Project updates…

Posted by Jason Steele | Saturday 28 February 2009 8:22 pm

Charlie the Unicorn 3:  Currently on schedule, I think this is my favorite episode yet.  If production continues going well this should be up on FilmCow in a week and a half or so.

The FilmCow Blog:  I’m going to actually link this blog on the main FilmCow site in the next two weeks – right now we’re kind of in a “beta” stage to make sure everything is working.  Everything seems to be working fine, so we’ll go OFFICIAL AND LIVE shortly.

Everything else:  I have the audio for a few more cartoons recorded, and a couple of live action shorts planned.  Work on these will start after Charlie 3 is released, so I don’t have any sort of release date idea yet.  Same goes for the “Spatula Madness” feature – work on that will start up again after Charlie 3, so stay tuned.

Chris was over today…

Posted by Jason Steele | Tuesday 24 February 2009 11:21 pm
Chris Alex, "representing" or something of the like.

Chris Alex, "representing" or something of the like.

Chris was over today to record some vocals for a new cartoon.  Things went as they usually do – we recorded many takes of each line, did a lot of improvisation, and ended up with a bunch of dialogue for what will hopefully be a funny cartoon.

Our last video, “Llamas with Hats” is about to reach 100 thousand views – after less than a week!  People have a thing for llamas I suppose.

This new cartoon Chris and I are working on will most likely not be completed until after the release of Charlie the Unicorn 3 – I’m putting all of my efforts towards that right now and so I don’t have much time for anything else.  Speaking of which, Charlie 3 is coming along great and should be out in about two weeks.



Let there be llama…

Posted by Jason Steele | Sunday 22 February 2009 11:53 pm

Here is an example of a specific e-mail question I get about once a day:

“hey wutup ferrts was funy how u make ur moveis rite back xthkx”

Seeing as there appears to be some sort of interest in how I actually put together my movies, I decided it might be a good idea to have a handy blog post around that I can point people to, instead of just ignoring those e-mails outright. Which is what I have been doing.

Here was my production process, from start to finish, on “Llamas with Hats.”

Step 1: Make myself an iced mocha latte.


This is very "yum," as they say.

This is very "yum," as they say.

This is a very important and often overlooked step. If you aren’t a fan of mochas or iced drinks in particular, a regular latte or even a straight double-shot of espresso will do just fine.



Step 2: Kill some sort of leprechaun and steal his gold.

This will assist in purchasing the required software.



Step 3: Write the script.

I write my scripts using standard screenplay format, and then number the lines by hand like this:


The numbering comes into play later.



Step 4: Record dialogue.

I use a program called Amadeus Pro to record my dialogue. This is what one read-through looks like:


I use Amadeus’ noise-removal feature to get rid of any background noise, and then get to work splitting up the file into lots of little files. This is where the numbering from the script comes in. Every line is saved as its line number, like so:

takesThere are usually many takes of every line.



Step 5: Create an audio track.

I use Final Cut Pro for this. I import all of the voice files as well as any sound effects I have recorded for the short. In this instance, the only sound effect being used is for the background ambiance, and I’m using one that I made long ago for another cartoon.

Every character gets his / her own track. This makes it easier to do lip syncing later on. I find which take of each line works best, and then place them all into my timeline:


For Llamas, I then exported this into 3 separate sound files. One with just the brown llama’s voice track enabled, one with just the gray llama’s voice track enabled, and one with everything enabled. This comes into play later.



Step 6: Character artwork.

I usually do character art before background art. The programs I use vary depending on the cartoon, but for Llamas I used Adobe Flash.

The first thing I will draw when making a character is a basic line-version using the pen tool.


Then I use the Paint Bucket tool to add color.


And then to shade I use the Pencil tool and draw “shade areas” on top of my image. This allows me to then use the paint bucket tool with a darker shade and fill in the area between the lines and my new pencil marks. The lines are deleted after this is done.


It’s important to note that everything I plan on animating is drawn as a separate layer. Eyebrows, pupils, etc.

Finally, I draw all of the mouths that I’ll need for lip syncing, and then export everything as PNG files for importing into Photoshop.


Step 7: Background artwork.

I use Photoshop for my background art. The best way I can describe my process is this: crap loads of layers.


That’s just a small sampling. There are over 50 layers in the background art for Llamas with Hats. Everything is its own layer. The door, for instance, is five layers: the door itself, the door frame, two hinges and then a layer for the small shadow it casts onto the wall.

I begin the whole process with an incredibly simple sketch of where the main objects in the room need to be. This is why I draw the character art first – because now I have the character art as a reference for how I need to design the room.



Then, using various custom brushes, I do the textures for the largest elements in the room – such as walls, floors, etc.


To cut an incredibly long story short, I draw each object individually in their own document, and then load it into this document and place it where it needs to be. This allows me to re-use certain bits of art in other backgrounds if it’s a larger project (windows, doors, etc.)

The last step is lighting – I use the pen tool and very large brushes to draw on the places I want more light, then I’ll blur that layer and set it on “Soft Light” mode, which is what I did to give the window area a little glow.



Step 8: Lip syncing.

This is where those separate audio files and mouth drawings come in. I use a program called Magpie Pro 2 for lip syncing.

This is Carl’s project file. I have imported his audio file and mouth artwork, and now I can go frame by frame and match every sound he makes to the appropriate mouth position.


Magpie then lets me export this data as a keyframe information file that I can copy / paste into Adobe After effects during animation.


Step 9: Animation

All of the artwork and the main audio file is imported into After Effects, and set up in a new document for animation. Because I exported all of the art as separate layers (eyebrows, pupils, etc), I can animate all of these layers individually in After Effects.

This is what part of Carl looks like, keyframe-wise:


Each of those gray box-dots to the right are “hold keyframes.” A hold keyframe is a keyframe that only moves on that point, and not in-between the points. I don’t use “tweening”, which means when you see something moving I’ve actually gone and moved it every frame, the computer didn’t fill in any of the movements for me.

Once all of the animation is done, I load the whole scene into a new composition to animate the “camera.” To do this, I simply enlarge / shrink and move the scene file when I want to zoom or pan the “camera.” The process is different for more complicated scenes, but for something as simple as Llamas it works very well.

I render this, and I’m done.

Well, that’s it.  I am obviously leaving out a great number of details, but to include them all would take way too much time. I will however be doing more blog posts in the future discussing specific aspects of cartoon production in greater detail.  I hope this has bored you all greatly.

Llamas with Hats

Posted by Jason Steele | Thursday 19 February 2009 7:26 pm

Decided to release it a day early.  Check out “Llamas with Hats,” now on FilmCow.

It is a movie about llamas.  And hats.

A llama with a hat.

A llama with a hat.

Friday’s short animation is done.

Posted by Jason Steele | Tuesday 17 February 2009 8:08 pm

I have just completed a short (minute and a half) animation to be released this Friday.  It has voices by myself and my cousin Chris Alex, and it involves hats.

This is a hat:

A Hat.

A Hat

Just in case you have forgotten what hats are.

Charlie the German Unicorn

Posted by Jason Steele | Sunday 15 February 2009 5:28 pm

“TheTrueBlacky” on YouTube has made some brilliant German dubs of various Charlie the Unicorn cartoons.

Surprisingly, they almost seem to make sense when they’re not in English.

Charlie the Unicorn 2 in German

Charlie YouTube Live Promo in German

This is a helpful book.

Posted by Jason Steele | Sunday 15 February 2009 2:20 pm

It is very important to know whether or not what you are holding is a block of wood.

For instance, you might be holding a grenade whilst erroneously thinking that it’s a block of wood, and I need not explain the obvious unpleasantness of this dilemma.

Luckily, there is a book you can buy to solve all of your wood-related difficulties.

Is this wood?  No.  Is thiiiis wood?  No.  Is this wood... YES!

Is this wood? No. Is thiiiis wood? No. Is this wood... YES!

Thank you, R. Bruce Hoadley, you have made the world a more identifiable place.  Using this book I have gone from “speculative” to “certain” that the fence in my back yard is in fact made of wood.  I feel informed, I feel energized, and I feel exited about life and wood.

Matt Books

Posted by Jason Steele | Saturday 14 February 2009 2:06 pm

Continuing the “post bits of failed projects that never got made” theme, here are some snippets from my friend Matt Books’ voice overs for a cartoon we were working on called “Angry.”

Matt Reads Some Lines

Matt Books is a talented voice actor.  Take a listen to his demo reel, which we recorded at two in the morning by having him read random books that were laying around the house and repeat lines from various FilmCow cartoons.

Matt Books Demo Reel

I cut you.

I cut you.

Socksual Innuendoes

Posted by Jason Steele | Friday 13 February 2009 12:20 am

New video up.  It is very socky.

Barring any unforeseen tornadoes, expect another video by next Friday!

The sock puppet is the highest form of art.

The sock puppet is the highest form of art.

The voice of madness…

Posted by Jason Steele | Thursday 12 February 2009 7:47 pm

I’m posting this to give you all an insight into the pure insanity that goes into making a cartoon.  This is the entire unedited vocal recording track for the cat in “Detective Mittens.”

Meow Audio

It’s 20 minutes long. 20 minutes of meowing, with many takes of each line.

The letters / numbers you hear me announcing are the identifiers for the line I’m about to record.  It’s the only way I was able to keep track of which line was which, considering every single line was simply various meows.


Meow meow meow meow.

Meow meow meow meow.

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