November 9, 2020

Animating My Way Through the Pandemic

@AlecAnimation
One of the main ways I have been coping with the stress of the pandemic has been delving deeper into my interest in hand-drawn animation. I set up a new instagram account ( @AlecAnimation ) where I have been posting animation projects old and new, as well as posts about various animation resources. It feels like a new easy way to document my self-study of this art form. I currently have no desire to work as an animator, so it's all "just for fun" though many of the skills I am building up have also helped me level up as a cartoonist. This all kicked off back when I had the realization that two of my favorite cartoonists (Carl Barks and Jeff Smith) started their careers in animation and maybe it would help me to be a better cartoonist if I underwent some animation training too.
My animation journey began at the ripe old age of 32. I had been fascinated by animation my entire life, but it was not until 2012 that I finally picked up a pencil to try my hand at it. You can actually see my very first attempt at animation cataloged on this blog, as well as early experiments I drew using exercises I cobbled together from Richard Williams's excellent book The Animator's Survival Kit.

Over the next five years I read Disney Animation The Illusion of Life by Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston (which I spent my whole childhood flipping through, but never actually read) and Cartoon Animation by Preston Blair. As a cartoonist I had always assumed animation simply meant more drawings for less storytelling output, but I quickly learned it is so much more than that. It's a whole different way of thinking and seeing. You make a leap into the fourth dimension - not just depicting static characters, or a sequence of images, but the actual movement of a character or scene. There is nothing quite like the magic of watching one of your drawings come to life for the first time!

In 2014 the Belgian comics publisher L'employ√© du Moi asked all of its authors to animate a short walk cycle in the "shape" of its logo for an exhibit at the Angoul√™me International Comics Festival. I chose my character Argus (from my graphic novel Basewood). You can see my process posts on this blog: Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4 - Part 5. Then in 2015, I created an animated holiday e-Card for The Harry Potter Alliance (there's a process post here). With both of these projects I learned so much, and also had a ton of fun. It lead me further and further down the animation rabbit hole.

After a decade of teaching the same comics workshops every summer at The Center for Cartoon Studies, I was burned out, so in 2017 I pitched the idea of teaching an animation workshop instead. I've taught it every summer since and it has been so wonderful to have an "official" place to share my enthusiasm for this art form, and all the different ways it has influenced my cartooning practice. It also gave me an excuse to continue learning as much as I can about animation!


Because of the pandemic, last summer's workshop was held 100% online, with the students creating all of their work using RoughAnimator (an amazingly powerful piece of animation software for Mac and PC which only costs $5) and the SyncSketch platform for sharing work. It all went very smoothly, so I'm pleased to say that I will again be conducting my Introduction to Hand-Drawn Animation workshop online, this time during the CCS winter break, January 11-15. Classes are synchronous from 11am-5pm ET Monday through Friday. It is a very intense week where we cover the principles of animation, a simple walk cycle and a looping final project. You can see samples of past students' work and find more information on the workshop page!

There are needs-based scholarships, which all workshops students can apply for, as well as our standard 50% discount offered to all CCS alumni, current students and staff. 


This year we're also adding an exciting new merit-based scholarship to support professional development for BIPOC cartoonists. The application process is super simple (basically, submit a piece of your best work by December 1st) and then a committee of faculty and staff will review the work and award one full scholarship for each of the three Winter Workshops (there's also Digital Coloring for Comics and Graphic Memoir). Please help us spread the word about this awesome opportunity! 


When I turned 40 last year, I decided that animation was going to be my mid-life crisis. I bought more instructional animation books, as well as some new equipment (an "Acme" Hole Punch, a Wacom One Pen Tablet, etc.), and signed up for a bunch of online animation classes. As I began working on homework assignments and little projects here and there I became more and more obsessed with animation. 

When the pandemic hit, my day job became very stressful. I started animating every week on Friday nights after my kids went to sleep, for stress relief. Animation is so complicated that when I am working on it, I am unable to think about anything else. I put on some jazz music (I'm currently on an Oscar Peterson deep dive) and just get lost in the flow of animating. It is incredibly relaxing for me.


I set up my @AlecAnimation account on instagram, because it's a great platform for sharing small videos of my animations, as well as photos of the animation books I'm reading, websites I'm using to learn various skills, movies I'm watching, as well as other resources. I see it as a direct extension of my animation workshop, where people can follow along with my journey as I teach myself this amazing art form. 

I thought that posting new work every Friday would help me scratch the animation itch, but somehow it only triggered a frustration that I couldn't spend more time animating! All day, every day, I was thinking about animation, but because I was only able to work on it on Fridays, it was driving me crazy. After a lot of soul searching, I finally decided in October to begin animating every day (similar to my Draw Comics EVERY Day vow, which I have stuck to for the last twenty years). I managed to keep this up all through October, and it has been amazing how much easier it is to learn and improve when I do something every day, even if it's only for 15 minutes or so. I hope I can continue this practice moving forward!


One of the biggest challenges was shaking off my own stigma about working digitally. I prefer working on paper, but to make the best use of my limited time I decided it made more sense to work solely on the computer (mostly to cut down on time spent photographing/scanning drawings and having to compile them, though there are other advantages as well). 

I realized that I mentally catagorize time spent at my computer as "work" and time spent at my drawing table as "art." My wife Claire and I were already rearranging some furniture last month, and I was able to snag two small shelves which I used to build my own little digital animation work space. This tiny desk has made a huge difference for me. I can sit down and begin animating immediately without having to set anything up, and all my reference materials and text books are within easy reach. I'm starting to get the "art" feeling in front of the computer.

So I guess that's it. This is where I'll be sitting a little bit each day from now on, delving deeper and deeper into the animation art form, learning as much as I can, and sharing my journey with as many folks as I can through my workshop and instagram account. I hope some of you will join me!



December 24, 2019

Picture Book Workshop!


Early in the new year I will be teaching a Picture Book Workshop in Santa Fe at Bee Hive Kids' Books. The class will meet on four consecutive Tuesdays, from 6-8pm: January 15th, 22nd, 29th and February 5th. This will give participants a week between each session to complete the homework. Each assignment builds upon the previous session's work, with a goal of creating a complete picture book manuscript and sample illustration by the end of the course.

I will be sharing my experiences working as a professional illustrator, creating picture books by myself and with authors, as well as tips for working in traditional publishing and how to self-publish your own picture books.

I taught a Children's Book Summer Workshop in 2012 at The Center for Cartoon Studies which was so much fun! Ever since, I've wanted to try it again, and now I've finally got the chance. You can sign up for the course over on the Bee Hive Writing Workshops webpage. Space is limited!

May 12, 2019

"It's Been So Long" Weezer Fan Club Exclusive 7"!

I recently had the honor of illustrating the jacket and label art for the 2019 Weezer Fan Club exclusive 7" record. The project was art directed by Karl Koch, the band's longtime archivist and "jack of all trades." Unlike some of my previous illustration projects with Weezer, I had plenty of time to work on this one, so I had a lot of fun loading the illustrations up with tons of detail. Below you can see some behind the scenes photos from my process. (You can click on any of these images to see them bigger!)

This is the third Weezer Fan Club exclusive 7" record, and it features a great track, It's Been So Long. Karl described it to me as a 2014, Everything Will Be Alright In The End-era b-side, similar in spirit to the Beach Boys song Do It Again. He asked that I try out ideas that were more abstract than just literal interpretations of the lyrics, and suggested an idea of the members of Weezer driving in their first tour van, Betsy.  Below, left, you can see my sketchbook page where I am trying to process all of this information, along with considering the previous fan club 7" record designs.


I thumbnailed about 30 ideas and the culled the best 15 to send to Karl. The one he liked best was a design from the point of view of Rivers driving Betsy through the desert at sunset (above, right). Once he had selected that front jacket design, I thumbnailed a back jacket design of the van broken down (which Betsy apparently did quite frequently).

This seemed appropriate, but there was a problem - the designs depict the band in 1994, when Matt Sharp was the bassist of Weezer, but "It's Been So Long" obviously features Scott Shriner, Weezer's current bass player. It didn't seem right that Matt should be on there, but not Scott, but it also felt wrong to leave Matt out of the history of this image. I then had the idea to have Scott driving by on the freeway, blissfully unaware of the small touring band broken down on the side of the road, which he would someday be a member of. All the guys were living in California at the time, so this could have happened! As the cartoonist Don Rosa often says in the notes of his historical fiction stories: "Prove that it didn't happen!"  :)

Karl set me up with a dozen reference photos of Betsey, the band, and various ephemera from that era, and then we both did a deep dive on Google Image Search for dashboard and interior photos of 1985 Dodge Prospectors (the van) and 1980 Dodge Challengers (Scott's car). Overall, 60 reference photos were used to ensure maximum accuracy.


I started with the front jacket illustration. Below you can see the in-progress pencils next to the finished illustration. When I'm working on something really detailed like this it helps me to use multiple lead colors (black, blue, red) to visually keep track of different parts of the image.


The image is loaded with "easter eggs": 1) In Karl's reference photos, there was a Jabba the Hutt action figure velcroed to the dashboard, which sat in a custom-cut piece of white carpet that lined the entire dashboard. 2) I set the odometer to 99,999 miles, so this illustration is taking place in that magic moment when you "turn over" the odometer back to 00,000. Also the trip odometer is set to 199.4 miles, to hint at the year of this tour. 3) The only lyric I directly lifted from the song was "It's been so long / since we put the Smashing Pumpkins on" by including their album Siamese Dream (released in 1993) on CD, plus a tape-adapter. There are also Beach Boys and Led Zeppelin tapes hiding in the back there. 4) Strapped to the visor are a collection of backstage pass laminates from this era of Weezer touring. The one seen in the front is from the band Lush, which Weezer opened for in the summer of 1994. 5) This is the first, really poor quality Weezer sticker that their label initially printed. They were just cheap paper stickers - the very first Weezer promotional "merch." 6) I remember vividly Rivers having a band-aid on his right middle finger the first time I saw them perform live, and he said it was from playing guitar every night. So I included that here. 7) I also drew Rivers's eyes a bit bigger than normal in the rearview mirror because it seems like in all the photographs from that era his glasses lenses were really thick, and his eyes always seem a bit enlarged.


Instead of pencils for the back jacket art, I thought I'd include the digital sketch that I mocked up in Photoshop, which shows how I modify the reference photos to make sure their perspectives are both heading towards the same vanishing points. Then I print that out and use a lightbox to trace it onto a piece of bristol board. In this image Karl and Pat are trying to fix the engine, Rivers is noodling on his guitar, Brian and Matt are playing hacky sack (a nod to the Say It Ain't So video) and Scott is serenely cruising by. Every detail of this image is meticulously researched, from the outfits and shoes to haircuts, tattoos, etc. My only liberty was giving Scott the license plate "SGS 711" which I'm not sure if he had or not back then, but thought he would appreciate now.


If it had all ended there, this would have been the coolest illustration gig of my life, but then I also got to design and illustrate the labels for the 7" vinyl record! In the first "thumbnail" image you can see some of the ideas I pitched Karl for the A and B sides of the label. In the end, we decided to pull circular elements directly from the car, but replace the lettering to give information about the song. It was interesting trying to evenly distribute lettering and other design elements radially.  The A side label was one of Betsy's tires, with the lettering "Remington Wide Brute" replaced with the band's name and the song title, matching the style of type.


For the B side label I redrew the speedometer and odometer from Betsy's dashboard. The "miles" were set to "WFC003" (to mark that this was the third Weezer Fan Club release) and the trip odometer was set to 201.8 miles because I drew this in 2018 and I thought it would be released that year, but it was delayed for various unknown reasons. Also, the little blue light that turns on when you activate your "brights" has a little Weezer logo in it, instead of the lightbulb icon. I sent these files off to the printer and a few months later, Karl sent me a copy in the mail. It was only then that I found out the track had been printed on "Weezer Blue" vinyl!! <3 p="">



This is, without a doubt, the coolest illustration project I've ever worked on! Thanks so much to Karl Koch for hiring me to illustrate this, and I hope all the fan club members appreciate the time, energy, and love that I poured into these drawings.  If you would like to get a copy of this record, there's only one way to do that - sign up for the Weezer Fan Club and purchase a 2019 fan club bundle, which includes the 7" record along with some other exclusive items. It's a really exciting time to be in the fan club, with the band releasing new music, touring a lot, etc. etc. etc.  =w= 4 eva!!!

April 3, 2019

Weezine Omnibus: Deluxe Edition

As I mentioned in my previous post about the Weezine Omnibus, some of the photocopied images in my original printings of the zines were not great quality. When I asked for replacements, Karl Koch went deep into the weezer archives and scanned and sent me higher quality images, but they weren't just better scans from the zines, they were actually full color scans of the original paste-up assets used to CREATE the zines (!!!?!??!?!?!).

For example, here is the actual "weezine" logo, which was created with print outs, tape, collage, gluestick, and rubber cement, which was used for every issue of the weezine.


It never occurred to me that Karl had saved all of these assets for all of the zines (but of course he did, that's why he's Karl!). It was incredibly exciting, but I did my best to keep my head down and finish the original omnibus. In the back of my brain however, a plan started brewing...

Once the $15.00, 300-page, black and white edition was done, I pitched the idea of doing an oversized, full color "Deluxe Edition" of the omnibus to Karl, which he agreed to work on with me.  It started with the simple idea of reprinting those same 14 issues in full color, but grew into a much larger project...

For the cover, I tried to recreate a cutting mat workstation that Mykel and Carli might have used to create the original zines. Mixed in with various photos, flyers, stickers, fan club card assets and secret surprises were also some of the tools of the zine trade, pre-desktop publishing. I put in scissors, a glue stick, an exacto blade, and some white-out (all in Weezer Blue, naturally) and added a bit of a drop shadow, to try and make this stuff feel a bit 3D, in comparison to the other "flat" items.


I chose an 8.5" x 11" trim size for the book so that the 5.5" x 8.5" zine layouts could be presented at full size. This was nice, because (for most of the zines) it meant healthy margins on all sides.  This was the first time I ever put page numbers in the top margin of the book, which also bought me some room to individually label each page with what was being displayed below.

In the "standard" omnibus, the goal was to clean up the art, so that it was as legible and clear as possible, which meant hundreds of hours going through every single page and cleaning things up in Photoshop. In the "deluxe" edition I did no photo editing whatsoever, because even the smallest tweak of curves or levels would wipe out the white-on-white-on-white of print outs, tape and white-out.



I went through and laid out pretty much the same 300 pages that are in the "standard" edition, and that's when Karl decided to really take things up to the next level. Since it was print-on-demand, we were freed from worrying about page count, and since we had already made every effort to make sure fanclubbers could get the original info from the zines in an affordable $15 edition, we decided to really make this book really special.  

Karl dug deep into the weezer archives and pulled out a ton of assets that Mykel and Carli originally used to organize and run the fan club. Karl also wrote a long introduction, and anywhere something was referenced (for example a fan club T-shirt design contest) he actually went into the archives, found those items, photographed them, and then annotated the entry in the book.


Below, you can see Karl's annotations running underneath the zine layout. The book ended up being 400 pages, so there is an extra 100 pages of bonus content in here, all heavily annotated by Karl. One of my favorite additions were a couple of spreads in between each issue, which featured all of the fan club card photos for members (I'm pictured in the lower half below, second row down from the top, all the way on the right side - #2660!!!)


Karl even wrote a (heartbreaking) account of Mykel and Carli's death on tour with the band in 1997, and what it was like, trying to keep the fan club going in the aftermath of that tragedy. He included a bunch of assets from some of the other fan clubs that Mykel and Carli ran, and talked about what might have been, had we not lost them too soon.


As with the standard omnibus, this book is only available to current members of the Weezer Fan Club! You can currently sign up to join the fan club, which just launched a cool new app with lots of neat features. This is a big, full color, expensive book ($94.96... get it? ;) for only the most hardcore fans. It was a labor of love for Karl and I, and as with the standard omnibus, all proceeds go back into the costs of keeping the fan club going.  I hope Mykel and Carli would be proud of it! 

Below you can see a video preview of this book, to give you an idea of its splendor!


I've got one more weezer post planned, about the 7" fan club exclusive single that I recently illustrated for the band. I'm just waiting for the first copies to arrive at fanclubbers' houses first, so I don't ruin any surprises!  The only way to get this 7" is to sign up for the current fan club membership pack. More about that in my next post!

March 27, 2019

Weezine Omnibus

As I thoroughly documented in my book Weezer Fan: Phase 7 #017-#019, I have been a superfan of the band Weezer since their early days, and have even been lucky enough to create some official merch for them, including tour posters and T-shirt designs.


I joined the weezer fan club in 1996, which was originally run by sisters Mykel and Carli Allan. One of the coolest things about the fan club was that a couple of times a year Mykel and Carli would mail out issues of the weezer fan club zine, weezine. Not only were these packed with tons of fun information about the band, upcoming releases, dispatches from the tour (the original Karl's Corner!), and drawings/photos from various fan club members, it was also my first exposure to self-published zine culture!

Over the years, I managed to assemble a complete run of the zines by taking advantage of occasional offers to sell off remaining copies of back issues, offered by Karl Koch when he took over fan club operations after Mykel and Carli tragically died in a car crash while on tour with the band in the summer of 1997.


In 2014, the weezer fan club was relaunched, just before the release of the band's ninth studio album Everything Will Be Alright In The End. I (of course) joined the current iteration of the fan club, which mostly takes place in a private Facebook group. It was really fun to reconnect with the fan community of this band that I love! One day however, a strange thing happened... 

Someone had the idea to start a document trying to list all of our fan club numbers. "Old" members like myself got to keep our original numbers, with new 2014 members picking up with new numbers where the old numbers left off, somewhere in the 4000s.  I jumped into the document and filled in "0001 - Mykel Allan" and "0002 - Carli Allan" because, as all old fan club members know, Mykel and Carli were the very first weezer fans, and had these most-holy of numbers on their cards.  A new member made a comment to the effect of "Whoa, whoa! Who filled in #1 and #2? Is that a joke? Who are these people?" and it hit me that a lot of the new people had no idea about the history of the fan club that they were now a part of.

I pitched the idea of creating a print-on-demand, perfect bound book that would collect all of the original weezines to Karl, and he immediately okayed the project, and offered to help out anywhere he could. In the end, the book was over 300 pages, and it not only reprinted all of the zines, but also included scans of the original fan club application form, press packets, signed 8" x 10" photos of the band, lyric sheets, stickers, and photos of the various "secret surprises" sent out over the years.


Above you can see the cover design, which utilizes classic "Weezer Blue" along with all of the cover images. Karl gave me the official weezer font, which I used throughout the design of the book. I had to reformat a few spreads from the zines to fit the 5.5" x 8.5" format (some of the later issues were printed on 11" x 17" paper that folded down to standard half-letter zine size) and I meticulously went through and tried to present the best possible image quality, where my copies of the zines had either not great printing, or had been damaged in the mail.


Below you can see a preview video that I created to give fan club members an idea of what the Weezine Omnibus looks/feels like. This book is only available to current members of the Weezer Fan Club! You can currently sign up to join the fan club, which just launched a cool new app with lots of neat features. The omnibus can be found in the fan club members-only shop in the app, and it costs $15.


If you can believe it, this is only the beginning of this rad project! In part two I'll give you a look at the Weezine Omnibus: Deluxe Edition!