• June 12, 2023 at 12:45 am #5750
    Herb MontesHerb Montes

    My interest in animation began in my youth when I watched Mighty Mouse cartoons in black and white on television (color television would come much later). Back then I was clueless as to how they made those cartoon characters move. I would soon break the “secret” of animation when I got a reel of 8mm film (a Mighty Mouse cartoon in fact). And with a cheap movie projector viewed the film frame by frame (removing the belt drive for the motor and pulling the film through by hand).

    Wanting make my own animation I purchased an 8mm movie camera. In between shooting films of the antics of my family I also shot simple animated cartoons I made with a simple titling outfit. I would later move up to a Super 8mm camera and finally a 16mm setup with a Bolex camera. But I still made simple cartoons drawn on paper since doing cartoons on cels was still expensive and labor intensive (imagine inking and painting thousands of animation cels).

    The turning point came in my college years when I was living in Austin, Texas. I was walking through a shopping district when I passed by a Radio Shack store. In the window was displayed an early personal computer, the Tandy Model 1. On its screen was a character dancing, it was a simple single color animation of a character called the Dancing Demon. Its motion was so smooth even though it was low resolution. I later found out it was made using a program written in Basic. Right then and there I realized computers could be used to make animation.

    When I got home from college my youngest brother had purchased another early personal computer, the Commodore Pet. Using Basic I learned to make simple animations on it. Years later I bought my first personal computer, a Tandy Model 1000 Color computer. As the technology advanced I would upgrade to more powerful computers over the years (386, 486 and Pentiums). But software to make animation took longer to evolve. Eventually I acquired one of earliest ones, Autodesk Animation Studio. It was basic but I learned a lot working with it. I still had a hard time making art with it. It would be much later when I got a tablet (a Wacom Graphire). To this day I still kept the 256 color palette I used in it. Titled NTSC256 it was optimized for images to be shown on television.

    Much later I acquired Toon Boom. It was a great leap forward. Though it was a bit quirky and the developers kept adding features and raising the price for upgrades. It seems they were going for the more professional market instead of hobbyists like myself. They would eventually produce Toon Boom Harmony for pros and a simpler one for younger artists to play with.

    I went to Digicel Flipbook which had a lot of the features I wanted in an animation program. It was even promoted by professional animators like Eric Goldberg and Don Bluth. I found it a bit quirky as well yet workable. The brush engine was rudimentary and it had a basic palette. I couldn’t load my favorite NTSC256 palette. Over time Flipbook reached version 6 and stayed there. It hasn’t been updated since.

    Then there came an explosion of animation programs. First was Pencil which would be renamed Pencil2D. My hopes were building but were dashed when it would crash. It was not ready for the big time. Then there came Plastic Animation Paper. The pencil and pen tools drew so smooth and easily it made my Wacom tablet weep for joy. Its interface took some getting used to but here was the real beginning. Then came in rapid succession Animation Paper, OpenToonz and Tahoma2D. The last two had so many features it was like boiling an egg with a nuclear reactor.

    Now Animation Paper, here was a program with massive potential. A program so easy to use it was like jumping into a wading pool and jumping out. No splashing about in the deep end. It is still in development but it had the potential to enable an animator of any skill level to make a simple cartoon or a feature length animated epic.

    Here I am 45 years after I saw a dancing demon in that store window now seeing an explosion of animation on the screen and the Internet. Today you can see the Dancing Demon on Youtube. I’m ready to be swept up into the tsunami of technology and creativity. May it be an amazing ride.

    June 12, 2023 at 8:44 am #5752
    Niels Krogh MortensenNiels

    Wow, thanks for sharing all this Herb. Fun and interesting read. I’m sure many of us have similar stories to tell. I had a Commodore PET like your brother, but real creativity for my part came when I got the Commodore 64. 😉 I did my first “character animation” on that and several of my own software and tools. 🙂

    Would be interesting to know how you see the future of all this. What do you think is next for you and for the animation world?


    June 13, 2023 at 2:03 am #5764
    Herb MontesHerb Montes

    What I see coming is already here and it’s exciting and scary. The past year has seen an explosion of art and images generated by AI software. By typing in a few prompts and importing reference images anyone can create art that is so real it borders on the uncanny valley. And I do mean anybody. This has some traditional artists upset since art is being corrupted by soulless computers and button pushers.

    But I also see a boon is this new technology for animators. Imagine if one would input the reference drawings of all the characters in your animation. Head shots, body turns and various costume changes. Along with background images one can customize an animated movie to their unique style. Then just tell the computer what happens in each scene, for example character A sitting in a room when character B enters and engages in conversion. The soundtrack automatically synchronized and lip sync done right. All you have to do is type in your actions and images. Motion data controls the animation. Animation created by a single individual at a push of a button. To make it more personal you can go back and adjust spacing and timing to your liking. One doesn’t need a large crew of artists to make your animated dream come true. The possibilities are endless.

    It still requires the artist to create the artwork. Just let the computer assemble the scenes and do the inbetweens. It could happen sooner than we think. Technology is advancing so rapidly that the miracle on the horizon is closer than we realize.

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