same way, animation considered bland for a television cartoon could be considered great for an Internet short animated by one person. For example, Fallen Angel currently dominates Newgrounds because of its fantastic animation (it must; the story has no originality so far and the acting is atrocious). But if it were shown on television, the animation would be considered sub-par.

But wait! Less cinematic Flashes would still seem to fit in pretty well on television, as is evidenced by the fact that the Nicktoons Network shows so many in their film festivals. For example, TANKMEN is primarily motion tweened with a bit of FBF animation, but since it's so simplistic, the tweening works rather well. It doesn't aspire to be very dynamic, and thus the simplicity doesn't hurt it. I don't think I ever found the jokes to be that funny, but apparently a lot of people do...

In truth, I like the visuals of TANKMEN more than those of Fallen Angel. Fallen Angel's animation aims for a lot of detail and cinematic quality. But because it does such, a lot of flaws stand out at me and distract me from what's supposed to be an engaging story. I know that's not how most people feel about it; they just admire it for what it does accomplish. I suppose that's part of my "condition".

Anyway, as for Enthalpy, I'm trying to make it look as natural as I can within reason. Yes, it uses a lot of tweens, but I'm hoping they don't look awkward like they do in Kappa Mikey. It also uses a whole lot of frame-by-frame animation, and that takes a very long time. If I had a team of talented animators working for me, of course I'd prefer to have it done mostly or entirely frame-by-frame. As it stands, however, I have to use a lot of tweens if I want to finish more than one episode every couple of years. I'm hoping that the still visuals are engaging enough that the limited animation isn't distracting, and that the tweens move in ways that you'd expect them to actually move.

If I didn't care how long it took me to finish a cartoon, and I wanted to spend upwards of a year on a five-minute short, I truly feel that I could make cartoons as lavish as those of Adam Phillips (see Waterlollies, for example)... however, whereas Phillips likes to animate on threes and fours and add as much shading and detail as possible into every keyframe, I'd go for the route of making the animation look smoother before adding porkloads of shading levels. Personally, I'd prefer to have two layers of shadow animated on twos than four layers of shadow animated on fours.

Before concluding this blog entry, I'd like to muse about Superjail for a moment. Superjail is animated entirely in Flash, and it's animated almost entirely frame-by-frame, which is practically unheard of in Flash television shows (especially for Adult Swim, which has a notoriously meager budget). However, despite the smoothness, the show's visual style has a lot of not-caring-about-staying-on-model. Characters' proportions often change as soon as they turn around, and the drawings themselves aren't exactly technically marvelous. I can't really decide whether I consider the animation "good" or not by a television standard.

The visual style is engaging to watch, and it'd certainly be considered great animation if it were an Internet Flash animation, so I suppose I like it... still, in stuff I make, I'd prefer to stay on-model and have fewer drawings that each look good than to have a lot of sloppy drawings. Superjail's drawings are indeed rather detailed, but they're still sloppy.

ADDENDUM: Another thing to take into account is that certain styles of animation work for different styles of cartoons. For example, while the animation in the Cocoa Puffs commercial is great compared to the majority of Flash cartoons, it would be incredibly out of place if used in Death Note. Death Note has great drawings (for the most part), but its visual style would be very out of place in Harvey Birdman. Motion tweens work well for Harvey Birdman partially due to the simplicity of the characters. I wouldn't say that the motion tweening always looks terrible in Kappa Mikey; what's annoying is that Mikey moves smoothly along a 2D axis and "pops" into the next position whenever he should be rotating in 3D.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Put Me On Your Wii

I've been putting it off for far too long. I'm starting Wii game development tonight, and will hopefully finish a quick experimental text adventure game similar to my first (and probably last, considering that the system is now obsolete) GBA game, Toast: The Great Adventure. You can download the game here (right-click and save as, then either run in a GBA emulator or put it on one o' them special cards and play it in a real GBA). I didn't actually put my name in there (at least, not anywhere that you can see without pressing a secret button sequence), so don't putting it up anywhere without permission or claiming it's your own, 'K?

So, here's what I intend to do in terms of Wii development:

-Tonight, I will start work on a similar, very short text adventure game for the Wii. No graphics; just text and probably a few sounds.
-Once I have done that and am more settled into Wii programming, I will start work on a visual novel-type game which I hope to get published as an official WiiWare title once it's finished.
-As I am not a licensed Wii developer/publisher and am making this game using public domain development libraries and software, I will have to get a licensed company to publish it for me. My first choice publisher is O3 Entertainment, a company which specializes in publishing games made by independent developers. The company is probably best known to people in the Newgrounds community for publishing the Alien Hominid game for the Gamecube and those other consoles that I didn't buy it for.
-If it does indeed get published, hooray! I've gotten a game officially published on the Wii, and I shall go on to make other games from there. If it doesn't get published, I'll just release it as homebrew.

What will this game be like? As I said, it'll be a visual novel. I don't believe any visual novels have been released for WiiWare outside of Japan (probably because companies consider it too risky to make something for such a niche market?), so I'll have a chance to be the first. I'm choosing to make a visual novel because they're rather simple to make, and I can easily emphasize the storytelling. It will use 2D graphics, music probably made by me and/or Ramon Osborn, voiceovers, fully animated cutscenes, and probably several Phoenix Wright-style courtroom-type trials, because those are so awesome and fun. Oh yes, I can't believe I forgot to mention: it's going to be an Enthalpy game. Its working title (and probably final title) is Enthalpy: Detectiventure.

How long will it be? Since it's WiiWare and thus I can sell it pretty cheaply, I don't have to make it very long. After I beat the WiiWare game Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People, Episode One: Homestar Ruiner in a bit over thre hours, I decided to see how long it would take to play it after I already knew how to solve all the puzzles. Replaying it, it took a bit under forty-five minutes to beat. Therefore, I figure my game should take at least forty minutes to beat, and I'd like to add multiple story routes to make sure there's a bunchload of replay value.

I may end up just quitting halfway through developing the game, considering how hard it was to motivate myself to finish making Nicholas' Weird Adventure 2... but then again, this is something that I hope to actually publish and sell and make money off of. I made $700 off NWA2 through's sponsorship, but didn't expect to when I was making it.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

It's Pooper-Dee-Duper

I'm trying to remember, for historical archival reasons, everything about why I got into Youtube Poop, and my thoughts and actions that surrounded my (de/a)scent into poopery.

If I remember correctly, I saw the first YTP I had ever seen while searching on YouTube for "giant enemy crab". I found Sony's E3 PS3stravaganza video hilarious, especially the "giant enemy crab" part, and wanted to see more.

I had seen still shots and a couple of animated GIFs from the CD-i Zelda games, so I knew what I was looking at when I saw this, even though I hadn't seen the cutscenes in their entirety. So, anyone who was wondering what the first Youtube Poop I ever saw was "Zelda CD-i: The Evil Forces of Giant Enemy Crab".

Watching that video piqued my curiosity, and from there I watched the original cutscenes for the CD-i Zelda games and Hotel Mario. The cutscenes themselves were the epitome of hilarity to me at the time, as their animation was so... um... I don't think I could describe it if I needed to (which, thankfully, I don't).

I started watching other YTPs from there. Among the first I saw was one of Nickshorts' David and the Magic Pearl poops. I may have actually even seen that one before the one I mentioned earlier, but I doubt it.

The poops that inspired me the most were those of Calculate900 and the magnificent "Link + Dinner = Disaster" duology. I knew I wanted to start making these, and I felt that I'd have an advantage in terms of the stuff I'd be able to do, as I had Flash and most poopers just had Windows Movie Maker and MS Paint. I hoped to become a well-known pooper, but certainly didn't expect to become the most subscribed-to pooper ever. I made it a goal to try to become as well-known as possible, but wouldn't have considered it likely that I'd be as popular a pooper as I am now.

I made Link Gets Cancer in one day, and did several things that I'd never do today. For exa--... Meh, I'm sure I'll do a commentary at some point. I'm not going to bother to do that here.


I've been working on the first episode of Enthalpy for how long, now? The first file I created for the Flash, a poster meant to go on the wall in a dental office, was apparently created on February 25th, 2008. I'm not actually using that poster in the final animation, but that counts as working. I didn't start any actual animation until May 5th, though. And from then on, my progress has been rather sporadic.

After animating over a minute of this ~three-minute pilot episode, I started reading the blog of John Kricfalusi. Why? I don't remember. I believe I was searching for something in particular, but I can't remember what. Regardless, I started reading his blog and learning a lot about animation techniques and such. I became fascinated by it and read quite a bit within a couple of days.

Of course, this led to the feeling that I was doing everything wrong. I felt like I should trust his judgement, as a lot of what he was saying made sense, and his animation style is quite possibly my favorite out of all cartoony animation. On the flip side, I disagreed with him on so many things. For example, he absolutely hates Animaniacs and, in fact, wrote a kaibunsho* for the cartoon shortly after it started. I hadn't realized it was possible for anyone (anyone who likes cartoons at all, anyway) not to like
Animaniacs, and it seemed rather inconceivable that anyone could actually hate it. But Kricfalusi hates everything about it. Though I certainly wouldn't say the animation quality compares with classic Looney Tunes, I laugh way more at practically any given short from Animaniacs than from Looney Tunes.

There's the "Cal Arts" style as well, which he dislikes... as well as pretty much every Pixar film (it's possible to dislike Pixar films?!), CGI in general, and fake pathos. And, of course, his appreciation for certain Hanna-Barbera cartoons that I find really boring to look at... The Flintstones literally makes my eyes hurt to watch for too long. And what exactly is his opinion on anime? He appeared to outright dislike, if not hate the umbrella of anime drawing styles, but made a whole post about how great anime color is and gives quite a bit of praise to FLCL (which is admittedly pretty cartoony as far as anime goes). And I don't quite get his hatred for the Fairly Oddparents drawing style; while simplistic, 2D and geometric, it's fresh and different in a cartoony way. I'd hazard to say that I'd find a freeze frame from FOP more interesting to look at than a random freeze frame from a traditional "rounded" cartoon.

Am I ignoring most of what he writes while animating? Absolutely not. I'm taking a lot of his advice. Would he still hate what I'm making? I'm pretty certain of it. Enthalpy isn't really all that cartoony as far as cartoony cartoons go; although the drawings are heavily stylized, I like to keep the drawings as on-model as possible, even at the expense of expressiveness. And I find pop culture references funny (that is, if you're making an actual joke with the pop culture reference and not just throwing it out there for the sake of throwing out there, which is the only problem I've ever had with Animaniacs).

*A suitable English equivalent for the word didn't come to mind, so I left it Japanese.


After reading my nephew Severin's blog that I just found, I decided to return here to read the things that I wrote oh-so-long ago. He made a post about my stuff, even. Oh, how flattering 'twas to read it. And how nice it was for him to embed the unauthorized, low-quality YouTube video files into his blog page instead of linking to the higher-quality original versions on Newgrounds.

Now, onto my thoughts on my older posts:

-I currently have no desire to get my creations on television. Sure, I'd have a team of animators that could actually help the cartoons look the way I'd like them to (i.e. with a lot more motion and moderately more detail), but after reading things Jhonen Vasquez and John Kricfalusi have written about working with Nickelodeon... blaauurghhh... I suppose if I were to have absolute creative control over the final product (as well as any merchandise made from the show), I'd like to have a television show based on Enthalpy, but that's completely unrealistic.

-I thought Hi Hi Puffy Ami Yumi-quality animation was worth striving for? Wow, I really have come a long way. Foster's Home has nice animation, but HHPAU's animation is just typical jerkiness. It's better than what I made when I was 15, I suppose, but certainly not worth trying to emulate.

-Yes, I thought those background drawings I did for McDarnold's and such were ATHF-quality. But now my backgrounds really are of that quality, I swear. Maybe looking back on this post when I'm 21 I'll laugh at that statement, but then again, maybe I'll be completely braindead by then. Now I can laugh at my future self's misfortune.

-Sealab 2021 wasn't Flash either.

-If, for some bizarre reason, someone wants to buy some of that archaic stuff from my dilapidated, crusty CafePress shop, do it now. That stuff's not going to be up much longer.

-Freehostia is a free host with constant uptime and great bandwidth allowance. I also have and am currently paying way too much for it.

-CamStudio is like Camtasia Studio, but completely free. Also, I'm not using After Effects for animation at all anymore. It's great for tweening, but not so much for frame-by-frame animation, which encompasses a lot of what I'm doing now.

-I never finished that White Noise spoof, but I'm pretty sure I still have the little that I did animate saved somewhere. I had forgotten all about the fact that I had actually started animating it.

More to come in a rapid succession of braindump posts. I still don't think anyone is reading this, as a search for "Nicholas Walstrom" now links to a plethoraload of sites hosting the Nicholas' Weird Adventure games without permission. As with before, this is for myself. Therefore, I'm not going to advertise this blog anywhere, such as YouTube, Newgrounds, or deviantArt.