Sarcastic Animation Jam: My behind-the-scenes process

2015-12-06 02:37:29 by railtoons

Recently I entered the Sarcastic Animation Jam, run by the most generous @dylan, and ended up winning both the Audience Choice Award and the Judges 1st Place with my entry Nothing Gold Can Stay. Needless to say, I'm stoked with the result.

The brief was to create an animation in one weekend using two of the three prompts given on the Friday evening (fish bowl, broken window, or dialogue: “She's not my ____”). Creating a 1-minute animated film in a two days can be a pretty intense process, and as many people on Newgrounds are fellow animators eager to learn and share the craft, I thought I'd share a few process notes on how I went about making Nothing Gold Can Stay.

1) The Concept & Storyboard

I got up on Saturday morning knowing I wanted to enter something into the jam, just to practice speed-animating. I looked at the list of prompts, went 'hmm', then proceeded to put it aside for several hours because, I don't know. I needed to eat and shower and Young Justice was on.

At midday I jotted down some ideas but nothing was really sticking. To get it done by Sunday the idea had to be short and the shots had to be few and far between. I had some vague idea about a goldfish gasping out 'no more bowls' while lying next to the fishbowl its been trapped in its whole life. Time was running out, and with nothing else to go on I started sketching a gasping fish in good ol' Toon Boom Studio 6, just to see what I could come up with.

As often happens, I got caught up in it and ended up animating, lining and colouring the whole gasping fish cycle right there. Somewhere during this I started having ideas of this fish just floating in his boring fish bowl, and maybe another fish bowl, maybe a tank at the pet shop, oh and then the bag he was brought home in... when I thought of these I sketched them down straight away in the borders of the animation file, because I'm fucking horrible at remembering ideas after they first hit me.

I soon decided this could be the film: a montage of the fish's life in different bowls, capped off with finally being outside the bowl in its last moments of life. I'm the kind of person who needs a step-by-step plan to get things done, and as I didn't have time for a proper storyboard or animatic, the sketches became an impromptu storyboard:
nothing gold sketches


2) The Animation & Compositing (Toon Boom, Photoshop, After Effects)

When I finished the gasping fish cycle on Saturday afternoon I exported the PNG image sequence and pulled it into After Effects. I also quickly put together the floating fish. I knew it'd be quicker to animate the 'floating' look in After Effects, so I drew all the parts in Toon Boom and exported them in pieces.

Saturday night I painted all the background elements for the opening shot in Photoshop: The broken window, the broken fish bowl, and the baseball were all exported separately so I could create a depth of field camera effect when compositing in AE I used a soft painting style to help the glow on the fish bowl and broken window. I've found when you combine a soft-painted shine with a glow or blending mode effect in AE you get a really strong 'afternoon lighting' effect.

On Sunday I had to blaze through and quickly paint and composite ALL the fish bowl backgrounds. With very little time I figured that the fish's life memories would work fine in a sketchy style. I got a little inconsistent here and started using vector shapes to paint some things, while having sketchy lines for other things. Whatever. THERE'S NO TIME. D:

I pull all the fishbowls into AE in layers (which was usually just 'everything behind the fish' and 'everything in front of the fish'). Decide on some music (which I've been thinking about in the back of my mind all day). Set up the timing in the timeline. Put the floating fish in place. Go for a bike ride because I'm losing my mind looking at fish bowls all day.

The last thing I had to do was timing the gasping fish loop to some gasping sound effects. This was harder than I'd hoped, as I usually like to animate straight on top of character audio so I'm sure the timing is right. But alas, NO TIME, so after mangling the 'time stretch' tool in AE on both the audio and the visuals for about an hour, I finally got something moderately not horrible in terms of timing. Yay.


3) The Effects (After Effects)

The fancy lighting effects were done during and after the compositing of layers. I've been playing around with different colour effects in AE for a while now and knew I wanted to utilise that here to make up for the fact that the film is, pretty much, just a fish floating (sandwiched by a fish dying). Here are a two main techniques I used, in different measures and places:

--'Glow' effect: Chuck the glow effect straight on the layer or comp you want glowing. I usually use this only in small measure to accent something that's already painted a little glow-ish. You've really got to play around with the threshold and radius settings to make your object not look radioactive. Also, it can be hard to make this effect work on layers that have a black outline (like regular 2D characters), as you'll just get a greyish glow instead of a bright one.

--Solid layers with 'Add', 'Screen' or 'Classic Colour Dodge' blending mode: Make a new solid layer, pick your light colour. Use the pen or shape tool to make a mask selection of the area you want the lighting effect on: the ellipse tool is good for a glint of light off a shiny glass object; the pen tool is good for drawing a polygon of light through a window. Lower the opacity of the layer (shortcut: 't'), bring up the feather settings (shortcut: 'f') and increase it until you've got nice soft edges. Try out different blending modes: add and classic colour dodge are the ones I usually end up using for bright glows. Trial and error, test to see what looks good for each given glow.

Outside of this, there were also some basic particle effects in the scuba diver shot, some blur and colour effects in the zoom out of the opening shot, and a little of the puppet tool on the fish tail and human hands.

All in all, I'm really happy with what I finished in one weekend. Looking at what everyone else achieved with the other entries, it really is awesome how much we all collectively got done in two days. I think the key for me was committing to ideas once I had them, having some semblance of a plan for what I had to complete on the second day, and working with programs and techniques that I was familiar with but wanted to explore more.

Well, I'm going to stop babbling now. This has ended up WAY longer than I was intending, but I hope at least someone's found it a little interesting. I usually like reading about animation processes so I figure I can't be the only one. Right guys? ...Right? *Tumbleweed*

Any remaining questions or anything I forgot to cover about the process, feel free to ask.


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2015-12-06 20:08:52

That's a neat way of doing a quick storyboard. :)

My way of storyboarding involves getting the script done and audio in first, then slowly adding in the main shapes after listening to it 100+ times. A bit less intricate than some other methods. :P

One thing I learned is DEFINITELY don't write a massive script for a jam. If I was working on one of my own projects I can afford to go crazy and write for hours, but it'll never see the light of day with the time constraints of a jam session. Might explain why I was late...oh well live and learn.

I guess I just have one question for you...
How well did you keep your cool as the deadline kept creeping up? :P

railtoons responds:

Definitely, going overboard on the script can kill your chances of getting things in on time with something like a weekend jam.

Haha, in regards to your question: actually pretty well compared to other deadlines I've dealt with. XD I usually find my panic moments occur near the start, where the enormity of the project and the little time to do it in feel very, very real because nothing is done yet.

My plan with this jam was always to work in iterations, and whatever I had done by Sunday night would be what I entered. I think that's a smart way to work with tight deadlines like these.


2015-12-07 13:33:28

great job on the jam overall! i think a lot of what made your piece stand out visually was your compositing. in lots of jams, people get the main chunk of the animation done, but the deadline is so close that not much of that final polish gets added in.

the audio timing also came out really nice, despite any problems you were having. looking forward to more from you!

railtoons responds:

Cheers dylan, I appreciate that! :D


2016-01-01 01:06:45

Congrats on getting King of the Portal!