Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Functional drawings1 - draw with a purpose - layout/posing


1st 2 poses by Mike Fontanelli, 2nd 2 by me
Learn Fundamentals

There is a reason for learning all these basic drawing tools I've been talking about. Once you understand your basic tools, you'll want to do something with them.

By themselves they have no meaning unless you apply them to some purpose.

If you just fill up sketchbooks with floating characters that look neat, that's not really functional. That's good for showing your friends, and it's good if you are studying how certain things look, but it won't help you do an actual job.

That's the next step- using your skills to perform a function.

Applying fundamentals to a purpose- functional art

I have learned (and I learned this slowly) from experience that talent and skill is not enough to be able to do a job.
I have hired many young artists just on the basis of some sketches in their portfolios that indicated to me that they had talent.
Sometimes it paid off fast. A small % of them learned quickly and then after a couple months started doing work that was usable.

Most didn't. Talent and even basic skills isn't enough. I used to assume if you had talent, you could just sit down and bang out a scene.

Everyone learns to function at different rates. Some never do.

It's a sad state of the system today that people can't learn the best way to do functional animation drawings.

The best learning system existed in the 1930s, when all the animation was done in the studio in the country, and under the direction of an experienced animation director.

You started as an inbetweener working for an animator and by tracing his drawings and filling in the inbetweens you learned how to animate.

You learned to leave enough space between your characters for when they had to stretch their arms or jump up or walk out of the scene or sit on a chair. This is stuff you can only learn by doing it, and all that is done outside the country now, so really hardly anyone who makes cartoons today really knows how they are made, because they never learned by doing it themselves.

So it's not the fault of the young artists today, but the system makes it almost impossible to do anything truly animated in a creative way because you just can't afford to train people on the budgets that the studios give you. And the most important jobs are done overseas.

That's what this blog is for, to give young cartoonists as much knowledge and common sense tips to help them teach themselves what will give them the the most skills and more skill and knowledge means you have more tools to create from.

Functions in Animation
Animation is a collaborative medium. There are so many creative steps that go into making a cartoon and every one is important.

Here are some rough functions of some departments:

Storyboards:

These are the drawings that write and tell the story.

The function of a storyboard artist is to make the story make sense, be entertaining, have structure and give some indication of the acting and personalities of the characters.

It's not enough to be able to draw funny characters that float in a sketch book.

You have to be able to draw logical steps in continuity.

The characters to be staged in a way that tells each story point the most effectively.

The characters have to make expressions that not only tell the viewer what they are thinking each step of the way, but tell you in a way that only that particular character would do it.

The expressions have to be
1) funny
2) in character
3) in context of the moment of the story

The same goes for the body poses and gestures.

Now these are just a few functions you have to be able to perform to draw a storyboard.
You also have to have good and logical cutting.

You have to understand how animation works so that you don't storyboard something that is impossible to animate.

You can only really know this by having done some animation and having shot some storyboards on film and then seeing the final animation working and having people who you don't know laugh at the final product.

I'll talk about storyboards more in another post.

Posing for Animation Layouts

Because animation was done overseas by the time I got into the business, there was no way to control the entertainment though the character drawings in the 1980s, so I came up with a band-aid approach: Doing tons of poses in the layouts.

Doing character layouts is similar to storyboard posing but more detailed and finished.

The functions (besides using all the fundamental drawing tools I've been talking about) are

breaking down the scene into every pose that tells the story and that tells the changes in emotion.

Drawing the characters "on-model". Not on-model in the sense of tracing model sheets like most studios do, but to draw them recognizably as who they are.

Here's a relatively simple scene below as an example of a functional and creative scene.

Before you draw a scene, you have to analyze the story meaning of the scene and the physical restrictions of the scene. You can't just sit down and be creative and draw in the style of your sketchbook or phone doodles.

You need to analyze...

the Story purpose: In this scene above, you have to tell the audience in a funny way that:

1 The Happy Helmet has just kicked in and Ren is feeling his first moment of pure happiness.
2 Stimpy is an idiot and has no clear expression unless something moves.
3 Ren laughs joyously, innocently, not crazy yet
4 Stimpy sees Ren laugh and has a "pre-reaction" -slight surprise before:
5 Ren stops laughing/moving and Stimpy goes retarded again
6 Ren starts to talk, all happy now
7 Stimpy reacts- he joins in with Ren's new found emotion

Physical requirements:

This means there has to be enough space in the scene for the characters to do all the story things they have to do.
Ren basically moves up and down, so he has to have space above his head to move up.

This sounds simple, but you wouldn't believe how many layout artists (me too) who don't leave enough room for the action to happen in and have to go to the xerox machine to shrink down and reposition everything.

The expressions have to be clear, specific and in context and have to wrap around the construction of the characters.

So... having to balance all the story requirements and physical requirements of the scene drags your brain down and makes it hard to be creative. You have to work out a lot of creative and mechanical problems at the same time.

You might wonder: Where is there room for creativity here if the story is already written?

In the quality and entertainment value and humor of the drawings. In fact, to me this is the most creative and important step in the animation process-drawing the drawings that the people see. These drawings are the entertainment. They are the performers of the show and every other job on a show is subservient to the performance.



It's a lot easier to do a free and creative fun looking drawing in a sketchbook when you don't have anything to think about except how cool the individual floating drawing is, but as soon as you sit down to do functional drawings that have a consecutive order and have to build emotionally and be in the right place, then you find out what drawing really means.

This process of functioning makes you stiff. All of a sudden your drawings are lifeless and boring and awkward. This is natural to most artists and the only cure for it is to keep doing it until you are able to loosen up and function at the same time. This is a very frustrating balance and it breaks a lot of cartoonists. It separates the boys from the men. I've seen people give up just because they hate that stiff period while they are learning something new that they haven't done before. Every real artist goes through this constantly (unless they settle into a comfortable cliched simple style). You have to eat the pain and get used to hating your drawings every time you try to improve yourself. It's natural.

This takes time and practice. Start now! If you want to have cartoons that are filled with funny drawings and acting you better get your fundamental skills down as soon as possible and start doing whole scenes! Once you get confident and loose you will have a lot of fun.

Every expression and pose in here is completely specific to the progression of the story. There are expressions that were created for the scene because no stock expression would do. Of course after the cartoon, you've probably seen some of these expressions again out of context in other cartoons.
The drawings look free and crazy and fun, but they are not at all arbitrary. They are suited to the needs of the scene. I wouldn't be able to think of expressions like this arbitrarily if I didn't have a funny story to inspire me. I could think of arbitrary crazy non-functional drawings and I do on my napkins at Lido's, but those drawings are only seen by 2 or 3 people and they sure wouldn't affect the world the way tailored wacky drawings to a story can.





Here's a scene that a talented Spumco cartoonist was struggling with. The more things that happen in a scene, the harder it is to coordinate them together. The scene becomes way harder to plan. There were a ton of complex problems to work out in this scene.


There are a lot of long long scenes in Spumco cartoons. A general theory I have heard at the Saturday morning (and prime time) studios is that you should keep your scenes short, keep cutting at random from a long shot to a close up to a medium shot etc. Why? "To keep the film interesting". That's because nothing interesting happens in many modern cartoons, so you have to have quick cuts to fool the audience into thinking the film is moving along.

I've had scenes without a cut that lasted more than a minute and people laughing all through them. That's because I make sure there is always something happening, not just flapping lips.
Like this one.
This scene was extremely hard to work out functionally and it took 3 of us: Mike F., Bob Camp and me all helping each other.

Stimpy is cute, stupid and sincere and has to press a button with clear silhouettes.


Learn your fundamentals and then start to function!

60 comments:

Anonymous said...

You never fail to inspire me to draw.

These are perfect examples of why I hope to study under you one day.

Anonymous said...

Finally someone actually mentions silhouette value! You sure as hell don't see that in a lot of cartoons lately. Characters are harder to read unless a clear silhouette value is shown.

Mcnuggetinator said...

That is what I was about to do when I thought I finished the lessons. Is it best to use your own characters or already existing cartoon characters? (Thats why I was drawing from the bogus Daffy Duck model sheet)And would you recommend making up scenes or just riping off from movies, plays 'n such?

Anonymous said...

That complex scene that you referred too...what was that from? It looks familiar, but I can't place the episode. Perhaps one of the newer 'lost' episodes?

Thanks for sharing. Your thoughts and these drawings are gold.

-B

Anonymous said...

Holy shit! Amazing!

I love how the action of Stimpy's leg movement emphasizes the direction of the effect of pressing the button.

Do you use slug sheets to help work out the details of the functionality in each scene? Or is that a lost art (science?)?

I'm gonna go draw some more crap right now!

Anonymous said...

Wow, this is gold. Thank you so much!

Cayen said...

the complexe seen is from upward and onward. I think that's the seen where Ren kicks the bum that they had been living in in the balls.

Anonymous said...

"So it's not the fault of the young artists today"

actually there is really no excuse for young artists not knowing how to animate. there are plenty of tools availible for them to learn. with scanners, flash, after fx, and dvds that let you freezeframe cartoons etc. one can no longer use the excuse that they don't own a lunchbox to film, or a multiplane camera set-up, or that it takes too long to paint cells. I think some are too lazy or just think they are too good to learn basic animation and think they can go through life working in animation without ever learning squash and stretch or timing.

oh well.

Cayen said...

John, why the hell aren't you being paid to be a real animation teacher?

Anonymous said...

Anything worth doing, is worth doing right. I ordered an Alfalfa farmer dvd. To study. And the Mr. Magoo dvd collection from the classic media store to look at the backgrounds.

I bought the Dick Tracy collection each show is 5 minutes long. Tony Rizzo was credited in painting some of the BGs in the show.

Dick Tracy basically sits on his butt and Go Go Gomez and Joe Jitsu do all the work.

Does anyone know anything about Tony Rizzo? I looked him up on the web and he has worked for Disney and Hanna/Barbera and others.

Shawn Luke said...

"You have to eat the pain and get used to hating your drawings every time you try to improve yourself. It's natural."


This is really, really, really true. it holds me back more than anything.

HOWEVER, I've never actually HEARD anyone else say this before and I didn't know it WAS natural! I thought it was just me.

Just one more reason why you are one of our hero's




S.LUKE

Anonymous said...

When reading your blog, in addition to all in the wonderful in-site you relate, you also transcribe to a definite degree how tedious it can be to be an animator. This is something that people who work in the industry are always telling me with phrases such as "grunt work" attached, even so I still want to work in the animation industry when I get out of school. I know what it's like to hate everything you make, and have everyone else hate it too. I know what it's like to get so frustrated that nothing is seemingly good enough no matter how many times you draw and re-draw. But I still want to do it. I don't give up, because if I did, then what's the point of doing anything? The way you do anything is the way you do everything. Sorry to ramble on, but I guess I just wanted you to know that I know that feeling of frustration that comes from pushing your abilities. That's all. Thanks. You're Awesome.

Anonymous said...

Holy crap. This is a post I've been waiting for. In the back of my head, while copying some P.Blair model sheets I thought, "Surely this is just the foundational base. What about animation texture, timing, or acting?"

That's one of the reasons I loved Ren & Stimpy. It reminded so much of the Looney Tunes I used to watch as a little brat. The images were dynamic and watching their mouths and faces move was entertainment in itself.

And truth be told, last week I had this idea of uber-layouts floating in my head. What sparked this idea was an flash done by a fellow Newgrounds artist, Ryan Khatam. I think he has a great example of something like you mentioned as far as setting up shots and acting: (viewer discretion advised)
http://www.newgrounds.com/portal/view/153403

Also, I gave that Preston Blair bulldog running cycle a stab. I'd appreciate a gander: http://cidcartoons.blogspot.com/

This is awesome & inspirational stuff, John.

David: True dat. Some of the problems, such as physical restraints, can easily be eliminated by merely resizing your movie clip instance in Flash. Truth be told, almost anyone now-a-days has the resources to learn. Ironic that it seems even less folks learn this stuff (judging by what's on TV anyway).

El Bergo said...

hey john, this is a hard question, but in your oppinion, what really makes a drawing to be funny?

there are lots of cartoons out there that are completly unfunny stuff. sometimes i laugh at a joke that an unfunny cartoon character does, but when i see a character that has a funny design, he doesnt need to make any jokes, just some movement or expression can be enough for me to laugh a lot (like ren getting really angry). How to make a character that is funny by its own design? (sorry if the english is crappy)

Anonymous said...

John... Christ, if you haven't written and published a book by the time 2007's out, I'll scream. You've got assloads to teach us, and quite frankly I'd appreciate these lessons in book form, as some of your lessons are ahead of me by miles, and I'm afraid I won't be able to find them again when I'm ready to learn. I think I sitewhored lulu.com in one of my last comments, and I still think it's really worth checking out if you'd like to publish something. Just my two cents. Anyway, the expressions on Ren always get me, it's great to see characters like that again. Etc etc, keep up the good work John! (I promise I won't whore lulu.com anymore too)

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this John. I'm really interested in more details about the making of Ren and Stimpy episodes!


Jordan

Anonymous said...

You're far too modest, John K. Thanks for trying to educate.

Ryan G. said...

Yeah, the crazy Ren scene from "Sven Hoek" is by far the most entertaining and beautifully acted out scene ever. The quality of just that one scene puts everything out there now to shame.

So you guys just drew more key poses to keep the guess work out of the inbetweens?

Mad Taylor said...

This post really pulls out the guts of animation and rubs them on our shiny faces. Wow, you even mention emotions that I have felt before while trying to animate. I don't think any instruction book I've read has touched on that.

It is true, there are a lot of materials now where there should be no excuse but one's own ignorance to not know the fundementals of animation. However, it is also true that the 1930's system is very dissipated. A lot of animators were able to go further by starting as inbetweeners. Will we be reading about any animators mentioning Milt Kahl-like figures in the animation books of the future?

Anonymous said...

Wow.

Awesome, awesome post!!

This one in particular talks about stuff I've experienced... like, I'm guilty of doing sketchbooks of floating characters, and I know that stiff feeling in drawings when trying to storyboard!! Wow, I'm glad it doesn't just happen to me :)

Very inspiring, thanks John :)

Anonymous said...

Ohhh and the poses are just beautiful!!!

queefy said...

I don't know why people want you write a book so badly when their getting it all for free on this blog.

:P

Anonymous said...

Oh wow.
These are all bits from some of my fave episodes of your show!
I think my eyes just orgasmed.

Julián höek said...

but if all the thinking have allready been done in the layout poses what room has the animator to be creative and have fun? in your layouts it seem that the will only have to trace them ,put charts to those poses and the send them to inbetween.
is the fun part in the layout prosses?
are all your lay outs so precise or some times it's just a rught pose with the field, the composition, the staging an you let the animator come up with the acting ideas?

thanks!

thanks

Anonymous said...

Whenever I think of Ren and Stimpy
I always visualise that scene from "sven hoek"

It's my favourite r&s moment of all time.

The voice, the animation
the creepy energy.
I never saw anything like it again.

Great post btw

Anonymous said...

Whenever I think of Ren and Stimpy
I always visualise that scene from "sven hoek"

It's my favourite r&s moment of all time.

The voice, the animation
the creepy energy.
I never saw anything like it again.

Great post btw

Anonymous said...

I loved the Sven Hoek episode. I watched it uncut and it was hilarious! I can't believe you're actually sharing this info with us. Thanks John. I'll start practicing more.

Anonymous said...

hi john--

i'm working on an animation cel project and apreciate your feedback. You can see a few of them here:

http://www.vivaortegacy.com/animationcels.html

These are all hand-painted... old school. I love your blog and check in on it regularly. What is your next project?

--dave-o

Anonymous said...

John,

would you already describe this process employed in those scenes as making your characters act, or are there further steps involved to breathe this special kind of life into your characters?

I noticed that you seem to have concentrated on a few episodes which you really tried to make great, while other episodes are still fun to watch, but lack those magic moments from Sven Höek, Stimpy's Invention or Man's Best Friend, where the barrier between the TV screen and the viewer seems to disintegrate for a short while.

Do you think that this kind of quality can be upheld during an entire show's run?

One factor which makes it really exciting to watch the 2 first seasons of Ren & Stimpy is that almost every eopisode looks so different.

Alex Whitington said...

Aw, man. look at his little kick...that is awesome.

JohnK said...

>>
I noticed that you seem to have concentrated on a few episodes which you really tried to make great, while other episodes are still fun to watch, but lack those magic moments from Sven Höek, Stimpy's Invention or Man's Best Friend, where the barrier between the TV screen and the viewer seems to disintegrate for a short while.<<

The episodes that I do the most drawings on are the ones that come to life the most.

I sent all those to Carbunkle who would do the best animation.

It can't be kept up on a whole series when I have to spend most of my time training or retraining artists.

My goal is to have a studio full of star cartoonists who can do their own drawings. I've worked with a
few but never enough to carry a whole series.

JohnK said...

>>but if all the thinking have allready been done in the layout poses what room has the animator to be creative and have fun?<<

Hi Julian

They can move it funny and with clever timing to accentuate the key drawings. There are a lot of touches they can add to make the scenes stronger, like Carbunkle and Copernicus do. Most service studios tone everything down and make it weaker, which is why I make such precise and so many poses.

When I have animators in house, they have more freedom and I do less drawings for them.

Alicia said...

Hi John!

I'm still here and reading everyday. You're doing a great job and I'm learning lots. Keep it up!

Alicia

NARTHAX said...

Why won't the studios hire John to teach animation?

Because they don't value anything other than creative executives. One of these cretins recently said "I don't know all that much about the filmmaking process." Yet for this level of expertise they get rewarded with work 52 weeks a year.

Independent cartoon making is the best way to go.

Anonymous said...

Best post yet. Awesome, both for the advice and the insight into the process. Thank you.

Your article seems to beg the question: Is there any economically feasible way for American companies to keep the in-betweening in house? Wouldn't going back to the old system work out in the long run, since you would have to spend less of your time training new people? I realize that even young, inexperienced artists in America are going to want more money than animators in Korea or China, but the two studios you keep talking about are in Canada, which doesn't have that much lower of a cost of living. Just curious. I'm sure if there was a way to make it work, you'd have done it, but as an outsider, I just don't see the insurmountable obstacles to this. I know the corporate shops won't, but what about you?

Anonymous said...

Great post John! GOT TOOO GETTT OUUT OF MMMYYYY CUBBICULE TOO GO HHHOME TO DDDDRAAAAAWWWWWW!!!!

Anonymous said...

I think this is my favorite post yet.

The "stiff" period is in every learning process, and this is one of the first times I've ever heard it vocalized in this way. You are dead on!

As always, thank you for sharing your knowledge.

Anonymous said...

Man I love that Sven Hoek episode. I think that is the best acting I've ever seen and is the only episode to date that I've memorized all the way through. Without this post, I never would have realized exactly why I love it so much and what went into creating such a scene. Thank you for another superb lesson!

murrayb said...

Here's our new layout room. I wish we rescued more tables from the local layout and pose studio that went under 2 years ago. Look at this great portable animation table
for under 200 bucks canadian.

Anonymous said...

Hi John,
I have one question. I just watched the animatic from "The Lost Episodes" and sometimes you can see this in a circle "S/A". What does that mean? Is this supposed to be a "heldcel"?

Thank you,

Anonymous said...

That's exactly my problem every time I try to do a flash animation and that's why I mainly do comic strips instead. I hope I'll get it some day and will learn to be functional.

Incidentally, that scene in Sven Höek has the coolest Ren's expressions ever and it's my fave single scene in all Ren and Stimpy (not my fave episode, though).

Anonymous said...

Great post John! Thank you! i see what you mean about the "floating characters that look neat". I'm in the pain zone.

Anonymous said...

John,

>>My goal is to have a studio full of star cartoonists who can do their own drawings. I've worked with a
few but never enough to carry a whole series.<<

I really hope you'll succeed with your plans, and wish you good luck because there doesn't seem to be much hope left for cartoons, as each new year, it gets more and more depressing so that the only sad way to see quality is to dig up unseen treasures from the past.

Also, I hope you finally get to animate "Life Sucks", the animatics really show the huge potential to become the best Ren & Stimpy episode so far.

Reading your blog, it becomes clear that making great cartoons involves much hard work, dedication and love. Let's hope you'll find the right people.

Yours,

Oliver

Max Ward said...

I'm glad to see you are moving your posts into the next level, of where we apply the knowledge we are taught. I'm still working like a madman hoping to work for you one day!

And I just thought of this question. You being Canadian, do you like hockey?

katzenjammer studios said...

John:

I'm certain that character acting is not a nebulous skill in that some people get it and some people just don't. There has to be exercises (like drawing with the intent of functionality) to help hone this skill. Do you suggest any SPECIFIC exercises? Taking lines of dialogue from movies and keyposing that? Or do you give basic tests for people to act out (like finding a dollar).

I've been trying to draw characters with a sense of narrative lately. But I find myself having trouble figuring out what the characters should be doing in just random sketches. Go to situations or something would be very helpful for us young cartoonists.

Thanks.

Gabriel said...

You have to eat the pain and get used to hating your drawings every time you try to improve yourself. It's natural.

I think god just used you to send this message specifically to me.

Gabriel said...

You have to eat the pain and get used to hating your drawings every time you try to improve yourself. It's natural.

I think god just used you to send this message specifically to me.

S.G.A said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

"This process of functioning makes you stiff. All of a sudden your drawings are lifeless and boring and awkward. This is natural to most artists and the only cure for it is to keep doing it until you are able to loosen up and function at the same time. This is a very frustrating balance and it breaks a lot of cartoonists. It separates the boys from the men. I've seen people give up just because they hate that stiff period while they are learning something new that they haven't done before. Every real artist goes through this constantly (unless they settle into a comfortable cliched simple style). You have to eat the pain and get used to hating your drawings every time you try to improve yourself. It's natural."

Darn, you've just described an exact problem I'm having at the moment drawing for an animation. I find my self hating just about every frame I draw, but I'm gonna press on anyway and keep at it.

Man, I would love to own one of those Lunchbox thingys, then I wouldn't have to scan every frame all the time and line up in Photoshop. Shame the things are both expensive as heck and impossible to get sent from America. =E

S.G.A said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Adam B said...

Hi John

I was wondering when the figurines "John K's Butt Nakeds", and the "Ren and Stimpy -Ulimate DVD" are coming out.

Anonymous said...

John! Check out this blog post of Mel Crawford on Yogi Bear. 'course you probably already have this.

Jesse Oliver said...

"REALLY COOL STUFF JOHN!"

Anonymous said...

Sad to say, being interested in clay animation the same money over art problem comes up. Will Vinton Studios made some of the best clay animation. They spent days doing single frame 24fps shots with extreme attention to expressions and sculpted details. I mean expert sculptors making clay puppets truly look alive one frame at a time. Just watch the Adventures of Mark Twain to see what they are capable of. There were no cookie cutter replacement mouths and it makes a huge difference. Now they use un-sculpted stick on mouths on the puppets in most of the work they do in not just Laika, but all the other studios. Cuppa Coffee seems to be getting back into the sculpted mouths though which is great. However it's mostly stick-on and more rigid. For the most part sculpting skills no longer are needed for expressions during animation. No studio wants to spend the time/money to do it.

Anonymous said...

Sad to say, being interested in clay animation the same money over art problem comes up. Will Vinton Studios made some of the best clay animation. They spent days doing single frame 24fps shots with extreme attention to expressions and sculpted details. I mean expert sculptors making clay puppets truly look alive one frame at a time. Just watch the Adventures of Mark Twain to see what they are capable of. There were no cookie cutter replacement mouths and it makes a huge difference. Now they use un-sculpted stick on mouths on the puppets in most of the work they do in not just Laika, but all the other studios. Cuppa Coffee seems to be getting back into the sculpted mouths though which is great. However it's mostly stick-on and more rigid. For the most part sculpting skills no longer are needed for expressions during animation. No studio wants to spend the time/money to do it.

FLAMINGPINECONE said...

Man, Sven Hoek was one of the best of the classic Ren and Stimpy's, it had by far some of the best drawings.

I havent really animated yet so I'm not sure just how 'functional' I am, all I show is some storyboards I did for my Midget-Man cartoon that never got animated. I might post some on my blog.

Good luck on the new animation studio, if you need like, a pencil pusher or intern or something I could be of assistance and maybe one day draw for ya after I learn some.

Keep on keeping on.

Anonymous said...

Ren's leg is labelled as a "cheat leg" in one of the drawings. What does that mean?

Bobby said...

Great post. Awesome poses (to copy)

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fandumb said...

I don't know how you did it but before he went into his 'insane' poses, Ren looked absolutely adorable, the way he stormed up to Sven and Stimpy!

I absolutely love Sven Hoek; the animation, the voice acting, the use of colours (unlike the glaringly violent APC ones), and there's a whole lotta energy in that scene.