Cartoons, Computers and Antics – Page 4

Cartoon production with Antics generally involves a blend of all these techniques. Some are extremely easy, others are quite difficult. Careful planning is essential, right from storyboard stage, to get the best balance of different techniques for the various different scenes. Basic decisions of style and story can make a great deal of difference to the production costs. And the key to it, almost certainly, is the building up of a well-designed store of stock material. The beauty of Antics is that the more you do, the easier and cheaper it gets. Producing the first five minutes of animation might well be more expensive than conventional cel technique, but once the animators have solved the basic problems, established the appropriate techniques, and built up a good stock, it gets progressively quicker and cheaper – so it actually makes greater sense for a large-scale series than it does for a one-off short cartoon.

Setting up a studio for such a project might typically involve a group of three or four animators, and perhaps three machines. Firstly, they need time to become familiar with the system, and to explore all aspects of their particular cartoon project, and time to discover how to make best use of the machine’s advantages, while overcoming its limitations and building up a basic stock. This stage will probably take several months at least, and much of the resultant work may be experimental – only when it is completed should storyboards be finalised, and full-scale production begin in earnest.

Getting familiar with Antics is part of the start-up process, and is a question in itself. Quite a number of animators have now had the chance to work with it, and have been very pleasantly surprised to find it quite easy to use, even if they had never been anywhere near a computer or paintbox before in their lives. Being easy to use isn’t the same as being easy to master – that takes longer. Antics is a rich and versatile system, with many aspects. Even though I invented it, and have been using it for fifteen years, I’m still learning and discovering things. Above all, the system enables you to invent, to use your ingenuity and make discoveries of your own – it is not just a simple push-button system for dummies. It is more like learning to play the piano – a scale in C doesn’t take long to learn, a Chopin sonata takes a bit longer. Quite simply, the more you practice, the more expert you become. Typically, though, we find a beginner needs an introductory session to go briefly through the main features, followed by a few days further exploration with occasional expert help, then a week or so solo, followed by a few days advanced course to resolve any ‘detail’ questions. It usually takes two or three weeks to go through the “beginners” stage, but to master it and fully establish your own individual style may take some months.

However, “Mastering Antics” doesn’t necessarily mean mastering everything. In practice, people quite naturally tend to specialise in different aspects. One person may be brilliant at drawing and air-brushing, but lousy at animation. One might be a wizard with graphic effects, but hopeless with skeletons, another might be the inbetweening ace, and so forth. The beauty of Antics is that being an integrated system, it enables people to work out their own specialities, rather than have them imposed on them by the system design (or union regulations, come to that). Each animation team can find its own ways of working – there are no set rules.

To sum up, it is certainly very possible to use this technique for large-scale cartoon production – but it hasn’t been done before, so inevitably it will take time to get it right. It is essential to allow a good start-up period to explore the unknowns, establish the basics and get it right.

But this is still just the beginning – Antics has been in continuous development since 1972, and it is still not completed. This is another aspect of Antics that may well be unique: its background and origins.

Most commercial systems are developed by established companies, or new companies with specifically-allocated finance. Market research is used to identify a potential market need, and a system is designed around some specific hardware, to fill a particular market niche, in a relatively short time-span. The result often tends to have a relatively short life before becoming obsolete. The systems are usually designed by programmers who rarely have any understanding of animation – they may consult with animators, but as a rule animators are unaware of the machine’s capabilities and everybody is groping in the dark towards something nobody knows quite what.

(top left) Key skeletons drawn for a ‘hopping run’. (top right) The same with inbetween skeletons added by Antics. (above left) Finished frames are then produced automatically. (above right) Some key frames.

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