Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Childhood Animations

I have uploaded a video to YouTube of my childhood animations (1990-1995). I've edited together several VHS tapes and files from some old floppy disks and hard-drives. Below you can enjoy the compilation of pieces I did between ages 13-18 (though there was more--it is simply lost to time). There is some stop motion, claymation, hand-drawn, and computer cel in the video that you can watch below. And even further down, I break down and talk specifics about each portion.

Watch on YouTube: https://youtu.be/4JjwhEY-edI

Pinocchio & Jiminy: 00:06

These two shorts I *think* are my first tries at animation. The figures are both made of placticine clay--but as I didn't have all the colors I needed, I painted the clay sculptures with poster paint. The background was a piece of formica countertop that came off a table I salvaged. I spray painted it blue, and then used poster paints to create the background. The grass is an astroturf scrap from our back porch.

I used the family VHS camcorder, which took full-size tapes, and clicked record and stop record for every frame. The camera's tape indexing was finicky, and I had to watch the counter and let it go 3 clicks before stopping the recording because it would always rewind the tape roughly 2 of those clicks before it started recording again.

3 Little Pigs & The Big Bad Wolf: 00:35

I used the same setup as before, nut just washed and repainted the scenery. The plasticine characters are also painted (perhaps the same clay as Pinocchio after I was finished with him). It's very hard to tell the narrative, so I'll help: The wolf tries to blow down the brick house (a paper cut out used for huffing & puffing breath) and when he can't get it to fall, he puts out a sign for free corn. The wisest of the pigs come out to get the corn (also a paper cutout) and is cornered by the wolf--but there happens to be a spare brick from his home masonry there too, and he shouts 'Eat this!" (written on a word balloon cutout) and pitches the brick into the wolf's mouth, knocking the predator out and allowing the pig to discard of the sign & return home. 

TMNT Figure Battle: 00:55

The backdrop here is the same as the above animations, but with the backside showing where all the old mastic glue was dried. I remember thinking having some rigid articulation would be much easier to move than painted clay (every time I moved the clay too much it may crack, bend too much, or allow cracks in the paint). So, I pulled out my TMNT figures. The amount of flexibility isn't exactly what I needed for martial arts movements (hence the flipping of Michelangelo just switching between him standing on his head to standing on his feet with no moves in between). Not sure why a pair of nail clippers are used as a weapon (other than that I probably lost all their weapons long before this). This segment also suffers from word balloons that go away too quickly to read.

Roadrunner & Coyote: 01:02

I had a few of these flocked Looney Toons character toys. The backdrop is the same as the TMNT one, but I'd spray painted it to look like 'desert rock'. This was shot in my childhood basement on a card table (the earlier segments were all filmed in the living room)--I only mention that because I think I had illusions of really being able to take my time down there––I wouldn't be in anyone's way, no one would walk by and accidentally knock over a character...but the only part I think has any merit for time being taken is the bit with Wile E. Coyote painting the tunnel. The car Roadrunner drives is an old Mickey Mouse toy (with the mouse long gone). And our flattened Coyote is the (now grey mud colored) plasticine from earlier animations.

The Simpsons: 01:09

Here I tried hand drawn animations. Each image you see is hand drawn on a different sheet of paper. I hand colored every frame with markers––but quickly leaned why cels are so important in drawn animation, so that things like the stage, curtain, and footlights don't need to be redrawn and colored for every. single. frame. The animation abruptly stops when Homer come running in––but I think that had to do with my markers running dry and being called for dinner.

Four Baby Turtles: 01:13

My friends and I were planning to make a TMNT movie with us all in costume (I was making shells out of styrofoam meat trays and spray insulation). For the flash-back where Splinter recalls finding the baby turtles in the ooze and then marveling at how quickly they grew/mutated, I thought I could do that with a mix of claymation and moving the sculpts in front of the camera. This was only a test to see if I liked idea and if I could make it work––even then I knew I'd have to light everything better, make more elaborate sets, and have more in-between frames. We never even started the movie (but I did make all the costumes--twice!)

Claymation For Its Own Sake: 01:28

There are a few different segments here of just moving clay around. And instead of making specific characters, just have the clay seem like it's a semi intelligent form that is morphing between shapes. The backdrop is again the backside of the formica (though now painted flat black) and the 'floor' is the top of a 60's funky floral TV tray. The animation may seem smoother here, and that's because I was using more frames, but also recording though the VCR. I had the camcorder plugged into the VCR with AV cables so it acted like an eye, but the VCR did the recording. This was an improvement because the VCR's record and pause was a cleaner frame than the camcorder. At some point I know I also played with recording at different speeds than I played back to get the frame rate higher--but I can't tell if I did that on any of these

Dinosaurs!: 01:56

I did this in an animation class I took at the Flint Institute of Arts. The background was drawn by my friend Mike, who was also taking the class, for his own paper cut-out animation. I sculpted Robbie out of different colored clay rather than painting it like I had years before. His eyes were plastic beads. I showed up to class with Robbie sculpted from home, but nothing for him to do, so I quickly made the little egg nest and a not-the-baby baby for him to eat(?!). Robbie was not very flexible (you can see some cracks on his mouth when I open it too wide) mostly due to how thick he is.

Cats Trio: 02:06

For those unfamiliar with Cats Trio, it was a comic Jesse Glenn and I worked on in High School. Jesse had stayed the night and while I slept, he drew Dave-Cat holding Mike-Cat over a bath tub with a shark in it. The next day he and I worked on this animation. This was using the VCR as the recording device--and in fact we're watching each frame on the living room TV behind it as we animated it.

Swing Arm Lamps: 02:30

My mother's swing arm lamp from her sewing table, and some tennis balls and a toy car gave me a chance to animate with more movement fidelity. While Pixar's Toy Story wasn't out when I made this, I think I had seen a TV special about the dawn of computer animation where they featured their mascot lamp Luxo Jr. and that inspired these. I knew I liked the idea of having very fine tuning with movement where my subject wasn't going to break, crack, or be limited to points-of-articulation. This was recorded in my living room using the VCR to record the frames from the camera.

Young Stephen Crane Mouth Test: 02:48

The next batch were all animated using a DOS based program called Disney Animation Studio. Each cel was hand drawn (using a mouse). This wasn't my first animation with the program--in fact, I think it's towards the end of high-school based in the anime style I'm going for. This was to practice getting some lip-synch. The character is a younger version of a Plotmasters Superhero of mine named Stephen Crane. After seeing Humberto Ramos' Impulse, I thought it would be fun to try drawing a few of the characters from that series as wide eyed kids.

Blackcat on a Rooftop: 03:02

Another Disney Animation Studio test. Getting the background to load in as separate cells was a little challenging in this program, and here I was testing how to do some limited character animation with my rooftop vigilante Blackcat against a very full background (I think Blackcat's head is the only animated cels).

Lucky Running: 03:14

At some point, I decided Blackcat could have a pet cat, named 'Lucky'. But then somewhere along the line I decided to make Lucky a cartoon style character (opposed to a style befitting a Jim Lee looking superhero owner). This was a run cycle for Lucky while swapping in alternating backgrounds of motion speed blur.

Wheel-Less Hamster: 03:24

This is only a 3 frame runcycle (and perhaps one of the last animations I ever did on Disney Animation Studio) I know I started working on a spinning hamster wheel, but I never seemed to have finished it or saved the files anywhere I can use them. I did a lot of animation (pencil tests and finished colored stuff like I've been showing) that were lost. The files were not backed up, I perhaps deleted things I wasn't proud of to 'make room' back when disk space was expensive, and I know some of it was on a floppy that was corrupting as I was pulling the files onto a modern hard drive. There were space ship pilots, cargo bay doors opening, an unflattering caricature of a friend bouncing down the sidewalk like a ball, talking alien dragons, The Yellow Submarine going in and out of portals, and animated logos––all lost.

Beanie Squad: 03:38

But I have saved my two best Disney Animation Studio bits for last. These were the longest things I ever animated. First up is a Plotmasters IP called Beanie Squad where chibi versions of my friends and I are given magical colored Beanies that allow us to fly and use ridiculously sized weapons. Jesse worked with me on some of the animation, most notably the missile launcher. I hope someday Jesse and I will get to do a Plotmasters episode about this one.

Zippy and Poohbah: 04:02

Zippy and Poohbah are two other characters of mine from the Plotmasters days (hopefully we'll get to do an episode about them someday). It was a little bit Calvin and Hobbes, but where the little boy was eternally happy and could fly really fast. His stuffed 'Poohbah' bear was originally inspired by the Panda from Ranma 1/2. I think I was animating this like it was the opening to a TV show, but it ends and loops because of the limitations of PCs back when I did this, I couldn't load any more cels without the program locking up due to memory.

Snappy Patlabor: 04:47

This was animated on the water heater in the basement of my childhood home. Before capture cards or digital cameras were a regular consumer product, there was something called a 'Snappy' that used a 9 volt battery and plugged into the parallel printer port of your computer. it had AV jacks to plug in a VCR so you could capture a still frame from TV. Jesse and I used a very long set of AV cables to go from the Snappy, out the computer room window, down the side of the house, in a basement window, and into the old VHS camcorder. Using walkie talkies to communicate with each other, I was in the basement slowly moving the Patlabor model figure, as Jesse clicked 'capture' and saved the frame as a sequential filename.

Occasionally Jesse came down to the basement to help, like when we rigged the Macross model to drop from the floor joists on fishing line spooled on a flat stick (only dropping the model one turn of the stick each frame). I'm proud that we made camera decisions with closeups and even some ambitious pans. I wish this were longer, but we ran out of steam that night, and in the morning something had fallen over or down that ruined the scene and we didn't pick up from a new location or camera angle.

Thanks for indulging me in sharing my childhood dives into animation (or as I said, the ones that survived––I know there was lots of computer cel animation, and a few stop motion bits I wish I still had too.)

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