Life, Art, and Monkeys


Well, given how infrequently I update this ol' personal blog, I think it's about time I moved things over to permanently. It's updated every Monday, after all! Plus I'm going to be upgrading it in the next few months to include links to other spots I hang out online, such as my new digs at Instagram. If you're looking for me in the meantime, check over here!

Zipping over to!


Past Archives Begin Here

Caution sign
Please note: Posts here older than June 24th, 2015 should be considered officially archived. I am not removing them, but in the ten years that I have been writing on this blog I have changed a great deal. Things beyond this point should be considered outdated at best, and may contain many errors or opinions I no longer hold. These things tend to happen as you grow and live life. Or at least, they hopefully happen as you try to become a better person as you age! I just want readers to be aware of that, so that if you decide to go poking through history you will know that it doesn't necessarily reflect my current or future views. :)


If you'd like current thoughts and posts, please visit for regular scheduled updates that provide better insights and information. Thanks!


Winter 2015 Q&A Answers

Last Friday I asked for any questions readers might have in order to answer them for today's blog update, so let's get right to it!

Jordo says:

Yay, Q&A! I guess I’ll keep it simple. How have you been? How’s life? How’s Q doing? I hope all is well. :)

I've been fine, thanks for asking! :)

I could probably go on for quite some time given the subject of "how life is" but I'll keep it simple as well. Life is good, I'm appreciating the time I have here and for whatever reason am currently extremely enthusiastic about rolling up my sleeves and getting some work done. Probably because it's been so long since I had an office to settle into for the long haul. Q is doing well (for those of you who don't know, Q is my wife) and since her appendix surgery last year it seems like she's been healthy and focused on work. I've been trying to get her to help with some non-work projects, but I feel bad about bugging her when she has so many deadlines at her actual job!

How about you? All well on your front in the cold frozen tundras of Ohio?

Side note: Since Jordo included his website in his login, I'm linking to it here should you like to stop by and see what's happening on his corner of the Internet.

Mike Hearn says:

Here’s a Q for you to A, my twitter debate partner: 2 3D mixed animation. It is VERY common place now. Every 2 show uses it for vehicle and the like. It has come a long way, but I still think it sticks out like a sore thumb. What do you think of it?

I think the combination of 2D and 3D animation is a great technological step for the medium. As you said, the issue is when they don't play nicely together. It's curious, because clearly it CAN work beautifully (Disney has used it fantastically over the years, and even in smaller budget projects like Futurama they manage to nail the blending of the two styles). One has to wonder, why doesn't everyone create this unity well? Why do some shows have it sticking out like a sore thumb, as you said?

I think partly it's because animators fail to understand much of the magic of 2D comes in the imperfection of the human hand. Computers are perfect (in the mathematical sense) so when they render something, it is exactly 100% spot on. Humans can't be perfect. (Which in my opinion can spark a wonderful, deeper discussion, but we'll leave that for another time! :) ) In order to properly blend 2D and 3D, the CGI done by a computer needs "roughed up" in a way. It needs to be imperfect so it blends with the rest of the lovely, hand-crafted imperfect animation around it. Many studios simply skip this step. As a result, you get the obvious 2D vs. obvious 3D without the appealing blend of both.

It's really important animators understand where 2D excels and where 3D reigns supreme. Both are great for certain applications, and rather lousy for others. When you use the strengths of each, and keep in mind the limitations so they can be blended well, that's when you can have a magical marriage of both styles.

Of course, in the old days before CG animators did the cars and complex ships or whatever by hand, and in my opinion they did a DANG good job of it. There's something to be said for the epic quality of CG water, for example, but give me the hand-drawn end sequences of Pinocchio any day.

Besides being my "twitter debate partner" (we have conversations that are much deeper than most people jam into 140 character bursts) Mike is also author and artist of webcomic Walter the Wicked, which you can see here.

Wegra says:

So what kind of animations will we see in 2015?

Are you asking in general, or specifically from me? :) I'll put the less egotistical answer first: 2015 is shaping up to be a very fine year for animation it seems. You have new films from Pixar and Dreamworks (more than one a piece), plus the Minions have their own feature and the CG Peanuts looks better than I would have expected. There will be plenty of other things from smaller (or at least, less known) studios as well. Hopefully the market doesn't get over saturated this year, because there are an awful lot of animated films on the horizon!

As for my own production, it really remains to be seen. I'm currently working on a short animated test that a fellow animator gave me as a challenge to show him my very best work. You see, I've never truly tried 100% at a finished animated clip, and we both thought it would be interesting to see where my skill level topped out. In the past I've been more concerned with either getting things finished (ie. Fred cartoons) or doing rough tests (like this one). This test will be a chance to put all my skill into play and see where I currently stand. I don't expect the drawing to be phenomenal (that's currently what's holding me back, mostly) but I am hopeful the movement will be pretty top notch. Guess we'll see! (The reason I've never tried 100% is because I have no use for a demo reel, which is where most animators will put things they make in order to show off their maximum competency. Since I have no use for a reel [given I own my own studio and am not looking for a job] I have never actually taken the time to polish something to "as good as I can possibly make it." This will be an experience!)

Beyond that I would love to say I'll have a new FtM cartoon this year, but I just don't know. I also may be working with Ferdinand on an animated short, but given that we want it to be full hand-drawn 2D of a high level, there's really no way to tell if that will be ready in 2015 or take longer. Hand drawn animation of top quality takes a LONG TIME. Much longer than you'd ever expect... Probably why so few people do it these days.

Plus I'd like to give another shot at the 11 Second Club one of these months. If I can manage to squeeze it in! Most of my time early on this year will be working on the book I'm finishing to publish and also really learning Toon Boom Animate Pro well. It's slow going, this animation thing I've chosen to dedicate my life to! :)

CJVanNice says:

Alright, I have a couple of questions for ya,

1. While Fred is on hiatus for a while, I’m interested what your process was for making the cartoons was. Did you have a vague game plan of what the next few episodes were going to be, or did you make them roughly as you came up with them.

2. Have you had a chance to watch the Netflix series VeggieTales in the House? While it’s clearly aimed for a young audience, the 3D animation is, in my opinion anyway, kinda impressive, using lots of squash and stretch and being usually quite fluid. I figured you might want to take a look if you haven’t already.

3. What was your favorite animated film you saw in 2014?

1. That's a terrific question! Most of the time I had a pretty steady plan for the general direction, and then added things as I went. For example, I know the general story of the next few episodes (whenever they end up being made) but if something else springs to mind I'll make a detour and do that instead.

Overall, my process was to come up with a joke of some kind and then build an episode around it. Sometimes I would have a storyline instead, and have to jam jokes into it and try to make it as humorous as possible while still sticking with the plot I wanted to put in. Almost all FtM cartoons started as a script of just text, and progressed from there.

Later on in the years I would do storyboards before jumping into the animation itself. This was a great change for me, because if you're going to do animation it REALLY pays to do storyboards first. Highly, highly recommended.

I also know how the series "ends." But alas, I doubt we'll ever see that episode because there are so many stories I'd like to tell with the characters first. :)

2. I have not! I don't have Netflix, so that's probably why, but should I have access to it this year I will add that to my list of things to check out. Thanks for the recommendation!

I do have several Silly Songs with Larry on my go-to playlist of random songs. "Endangered Love" just came on last week as I was cruising down the highway in the car. Speaking of which, I really need to add His Cheeseburger to my phone...

3. I'd probably have to go with The Lego Movie. Thoroughly enjoyed that from start to finish! Unless we're talking about ANY movie I watched, in which case possibly Lilo and Stitch for the 7th time. 😉

Actually I'm curious what other folks' answer to that question would be. So if you have a moment, let me know what YOUR favorite animated film was of 2014. It would be great for me to hear what and why as an animator, so while I work on my own animations I can keep these things in mind. No point in me making animations no one would want to watch, right?

Thanks so much!

I really appreciate everyone who wrote in questions so I wasn't just showing up Monday with nothing to answer, ha ha. I hope it has been informative and/or entertaining. I'd like to do this again, so perhaps in a few months when the snow melts I can do the "Spring 2015 Q&A" huh? We'll see!

In the meantime, it's back to the regular blog post updates tomorrow, which as a reminder go live at 12:01AM. (And as always, if anyone has questions or comments BETWEEN the Q&A posts, never hesitate to leave them in the comments, I read them all and check to see if there are new ones about 17 times a day. 😛 )

PS. In case you didn't know, it's Groundhog Day today so let's go eat a groundhog.



11 Second Club Concepts: Getting Weird

Option 5: Baseballs and a pitching machine. Okay, so now I know this one is a little out there, but again THIS IS ANIMATION! It should be fun and unique and interesting! What's interesting about 100 entries of a guy on an airplane?! At least with baseballs you stop and say "Well, that sure is different!" Plus have you ever been to a batting cage? It's scary from the player's side, and that's with a BAT in your hands! Can you imagine what it might be like for the balls? Waiting patiently in que for their doom?

Those are the ideas I sketched out, but I brainstormed a bunch more. How about featuring kids sledding instead of a plane? Sleds fly if you get them going down a large enough hill! Or maybe take the idea of "Flies" and run with the insects by the same name? Surely something could be pulled from that. Also on my list: Paper airplanes, birds, pterodactyls, squirrels, hats, angels, bows and arrows, witches with brooms, and Care Bears. I don't know where Care Bears came from, but it popped into my head so I wrote it down! 😛

Hope you enjoyed this creative trip as much as I did! Have a great weekend!


11 Second Club Concepts: Birds and the Bees

Option 4: Where do babies come from? Well, this one will probably arrive by train instead of stork...


11 Second Club Concepts: Catapult

Option 3: Live ammo. Pun intended!


11 Second Club Concepts: Penguin!

Option 2: Instead of a GUY on an airplane, it's a penguin talking! Obviously as flightless birds, this adds to the story, and since it's animation, we don't have to just use people. One of my favorite quotes goes something like "If you're going to do animation, why bother doing something you could shoot live with film?"


11 Second Club Concepts: Hot Air

So over at the 11 Second Club last month they had a clip of some random wooden-sounding noises and footsteps to animate to. Sadly 99.9% of them were "Guy goes through door, crashes through the floor in some way." Booooooring! Now I can't talk, really, because I didn't even DO one, so at least the people who entered actually DID! Kudos to them for trying. Now let's try harder. :)

I thought it would be a fun, and perhaps useful, creative exercise to take this month's clip (it's from Star Trek) and brainstorm not-just-a-guy-on-an-airplane ideas. Because so far in the Work in Progress forum, it's mostly guys on an airplane. Which makes sense given the clip, but this is animation! Let's not just do the norm, people! (You can hear the clip here.)

I'll post one idea and sketch a day here, so stay tuned for more.

Option 1: Still a guy with an aircraft, but make it a hot air balloon!



The Animation that Never Was

As I've mentioned, the studio short that I'm working on has been eating up pretty much 100% of my time. But along the way I discovered I really love storyboarding. As there's been no time to do the 11 Second Club since beginning this project, Friday night I took a 45 minute "break" from work and "relaxed" by doing this animatic of storyboards for last month's audio file. (I never would have guessed that some day I'd find drawing relaxing, but here we are.)

Alas that is as far as it will ever go,  because it's back to real work now. But I had a ball doing it, and I think it turned out rather smashingly for under an hour of work start to finish! The me of two years ago would be jealous. Now, though, I must continue to improve!


More on Storyboarding

I figured it was about time I learned to do storyboards that were less of a scribbled mess (though I've had several people now tell me mine are readable compared to what they do- which surprises me) so I decided to copy some existing storyboards that I adore. First test is based on an image from Michael from Ninjerktsu, who is a storyboard artist from Dreamworks and does some of the most appealing, readable, well composed storyboards I've ever laid eyes on. His image is on the left, my (very off) copy on the right:

(Image is pretty huge, so click above to see it full size)

Just from doing this one copy I learned a TON, including just how much of a difference 4 or 5 shades of gray can make. The image without any color (just line) was a visual mess. By blocking in the color everything that you're supposed to look at really, really pops, and your eye ends up in the spots its supposed to go compositionally. Firefox says compositionally isn't a word, but I disagree. A huge thanks to Michael for posting such great stuff, it's a true inspiration. Back to work I go!