Cartoons are the best way for me to share design techniques with people that can be also used in both artistic and more ‘practical’ situations. And of course, they are a lot of fun to make! I am a multimedia designer, I deal on a daily basis with different tasks involving creative communication, from illustration, to sound design and editing. I am currently using Reallusion’s CrazyTalk Animator for the majority of my project, and decided to join their team of Certified Content Developers.
Creating your own cartoon, giving life, movements and voices to your characters is an incredibly rewarding experience. Being able to share our own story with millions of people out there is a thrilling and beautiful adventure that every artist interested in animation should try: it makes you grow professionally, artistically and personally. Making your own cartoon is a complex process that requires careful planning and lots of patience, but if you break down your tasks and tackle one of them at a time, it will become an easy and enjoyable process! In this guide I will show you how I structured my work for the production of “Squangy & Mr.Bowlsacc”, the 3-minute animation that won first place in the Animation @ Work 2018 contest. We will be using Photoshop in combination with CrazyTalk Animator 3.
1: THE STORY
An interesting storytelling is the foundation of every good animation. There are many creative ways to create compelling stories, the one I chose for my short animation was improvisation. It’s a fun process that leads to fun and unexpected results.
2: ASSESS YOUR BUDGET
Once your story is ready, it’s time to think about the resources and plan your production accordingly. For instance, think about how long will it take you to draw a background: how many of them will you be able to create before the deadline?
3: DEFINE YOUR STYLE
Defining the style for your cartoon is fundamental. Everything needs to look consistent and in line with your budget. Get inspired! Use your favourite cartoons as references and try to break down which technical aspects you want to replicate.
4: THE CHARACTER DESIGN
We are ready to start the pre-production phase! Start with sketching your characters, try to have as much fun with it as possible! Sketch backgrounds and props as well. Keep refining them until you are satisfied with the result.
5: CREATE THE STORYBOARD
Now it’s time to create a storyboard. For the first time you will see your characters in action, test if your story works and you’ll have the chance to make changes to the foundations of your cartoon before starting the production phase. Creating an animatic, like I did for my short, is also very useful.
6: DESIGN THE BACKGROUNDS
If you are happy with your storyboard, you can start the production phase. I usually like to start with designing the first background. I find it useful to test if my design choices are good and sustainable. If they are not, it’s not too late to reconsider them and take a step back.
7: CHARACTER DESIGN IN PHOTOSHOP
Create your character’s puppet in Photoshop. Ideally, you will be using this puppet for the majority of the shots. If your character has arms and legs, draw it in “T Pose”, with straight vertical legs and straight horizontal arms.
8: RIGGING YOUR CHARACTER
Import your character into CrazyTalk Animator as 3G Free Bone Actor and start adding bones with the Add Bone tool (the first bone should be placed on the hip). Try to use as little bones as possible and add extra ones just if you really need them.
9: RIG IN PHOTOSHOP: PART 1
Click on Launch to External PSD Editor to open your rig in Photoshop: now CrazyTalk Animator and Photoshop are connected in real time. The RLBone folder contains the anchor points of the bones, the RLImage Folder contains the sprites controlled by the bones.
10: RIG IN PHOTOSHOP: PART 2
Naming is important! if the name of a sub-folder inside the RLImage folder in Photoshop matches the name of a bone in CrazyTalk, it will generate a new layer in CrazyTalk Animator that will be controlled by that bone. Name your bones wisely!
11: RIG IN PHOTOSHOP: PART 3
A layer in CrazyTalk Animator can host multiple images that can be swapped to create complex animations. In the Stage Mode, right click on your character and select sprite editor: here you can see all the sprites attached to each of your bones.
12: USING THE TALKING HEAD
Now we are ready to work on the head of our character. Download the free PSD learning resources from the CrazyTalk Animator 3 website. Open the Elastic folks file and drag and drop the RLTalking Head folder onto your character’s project.
13: CUSTOM TALKING HEAD
The Talking Head looks very complex, but it works using the same principles of the body rig. Replace the template images in the Head Images sub-folder with your ones. Tweak the bone position in the Head Bone sub-folder matching the new facial features.
14: CHARACTER ANIMATION
We set up a very complex rig and we are ready to animate it. Select the 2D Motion Key Editor and open the timeline. Select and move the bones, swap the sprites to change hand shapes or body features. Set keyframes on the timeline and play your animation.
15: MAKE YOUR CHARACTER EMOTIONALLY COMPELLING
If your characters are emotionally engaging, your audience will be more interested in your story and will be more forgiving on technical mistakes. Try to understand the soul of your character. Acting in front of a mirror is a good practice to internalize it.
16: FACE PUPPET FOR MR.BOWLSACC
The Talking Head rig offers different types of animation techniques. I used the real time animation with mouse and keyboard for Mr. Bowlsacc facial animation. It produces slow, fluid and slightly delayed movements that are perfect for calm, peaceful or “slowed down” characters.
17: FACE EDITOR FOR SQUANGY
Squangy, instead, is a stressed-out trickster. His movements are faster and much more dynamic. The Face Key editor feature worked great on him, as I could choose among dozens of facial expressions and swap them very fast with a single click on the timeline.
The Talking Head has an auto lip-sync system that works very well and speeds up the animation process. However, don’t be afraid of manually-tweaking the mouth sprites and exaggerate them if this makes your character more interesting.
19: BUILD YOUR SCENE
Now that we explored the most complex part of animating with CTA, we can create out first animated scene. Import your scene elements as props and arrange them in the scene together with your characters. Animate the shot using the techniques we discovered before and export your final animation.
20: PUTTING YOUR SCENES TOGETHER
Now it’s time to do some editing. Follow your storyboard or your animatic. If you want, add special effects using After Effects. Bring your scenes into an editing software such as Adobe Premiere. Remember to add good quality music and sounds. Your animation is finished! Congratulations!
Animation is an exciting word, and new technologies are making it accessible to more and more people. Creating your own cartoon is possible today, even if you have little experience as animator, thanks to amazing tools like CrazyTalk. If you liked this guide and you would like to know more about my next project, you can follow me on facebook at facebook.com/franksdoodles/, or my brand new instagram @franks_pencil. See you soon!