Monday, September 03, 2007

Lessons from Bosko

Being both an aspiring animator and a regular reader of John K's excellent blog, his recent challenge was one I couldn't resist taking up. I downloaded the video file of the short scene from the 1931 Looney Tune cartoon "Bosko the Doughboy" in which he does 3 separate dance cycles.
And then, the file just sat on my desktop until I had some free time to start the process of copying the cycles.

When I finally got around to it, my first step was to watch the file frame by frame and chart the action out on a piece of paper, analyzing what was going on in each frame, and ultimately, to help determine which were key poses and which were in-between frames.
Here i could see that the clapping cycle repeats itself on every 24th frame, and also that the "beats" are on every 12th drawing, and held for an additional frame to add impact so it reads, rather than just flowing along like a flag or waves. The body bounces up and down and side-to-side about 3 times as fast as the clapping rhythm- each extreme is held 2 frames and the motion between extremes is only a single drawing.

My next step was to copy each of the frames as a separate file so I could more easily compare the drawings side-by-side and thus break down the scene more completely.The first frame I copied was the key drawing of Bosko clapping. This drawing was virtually identical to the final frame, but for the cycle to loop, it must be held for an additional frame. The 12th frame is practically a mirror image of this drawing, but for slight difference in the way the head tilts, which leads me to believe the animator probably started with this drawing, flipped it and redrew it for the second beat of the cycle, then worked out the stuff in between.

It took me maybe a couple hours to finish drawing the whole cycle, redrawing, erasing, etc, until each frame looked like its counterpart in the original animation. I didn't try to "fix" anything, or "make it better," as the object was to reproduce the original motions in order to study how it all works. The only frame I changed was this one below, where the right leg is raised, as it is the only drawing in the entire 24 frames that does this, which i assume is the result of a mistake in the inking department, where possibly somebody mis-traced the leg higher than it should have been.

After I finished, I was curious what kind of arcs the hands followed to get that particular wave action, so I traced over my drawings to get the following path:
The right hand action was a virtual mirror image of the left:We see here that the hand that is clapped starts at that position, swings in a smooth arc up to the other side, winds up, swings down to clap, holds 1 frame, and swings in a second arc back to the starting side, and on the clap recoils down slightly, and is ready to repeat.

After I scanned my pencils, I wanted to see what it would look like colored, so instead of inking and re-scanning and coloring, I just darkened to contrast on my pencils and colored those in, so the drawings in this video are still a but sketchy, but it looks pretty nice anyways, I think.
video

So what have I learned from this project?

1. as i copied i noticed the head doesn't look the same from frame to frame, but the slight variations seem to add to the liveliness of the motion.
2. timing to a beat isn't a hard as it sounds!
3. the arcs that move objects from one position to another are probably what brought about the "speed lines" and "smear drawings" of later cartoons, as animators wanting to make their drawings move faster and faster realized that in order for the arcs to read when there are only a few frames between the extremes, there would have to be a motion trail that shows that arc, or the animation will just look jumpy.
4. held frames look more alive when there is at least a subtle variation in the drawing; when you just copy 100% exactly the same frame, the cartoon dies during that millisecond of the animation, and is less lively.
5. Animation starts with shapes. if you try to animate everything at once, the features float and bounce all over the place. start with the skeletal structure- the circles and curves, and once they are right, the features are easy to tie into place.

EDIT: here is another booboo pointed out by Josh Lieberman-
I failed to place the extremes for the body as far apart as the original animator did:


ergo, lesson # 6: pay attention to detail!