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Cartoon Design and Character Development Basics with Animator Carlos Campos

Today I had a good talk with my buddy Carlos Campos, a freelance animator who I’ve worked with on many smaller productions, generally of the short animation variety.

In fact, if you have ever seen the Youtube channel Kindertunes, you may have seen one of his animated kid’s songs that we’ve done together, such as the Itsy Bitsy Spider, The Teddy Bears Picnic, or Take Me Out To the Ballgame.

Here are some of his designs for bears that appeared in the Teddy Bears Picnic video.

On our animation projects we’ve done together, Carlos mainly uses Powerpoint, but there are of course other options for programs which can animate, none of which I know how to use myself. In other articles on this website, Carlos has given tutorials on how he designs shapes in Powerpoint.

Today, I grilled Carlos on how he goes about designing a character for one of his cartoons from the ground up. This process of character development, I would say, is animation 101.

It’s part of the process you’d need to know in order to start an animation project of any kind. This is why it was so interesting to me, that I wanted to ask Carlos how he goes about developing a character.

It so happens, he’s currently working on a character for a new animation project about an old rat, and that character is in development as we speak.

Enjoy our interview on the basics of cartoon character development!

Q: Hey, Carlos, I hear you’re doing a music video about some rats. Can you explain this a little?

A: Well, that is true! But not about any kind of rat, this one is an ironing expert!

Q: Oh really? Interesting…

A: Yes! Many Mexican children know about it, since it happens to be a character from a traditional children’s song.

Q: What song is it from?

A: The name is “Una rata vieja” which translates to “An old rat”.

Q: Ah. And so you are in charge of the video, and so also you must create some digital rats.

A: Exactly.

Q: How do you do that?

A: The process involves different questions, such as Why? How? What? and Where?

“Why?” is a crucial one. The answer has to be the motivation behind creating a character. A purpose. In this case, as it often is, it’s about transmitting a message. An uplifting, fun children’s song, in Spanish, from the rich, Mexican culture.

In order to convey this vibrancy, there are important elements to be taken into account. Using clear, simple, universal symbols that are grounded in reality in a creative way.

So I start with basic shapes such as triangles and circles. But they are very rigid and unlike forms found in nature.

I sort of smooth the edges and make each shape into something more organic.

Then, I put the pieces together to make a character model that can be tweaked, moved around and edited easily, which will simplify the animation process.

Q: Do you differentiate between a mouse and a rat somehow, or do you just aim for the basic form? I’m no animal expert but i’m sure there’s a difference. At the same time, I understand you’re focused on simplifying the shapes.

A: As you can tell from the pictures, the rat’s body is quite elongated. If it had been a mouse, I’d have made its body more compact, but that’s a very good question!
 
It depends.

The main difference is that a mouse is smaller than a rat. That’s it! I n this case the song revolves around a “rat” character and no mice are ever mentioned so it’s hard to see the contrast.

Q: What program are you using to do the design and animate, is it all one program?

A: Yes! It is Microsoft PowerPoint 2013 from the Microsoft Office Suite for the Mac.

Read my interview with Carlos about storyboarding in Microsoft Powerpoint

Q: How long have you been using it, and how does it factor into the way you design characters? Are there any other programs you’ve tried which are similar, that you maybe don’t like as much?
 
What’s the advantage of designing in Powerpoint? Sorry for all the questions…

A: I have also worked with the Adobe Suite for more specialized projects. The learning curve is quite steep though, and some of them such as Photoshop and Illustrator may be better suited for tasks such as photo editing and graphic design.

Then there is 3D software such as AutoDesk Maya. There are huge differences in how each program is used, and I honestly prefer the qualities of animating in 2D.

This also involves the “How?” aspect of character design. The medium used does affect the outcome. There are digital tools such as the ones stated above, and traditional ones.

One could create characters by sculpting, drawing or painting them. Writing them, too!

Q: So do you usually stick with Powerpoint then?

A: Yes! It is my platform of choice for this type of project.

Q: You could make them out of ASCII code.

A: Hahaha, very true! Must be hard to animate though!

Q: Do you ever draw the characters first or do you make them in Powerpoint from scratch?

A: I might draw them first but to me that’s very rare. I do it mainly for storyboarding. When creating them, I like to do it straight on PowerPoint.

Looking for other examples for inspiration is very helpful, too!

The style can vary dramatically from one project to the other if the niche is very different. A rat in a horror-movie animation will appear differently to that in a children’s video, of course, even though they’re based of the same animal.

Q: So how long will it take you to create a rat like this one here? What’s his name again?

A: Traditionally, it’s a “she”! In this case I’ve decided to have “genderless” I guess, so that any kid can identify easily with it.

Another key thing: making characters relatable somehow.

It doesn’t really have a name… “Rat”, I suppose!

Q: Does Powerpoint do any texture?

A: It has the option to add textures from a pre-existing library or through and image file.

Q: Do you think you’ll add texture to this rat, or keep it as is?

A: Again, I think keeping it simple might be a good idea, especially for younger viewers who might be overwhelmed with too much detail.

In some scenes there might be several elements on the background already or I might add texture on there too.

I’m open to new ideas and/or seeing how the style develops.

Q: So the design is partly to please the audience that might be watching, but also to make it easier to animate? Not to overcomplicate it….

A: Exactly! And it can also be a matter of personal preference. I tend to like keeping things minimal in all aspects of life. It will be part of the animation which is already in progress.

Q: How many basic picture templates do you have in a given animation? For instance, how many are there in this one?Do you need some basic ones to work with?

A: Oh, what do you mean by picture templates?

Q: As in, static images of the character.. where you just need to move certain parts of their body, not everything

A: Oh, right. Well, again it varies. A 30 second sequence could have 10 individual “slides” with the character. Then when the setting or the pose needs to change, I create another one.

Q: How long do you think this rat video will be when all is said and done?

A: The length of the song is around 1.5 minutes, so around that.

Q: And how many emotions would you say are conveyed in that whole time?

A: About 10, probably. Other scenes also provide context and do not necessarily include the character’s facial expressions. That give moments in the animation “room to breathe”, so to speak.

Q: So what would some of those emotions be? anything in there specific or complex like “indignancy”?

A: Hahaha…No. Maybe more like calm, shocked, then relieved…

Q: That’s part of the plot, I guess…

A: That’s it! They match the lyrics as the story unfolds.

Q: Right.. How about colours? How do you decide on some of those, such as the background?

A: The color palette is tetradic. That is, it uses four colors, made up of two complimentary color pairs, with their different shades. This is to make sure that they all look harmonious together.

The rat was originally meant to be dark gray, but the color was then changed to a grayish-light blue.

This change was made to avoid the cliché while making it look friendlier in a way. More “cartoony” yet still grounded in reality.

Q: Did you learn this somewhere or would you say it’s more common sense?

A: It also ties in with the other shade of blue used in one of the backgrounds. This is all color theory! It can be common sense to an extent, but it is also an important principle in graphic design.

The rest of the palette includes a warm, brick orange, vibrant blue and greens, and even variations of pink. They are all reminiscent of the bright colours typical from traditional Mexican architecture. Gives it that sense of fun and liveliness.

Q: Ah.. so the colours are fairly meaningful then

A: Yes! Imagine if they were all red, blue and white, or dark and eerie-looking? That would make people think of anything but Mexico!

Color is a big part of our culture of celebration. We actually call “hot pink “rosa mexicano” here, which translates as “Mexican pink” since we like those bold hues so much! They are part of our identity.

Q: Wow, there’s a lot of little details to be considered. I can’t wait to see the final result.

A: Yup! It makes every project an interesting one.

 

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Best Painting and Art Making Apps for your Smart Phone – ArtFlow, 8bit PhotoLab, TextArt, and More!

by: A. Martellacci

My art is made from wire, garbage and string.

Until a few years ago, I did not have a smart phone. It seems odd I would bother trying to create art with technology at all. Maybe I’m afraid to be left behind. Maybe my junk art collection is beginning to alienate people. Either way, I wanted some good clean fun.

With no idea where to start, I gamely opened the app store hoping to trip over something interesting.I did so right away because my phone is creepy and can read minds.

ArtFlow, was the first suggestion google curated. It looked just technical enough to be useful and unassuming enough to be immediately comprehensible from its short bio and pics. The reviews were glowing, except for occasional id10-T error reports.


ArtFlow

The user interface is clean… like, blank.Tap the little white dot in the corner to view the toolbars and tap again to hide.I like it.Not all tools are available in free mode (duh), but many of the most useful brushes and pens are there.

Both RYB and HSV colour wheels are free to use, for what it’s worth. It is obviously designed for tablet and slows a bit on the phone if there’s too much going on.

Using just the tip of my finger and the charcoal setting, I was able to create gentle blends without any of the smudges of real life.

Obviously, super accurate sketching was out of the question on my tiny phone screen, but I ended up pleased with a few of the pieces. Building colours with air brushes (standard, shading and foggy) and the round brush was especially zen.

Not being much a fan of markers in real life, I was surprised to find myself enjoying them especially.

Canvas size presets are standard, and therefore useful.Saving is also standard.Save to anywhere.Send to anyone.Zooming in and spinning the canvas works great.

The app’s ability to delineate between brush stokes and the zoom function taps was consistently good; so no accidental mark making

The thing I was sad for but don’t begrudge, is layers can only be added in the paid version… which I have now. The layers work great and don’t cause slowdown on my (crappy) phone.

ArtFlow is the perfect pocket scratch pad. I love sketching with it when I have a spare moment. It will always have a front page spot on my phone.

Never knowing when enough is enough, I went back to the all knowing algorithm interface known as, the Play Store, and scrolled for a long time. Nothing looked immediately interesting. Searched: “art apps”. Scrolled. 8bit PhotoLab. Interesting.


8bit PhotoLab + Bonus App

Holy crap! I loaded an image of Luna. Yes, from Sailor Moon. Wut? My finger must have slipped. I scrolled to the Commodore PET monitor setting and this happened:

This is going to be awesome!

There are a million different settings. Great fun to play with. I finger sketched a cube with ArtFlow.

These are some of my favourite 8bit PhotoLab filtrates of the above cube after spending (a lot of) time messing around.

All kinds of monitor, colour palette and even vector graphics filters can be customized to create the most vintage computing or modernaesthetic effects.I have not reached the end of this app’s free functionality (but I bought it anyway).Oh, and it goes great with another little free app I found.


TextArt

TextArt. Free font selection is limited, though you can upload your own. TextArt, and the endlessly nifty, 8bit Photo Lab, created this delightful abomination.


Notebloc

Not comfortable drawing on a screen at all? Use Notebloc to scan and trim your meatspace sketches (and notes) instead. It does a pretty good job of it. Photographing flat things is not as easy as it seems.

Notebloc proves useful for in situ scanning and saves in pdf. I’ve already used it professionally and am creeping the Notebloc tablets on amazon.

Here are a collection of jellies and aspics. Don’t let their bouncy, colourful looks fool you. One is made from pickle relish, another from tomato soup and I think there’s even some sour cream and mayo in there.

What happens when you mash Notebloc, 8-bit Photo Lab and TextArt together? You get my new forum avatar.

This collection of apps puts a whole lot of fun and functionality in the palm of your hand. They play well together, are either free or cheap and translate well to smaller screens.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need some time alone to fingerpaint.

Oh, by the way, I came across this post on the Pixpa blog called The 40 Best Drawing Apps and Art Apps for 2019, which gave me a lot of new ideas.  Recommend checking that out if you have a chance!

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Creating Digital Artwork with the iPad Pro and Apple Pencil – An Interview with Marco Pedrosa

Today I sat down with my buddy Marco Pedrosa, who, as long as I’ve known him, has been drawing.

We met when we were about 11 years old in junior high school, and he was always known as the guy who could draw cool cartoon pictures and stuff of that sort.

Now, about 20 something years later, he’s still drawing stuff, but he’s got a few new toys to play around with.

Namely, he picked up an iPad Pro and an Apple Pencil, which he has been using to draw / paint stuff digitally, yielding some pretty cool results.

I decided to pick his brain a bit about these drawing utensils, and see how he’s putting them to use. Enjoy our chat!

Marco Pedrosa, digital artist / painter / illustrator

DF: Heyyyy how’s it going buddy?

MP: Goood

DF: Nice. So, you got some kind of new fangled art device thingie?

MP: I guess so. It’s an iPad Pro with an Apple Pencil. It’s pretty sweet.

DF: Is that a new thing, or maybe I just live in a cave?

MP: It’s newish. This is the second hardware revision so it’s only been out for about 1.5 years. But before the iPad Pro you could us a Wacom cintique to do similar things but those are super expensive.

They’re basically a flat monitor that sits on your desk that you can draw on..It’s what all the comic and graphic design pros use. But the iPad Pro costs a lot less and performs almost as well so a lot of people are digging it.

DF: That’s cool. So why’d you get it? To draw, I presume?

MP: Well I do a fair amount of graphic work (mockups, icons, posters) for my day job so I actually got them to buy me one. It can make certain types of drawing faster and more accurate than using a non screen based pen tablet so they agreed.

On the side I’ve also been using it to shore up my digital painting skills since the apps for that are so awesome these days.

Artwork by Marco Pedrosa using iPad Pro and Apple Pencil

DF: Ah, I gotcha.

MP: It’s been a while since I’ve done any serious painting but this tool lowers the barrier and is faster and less messy. It’s kind of the best of digital and real painting without any of the downsides.

DF: So it’s a less messy sort of painting program app type thing?

MP: Well you don’t wind up with charcoal all over your hands and paint on your face so yeah. Plus you have access to many different brush styles and the layering and limitless undid that you can only get from a digital format and it’s great!

DF: Yeah the stuff looks really cool! I’ll have to share some of it with my readers.

MP: Usually I’ll start with a sketch layer to capture whatever the idea is, then I’ll do a basic color layer to figure out roughly what hues to use where, then I’ll often do an ink layer over top before getting into the real painting.

There can in that every app has its formats but they can all import jpgs and pngs so it’s not usually an issue. If I had to move layers between programs that might be an issue but I usually stick to just one app.

DF: So are there no issues with file formats or what have you? That’s awesome. It does look very painterly.

MP: Yeah! The neat thing is that if one painting attempt isn’t working out you can just hide the layer and try again in another style with some other brushes.

Artwork by Marco Pedrosa with iPad Pro and Apple Pencil

DF: So it’s got a bit of photoshop layer-y stuff happening? How much is this stuff costing btw?

MP: For sure! I like to use layers as insurance. If I’m about to try something I’m not sure about I just put in on a new layer and get rid of it if it doesn’t work out.

DF: Specifically, how much is.. the app? The device? The pen? Is the app just free?

so wait.. are you starting off importing some pre-existing pic or you just make it up? I’m not just playing the part of the clueless guy here, I am that guy! lol

MP: I just make it up of course! I’ll often use pics from the internet for reference on colours and details but I’ll always try to compose something from scratch and take it from start to finish.
 
I’ve never been into tracing or replicating exists no work through I’m not above trying to understand a style.

DF: Yeah so you grab a Ralph McQuarrie pic and just sort of use it as a reference? Well i notice your style is your style, really. It’s not like you’re copying the artist’s style..
 
maybe the composition a little bit?

MP: So an iPad Pro goes for around 800$ I think? The pencil is another 120$ and painting apps can go from 5-80$ or some of them require monthly subscriptions.

My fav at the moment is Procreate, which is fairly inexpensive for what you get. I think it’s only 20$ or something. There’s also clip studio paint which is 10$ a month but you can actually make a comic from start to finish with it! Yeah my style is my style. I can’t seem to escape it.

DF: That’s cool.. and it’s super portable yeah? Like you go on vacay, you can just toss this shit in your bag and go. Also, battery life?

MP: Yeah, it’s the size of a clipboard basically! It lasts about 10 hours which is more than enough for me. I’m pretty sure my hand would fall off if I were drawing that long

DF: Yeah might cause an injury! And we don’t live in the days where artists need to work like 160 hours straight for a piece of bread like in the .. whenever that was

MP: Thank god for that.

DF: So we can actually do stuff for fun if we so choose.

MP: Yup. At some point I’d like to get my skill with these tools to the point where I could whip up an image I’m happy with within a couple of hours.

My first few tries over the summer I would call enthusiastic failures but I feel like the momentum is building and I’ve been pretty happy with the last few things.

It’s important not to get discouraged when you’re just figuring out what a new tool is good for. At this point I feel I can probably do a piece digitally about as well as I could if I were doing it by hand so that’s something.

DF: That’s good! You’re pretty in tune with the thing and that’s a good place to be it’s an instrument.

MP: My next thing I think will be figuring out how to escape my “style” since it hasn’t really changed much in a while but I feel it needs to start evolving.

There are lots of things I’d like to get better at in terms of painting but obviously you don’t get anywhere unless you put yourself out of your comfort zone and fail a few times.

Artwork by Marco Pedrosa with iPad Pro and Apple Pencil

DF: That’s for sure. And that’s not easy of course. But this tool seems like a pretty versatile one so i guess you’ll be sticking with it. Will you be getting anything new to go with it? Or just explore the possibilities…

MP: I’ll stick with it as it is for now. I’m really only scratching the surface of what these apps can do. At this point my skill, not the tool is the bottleneck so there’s really no need to jump to something new right now.

Although if an iPad version of Affinity Designer came out I’d be all over that. AF is a vector drawing app, as opposed to all these painting apps that are pixel based.

DF: Ah yes, vectors. Tis a whole other thing.

MP: Yup, they’re good for a different set of problems but I like those too.

DF: Well lots to explore then from here. It’s cool that you’ve kinda got this whole thing going. It’s always good to have an artistic outlet.

MP: For sure. I draw all the time professionally so it’s nice to have an opportunity to do some stuff recreationally too.

DF: Totally. Well thanks for stopping by Marco, good to chat!

MP: Ok ttyl!