Monday, October 31, 2011

Alexandria Film Festival

Pennipotens at the Alexandria Film Festival, screening November 5th at the Torpedo Factory Art Center, Alexandria VA.

Festival runs November 3 – 6, 2011 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Offshoot Film Fest

Pennipotens will be Screened at the Offshoot Film Festival
University of Arkansas
4:00, Friday October 28th in Room 107
Global Campus Building, 2 East Center Street, Fayetteville AR

Thursday, October 6, 2011

7th Annual River's Edge International Film Festival

November 3 - 6
(More details to come on the website)
Paducah Kentucky

(Shout out to friends in Lexington, Louisville and Bowling Green!)

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

JamFest Indie Film Festival

Pennipotens will be screened at 8pm on October 28th at the JamFest Indie Film Festival at the Pottle Music Recital Hall in Hammond, LA.

This animation recieved two awards at this festival: The IAGO Award: Most Compelling Antagonist from the Northshore Regional Endowment for the Arts and a Gold Award for Experimental Animation.

Monday, September 5, 2011

JamFest and SPESE Regional Conference

I just found out that Pennipotens got accepted to the Jamfest Indie Film Festival in Hammond, Louisiana!  I also found out I received an award (not sure what category... I'll update this post when I find out).  Updates on the festival may be found at

Ironically, Pennipotens will be screened on October 29th, 2011, when I'll be at the Society for Photographic Education South East's Regional Conference at Myrtle Beach.  I'll be giving a workshop on the animation techniques explored in this project from 1:45-3:30 in the 103 Meeting Room of the Sheraton Conference Hotel.  More in this conference can be found at

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Pennipotens in Hot-lanta

Pennipotens was accepted to the Atlanta Horror Film Festival and will also be screened as part of the Atlanta Underground Film Festival.  Sweet, double-whammy in the Peach Tree state!

Atlanta Horror Film Festival
September 15th, 2011 at 9pm
The Goat Farm Arts Center
200 Foster St. NW
Atlanta, GA 30318

Atlanta Underground Film Festival
September 22, 2011 at 10:30pm
The Goat Farm Arts Center
200 Foster St. NW
Atlanta, GA 30318

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Pennipotens on KET's Reel Visions

Folks in Kentucky (and nearby) Pennipotens will be aired this September on KET, KET2 and KETKY!

  • KET: Sunday, September 25 at 2:00 am EDT
  • KET: Sunday, September 25 at 10:30 pm EDT
  • KET2: Tuesday, September 27 at 11:30 pm EDT
  • KETKY: Tuesday, September 27 at 11:30 pm EDT
  • KETKY: Saturday, October 1 at 2:00 am EDT

After it is aired, it will be posted to iTunes U.  

More information can be found at:

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

World Premiere!

I got Pennipotens into the Columbia Gorge International Film Festival.  WOOT!  Curiously, it's a GIANT list of films, so I'm not really 100% sure if "Official Selection" is the same as "this will be screened".  Once I know a day and time for sure, I'll let y'all know, in case you happen to be out that way.

Just found out Pennipotens was awarded Best Animation!  Sweet!  I'd been feeling a little down about things (or maybe it was just hormones), but this sort of affirmation was just what I needed.  THANK YOU, VANCOUVER!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Pennipotens Draft - 05 (Final??)

I've tried to upload the HD version of the latest draft to YouTube so that I can email the link to a few folks for feedback... this is usually the toughest phase for me in a project, and this is no different.  A big part of me wants to just call it done and put it to bed.  But the other part of me (the more artistically honest one) knows that nows a crucial phase to get some hard feedback before I really call it done and start sending it out.  The last this I want to hear is "oh, this who section (fill in the blank) doesn't make any sense, so what if you (fill in blank that involves making another 30 seconds of animation) did this to help clarify?"

Basically, the last thing I want to do is work on this any more... this happens with any and every major time-based project for me.  But at the same time, if the work can be polished, doesn't it deserve it after all the hard work already put in?  Indeed.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Latest draft - almost looks like a real animation!

There's a light at the end of the tunnel!
I'm editing the scenes in Final Cut now (have to do it at UNCC since my computer's version of Final Cut is too old...) I need to adjust the timing a bit in places and of course mix the audio (there's no background sounds or music right now), but it's getting there!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

OMG, I said OMG!


At least, with the first draft.

I ended up not killing the deer, but only because I couldn't get the burning skulls to look right.  If I can manage this as a frame by frame, I'll still do it, because it's just too "cute" otherwise at the end.

So my next phase (well, after finishing taxes, hanging Digitally Inclined 2, and working out the details for the Graffiti Research Lab workshops... why do I manage to time all this stuff all at once?) is to export low-res drafts of all the scenes for the voice overs.  I decided I'll do the voice overs in Garageband, export the audio tracks for the character individually, re-import into After Effects and then sequence out all my audio directly in After Effects.

This will be a ROYAL pain in the butt, but I married myself to 1080p (infinite wisdom or folly?) and AE CS3 can manage that.

I think audio mixing for the "music" part of things might be a lot of fun and another creative phase in the project.  There's just so many sources of audio committed to the Creative Commons.  Since I already decided to commit this work to the Creative Commons upon its completion, this could work out really well.  I've alreay found some lovely audio samples of tibetan chants, gamelan riffs and bluegrass strums not to mention the occasional building demolition. Awesome.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Very Rough Draft of First 4 Shot

So here's a rough cut of the first four shots after the into sequence.... I exported them at 1080p, but, of course, my software is all so old, the most any can handle is 1080i.  Anyway, I imported it into iMovie ('09, I think) and did a quick, rough voice over.  Not very in sync, but like I said, quick and rough. And quiet, since Quinn is sleeping across the hall.  So I'll flatter myself by suggesting it's a little bit like an early Terry Gilliam animation.

At any rate, tomorrow I'll try exporting small draft copies of some scenes from AE (for a fast render), then import into Garageband for voice over recording (that way I can export the individual tracks better (but I have a feeling I might be mixing all my audio in After Effects, since none of my other software can do 1080p. Ugh. And we're getting a new roof.  Double-ugh.  If Final Cut Express could handle 1080p, I'd go ahead and buy it, but alas, that's still not on option.  So I'll muscle through.

Now to back up and shut down the machine for the night and watch some Monty Python!

Final Eight Scenes! (Sort of.)

I'm one page (well, and a scene) away from being done with the rough draft!  Woot!

Let's factor that out a bit more scientifically, however.

I have eight more scenes to go.

Today, I worked for about eight almost-consecutive hours on the animation.  I'm very good at not getting distracted by emails, the internet, etc.  I just turn all that stuff off.  

Today, I got five scenes done during those eight-almost consecutive hours.  


Really, it's not that horrible though.  I ended up spending a huge chunk of time in Photoshop re-creating the bodies for the Deer and coloring and texturing the sarcophagus prop.  So, actually, it was about an hour a scene, probably, not too horrible. 

Basically, I'm pretty sure I'll complete this 1st draft of the animations this week, even with all the preperations for the Digitally Inclined 2 exhibition.   But the part I still have to figure out is if I should try to record my my character's "talking" first, put it in and keyframe to it, or do rough mouth motions and then record my audio to try and match the mouth motions.

Typically, this is a no-brainer: record audio FIRST, then animate.  In fact, typically I wouldn't even dream of starting the animation without an audio track layed down.  But the characters in this don't "talk", they just sort of chirp, growl, caw and grunt, and I realized while trying to record audio for the first scene, that I would have better dramatic timing if I animated the over-all character gestures first and then fit the sounds in afterwards.

But this is going to be a real pain.  I'm already having a horrible time trying to do draft renders to check timing and, of course, there's no "Voice Over" option in After Effects.  So there's going to be some experimentation with early scenes to figure out the fastest workflow to get the base audio in.  Honestly, if I felt confident enough to just render it all and mix <all> the audio in final cut, I would do that...and I'm certainly going to try that.  But I really want to avoid doing any unnecessary renders.  I already have a sinking feeling that the clean-up work for this is going to be as hefty as the original draft animation.

Anyway, here's a very short, very compressed segment from a penultimate scene.  Here, you can just barely see the sisters transformed into deer, the wolf and the bunny surgeons.  

Okay, I don't know why I even bothered posting that, it's so hard to see what's happening all compressed.  Just think to yourself, "1080p, 1080p...."

Recent revelation:  I think I may have to kill off the deer at the end. 

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Competitive Burnout?

When I was in high school, I fenced epée with this club in the basement of St. Paul's Church in Princeton, NJ.  We were volunteer-coached by this great guy, Reinaldo Gonzalez, and periodically a bunch of us would go to state fencing competitions.  I fenced because I was into the whole romance of the thing, I guess, and I fenced epée because the rules made a whole lot more sense to me (a hit, is a hit, is a hit; none of this parry-riposte shenanigans).

Anyway, I remember Coach Gonzalez used to get really exasperated with me because I'd be doing really well in a bout and somewhere along the line, when I had 3 points and the other person had 1 or none (matches go to 5 points), I'd just sort of mentally and physically check out of the match and the other gal would win.  Coach Gonzalez used to try and rally amy competitive spirit, but it was as if once I knew I could win, there was no sense in actually winning.  I wasn't in it for the win, I was in it for the process, I guess.

Unfortunately, this same attitude hits me creatively, too.

The really creative process in animation, for me, is the creation of the storyboard, and character and scene development.  Once I know what my characters and scenes are going to look like, it's brutal making all the other angles.  And animation itself.... sure, there are fun moments of problem solving, but for the most part, the really creative investigation was done with the storyboard.

So I've hit a wall with the animation.  My storyboard/script is 15 pages long.  I'm at the top of page 14 and it's like lead weights are being incrementally added to my drive.  In a lot of ways, this ending should be the most fun:  the mother character transforms herself emotionally, the girls are transformed physically, and everybody watches the girls literally sail away into the sunset on a giant floating nautilus-ship.  But the drag is on.

And I'm hardly done. I still have to go back and animate the mother's tail in every scene, set up all easing, fix the timing in a ton of scenes and... oh yeah.... AUDIO. Guh!

So how to motivate myself?  I can't think of any good carrots. The best carrot is just getting it done at this point.  Food and drink aren't great motivators for me at this point, either.

Video games? Maybe.  I'll take suggestions, though.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Technical Information: Using DuIK and Importing Puppets

1) DuIK: Part 1
First of all, the best way to get familiar with DuIK is to download it, install it on your machine (or if in a public lab, nicely ask the lab tech if they're willing to do it) and watch the wonderful video tutorials made my Famos.  In fact, I recommend doing that before bothering to read any of this; it will make much more sense.  First, install DuIK (you'll likely need to close and re-open After Effects) and you'll find  duIK under Window.

2) DuIk: Part 2
DuIK works with two joints, basically, so it's great for arms and legs.  First, select the extremity (hands in this case) and click the "Add Controller" button in the DuIK window.  This will basically add a small red null object, named that layer's controller. Advice: I don't recommend scaling the controller, at least not for relatively straight-forward puppet animation like this.

3) DuIK: Part 3
The more you do this next step, the more naturally it will come, so don't worry if it seems awkward at first.  In the immortal words of Yo Gabba Gabba: "Keep trying! Keep trying! Don't give up! Never give up!"  You need to select the layers and controller involved in the limb's movement to add the IK, but you need to do it in a very set order.  So select the extremity FIRST (hands), then move up the limb (Lower Arm, then Upper Arm) and last the Controller ("C_Hands Front).  Then click the IK Creation button in the DuIK window.  If the order was wrong, if the objects weren't parented, or if there are duplicate names ANYWAY in the composition, it'll give you an error to that effect and you'll need to fix it and then try again.  But I promise, after you've done this a few times, it's like butter. :)

4) DuIK: Part 4
The last thing you need to do is check the movement.  This is where you'll love DuIK and decide that Nicolas Dufresne is a just an all round great human being and deserves some fiscal support. DuIK is Free and licensed under a GNU General Public License, but go ahead and donate something to the guy.  He's made life for AE animators a whole lot easier.   Anyway, just select the Controler layer (in this case, C_hands front) and move the object; it should move, wow, like a real arm!  If the elbow bends in a weird direction, simply click the "Checkbox" in the Effects Controls for the IK Orientation (this is the effect that is added to the controler layer when you click the IK Creation Button) and it'll should bend in the right direction.  This, by the way, can be animated, which can be helpful if you need to break limbs. (Students, that's a technical phrase in animation, I'm not just being morbid!)

5) Compositon Settings
If you're like me, you probably cropped the bounds of your photoshop layer out of habit.  That's fine, but at this point you may want to go to Compositon>Composition Settings and increase the pixel dimensions of you Comp so that if the character moves arms and legs, they are not cropped off. 

6) Import .aep into your .aep
After saving everything, go to File> New>New Project, then go to Compositon>New Composition (setting it to whatever video settings you're using), then go back to File>Import>File and find the character's .aep you just made. It will import this in as a project.  Go ahead and save.
You'll see below the Wolf_3_4_Front has imported in as a folder. If I open this, there's a composition.  I drag this into my timeline (I imported in a background as well, just to make it less "blah".  Students, that's also a technical term.)  Scale the image down as you'd like it to appear in the scene.

7) Animating your Character
Control-Click on the character composition in the timeline and select "Open Composition".  Now you can animate the character!  If I have two characters acting very closely (hugging, for example), sometimes I'll just copy and past all may layers into the main composition (note: you'll like have to delete the duIK controllers and re-do them, but that's not a bad thing to practice.)  Generally, however, I use the timeline as a marker for where I am in an animation. So, if a ball drops and hits the ground at 0:00:03:12 and the character needs to flinch around then, I simply put my playhead at that time in the main composition and then click the tab for the character and the playhead will be in at the same time (VERY handy).  Then I can animate the flinch, knowing it will happen right as the ball's hit the ground.  In this example, however, I'm just making the Wolf raise her hand. Note how I'm just adding keyframes to the position of the controller.  You can also use the Motion Sketch with controler position with great results. 

8) End Result
Notice on the image above that the playhead is at 0;00;02;28.  I simply clicked on the tab in the timeline for my main composition (still named Comp 1) and notice she is in the same position.  If you have a character walking, you can have the character walk in place inside it's own composition and then use guides in the main composition to animate the position so the feet don't skate.  

Technical Information: How I set up my puppets

I'm partially maintaining this blog for future students.  This post will cover how I set up my puppet in photoshop, manage parenting in After Effects, use duIK, and finally organize all files for animation. (  I remember when I first started learning to animate, I was hungry for information on how different animators managed "work flow".  At any rate, I hope this is useful to someone somewhere!

1) File Organization
This is probably not the best method, but it's been working well enough to far.  I keep my entire project in one folder on my desktop, backing it up multiple times a day as I work on it to another hard drive.  Inside this main folder, I have folders for Scenes, Characters, Props, Locations, and Sounds.  The Scenes folder ONLY holds the .aep files.  The other folders hold both .psd and .aep files as I'll explain.  The important this is to NOT MOVE STUFF AROUND.  Once it's saved, leave it there, so save things carefully.

1) Setting Up the Puppet in Photoshop
I'm working with a file called Wolf_3_4_Front.psd. which, (ta-da!) is the Wolf character, 3/4 front view.  I wont get into Photoshop details here, but the important this is to carefully name all your layers.  DuIK is name sensitive, so I tend to start the name with the body part (hand, lower arm, upper arm, etc.), the position (left, right, front, back, etc.), and then just an initial for the character, in case I decide to copy and paste all layers into a main sequence with other characters later on.  So as you can see, I have things named "upper arm front w".  Also note that things like hands and eyes, where I have multiple drawings for different views are nested inside a folder. I'll get to this layer, but otherwise you want to avoid using groups.

2) Importing the File.
Again, make sure everything is saved and kept in the right place. Open After Effects and File>Import File> and then choose the .psd file as Composition - Cropped Layers.
Double-click the composition icon of the file. Note that the Photoshop groups come in as compositions.  We'll get into those shortly.

3) Parenting
Parenting is basically "connecting on part to another.  So the hand is connected to the lower arm, lower to the upper, and upper to the chest.  Go through and parent all layers first.  

4) Move Anchor Point
The Anchor Point is the point at which an object rotates.  After Parenting (or before, it doesn't matter), use the Pan-behind tool to move the anchor points.  For example. Upper arm's anchor point is at the shoulder, Lower Arm's is at the elbow, Hand's is at the wrist. Below I have an image of the pan behind tool selected in the tool bar, and you can see the head's anchor port is just below the chin (neck-ish area).

5) Test your Rotations.
It's a good idea to test all your rotations.  I select a layer, hit "R" for rotation, and then check each layer by rotating the area and then hitting Command-Z to undo (or type in "0" in Rotation) to set it back to the original state.  I keep the pan-behind tool selected since I often move around anchor points to fix rotations that look awkward.

6) SAVE!
Probably, we should have done this a while ago, huh? :) Make sure the .aep file is saved in the SAME folder as the .psd file.  Again, there's likely better ways, but I feel it's easiest for me to keep characters together, props together, etc.  Notice I've saved this as basically the same name as the .psd file: "Wolf_3_4_Front.aep".

7) Time-Remapping: Part 1
I will use time-remapping so that at any point in an animation, I can change the shape of the hand I'm working on.  First, I control-click on the hand layer and select "Open Composition."  Inside that composition, I select all layers and make them 3 frames long.

8) Time-Remapping: Part 2.
Next, with all layers still selected, I go to Animation>Keyframe Assistant>Sequence Layers with no Overlap.   This staggers the layers so that one plays right after the other.
This is how it looks:

9) Time-Remapping:Part 3
Next, I go back to the original composition, select the hands layer, control click and select Time>Enable Time-Remapping.  When you do this, you'll notice a keyframe at the beginning and end.  Delete the last keyframe.  Now you will only see the hand that is at 0;00;00;00 in the hands composition! Awesome!  To change the hands, simply make a keyframe, and then the frame right after it, change the time remap number to the frame at which the hand you desire appears.  

10) Time-Remapping: Eyeblink
As another example of how time-remapping can be very helping, here's how I've layed out the eyeblink. The first 2 frames, there are no eyeblinks (the eyes are open), the the eyes are 1/2 closed for 2 frames, closed for 2 frames and then half open for 2 frames.  
If I wanted the eyes to blink, I add a keyframe right before the blink (that is, the time-remap reads 0;00;00;00), then 10 frames layer I add a keyframe at set it to 0;00;00;10.  So the eyes will still look open. Good!  If you move the playhead in between those frames, however, the time remap will read 0;00;00;05 which, of course, are the closed eyes!  Remember, you can slide keyframes closer or farther, so if you want a blink to be slower, just drag that last keyframe farther away.  So instead of lasting 2 frames, the closed-eye part could last 3, 6, 12 frames, whatever you'd like!

Next Part: DuIK!

Saturday, March 5, 2011


Unfortunately, I haven't touched the animation for the last three weeks between shows and getting my materials together for external reviewers.  But unless I get a draft of the reviewer materials, I'm back to it!
Alas, I'm sort of out of synch with myself.

I'm at the scene where the Dove crosses the bridge in the city and falls into the river (wherein she is almost overcome by "vampires" which, right now, just appear to be fish.)

Here's a draft of her falling in the water.  Ugh, I know.  The water is fine (hooray for Red Giant's Psunami), but her motions are pretty awful.  I may come back in and frame-by-frame animate her skirt, I'm still debating that.  Anyway, tomorrow, back to Athens, GA to take down the Athica show, but I'm hoping I'll have some more time at least to get to do some draft animations of the sea monsters (fish).

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Slow fast animation

I just got through the first draft of Scene 07 - Building Crash (actually about 20 different edits).  So far, this has been the hardest part to animate.  Part of it was that it takes place is a glum looking city, and I got tired of looking at it about 2 hours into animation (not a good sign?)

But the bigger factor is that this is one of the fastest paced scenes in the animation, where the Mother draws a gun on the pretty daughter and the ugly daughter convinces her sister to flee and then tries to calm the enraged Mother.  To keep up a sense of tension, this scene needs to have many fast edits and fast action.  A lot of the action is also fairly exaggerated.  So the net result is that it took me a LONG time (comparatively) to animate a relatively short sequence of shots. 

I've also found that animating this way feels very similar to writing a character driven story.  I've become so close and invested to these characters and, let's face it, the Mother is not a pleasant person.  So it's been hard spending so much time with her because I just want to sort of shake and her tell her to not be such a jerk. Meanwhile, I also want to shake the daughters and yell at them to get the hell away from this psychopath!  Fortunately, that's exactly what's happened now, although the ugly daughter is still with the Mother for some scenes yet.

Now I'm on to the scene that's still the least clear to me, the Vampire River.  I still haven't figured out what I want the vampire/sea monster/child molester creatures to look like, although I have a lot of ideas.  I'm gonna try out diatom-ish critters this week.  There's also the bridge of human arms, and I'm seriously considering doing some stop-motion for that, but I don't know if it's a good idea to throw in too many different styles of animation.  Anyway, I'm still debating, basically. 

But passing the city, really, the first (and primary) climax of the story, sets me at the more-than-half-way point.  It doesn't feel that way yet, because I still have the second half to animate plus all the sounds, etc., and I still haven't figured out how I want to animate the Mother's tail.  Anyway, better problems to have, now that I've muscled through that crummy scene.  And I'm sure my husband's going to be glad for it too, because I think he was a getting a little sick and tired of me whining about it, ha!

Here's the rough of the Mother shooting the gun.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Trials of being a Mother/Artist

So, despite the full course release (thank you Chair Eldred Hudson and Dean Ken Lambla!) I'm not as far along in the rough animation as I'd hoped. Tomorrow is February 1st and I still have to try and kill Dove one more time, get her to escape with Crow's help, try to kill Dove off with Vampire/Water Monsters, have Wolf rescue Dove, have Child Services collect Crow, surgically change Dove and Crow into Deer, and then have the Deer "sail off into the sunset", much to the chagrin of Opossum.  Now that I write that, that seems like a lot. 

I'm going to blame snow and the flu.  First, I lost a week of animation time because Quinn (my 2.75 year old) didn't have preschool due to snow/ice.  Now he's sick with something.  His preschool starts at 9am and he's just getting up now... I'm thinking there's not gonna be preschool today. 

Which means Dove will have another day without an assassination attempt.

Poisoning Attempt Foiled

The Opossum (mother) attempts to kill the Dove (pretty daughter) three ways:

1. with a pillow full of sharp objects
2. with poisoned oatmeal
3. by knocking a grocery store on her

So far, Crow (ugly daughter) has foiled the first two attempts and Opossum is still none the wiser. 

Some technical and conceptual problems I need to solve going forward (and back):

When Dove runs away and encounters the Vampires/Water Monsters, what, exactly are they?
When Dove and Crow are surgically changed into Deer, do they sail away on a sailing Nautalus, a winged Nautalus, or something else entirely?

How do I animate Opossum's tail?  So fair I've tried the following:
Puppet Tool
CC Bender
CC Bend It
DuIK Bone Tool
All are unsatisfactory either because I can get an S-curve in the tail, or because it kinks too much.  My hunch is that I need to use the puppet tool with some sort of expression attachd to the pins to connect them together, but I'm just not sure yet.  Still researching.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Sheepish Crow

Almost there.

Possible Titles for Animation

The original story is called "Black Caroline, White Caroline" which I'm not that crazy about for the animation. Other title thoughts:

Aviculae (small birds, birds here for, lesser bird)
Avis (bird, aves birds, also eager or ancious, desire, wish for)
Pennipotens (winged, able to fly, feathered, winged)
Velivolus (Velivola, Velivolum - flying with sails)
Volatus (flying, flight)
Volare (to fly, move rapidly, rush)
Volantes - capable of flying (fluing soaring, movable hinged)
Avitium - birds (birds collectively, the bird family)

Right now, I'm leaning towards Pennipotens (hence the name of this blog!) and Aviculae. Velivolus is also good, but I might not use the sails at the end scene, so if I don't it wouldn't make much sense.