Animation: Paint-on-glass technique
Two weeks ago, our Studio professor Cameron Neat waited for us all to sit down and proceeded to present us with our class’ second prompt: Material. We were encouraged to explore a material that’s fairly new to us through a daily practice. Perhaps a material that sparks interest or excitement. Let attraction be your guide, he wrote.
It’s a beautiful day in the neighbourhood
I wrote down a myriad of ideas for our second studio prompt. Cameron gave students the opportunity to explore new materials, techniques and personal interests using “origins” as a prompt:
I had motion studio, woodworking, and animation in mind. I worked with the first department that let me walk through their door: Animation.
I had previously made a stop-motion film using paper. But I wanted to develop digital animation techniques and continue to explore visual storytelling.
I was directed to ECU associate professor Martin Rose. He can only be described as the Mr. Rogers of the animation department: He kindly offered his advice and interest in my project, on his time.
I managed expectations by explaining that I had a two-week turnaround to learn some basic animation techniques.
Martin recommended Paint-on-glass technique. Also known as paint-on-paint. It’s a friendly, usually tactile approach to animation. Artists paint each frame on one backlit, square piece of glass. The paint is usually mixed with glycerin so that it doesn’t dry. Once a photo (or frame) is taken, the artist removes a small section of their canvas to paint the next direction that their subject or the environment moves towards.
Below is an example of traditional paint-on-glass technique:
To make the material exploration simpler, we decided to try the paint-on-glass technique on Procreate. Each layer is a duplicate of the last, allowing me to erase and move the painting in each frame.
My knowledge of Procreate is limited to start. I have used it to paint, draw and sketch carving projects or characters. I was excited about the opportunity of trial an error!
The material is accessible. I had procreate (14.00$) and iPad (450$) and an apple pen (140$). It isn’t the most financially accessible material. But I am able to use it while travelling. It’s portable and requires no setup.
Each frame a painting
Test 1: creating a loop
I had initially begun a simple mind map of what our prompt “origins” means to me. This was scrapped as I decided to follow my creative intuition on the new material instead.
It was during my in-person meeting with Cameron reiotirated how its about the exploration of the material. Not about creating a complex final product. He recommended doing a simple 5-frame loop for my prompt. So, I did that.
It is the boat below.
That took me less then five minutes.
I was suspicious. This is probably not enough.
I decided to continue animating.
Test 2: testing out the medium
I began exploring my more complex animation, while keeping in mind that the prompt was about exploration of the material and creativity.
Below is an initial test of medium and movement. It’s the start of a droplet of water falling from above. After five frames, I fell into my first mental blockage: Structure!
Time to talk to Martin again!
Community of practice: Martin Rose
I had three meeting with Martin during the two-week period. Below are two main bullet points from my notes:
- Sure, the subject can be the story, but so can pacing, movement
- Telling the story: form vs. writing
(Above) Martin during his Joni Mitchell phase.
With animation, the written story, and even the subject, doesn’t have to be what drives the story forward. In an abstract way, the environment, the pace, can tell more about the story . This was steps away from my writing-focused background, and I liked the different perspective in storytelling!
Thanks Martin! A professor so nice, I was told so twice!
With time, I saw the word “origins” for what it was. A Red Herring! A distraction or a way to deter attention from the original point.
First and foremost, the prompt is really an opportunity for us to follow our creative pursuit through a new material.
I therefore, decided to make the process the subject of my prompt. Origins, in the case, is the start of my learning of the material to my most recent knowledge in the technological manipulation of the material, process and skills I learned in two weeks.
It’s a linerar show of progression. But fun, and whimsical!
To start simple, I began with the circle.
Scene 1: loop, there it is!
I will admit that I did not practice every day. It was a skill of discipline that I did not develop quickly enough, primarily when I experienced a lack of creative drive. I wasn’t used to the impediments that this technology was delivering.
Part of delivering on the prompt “origins” was to show the progression of acquiring knowledge. Initially, I was drawn (pun intended) to revise and improve previous Procreate layers by adding new layers to my mostly white canvas – it’s easier to do this when most of my canvas isn’t painted. But I noticed that this was a revisionary approach to work.
In consequence, this not help in demonstrating the progression and the vulnerable approach to creating something new.
The next steps
I stared creating a more complex animation. Moving more object, creating moving scenes, adding colours, and playing with motion vs. frame rate.
I finally found my flow state, in, say, the last five seconds of the film! Jumping between layers wasn’t intuitive, but I got used to it. To help, I borrowed a monitor and connecting cable for my iPad. This way I could periodically draw on a bigger screen.
I learned that movement looked more natural if I painted the background and moved towards the foreground. I got used to the technology and tricked myself into thinking I was painting with real brush strokes.
Admittedly, I primarily make using my hands, so getting into the nitty gritty of my work looking over one screen wasn’t always intuitive. The small screen surface coupled with learning a new technique gave me trepidation in doing free-flowing creative work
I often made a point of referencing back to Cameron’s message; it’s meant to be an exploration of a material, whether good or bad, and an opportunity to reflect on how your exploration went. There is no need for a perfect end product.
I found myself getting lost in my work when I got too caught up in painting the environment layer by layer, building the scene, rather than focusing on the direction of my animation. I fell into a Micro vs. Macro situation. I got sucked in!
This can be seen between the 20 and 25-seconds of my film. I stopped focusing on the direction of the story, and got lost in building the environment. It took stepping back for a couple of days to understand what Martin was saying. What is the movement saying?
What were my obstacles?
I described technological obstacles earlier, getting caught up in working on “origins” as a prompt, and my lack of discipline in working every day. I was surprised by how much the smallest planning methods didn’t matter. I don’t need a story, I don’t need linear direction planning when creating my animation.
What I learned was that direction was the challenge in learning the material.
Once I got that (in the last five seconds of the film). It was freeing, there is no end in sight! I hope to be more bold in my animation, create a huge eraser mark and work through that change, making movement look more smooth.
Here is my final video for my prompt.
Thanks for watching!