Archive for January, 2009

What is Family Pants?

January 4, 2009

Family Pants is a comic strip turned animated cartoon about Frank Mueller and his family.  Part goofy sitcom like I Love Lucy , but instead of Lucy angling for fame with a sneak appearance in Ricky’s night club, it’s Frank’s insatiable appetite to be self-sufficient which gets him in awkward situations.

Self sufficiency may be a characteristic more akin to the drama of Survivorman than the humor of The Honeymooners Ralph and his “get rich quick” characteristics.  But the two are alike as ego and stubbornness drive fools to failure.

Self-sufficiency is a trait I’ve found in myself through much soul searching and studying my father.  The best explanation of Family Pants’ Frank Mueller is the “pig fat soap” story about my dad.  The following story is somewhat true, it’s details exaggerated for humor and define a trait of my dad, me and exaggerated in Frank Mueller.

One afternoon my mother comes home with a grocery bag of soap; Dial for your hands, a Lava bar for filth, make up remover, Dove for the girl Redl’s and Zest for the men of the house, a couple of shampoos with a couple of conditioners for the hair, two more soaps for the laundry and a couple more for the dishes.

Upon inspecting the lush booty on the table, I complained she missed yet another “soap”, Noxema for my less than spectacular adolescent complexion.  My Mom quietly says she’ll get it next time, citing if I never put the item on the list, it would never make it in the grocery bag.

Now here enters my Dad, spying the mountain of “soap” on the table, the double-digit grocery bill and a son complaining his mother’s efforts were weak and lamenting on how impossible surviving the week will be without that one particular item.

My Dad erupts how I’m an unappreciative kid and leading by example, he tells a story about how in his youth he made soap out of pig grease, or “crease” as he pronounced in his broken English.

You may say he doesn’t sound much different than any other father, cursing unappreciative offspring and the re-telling of his harder youth.  But some back story on my Dad.  He grew up in post WWII Germany.  So when he tells of having nothing, he meant nothing!  He and his family ate whatever they grew or caught and lived meagerly without plumbing, carpeting, electricity or shoes.

Intrigued on the mention of pig fat soap, I stopped my complaining and wanted to know more.  Of course I’m visualizing simply pouring bacon grease directly onto your skin for that oh so fresh feeling.  In reality soap can be made from animal fats, but the recipe requires some refining and laborious “cooking” procedures.

But before my Dad could explain my Mom counters harshly, “You didn’t make soap from pig fat… get outta’ here!”  My sister enters laughing and cementing the imagery in my head of bathing in bacon bits.

Now begins the challenge.  In part to satisfy a curious son, but mostly to silence a doubting wife and instigating daughter, my Dad attempts to create pig fat soap.

Cut to the chase, the doorknobs are covered with grease, a hundred of dollars pots and pans are ruined, the holiday roast and all the bacon is burned up and my Dad’s skin is aglow in a rash caused by strange pig soap.

Sounds like a Family Pants episode?  You bet.  And suddenly the characters focus.

At first glance of this story, you may think my Dad is cheap, not wanting to spring for real soap.  But one thing about my Dad is that if given the money, he’d spend it all on his kids.  Growing up poor, he is not a tight spender if he runs into funds.

Perhaps my Dad is old fashioned, not wanting to use new-fangeled soap over soap made the old fashioned way.   But growing up in poverty made my Dad enjoy and welcome new inventions and the conveniences they bring.  He’d never want to go back to the old days again, especially for his kids.

Speaking of inventions, perhaps my Dad is some sort of crazy mad scientist, “inventing” his own soap.  While he is mechanically inclined, he lacks the inventor’s drive to either become rich and famous or change the world sharing his vision.  He is not an inventor.

Well maybe the guy is just plain stupid.  Lots of funny characters are simply that.  Btu my Dad is far from ignorant.  His brilliance may not come from formal education, his genius comes from learning “on the job”, forging a successful and respectful life and career with nothing but his hands and heart.  Call it God’s scholarship.

So my Dad is not cheap or old-fashioned.  Nor is he a crazy inventor or just plain stupid.  The true message in the pig fat soap story is being self-sufficient or self reliant.  Even if he got the recipe right, I doubt he’d save any money or the environment making home made soap over Johnson & Johnson’s factory brand.  It’s not about money or saving the environment.  It’s about depending on oneself and having the courage to make your own luck.  There it is again, stubbornness and ego.

I find myself the same way, only instead of complaining about a person’s dependency on soap, I find myself risking life and limb installing antennas and dishes the size of swimming pools on my roof to free myself from the shackles of the cable company.  Oooo, how I loath the cable company.

And so Frank is a little of Lucy Mcgillicuddy, Ralph Kramden, a little of me and a little of my Dad.  Frank is a Survivor-Dad!

Lamaze Daze Revealed!

January 4, 2009

What the process of making a Family Pants cartoon?  Well, here’s the whole process broken down from start to finish.  It doesn’t take long, but since I’m working in my spare time it feels kind of like Tim Robbins digging his way out of Shawshank with a spoon… a tiny bit every day.

Warning, these are spoilers!  Watch the finished cartoon Lamaze Daze here, then look back at the steps to get there.

1) Story (4 hours)
My Dad frequently gets motions sickness from being a passenger when driven by my Mom.  It’s not funny, but he does this strange breathing thing, in through the nose and out through the mouth.  His gagging sounds like “up… up”.  This was the start of this idea.

From there I thought of some dialog between Frank and Blanche inspired by identical arguments between my Mom and Dad about my Dad getting motion sickness.  I wrote that part and went back to re-write it.  First to simplify it, rather than them being in a car or say on a carnival ride, I put it in the living room and from my own experience with back pain, I had his cause of motion sickness being a vibrating back pad.  Second, I re-wrote it to complicate Frank’s predicament.  (Think of Jack Tripper complicating a little lie to Mr. Furley.  It gets bigger and bigger.  Maybe the audience can see it coming and those little hints of what’s going to happen add to the humor.  This is the stuff of comedy!)

Then using stream of consciousness thinking, I linked Frank lying on the floor breathing those strange “ups”, to a woman in labor.  That lead me to work in Nick’s Lamaze meeting and Alex’s doll.  I added “after birth”, which conveniently doubled as vomit from Frank.  And lastly it only seemed right Jöhan stealing the doll in the end for a good finish.

I’ve often heard that when you throw up, you “sell your Buick” because it sounds like that… “Buy by Buick… Buy my Buick.”  So I put it in there. I’ve also thought every beer sounds like throwing up.  Bud, Budweiser, Becks, Bush, Coors, Schlitz and of course Grolsch!  So I put that in there as well.  Saint Paulie Girl didn’t make sense, which is why I thought it was the funniest.

So here’s the finished script:

“The Lamaze Daze”:
Nick setting up a couple of folding chairs.  Frank walks in with a box labeled ATTIC STUFF and drops it.
F: Oh, my knuckled neck!  My vertebrae is as-cue with obtuse angles! [moves head side to side to emphasize]
Frank rubs neck and does some stretches through out.  Pushes chin in, tilts head to side, Egyptian dance, shoulder stretch with arms raising up behind him…
N: Hey!  I’m having a pre-Lamaze class meeting here in a few minutes.
Alex enters.
F: You can go back to your camel class after I find my vibratin’ back pad!
Frank bends over and searches in box.
A: (ignoring Frank) Pre-lamaze?
N: It’s a meeting to encourage and educate expecting women, allowing them the right to a birth free from routine medical intervention-
Frank pulls out back massager pad and a doll falls out onto the floor.
N: Hey, Alex!  Your old dolly!
A: You played with that thing more than I did-
F: Never mind youthful memories… dis electrically charged vertebrae vibratin’ pad will rectify my spinal region!
Frank puts the pad on a folding chair and sits on the pad eyeing it’s remote.
F: They say it’s got realistic needling masseuse man-hand action in there! [gestures]
He starts the pad which makes a lawn mower sound.  His eyes shut.
F:  Ahhhhh!  The masochistic realism…  I can feel my vitreous fluid flowing through my medulla…
The pad then makes a ringing sound and vibrates more.
N: Is that the door bell?  It’s the lamaze president!
Nick leaves.  The pad smokes.  Frank looks up worried.
F: Uh Oh!  My giblets are gettin’ jostled!
The pad ejects Frank ripping off his pants.  He up ends and lands on the floor.  Frank gets up and bends over, hands on knees and breaths deep like Dad.  Dizzy spirals over his head.
F: Oooooh…. (breath) (breath) Up.. Up.. Up…
A: What’s wrong?
F: I got motion sickness! (breath) (breath) Up..
A: MA!  DAD’S SICK!
Blanche walks in.
B: Thank goodness, you finally turned that thing off!  (Looking up into the air) It sounded like a helicopter in here!
F:  The earth… she spins… (breath) (breath) Up.. Up.. (Gestures spin with finger but holds his stomach.)
B: Well, are you dizzy or nauseous?
Frank stands up.
F: What’s the difference? (breath) (breath) Up.. Up..
He bends back over and spits.
B: There’s a big differ- HEY!  Don’t spit on my floor!
F: (staying bent over) Blanche… put me outta my misery…. Up… Up….
B: Believe me if it wasn’t for Grissom and CSI I would have!  Besides that motion sickness is all in your head-
F: BUY MY BUICK, BUY MY BUICK, WILL YOU BUY MY BUICK, LOW MILEAGE, LOW MILEAGE (fades out and with added gibberish throw-up blub-blub snd f/x)
A: Looks like what’s in his stomach…
B: What are you doing?  Get to the bathroom!
Frank stands and boldly talks, then immediately yaks after each statement.
F: I’m sick as a dog!  BUDWEISER,  HEINEKIN, HEINEKIN, COOORSS, HICCUP, BLUB, BLUB, BLUB
F: I got and an inner ear problem!  SCHLITZ, PAPTS BLUE RIBBON, SAINT PAULIE GIRL, GROOOLLLSH, BLUB, BLUB
B: Fer Christ’s Sake!  Alex help me get the mop!
Blanche pulls Alex away to help get the mop.
B: (Off camera)  I just CLEANED in there!
F: I need to lie down… get low… I need to get my inner ear closer to ‘de earth…  Oooo I gotta get my sea legs above me…(breath) (breath)
Nick walks in with Lamas president to Frank groaning and breathing on the floor, legs up, fluid chunks by his feet and a doll in the “after birth”.  Prez stunned.  Nick looks at Frank then at doll in puddle.
N: Oh my God!
Jöhan runs in and grabs the doll and rips it up and runs away.
N and PREZ: AHH!
F: BUY MY BUICK!
Quick cut to END.

2) Soundtrack: Dialog Recording (Half an hour)
I didn’t need thumbnails of boards as I knew exactly what I wanted in my head to direct my Mom as Blanche, my wife Melissa as Alexandrea and me as everyone else.  Otherwise at least a rough board could help the actor’s performance and director’s direction.  (See, you look like this when you say this line… etc.)

I do the recording on a Sony Mini Disc recorder using a Sony omni-directional microphone.

3) Soundtrack: F/X and Editing (12.5 hours)
This serves as my X-sheet or exposure sheet.  By timing out these sounds, I can plan my animation to it.  Lacking a foley department, I am very limited to the types of sounds I can get.  I find it’s easier to draw to sounds than custom sounds to my drawings.

Lately, I’ve been trying to use Audacity over Pro Tools Free.   Audacity is a free OS X sound editing program and Pro Tools Free, a free OS 9 sound editing program.  Since I can’t work in OS 9 forever, I’m trying to make the jump.

An advantage of Pro Tools is that I could start editing a cartoon, then pass it off to a professional sound editor since Pro Tools is the industry standard.  But once the file is opened in a non-free version, it cannot be opened again in the free version.  So once I hand it off, there’s no handing it back.  But in the case with Family Pants, I’m an army of one when it comes to production, so there’s no worry there.

Another advantage with Pro Tools is that it is a non-destructive sound program.  Where as Audacity is destructive.  This means the edits you make in Pro Tools do not destroy the original sound files as Pro Tools references those files.  In fact, you have a “library” on the side where you can pull the original sounds back into your time line to re-edit a sound again differently.  Audacity imports the sound files and permanently alters them.  Without a “library”, you have to re-import the sound to edit it differently.

Also, Audacity is a little cumbersome to work with.  I’ve found it hard to mix volume easily.  Plus you can’t seem to move sound from one track to another without slightly off setting it’s position in the time line.  There doesn’t seem to be a “snap to” feature as with Pro Tools.  Without such a feature you’re forced to adjust a perfect edit again if you move one sound to another layer or track.  And the worst feature is that if you delete a part of a sound, sounds located further down the time line move forward, having me to select all those segments and move them back to their proper place.

It could be perhaps Audacity’s interface is buggy.  Perhaps I just am simply unfamiliar with the program.  But hey, it’s OS X and FREE!  What can you really complain about?

4) Storyboard / layout (7 hours)

I made small thumbnails to organize my thoughts and plan my animation in my sketchbook.

lamaze_sketch_2

lamaze_sketch_1

Usually I work with a thick magic marker on a small post-its, to prevent drawing detail and erasing as well as allowing me freedom to re-arrange or edit my panels.  But for expediency, I worked in my sketchbook, crossing off and adding to my messy panels.  It’s not orderly, but it works.

Lots of guys call this a “shot layout” rather than storyboards.  Since you’re really planning a rough layout rather than facial expressions and body gestures.  The way I see it, you work from broad strokes to thin.  I’ll work on the character positions first before detail on the eyes or mouth.

I took my own advice from an older entry in my sketchbook about limited animation.  I cut around action, used audio to guide action and used what I call a 3 layer rule, where your animation must be simple enough to fit on just 3 “cell” layers.  (Think of a great walk cycle where the background pans on one layer, the upper body is perfectly still on the second layer and just the legs move on the third.  It makes for simplified or caricatured action and movement.  This not only adds to the humor, but cuts production.  Plus, if you wanted reality, watch reality.  If you want perfect physics in your movement, use 3-D programs.  If you want silly cartoon fun, then you’ve come to the right place.  A side note, this works for humor, but limited silly caricatured action and movement my not be able to convey more serious or complex moods.  If Bambi’s mom moved in a silly way rather than realistically, we wouldn’t have cried when she was killed.  So there are reasons to break the production bank and obey physics and laws of motion.  But for my purposes, I want to be funny.  Thus I can save time and money.)

I re-drew the roughs into flash.

lamaze_roughinflash_1

lamaze_roughinflash_2

In some cases I put my sketch book on the LCD screen and trace it off to get it in there faster.  If I drew directly in Flash it would have been that much faster, but I could draw in my sketchbook anywhere, including the dinner table.  My computer setup isn’t that portable.

I should have done the rough boards or shot layout before the sound.  Because after I did these boards, I figured I could cut around some action saving animation.  This alteration changes the sound edit.  If I had the boards to reference while I did the sound, I wouldn’t have to go back to make adjustments!

Since I’m lazy, I made the sound edits in Flash, matching it up to my rough boards.  Flash’s sound editing capabilities are pitiful.  But they are good enough to make big edits.  When I was done, I had a rough animatic.

The sound from this QuickTime was pulled and then imported into Audacity and used as a guide to adjust the real soundtrack accordingly.  Remember the edit I did in Flash was broad and crude.  So I had to make a smooth edit in a real sound program.  The newer edit replaced the crude flash edit soundtrack in the animatic.  If Flash had better sound editing capabilities,  imagine the time saved editing image and sound together!  (Some guys I know edit their sound in Flash to save time.  But I feel that Flash’s frustrating interface, poor sound manipulation and frequent crashing eats up any potential time reservoir.  Hence I don’t do the bulk of my sound editing in Flash.  Some guys do their animatics in Final Cut Pro where they can cut image and sound easily.  But, if you need any drawing adjustments, you’ll have to draw it separately, either on paper and scan it into the computer or directly in flash or photoshop and save out a jpeg to get it back into Final Cut.  Again, that round about process eats any time you’ve saved.  I think my next cartoon I will bite the bullet and edit the sound in Flash, because Audacity is equally frustrating.)

5) Animation/color  (25 hours)
I’m doing this one in the “Canned Ham” style, which although some people didn’t like the yellowish skin color, it got favorable opinions from others.  Ripping off my previous cartoon this time around I didn’t have to think of the final color!

The process of no holding line or no thick black outline was inspired by Ubbe Iworks. This guy drew entire cartoons by himself in record time.  After you look at his finish, you’ll see the characters lacking black outlines.

ubbeiworks_sansline

This was because these characters were done in black and white, very graphic images.  Essentially you could smear a shape, and presto your finished!  Now, it’s not that easy, Ubbe was perhaps the greatest animator who ever lived, but certainly his technique helped him do so much in such a short time.

What I do is rough out a couple of frames, then “paint” color over that on another layer or frame.  I may have to add black lines over the color shape to further define it, depending on what the image is.  Usually hands needed further defining.  (In the case with Mickey there, Walt Disney had Ubbe add white gloves to the characters so their hands would stand out, rather than be black smears all the time.)  The inking and coloring is simultaneous with cleaning up the line work.  It’s all done in one shot and saves time.

Flash 10 give you some crunchy line work, which for this 50’s style works.  If I wanted a “Flintstone” line, I’d have to break out Flash 4 to get such control.  The older version of the program, for those of you who’ve been doing this long enough to remember the different feel, give you smoother lines.  But the good thing about Flash 10 and crunchy lines is that if I were to pass this work to other artists,  the style could be copied easily.

When I worked on some projects with perfect outline work, like a Flintstones line, most artists lacked a steady hand to keep their work up to par.  It either looked terrible or took forever and broke the budget.  While some old timers could replicate the line easily, they couldn’t do it on computer and younger computer savvy artists knew the computer but most didn’t even know what a crow quill pen was!  They preferred the line tool in flash and “sculpted” the line rather than draw it outright.  The line looked consistent and perfect, but lacked a human touch and still took way longer than simply drawing it.  The technique in Lamaze Daze could actually be done with no pressure sensitivity no the pen at all.  In fact, sloppiness becomes an attribute to the style rather than a mistake.

6) Tweaking (1 hour)
After exporting video, (details below) I watched it a few times and thought I should move a sound effect here or there.  Mostly in the part where Blanche and Alex walk off screen.  So I made this fix in Audacity then spat out a new soundtrack and replaced the one in the Flash time line.

7) Export and posting to YouTube/blog/etc (3 hours)
I made this cartoon in “wide screen” ratio for no particular reason really.  But in exporting the video I had to put “letter box” it since this was just before YouTube started using HD proportionate video.  (Regular video is 720×540, HD is 1920×1080)  Since I had a more squat video, I had to create “letter box” black bars on top and bottom so my squat video would fit a more square one.

I did the letter box in QuickTime Pro with the help of a couple of jpegs, one a complete black jpeg at 720×540 72 dpi and another png which “masked” the jpeg.  That png was also a completely black image 720×540 72 dpi had a 720×405 box cut out of the center of it.  Then I off set the video to peek from behind the black bars by lowering it 66 pixels.

In the past, I’ve copied my cartoon into a movie clip in Flash, then centered it on a 720×540 stage in another Flash file and exported a correct quick time from there.  But I was feeling lazy and just slapped together in QuickTime Pro.

Flash CS3 doesn’t export Quick Time videos easily.  It really “renders” SWFs.  So I saved down to Flash 8 and exported a Quick Time, animation best quality from there.  The soundtrack in flash was 22kHz mono to keep the FLA file size down, yet still give me some audio to work with.  So the audio of this rendered Quick Time was swapped out for the 44kHz file from the Audacity mix.

Then I exported the whole thing as a M4V or “iPod” video.  It’s an automatic compression with nothing to think about.  Just hit the button and presto you got a compressed video ready for uploading to YouTube, Revver and such.  Although the iPod format is quick and easy, some video hosting sites don’t read these compressions.

I posted to a few video sites.  You can how the different video sites handle the look of each posting:
YouTube:


Easy to post.  Almost 2 minutes after YouTube gave me the green light I was able to see it in action and forward the link to friends.  Plus WordPress allows me to post YouTube videos directly on their site easily.  And every one in the world knows YouTube, but I was never crazy about the quality of the video.  It looks kind of crappy.  But what can you ask for since it’s so easy and noticeable?

MyToons Animation:
A newcomer in the video user sites, but one that gave me lots of hits!  I’m hoping its lots of people and not one crazy fan viewing it over and over… Well, even that wouldn’t be so bad.  If there were a reason why I made this in HD, it would be for this site.

So far it was pretty damn easy to upload.  And in HD no less!!  See for yourself!

Anyway, it looks like the total amount of time is around 53 hours or a little over a week of full time work.  Man… it seems so much longer than that.  If only I could duplicate myself…