Animation

When all is said and done 

My Love Affair With Marriage 

will be 95 minutes long.

Which is 5,700 seconds.

Which is 136,800 frames of footage.

Which is a lot of animation drawings.

Each drawing has to be contemplated conceptually - what is the essence of the action? - then drawn in logical sequence with other drawings to create the movement. Afterwards the drawings have to be carefully shadowed which takes even more time than animating them. And that is just the start of it. This art form is definitely not for the impatient or weak of heart. 

Signe starts the process simply. She uses the tools of  traditional animation:

 

1. Pencil and Paper.

2. Animation Light Box.

3. Low-resolution, black and white copy of the photograph of the Background Set we just shot.

 

She puts a fresh sheet of animation paper over the background picture, turns on the light box and starts to draw the characters. She places them where they need to be within the background, and makes them walk and talk.

Signe goes through a lot of animation paper

Animation works in layers. It's much easier to control the process when the different elements of a shot are separated from each other.

In this birds-eye view of the light box, the bottom piece of paper is the copy of the background set, the middle is Zelma and on top are the wolves. More layers of wolves will be added to this. Animation paper is punched with holes that fit on a peg-bar keeping them all aligned.

Signe starts each drawing with a rough sketch and keeps refining them until satisfied. 

On the Lightbox: College boys as wolves. 

Zelmathe fresh meat, walks down the hallway of her college dormitory 

Signe often keeps her rough sketches

for reference

Jonas, the award-winning artist,

taking shape

The final drawing of Jonas,

pencil-shadowed

Next we create an animatic of the scene - sketches of the characters placed on the actual background photos and edited to the audio track - to test the visual ideas and see how it all fits together with the dialogue.

It is here that we begin the editing process. It's very important to do a first-draft edit before starting to animate. We don't want too many of Signe's finished drawings ending up on the cutting room floor!

Animatics are crucial to our process. We don't strike a set until we are satisfied with the animatic because we may need to photograph the set from additional angles. 

A still from an Animatic of Zelma and Lauris taking a stroll in the park at night

Once we know that an animatic works, we move on to the next stage - fully animating the characters. Signe animates most of the film by herself - on top of the paper-mâché work, painting the sets, all the photography, working with the Latvian team, organizing the files, and more, so she is one busy woman.

 

We have our tricks to keep the animation workload down, allowing Signe to eat a meal once in a while, maybe take a

walk around the block.

 

Most of these tricks we'll keep to ourselves, but working in layers is extremely important. Not everything in a shot has to move at once. A body can be still while its head is talking.

Eduards, the bully, tries to intimidate

with one body and five heads

How can you tell if a drawing fits well with the previous one when trying to create continuous

movement that looks alive? You flip - flip the papers back and forth one to the next, the same principle as a flip book. Flipping used to be practiced by everyone in traditional animation, but most animators today don't even work with paper.

 

Signe loves to flip. It's tactile, it's physical and gives her instantaneous feedback on her work.

 

Animators spend enormous amounts of time in front of a computer. Signe cherishes the time when she can create real-world physical objects, which soon enough will be turned into digital files. 

Signe, a hand on the peg-bar, keeps the pages aligned as she flips 

Screen Shot 2018-06-13 at 5.23.59 PM.png

Linetest: Zelma, 12, stands alone

on the hallway stairs of her Soviet school.

When Signe is finished animating a scene, we scan the drawings and make a line test. Again, we make low-res, black and white pictures of the backgrounds so the line drawings of the animation stand out better. 

We use the line test to lip-synch the animation to the actors' voices and check the characters' movements. Signe can tell from the line test if she needs to create more drawings or adjust the animation.

In the photo you see the students walking in front of the railing and not behind. We will address this once the scene is colored and composited in After Effects. That's when we will do masking and motion tracking.

Once satisfied with the line test, Signe pencil-shadows each drawing. 

 

Shadowing is like handwriting. To keep consistency, Signe does all the pencil-shadowing herself.

Our team scans each completed drawing in high resolution and sends them to our sister team in Latvia, who colors the drawings in Photoshop and composites them in After Effects. Sometimes there is so much coloring and compositing to do, the Brooklyn team joins in. 

When coloring, the shadows and highlights have to bring out the dimensionality of the characters. It is crucial that the characters fit seamlessly into the environment that we have photographed. After all, we have to believe that these flat, hand-drawn 

characters inhabit the 3-dimensional space.

A Siren fully colored. The purple accents the Sirens' claim to moral superiority.

Elita in Shadowing Technique #1: pencil shadowed, colored, 

and composited with the background. 

Elita in Shadowing Technique #2:

shadows are painted digitally in Photoshop.

Two shadowing techniques: In the first, a character is pencil-shadowed then colored. This technique indicates that the scene is taking place in reality. Technique #2, where the shadows are created digitally, is for fantasy scenes and flashbacks. They represent what is going on inside Zelma's head. 

Elita (not yet colored) instructs Zelma, 8, how to take abuse

from boys without fighting back

Sometimes the techniques converge in a single shot. Above you see pencil-shadowed Elita on the stage (as yet to be colored) and the boy pulling Zelma's hair as Zelma imagines it (yet to be masked).

Zelma, 13, imagines what it means for her body to menstruate

Often for fantasy shots, we have very simple backgrounds. These we color and shadow entirely in Photoshop. The original drawing, however, is still pencil-on-paper.

As there is so much work, we are handing off all of Biology's appearances - 21 scenes - to the Latvian team to animate. They are using TV Paint, a French computer animation program, which will give the Biology scenes a different look from the rest of the film. Signe is providing the animatics and the Latvian animators are taking it from there.

A still from one of Signe's Biology Animatics

Another animation technique we regularly employ is stop-motion. Sometimes we move the camera in tiny increments shot by shot creating zooms and pans. And sometimes it is an element of the set that we move in tiny increments. Occasionally we use stop-motion with both camera and set at the same time.

The Hospital Morgue, awaiting paper-mâché and paint. We will use stop-motion to slide open the drawer. After we shoot, Signe will separately animate the Morgue Attendant, making it look as if he is the one pulling Zelma's friend out of the refrigerator.

To move the coffin down the labyrinthian hallway of the Soviet Crematorium we turned the wheels of the cart 250 times, quarter-inch by quarter-inch. Patience required! Signe later animated the drunk Crematorium Worker who pulls the cart.

Recently an arts organization gave us feedback on an unsuccessful grant application that we had submitted in 2017. While the committee was impressed with most of our application, they were confused by the unfinished work samples. "We're not sure what we are looking at," some of them reportedly said.

Would you give us a grant based on such a sample?

2017 sample footage:

Zelma, 8, approaches her Soul Mate who is not aware of her existence.

So we build, paper-mache, paint, light, photograph, animate, shadow and color and we're still not done?

Not yet. We have to put all the elements together in After Effects. It can be quite simple or very complicated depending on the shot. Let's see how it works: 

Zelma's bed, just the background photo

We add Zelma's Mother on a third layer, and now the bed rail is completely covered. We need the bed rail back!

We place the image of Zelma on top of the photo. This covers the bed rail and doesn't look quite right. 

With Masking we copy the photo of the bed and cut out the bed rail. This alone we place on a fourth layer over Zelma's Mother. Now the shot looks as intended. 

When the shot is a pan or zoom we must move the fully colored characters along with the moving background. However to keep a proper perspective, the characters that are closer to the camera need to move at a faster speed than those further back. It gets complicated, but we figure all this out with the help of Motion Tracking in After Effects. We won't go into the gory details except to say that experts in After Effects are worth their weight in gold.

Motion Tracking: The Camera is in the process of panning left. The Siren closest to the camera will go out of frame first. Since Zelma is the furthest away from the camera, she will move at a slower rate than the other characters. The red dots mark the path of the Man, who has to look like he's standing on the same spot as the camera moves.

Fun with Motion Tracking

Now we output the shot as a Quick Time Movie in a 4K resolution and save it for the final editing session, when everything will come together with the full audio track.

Ready for output into a Quick Time Movie: The Sirens lecture Zelma