Build America

chalkboard animation

This spot went live last week.

We did it with the good folks at Fly Communications.

Build America Mutual “Blackboard” from Ace & Son MPC, LLC on Vimeo.

We animated the chalkboard stuff IRL (in real life, if you don’t know) capturing into Dragonframe and ultimately having it composited with the kids in AfterEffects.

Kelsey Stark drew everything. We figured the timing out first and had the help of a projector to make some of the trickier scenes less trick. Just like The Sistine Chapel.

Behind the Curtain

We’ve had the great fortune over the past years to work on a few dozen projects.  Some small, some long, some under-financed, some grossly under-financed.  We haven’t yet been forced into taking on work out of desperation (but if someone calls up with some extra zeros on the start up check, we’ll consider it), and such it’s been a privilege to make contributions on just about everything we’ve been contracted.

Sometimes, though, working on a project -you step back and arc of the work bending towards greater places than you could have imagined.

For the past several months we’ve been working on a series of oral histories chronicling the lives of a family displaced for their homes in Eastern Poland by at the onset of the Second World War.

Kelsey Stark drew this layout.  It became superfluous in the edit and was never animated.
Kelsey Stark drew this layout. It became superfluous in the edit and was never animated.


Sarah Kamaras is producing and directing the films about her family.  She made this “behind the scenes” video which is pretty good despite the questionable character of its cast.

A Look Behind the Animation: “The Podkamieners” from Sarah Kamaras on Vimeo.



A few weeks backs we finished up this advocacy film with Pendragwn Productions.

The YouTube compression is pretty harsh here, but it should give you the gist.

They liked our work on “The Honor Code” and wanted have a similar emotion and style to this piece.  It seemed appropriate, so we didn’t try too hard to push in another direction.

A bit of evolution from “The Honor Code” to here, the design and animation are tighter in this piece.  That’s part process, part schedule.  Here we produced in a traditional cartoon fashion.  Layouts, extremes, inbetweens.  Clean up.  Digital paint.  Much of the earlier production was animated straight ahead in ink and all the painting was rendered by hand, on paper, creating a much looser, rough dynamic.

This film was textbook production process.  From storyboard:


To layout:


Kelsey Stark created the designs and layouts.

To animation:


Doug Compton handled the animation, Kelsey, Casey Drogin and Liesje Kraai came in on  the inbetweens and clean up.

The inbetweening was done digitally, drawing in Photoshop with the Cintiq.  It’s a bit of a cumbersome process, but Photoshop was the best option we had to get the line quality we want.  It also offered decent options for coloring.  There is probably some software that’s better suited to handling this style (I think of Paul Fierlinger’s beautiful work with TV Paint) but the Adobe suite is something we already have and everyone knows how to use.  We needed to clean up Doug’s drawings to match the line style of the inbetweens.  His pencil work was very tight and very close to the digital replication.  Not close enough,   just based on the nature of pencils and scanners.  If we inbetweened on paper, we would have painted over his originals without clean up.

To color:

c04paintMarina Dominis joined the team to help with clean up and painting.

The animation was produced in around four weeks.


Here are some backgrounds for a project in progress.

I’d like to claim full authorship based on my amazing Art Direction skills, but it’s really Kelsey Stark’s, as always, stellar work.

It’s an Old Testament story, with the expected violence and wrath.

Because of that (and budget) we thought an anime treatment might be a fun way to go.

It’ll help keep the drawing count low, but the backgrounds will require extra attention.

Grasshopper Moves

There’s not too much to the animation of this Ant & Grasshopper film.  It relies on the script and voice track.

We only had about a week to make it -that’s what happens when producing for a weekly news show.

The animation -for lack of a better word, though I’d properly describe it as motion graphics -was created in After Effects (mostly) using Roz Chast’s originals in cut out form.

Liesje Kraai did this scene.

You can see how the character is set in After Effects like an under camera cutout puppet.  Each leg and subsequent joint has it’s own layer/piece of art as do the head and mouth.

The head keyframes are sets and the mouth is parented to that.  There is some “scale” key framing here, which I usually don’t like when doing cut out animation -it’s out of the vernacular of the style -but in this case it was necessary.

This is then brought in a master composition for framing and other bits.

Comics That Kinda Move

A few months back we worked with the great Roz Chast and Gail Levin to make a little segment for PBS’ “Need To Know.”

The whole process was pretty simple, and there wasn’t much to the animation.

We’ll take a few posts to walk through the steps.

First, Roz sent the comic strip.

She actually sent a few comics, but this is the one we went with.  PBS liked it, and it sort of fits with the constant fin de siecle political climate we’ve inhabited for the past two decades.

We then recorded her over the phone and pieced together this animatic (entirely from the comic page).

It Takes A Village

After being put on the back-burner for a while, picking up on this segment for the Ottawa Signal Film.

It’ll be the third in the arc.

The cityscape will largely exist as backgrounds only.

And most of the backgrounds will need much larger scale objects.

I suppose I just wanted to build a city of paper.

The roads will be affixed to the ground, so we won’t have rising surfaces.

But the buildings will still be fairly raw as they are here.

Dog Walking Dog: Going For Half A Walk

I don’t know if this one exactly qualifies as half a walk.


It is only eight drawings and cycles.


It was used in an ABC/Disney video for They Might Be Giants’ Here Come the ABCs video series.


As far as work goes, it would have been “easier” to do a Preston Blair standard walk.  There’s less thinking involved, though this was pretty intuitive and went quickly.


This was how we thought these guys walked.  The dog walking the dog.  So there were too many other options and it didn’t need any more drawings.


Neither this film nor The Stepford Wives film won anything at ASIFA, maybe the jurists were more attuned to bizarre walk cycles than they are today. 


This is a graphic approach to character animation, trying to find interesting manners of movement (which are simple) that convey an attitude -not to be confused with ‘tude -using the body form as a configuration of shapes. 

It’s ontologically opposite of “the illusion of life”.

It is, rather, the admission of the medium.  Instead of applying laws of gravity and biology to the drawings the animation here allows the drawing to dictate the manner of motion.  
This is a pretty simple little walk for all those big words -but that was the thinking behind animating this character in this fashion.
It’s very simple, it doesn’t try too much.  It’s one bit which, I think, succeeds in what it attempts.  As goofy as it is, I’m pretty happy with this little cycle.

Half A Walk

Michael Sporn has a typically interesting post illuminating a problem of poor craftsmanship being inculcated in today’s animation students.

It reminded me of a half-walk we did for The Stepford Wives.

Six drawings B13 through B18.

B 13

Sure this was a big Hollywood movie, but here’s the rub: they needed rewrites after a test screening and were hoping to help “fix” it in our sequence because the lab needed the new cut in just over a week.

B 14
Given the timeframe another 6 drawings (times two for clean up, times two for paint) wasn’t insignificant.
B 15
Above is the passing point, it’s the “trick” drawing where the legs switch.

B 16

Fortunately, this shortcut is stylistically acceptable in the context of the whole piece.  It also makes for funny animation.

B 17

Doug Compton is the animator here, and it wouldn’t work without his considerable skill.  It’s only a “short cut” if 20 plus years of honing one’s skills as an animator is a “cheap” way to do something.

B 18

In the context of what he’s criticizing, Michael’s point is right on target.
I do like George Griffin’s thoughts to put the problem in the larger world of motion study:
Plympton made fewer drawings work and it was not a decision based on narrative or character; it was experimental animation; it did break the rules; it let the scratchy lines move slower and not distract. A cycle is anything that’s repeated. The running Nazi gained some interesting qualities with fewer drawings: his head is obsessively facing forward to emphasize his menace, not twisting to the side on the stride; and the crazy legs give him a loping kind of nutty asymmetry.
Advice to students: Forget about “good” or “bad.” Just think about your objective, your time base, your momentary design and how it will flow or jerk in time.

Here’s the animation cycled on twos.