The Open Source Animation Collective
About this column, author, studio, etc...
Spread the Weird Studio has hosted Weird Wednesday Cartoon Workshops for several years and is happy to share the process of creating animated cartoons with you here at Cartoon Corner.
Our group of Weirdos is collaborative in a unique way so the production is very slow. New members are welcome to join us each week to share the love of animation and cartoons, show artwork and get feedback or critique, and to learn to be better animators while focusing on the process.
Weidos are not expected to do any "homework" so each week we try to accomplish at least one thing during the meetup to help move the project forward. And because the cartoon project is still in the works you'll get an inside peek as the animation comes to life while seeing all the nitty-gritty stuff under the hood during the process!
Jay David Clayton
A Peek at Our Cartoon Design Process
Part One -- Design Constraints
Every design starts by determining the constraints of the project. What are we capable of with the resources we have during the production time period? People, assets, deadlines.
Constraints are important to the design process because they allow us to create boundaries, or limitations due to what is realistically possible. Egos can often get in the way and working with collaborative groups means that everyone must take responsibility but at the same time the buck has to stop with one person, the director.
Constraints are our main bounding box of what's possible, as opposed to compromise. A compromised design is by definition a failure. This does not mean that we discourage critique or opinion but we limit these restrictions by outlining constraints to begin with. Compromise should be avoided. With every design problem there can be only one solution. A designer that presents several possible solutions indicates that the correct solution has not been found. When you have the right solution it is obvious!
So, where did our group find the constraints that were important to the production as a whole?
What was our weird design solution?
To start we'll have to reveal how this project began.
When the studio first opened to the public as an animation maker space there was only a handful of writers and aspiring comedians wanting to tell stories with cartoons. There was a nearby open mic where we would test our material and our brainstorming sessions involved creating our story but also asking many questions about 'how' the cartoon would come to life.
As the group began to grow with Weirdos there were illustrators, voice actors and musicians showing interest in playing along but not having anything to do until there was a script, characters and a storyboard with which to work.
Since the group is constantly growing and changing it's important to outline some rules and identify constraints so that everyone can participate.
Musicians were encouraged to help with the writing team, visual artists were asked to offer their natural voice to a character and voice artists helped with drawings and brainstorming. Animation is a lof of work so we need all hands on deck!
Along the way everyone has learned more about animation by seeing the whole process. Because no one was expected to do any "homework" it was decided that each week the group would meet and accomplish at least one thing to move the project forward. This gave us ...
- We couldn't possibly hope to crank out new cartoons each month so the Weirdos chose to make the project more about the process. It's also a terrific exercise in supporting a collaborative project with a constantly changing source of creative input.
- In this way, each member has been able to better their understanding of the process so that they can deliver better assets when their pieces are integrated in production. (For instance, a musician might find it helpful to score a piece if they are more familiar with the storyboard creation and animatic stages of development.)
Constraint #1 -- Slow production with a small, ever-changing team.
- The Weirdos decided to adopt a simple approach to 2D animation and create our cartoon in a "cut-out style" similar to South Park. We chose to use vector artwork so that everything could be scalable.
- We have a limit of 6 main characters and 3 reoccurring characters.
- - Each character is drawn with the basic front, right, back, and left views with limited armature movements.
- - The sets are also limited so that we wouldn't have to be constantly drawing new backgrounds. Our characters can be found in 7 locations and there are 4-6 camera views of each location set.
- This means we have to be very clever animators and designers to tell our stories. One character doesn't even talk!! As an example we have used, what if our gang needs to go to a bread factory but we aren't drawing new backgrounds? Be clever! Have the characters in the gang talk about going to the bread factory, use a flashy video transition and then show the gang carrying baguettes! The quiet one just shrugs his shoulders and winks at the camera so the viewer puts it together themselves. A crude example but effective for explaining it here.
Constraint #2 -- Amount of content needing to be created.
- Spread the Weird Studio has art supplies, sound equipment and lots of computers with programs for creating animation since not everyone has this stuff at home or has the skill to use each medium. We have chosen to use Free Open Source software so that everyone can be included.
- We are using Blender for our animation pipeline and now including an 'Intro to Modeling with Blender' workshop at the library where our group meets. This gives each member a chance to learn the software that we use for the project.
- Because Blender offers a full animation pipeline this shows how we use it for everything from writing the script, creating storyboards, conceptualizing, modeling, rigging characters, animating, lighting and rendering, and environment creation; just to name a few.
- Everything you need to create a cartoon from start to finish is packaged in one program. Many of us have used other software so there will often be discussion about 2D animation in general but also how these concepts relate to the custom pipeline we are creating using Blender.
Constraint #3 -- Skills available from hardware and software users.
What's this Open Crowd Source of Weirdos Thing?
So, to wrap this up...
This collaborative project has been an experiment in group dynamics while understanding constraints in complex design problems. Each new project from the Weirdos invites new design problems. Each project offers the opportunity for us to retune our pipeline, or in this case, invent a new pipeline as we create. This is what's so cool about sharing this process with you here!
This fluid nature would not be efficient for a commercial endeavor but because our project is open source and uniquely collaborative we have an opportunity to see what happens when a crowd sourced idea meets with a design solution that is flexible enough to allow the creation of something fantastic.
So, stay t00ned! We're going to have a lot of fun here sharing everything about this cartoon project, the people that are making it happen and you'll be right here with us when the final cartoon goes to air!
Our cartoon project is currently in production so if you live in the Phoenix Metro area you can Join our MeetUp Group and share in the fun of creating cartoon animation.
Next we'll talk about the writing process and how our Weirdos came up with the cartoon concept.
Until then we'll leave you with this short description of our groups' cartoon project.
Yeah, our gang of misfit woodland characters are definitely a bit Nutters! What do you expect from a group of weirdos that get together to find adventure?
The land they were living on was full of trees and rivers, hills and meadows with rocks and plants and other stuff like curbs and streets and walls with doors and strange places that just make no sense at all.
The human world has begun to take over what's left of the Forest when this group of little animals join forces and ...
... and ... yes, they all... uh,
The gang is actually a bunch of super heroes!
Did you see that one coming?
Of course you did.
Screw that idea!
They aren't super in any way at all! They're idiots! Their powers are derived from their individual mental issues so it should be quite obvious... they are all NUTTERS!!
The gang will encounter many adventures through the woods and into the city, interacting with humans and grandmas and domesticated animals in weird and hilarious situations while o'er the fields they go!
Get ready for a unique PEEK at animation that will inspire the way you look at cartoon creation.
Nutters is going to drive you Nuts!!