Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Flash VS Traditional VS Asia


Pete Emslie wrote a post that I mostly agree with.


He compares Pinocchio to a Flash cartoon, and of course you'd have to be pretty stubborn to say that any Flash cartoon can compete with A fully animated Disney feature from the 1940s. Or any cartoon from the 40s.

Pete also makes the point that he prefers low budget Hanna Barbera TV cartoons from the 60s to low budget Flash cartoons from today. I agree again.

Yet when it comes to TV production I will still opt for Flash from now on. Against my will.

Here's what it comes down to:

What are the most important drawings in a cartoon?

The Model Sheets?

In modern cartoons of all types, the model sheets are the most important drawings, whether the cartoons are drawn completely by hand or predesigned and then moved around like cutouts in Flash.Here's one of the best. When the design is appealing, it can work.

Even many fully animated cartoons today are basically puppet shows, because even the best animators are handicapped by their non-creative bosses' fear of creativity.

The Key Poses?

I would love to have full animation completely drawn by hand by great animators who sit in the next room to me. That would be my preference. To direct Bob Clampett's crew of animators. Or Friz Freleng's. Or to direct Cats Don't Dance crew. That would be so much fun and would allow me a much greater freedom to create the kind of animation I myself would like to sit down and watch.

Unfortunately, I have not ever found anyone who would pay for me to do full animation in house.

So by necessity I have had to make the best of the low budgets in kiddie TV animation.

The compromise I have had to make forced me to come up with a new production system that took what it could from classic cartoons and adapt it to the ugly realities of TV budgets.

To many people today "full-animation" means smooth animation.

To me it means more - smooth animation of lots of creative customized well drawn, well acted poses.

It's the key poses that tell the story. They are the drawings that the eye sees and responds to.

If I can't afford lots of inbetweens, at least I want to have the story telling-and entertaining poses.

That's why my cartoons have lots of layouts.

The Inbetweens?

Many richer prime-time shows today have lots of inbetweens and are very smooth but don't ever use original poses and expressions.

Many producers and in my opinion, non-creative types believe that having a lot of inbetweens is what makes quality and they are willing to spend a lot of money for drawings that no one sees. At the same time telling the artists who do the key poses to not ever make anything new up.
Computer animation is perfect for producers who fear creativity, because it is so hard to make customized poses in the first place. But it's easy to make it smooth. It's all about the "tweening".

I like having smooth inbetweening, but it doesn't normally add to the entertainment value, it just connects the key poses without causing obvious jerky movements.

Of course, if you animate here you can even make the inbetweens entertaining and fun if you are so inclined.


Flash looks like Flash no matter how hard you try to hide it. At least so far. It is basically an inbetweening program, not an animation program. The inbetweens - like in all computer programs are too mathematical. Hand drawn inbetweens make your animation feel more natural, because things don't move mathematically in real life.

Flash is only as good as the drawings you put into it- and how many good drawings. The less you do, the more fake it looks.

Ever since I started using Flash as a necessary evil, I have been trying my damnedest to make it look as little like Flash as possible.

When I first worked with Copernicus on Weird Al, I told them to make it look like they weren't using Flash and they did as good a job of that as I have ever seen, so I have been working with them since.


Limited Animation Done By Good American Animators:

If I was able, I would go back to the 60s system of limited animation. The reality of the situation today is that there are no animators capable of what the animators in the 60s did. We have not done animation in the country for 35 years now so no one even knows how it works.

Yes, there are Disney 2d animators, but how many would be willing to do 4 to 6 drawings per second today as opposed to their usual 12-24? And would they be able to just sit down and start knocking out footage at the rate that the Flintstones animators did? And how many can draw in a non-Disney style?

Overseas Animation:

There is almost no point in animating overseas, because you get nothing creative out of it. (Rough Draft excepted). They are really there just to move model sheets from one position on the screen to another.

What we call overseas animation is really just inbetweening.

If you do send them specific customized key poses (which most studios don't) they won't use them anyway. Or even if they do they will tone them down so badly that it takes all the life out of the cartoons.

This causes you to lose a lot of time and money in retakes.

For my last 2 TV productions I stubbornly held on to doing all the inbetweening and "animation" by hand, just because I'm a purist and I don't like the way Flash inbetweens look. They are too mathematical-even in the hands of the best Flash animators.

BUT! The problems with trying to get service studios to use the work you send them are so immense and expensive that it has finally dawned on me that it's not worth it. I don't care whether the service studio is in Asia or a block away. This and some other expert scenes were animated here at a Korean studio next door. Anthony Agrusa, a Filipino animator worked closely with me and had to go against years of bland training in order to almost fully animate a few key scenes for me. Most of the rest of the studio could not grasp at all by what I meant when I handed them my drawings and said "use them".It takes too much work to retrain the working methods of studios that have done the tracing model-sheet method for years and can't all of a sudden adapt to a completely new way of thinking.

Copernicus surprised the Hell out of me for this major reason alone. They actually used the drawings I sent them!

I explained how I wanted the drawings inked and cleaned up- without changing them or toning them down and they actually did it. You can't even imagine how rare that is!
I have also worked with very talented Flash animators here and they know not to change my drawings (or Jim's or anyone else's). Once we get to the stage where everyone knows the mission: to try to not make it look like Flash, then we even are able to do some creative things that couldn't be done without Flash.

Does that make up for not having Bob Clampett's unit of genius animators and a big enough budget to make fully animated cartoons?

Of course not.

But right now, it's the best way to use original custom poses and have some hands on direction here in the country - or at least in North America with other like-minded artists who speak the same language. It's the closest thing to working directly with animators that we have.

Again, Flash is only as good as the drawings you put into it. But that goes for full animation too.

I would rather have original drawings with cheesy inbetweening than really smooth boring drawings and poses that we have seen a million times before.

It's the Devil's choice.

Give me 1/5th the budget of The Simpsons and I will give you hand drawn animation all done here.


Emmett said...

I have to admit, I have been waiting for you to say something about FOSTER'S HOME, for I believe that to be one of the better shows on Cartoon Network.

I believe you did a great job with the Wierd Al song, as that is how I prefer Flash to be used. If you check out Patrick Smith's blog (Pat's a New York indie), he had a post about how digital can never beat a real hand-drawn picture. And when I brought up that the same thing applied to Flash, he pointed out that when the computer is turned, some drawings are gone for good, until the computer is turned back on.

MikeSnj said...

You certainly handeled your cartoons very well.

robward said...

Do you still have that Nintendo\Comcast ad hosted somewhere? that was just dandy, but the links no longer link to it, I think it illustrates your very creative approach to Flash and would be useful (and funny) to see again.

flashcartoons said...

"I have not ever found anyone who would pay for me to do full animation in house." how much would that be?

hope its okay to ask

Lex said...

Hi John,

Technique-wise, how do you make Flash "not look like Flash"? I'm guessing part of it involves drawing or moving each frame by hand instead of using the built-in tweening tools. But other than that, do you have any pointers?

- Lex

Gregg said...

"Again, Flash is only as good as the drawings you put into it. But that goes for full animation too."

But, wouldn't it be easier, and cheaper, to keep work stateside?

With the ability to preview, and draw/ink in Flash, (not so much draw)

I believe an old school system could be achieved in the present day.

But of course, $$$ is always

Pete Emslie said...

Hey John,

Well, as you know, I'm not a fan of Flash in general because of what I perceive to be major limitations in what I've seen it do so far. However, let me explain my viewpoint as clearly as I can.

Ironically, my first introduction to Flash was on your old Spumco website back nearly 10 years ago. A friend of mine who was also doing some website animation with Flash gave me a rough idea of what it was and explained how it was used on the web to allow for simple movement of graphics, using very little computer memory. At the time, I thought it was a novelty - no more, no less. I thought your George Liquor episodes were fun, but looked more like comic books that moved, as opposed to what I considered to be real animation. Within the context of the internet, I thought Flash allowed for some fun visual diversions, but nothing more than that. In that context, I confess that I also got a kick out of the crazy stuff on "Joe Cartoon". (Heck, I still like to torpedo those dolphins once in awhile!)

So long as Flash remained a tool of web designers, I had no problem with it. I was aghast, however, when it started making the leap to broadcast TV, starting to be utilized for animating kid's cartoons. To be blunt, it just didn't cut it in my opinion. It resulted in "cutout" imagery, with what I perceived to be very little actual drawing being done to create the movement. I hated the look then, and I still hate it now. I'll grant you, there are some shows like "Foster's" that may have decent design sense, but the animation and resulting inadequate (in my opinion) characterization just leaves me cold. Most of the humour seems to be in the dialogue, not the visuals.

To be sure, I realized that the TV cartoons of my own youth, like Yogi Bear and The Flintstones were done in "limited animation", using a lot of repeat cycles and held cels, with perhaps only the head talking and arm gesturing, but the drawing still had that organic quality - the work of a real cartoonist pushing the poses and expressions to make up for the less fluid movement. And what movement there was still gave the characters the illusion of depth, instead of the flat, sideward-moving graphics I associate with most Flash animation today.

Recently you posted some examples of your commercial work: some traditional, some in Flash. To be honest, I still like your traditional animated work so much better, but I do see what you're trying to do with Flash too. The one element that seems to set your Flash work apart from the competition is the way you're still drawing individual dynamic key poses and expressions from scratch. Again, it strikes me as looking like a comic book that moves, with the emphasis on the still poses rather than focusing on the limited inbetweens. As one who was spoiled watching the greatness that was "Ren and Stimpy" back in the early 90's, I find your Flash work to be a sad reminder of how much animation has been shafted in the years since by way of short deadlines and miniscule budgets. I must admit, however, that I was quite impressed with that Weird Al Yankovic video you did with Copernicus. I had a hard time believing that was indeed Flash, so perhaps there is some hope after all for the medium. Anyway, I hope this helps to explain my take on it for you and your readers. I have yet to become a convert. :)

diego cumplido said...

nice to read your thoughts about flash animation. I also hate the automatic and mathematical look it gaves to stuff.

It would be nice to receive some wise lessons about what you've learned to do "acceptable flash animation".

PCUnfunny said...

"I would rather have original drawings with cheesy inbetweening than really smooth boring drawings and poses that we have seen a million times before."

I agree with this 100%.They are only the gaps to connect poses. You pay attention to those poses, not the in-betweens.I see today's Disney features using a bunch of in-betweens and generic poses. By the way, I would add Telecom Film Animation as an exceptional foreign studio.

Anonymous said...

Do you still have that Nintendo\Comcast ad hosted somewhere? that was just dandy, but the links no longer link to it, I think it illustrates your very creative approach to Flash and would be useful (and funny) to see again.
Robward, you can actually find it at Joe Henderson's blog. Here's the link.


Sean Worsham said...

"Give me 1/5th the budget of The Simpsons and I will give you hand drawn animation all done here."

If execs were smart enough they would. If I had the dough, I'd give it in no time flat.

Rodrigo said...

Hey John,

This is Flash:


It's not the best draftsmanship (I know I'm no pro), but I did fool everyone into thinking it was done old school.

ZSL said...

And don't forget, Mr.K
Flash has only recently started becoming a mainstream tool for television animation.

I'd say in a few years, there will be other studios as skilled as Copernicus, who could help you make great cartoons with little cost.

Ijah said...

First, just want to mention: your work is amazing. Seems Adam Phillips is an an example of someone using flash who can hide those "mathematical inbetweens" you talk about. I'd say his animation makes me forget about the limitations of Flash and enjoy it, even if it has a certain Disney air to it. More than anything, I think there's something about the color and line quality that keeps his stuff looking like Flash.

Kali Fontecchio said...

Nice breakdown, John!

Anonymous said...

Finally a real animator breaks it down the way it is. I saw what you put into the new Tenaciuos D video looking over Pringle's shoulder and feel that Flash is only as good as it's "director." It's like you said - in TV production we do what we can with the resources and time etc. that we are given.

Personally I would like to use Flash to animate the Roger Ramjet way, which would bring the budgets down even lower than you propose and can all be done by a handful of guys and gals.

JohnK said...

Hi Pete

sounds like we agree!

But just to beat a dead horse...Flash's only real problem is its "tweening".

If you had enough money and just chose to do all the inbetweens by hand, it would be the same as traditional animation, only cleaner.

But then I like the way film grain looks too.

What do you think of how they change the look of traditional cartoons now on DVD?

They change all the colors, make them neon, and thin out the lines to make them look stiff, jagged and robotic. All the pans strobe like crazy.

It seems like the more technologically advanced we get, the crappier everything looks and sounds. Is it the fault of the technology? Or the people that operate it...

But that requires another post.

Raff said...

Anybody remember Elmo Aardvark Outer Space Detective? That sure didn't look like Flash.

BTW here's my attempt to be non-Flash with Flash:


Dan! said...

Wow, I'm surprised to read some of the positive things written here on Fosters. I could never bring myself to watch more than a few minutes of that show without being disgusted. If it were my choice to make, it'd be illegal for a cartoon to look like that.

And Pete seems to be completely against flash, but I do think it can be good. People just get caught up in flash's gimmicks like tweening and paper cut-out rotating. It is depressing to see cartoons on TV (Or worse, theatres) that look like they were made for the internet.

Dan! said...

Oh whoops. I pretty much posted the exact same thing here as I did on Pete's blog without realizing it. Yay for being redundant.

Mitch K said...

I dunno man, seems like common sense to me to use the drawings that are provided to me. I think that the people in charge are always worried about doing something wrong for the person above them... so they stick to what they know and blanderize everything -- playin' it safe.

PCUnfunny said...

Yeah Fosters has redeeming qualities but like all animatied programs today,their aren't enough to make me watch them. I also love Camp Lazlo's backrounds but it isn't funny.

Rodrigo said...

>>It seems like the more technologically advanced we get, the crappier everything looks and sounds. Is it the fault of the technology? Or the people that operate it...

This is something I've been thinking about lately. (I'm in a CG school for god's sake) There's something appealing about art that's formed with analogous tools. Those microscopic imperfections and variances give it a vitality that a vector line tool will never accomplish. Digital is so perfect that it feels stale.

I don't think you'll ever be able to achieve a that completely organic/tactile feel digitially, but if you purposefully "imperfect" your digital work, you can get pretty close.

In fact, I think Pixar should have a seperate team that goes in and fudges with some of the visuals just a bit to make things look not so pristine.

The Brothers M said...


I only use flash and very rarely use tweening. I favour a cut out/hand drawn look and it has served me well. I don't profess to being a great draughtsmen and would never have the patience to become one but I have found flash enables me to make work that I find ascetically pleasing.

Flash should be celebrated not derided there is far too much negativity aimed at it - it is just another tool, far too much snobbery me thinks.

Think happy thoughts!

Watch this (all done in flash)


MitchLoidolt said...

While Flash may be ugly to use at times, you definitely have to consider how easy it is to make changes.

You can chalk it up to laziness, but I'd rather just update a few MovieClips when a client needs a particular change than redraw it all.

Anonymous said...

This is a really dumb post.Theres nothing overly wrong with Flash, its just a tool.

There is a lot of bad Flash animation by amateurs who cant animate, and people using the built in motion tween thing which makes everything move like a robot, and squashing symbols with the transform tool -like heads, like you did in Weekend Pussy Hunt-which makes the characters look like sliding pieces of cardboard instead of real solid characters who are actually there.The big drawback in Flash is getting the line work right, but you can scan into drawings Flash from paper.

Kris said...

You're the only person I've seen who can make Flash cartoons that have a high level of quality. Frankly all this other Flash stuff strikes me as amateur stuff belonging on YouTube (even Foster's looks like that to me).

I'd like to see you get the budget to do some hand-drawn cel animation again.

T.E.B. said...

cartoon lad said:
"This is a really dumb post.Theres nothing overly wrong with Flash, its just a tool."

Did you even read the entire post?

Bitter Animator said...

At the risk of sounding old-school, I think even without tweening Flash loses a lot simply down to not having the pages in your hand.

You can't feel the movement looking at that traceback thing they have in Flash (onion-skinning?). You're looking at it and working it out logically, yes, but not really feeling it. And while old experts know exactly where to put the next key and have it perfect, most animators today are not old experts and are either losing those skills or never had them to begin with.

While programs are great for producers looking for volume (and this is contributing to the perception problem of the craft by producers), give animators a crutch and they'll use it. Sooner or later, all you'll see is the crutch.

Benjamin De Schrijver said...

First I have to say that Copernicus did do a fantastic job. It's the best flash work I've seen so far.

I don't want to start a discussion about anime again, but here's something you might find interesting: there's an animator called Mitsuo Iso who "invented" his own technique of animating, which he likes to call 'full limited'. He uses as few drawings as possible (usually on 3's, once in a while on 4's, and if really necessary, he'll work on 2's for a few frames), but draws *everything* himself. No inbetweens. It basically allows him to have MORE control over the scene, while using less drawings. Not only are his drawings the final drawings, but he's basically doing a specific/key drawing every 3 frames, while in animation on 2's, there's very often only a specific/key drawing every 4 or 6 frames. Only downside is of course that it might strobe.

nachotururu said...

Hi John! Will you take a look at my unflashy flashes at www.mistercoo.com ? Thanks for this blog, i'm allways learning from you.

Oliver_A said...

As a student of computer science, having programmed since i was 9 years old, perhaps I should throw in my 2 cents.

I personally do absolutely favour the way traditional animation looks over digitally created animation, because, as John said, the most subtle, non-mathematical movements and even effects inherited in the medium like film grain adds more LIFE to it. Today's society is really technically obsessed,which does work in fields where mathematical precision is absolutely necesary (like medical equipment), but in art forms, I think it is very dangerous to use it witout critical thinking.

I can see the point John makes by saying: flash is only as good as the drawings you are giving it, but despite John K.'s work easily being the best flash cartoons out there, and still easily beating the crap out of most TV shows: it does look inferior to his traditionally animated previous works. As soon as something moves, no matter how subtle, I instantly recognise the computer inbetweening and precise keyframe placing. I hate it when the animation is like 6 or 12fps, but the objects are moving at 30fps or even worse, 60fps! But even at the same framerate as the animation, I can spot it. No matter how great the drawings are, as soon as I notice it, it heavily cheapens the impact on me. Like Pete said, it's like watching a moving comic, and I think he is absolutely right.

HOWEVER: all these problems COULD be fixed, using the right software algorithms. Flash is only as good as the programmers who created it. You don't need to have "exacto knife" lines, when you could implement an algorithm to smooth them out to various degrees, or add tiny little, subtle random imperfections in their form structure. The same goes for movements. If you add very little noise into the motion vectors, you suddenly get a result which comes very close to real natural movements. Check out this example: http://mrl.nyu.edu/~perlin/experiments/facedemo/

And, film grain can also be emulated. When I am developing computer graphics for my projects, I very often add a VERY FAINT(!!!) layer of random noise to my images. Perhaps softening it with another Gaussian Blur pass. And suddenly, they are looking much more natural.

I am very positive that if you would implement all these things I mentioned in Flash, or any other cutom animation software, cartoons created with it would look MUCH better. The problem I see is: do the creator of Flash actually CARE about this? Do they actually care about getting the visuals as close as possible to the traditional way, in a time when everyone only watches CGI animated movies anymore?

It's not the technology, it is about the misuse of technology.

Oliver_A said...


I have got an Idea. Why won't you do a post for us programmers, telling us what visual aspects of traditional cartoons you would like to have preserved in the digital age! And perhaps, what expectations you would have for the perfect animation program. What features are necessary to make an animators' job easy and productive, what features are completely uneccesary and wasted. I'm still searching for great subjects for my Diploma thesis.

Sounds like a good idea?

Dave said...


Excellent article, incredibly informative. Believe it or not, easy to relate to even in other fields like graphic design the same kinds of budget problems and quality issues are prevalent.

How do you find time to come up with an article like that?

Anonymous said...

They change all the colors, make them neon, and thin out the lines to make them look stiff, jagged and robotic. All the pans strobe like crazy.
You did a new commentary on the new LTGC Volume 5 DVD on "Buckeroo Bugs." In the past, you complained about WHV tampered with the cartoons too much. Does that mean that you've finally convinced them to stop (or at least make an effort) the damage? I've watched many of the cartoons so far, and I saw little damage, except some line thinning (due to DVNR) on some parts of the character and some pumped up colors (but not they didn't make the colors look like neon). There's DVNR damage on "Bacall to Arms," but it's only in one scene.

Juan Pablo said...

Foster's Home is at best, off the beaten track.

And corporate executives only allowed it because Mr. McCracken was a big shot who created a multi billion dollar maker like the Powerpuff Girls.

I tried to watch it... I thought it was bad looking, pretentious, and most important... BO-RING!

I wouldn't like to be a kid today.

bardhol said...

"It seems like the more technologically advanced we get, the crappier everything looks and sounds."

I probably can't paraphrase it any better than this:
"...the dissolution of humanity in a world increasingly ruled by machines, the media and disposable fashions...the answer lies in the Voice of the Human."
There should be different algorithms for introducing imperfections into flash animation. A similar idea is incorporated into some music software, to make the music sound less "robotic" and perfectly timed. rodrigo hinted at _purposefully_ "imperfecting" the animation, though i'm not sure how one would go about that.

bardhol said...

Oh. Whoops!
oliver_a has said it all.
i couldn't get the responsive face demo to work. Looks interesting though!

Ash Collins said...

what about use of ToonBoom studio?

Peggy said...

Part of why I drifted out of the Flash production scene is that, as someone who was handed layouts with detailed notes, I never felt like *I* had anything to do with the scene. Sure, I got compliments on how I'd handle them when I put any thought into it - but it was me moving around other people's drawings. I never felt like there was any *me* up there on the final result.

Even when I freelance and do it from scratch, it never feels like real animation to me. It's just me moving some drawings around. Nothing ever comes to life. It's just product.

If I was willing to spend the time, I could do something from scratch and make it come to life. I could use the cheats Flash lets you do here and there, and concentrate on the parts that really matter. But nobody's willing to pay that kind of money, and I just don't have the obsessive fire to do that on my own time any more.

Adam said...

Flash is like a lot of tools it makes things easier and more predictable by limiting your choices so you don't make as many mistakes. It'll smooth out your lines, it'll make it easy to color your characters, which may be great for amateurs and hobbyists who don't have the skill to do nuanced coloring or line work, but if you have the chops Flash can be really limiting. If you want to produce anything requiring subtlety you are going to have a difficult time hacking Flash to get it.

And something else I worry about with any piece of technology especially in art is that the more thinking your brain has to do and the less thinking your hand does the more sterile and less lively the art is going to be. Drawing on a sheet of paper engages your body more, than drawing on a Waacom tablet, and I think that there's something subtle missing if you work digitally because it's less physical.

I think it's like playing catch. I'm amazed at how accurate I can throw a baseball sometimes, and I don't have to really think about my hand and arm and brain work together subconsciously to make it all happen, but if I were to play a catch simulator where based on the weight of the ball I had to calculate the rotation, release, and velocity vectors to throw the ball accurately I wouldn't do it as well. Working with Flash or Illustrator sometimes feels the same way.

Mr. Semaj said...

I have to say, Pete's article is a real eye-opener.

What I hate is how the administrative types are constantly forcing everyone and everything to conform with digital graphics, to the extent where they build the notion that there's no other choice.

Still, given the choices in your article, aside from traditional animation, I'd pick Flash, only because it allows some animation to be done in-house. From what I recall, Foster's animation isn't outsourced like many other cartoons, and that appears to be the solitary advantage for its chosen medium.

Roberto González said...

"I tried to watch it... I thought it was bad looking, pretentious, and most important... BO-RING!"

I'd give you bad looking. I think it looks good but it could look better. But pretentious? Boring? You're not watching the same cartoon I watch.

John finally said something mildly possitive about a quite good new show, give it a rest! Though I'd personally like if somebody here says something possitive about the character based style of the gags, dialogue and stories in that show. I know this is about art and drawings more, but Foster's and another modern cartoons are actually pretty good in that department.

Very interesting post and I agree with it. I'd also love to see what John could do with the Cats Don't Dance crew, give him a chance!

And I loved the Weird Al videoclip, it's my fave recent cartoon made by John (with the exception of Ren Seeks Help).

Oliver_A said...

The irony actually is, do enhanced tools actually make better artist?

I mean, because of the drastical improvement in computer technology over the last 25 years, it has in theory never been easier to do something creative. Every modern computer sold in any supermarket has enough power to be a very decent animation or film studio in general, replacing equipment which cost millions of dollars in the past, for just a few hundred bucks.

The problem is, only very few people are able to fully realize these possibilities. The computer is only a tool, it can not replace creativity.

However, with a computer, you CAN actually cheat better. Making your lack of talent less obvious with the help of technology. Not only in animation, but also in the film and music industry. You need not to be able to sing anymore to create a song. You can pitch your voice easily using software to hit every tone perfectly.

I think this fact alone has a catastrophic impact on our culture. Nothing is special anymore, because it has become too easy to create SOMETHING, which looks and sounds kind of complex, but has in reality no substance. Hardly anyone bothers anymore to do really hard work to perfect YOUR OWN skills. And this leads to everything becoming amateurishly worthless. What is art worth without heart, passion and skill?

That's why, for example, I think that EVERYONE here in this blog is able to create something like South Park. Where is the hard work behind all the big paychecks these guys are cashing in? Everyone can make some witty and cynical comments about society and life, its nothing special anymore. With youtube for example, everyone can make crappy comments. Everyone can be a slutty filmstar. The shock factor is vanishing.

Apart from this ran, it would still be cool to hear what visual aspects of traditional animation should be preserved in the digital domain. ;)

Anonymous said...

Hey John,

Let me ask you a question…

If you had the budget, the right crew, etc., would you go back to shooting your cartoons on film? Doing the ink and paint by hand?

I personally think it looks miles better then any "digital" ink and paint system I've ever seen. It's too bad more people aren't still working the traditional way.

Some other people have asked you this before, but I've never seen your answer!


Juan Pablo said...

"I'd give you bad looking. I think it looks good but it could look better. But pretentious? Boring? You're not watching the same cartoon I watch."
(About Foster's home)

Yes, I think it's pretentious, in the wrong way. It's an attempt by Craig McCracken to make "better" , "classier" cartoons, after having huge lighthearted pop hits. Which were much better, because they weren't trying to be more than they were... Trying to be seen as original or groundbreaking when they are just more of the same.

In the end it's a matter of taste. I respect your opinion but I just can't watch that show.

flashcartoons said...

hey john is it possible to do another tutorial this time on mouth movement, and inbetweens on mouths???

if yes ill donate more!!!! not much though... im poor but some!!

ill probably donate regardless :)

Bitter Animator said...

"Foster's animation isn't outsourced like many other cartoons"

The animation is produced in Ireland by a company called Boulder Media. As Boulder is listed on IMDB as the "Overseas Animation Studio", I'd say that means outsourced. I guess if you can't tell watching it, it probably means they are doing a decent job.

"do enhanced tools actually make better artist?"

No. Enhanced tools make for quicker and more affordable productions but not better artists. In fact, many (if not all) good artists will end up wrestling these programs for control when they don't have to do that with a pencil and paper. Once you give up and start using the tweening and just pulling your walks out of libraries etc, you've got lazier, not better, artists.

Quicker productions. Not better art.

Callum said...

It's a really huge shame that traditional animation is dissapearing, however I believe that eventually flash will be able to perfectly mimic it. It is true that one can always tell a flash cartoon from a hand-drawn one, but surely this'll be gotten rid of eventually, hell, when I first saw FHFIF I wasn't 100% certain it was flash, so maybe we're already getting closer.

CGsucks said...

hey john, great post. If you have some spare time, go on google and type the name Adam Phillips. He's a disney animator who's well known on Newgrounds.com for his flash series Brackenwood. It may bore the crap out of you, but the animation and art is very beutiful. I read Pete's post too, maybe if your impressed by Adam Phillips work, you could tell him about it. If you feel like it
P.s. Pete if your reading this post, I'm in no way trying to convince you of anything, so please have mercy :)

Señor Chips said...

hey john, thanks for posting this. for everyone else, I work on most of John's flash projects, heck I even learned flash at Spumco. I'm now the animation director on Foster's. I agree to a point when people say it could be better, but you have to recognize that each 22 minute episode is animated in-house with only 15 animators in 12 days. It would be nice to make the characters more expressive and create more drawings. But with the time given, we make the best we can. If we push the quality show and start missing our deadlines, well, that will be the last time cartoon network attempts to make an in-house production. You can't have your cake and eat it too.

Thanks again john,

Nick said...

"Give me 1/5th the budget of The Simpsons and I will give you hand drawn animation all done here."

You've made a good point here. Most of the money that is spent on The Simpsons goes towards their greedy, striking voice actors and their ridiculous number of writers. Little of it is eventually spent on the animation, which in turn has to transported to South Korea. I certainly believe that it is possible to create full animation in one location with an entertaining show that comes with it.

Señor Chips said...

also, John's comcast commercial, which was about a minute and a half long, took about 5 weeks to animate between 4 animators which is twice the amount of time that it takes to produce one 22 minute episode of Foster's. With this said, it's pretty tough comparing Foster's flash animation to John's.


RAAA said...

It also comes down to design. If the design fits the action then Flash works. If a character design does not allow for exagerated key POSES with squash and stretch then fewer inbetween drawings are needed and Flash can tween the rest, like "Odd Job Jack" where objects are being moved around. This is not drawn animation. If the key DRAWINGS are more detailed and descriptive then more drawings are needed inbetween them, like John K's stuff. It's like what you said years ago..."It's about Goddamn funny drawings!" Flash can never compete with full animation it's just another style.

The Flea said...

It's funny that you should mention this because I was having this same discussion with a friend of mine a few weeks back. The whole puppetry aspect bothers me a bit, but it's a wonderful tool for traditional animation. Depending on the brush one uses, the onion skin tool can be your best friend! I've seen a few television programs and shorts that completely utilized flash and the animation didn't have that "flash" thick, black outline look. That and everything didn't consistently "bounce" with every single movement.

That's one thing I never really understood about motion tweening. Whenever I look at modern flash animated cartoons, the characters seem to dip themselves down before the next key pose. They'll say one line, kneel down and then speak again. It's almost as if the animators try really hard to utilize overlapping action and thye end up over animating -- the characters will move all over the place without actually doing anything. It's hard to explain. maybe it's just my own odd perspective. Oh well. Great post!

Anonymous said...

Great post, John! Really well written and concise. It sounds like a large percentage of the "flash community" ,if some internet posts that I've read in the past few weeks are an indication, seem to think that you hate Flash and flash animators. Maybe if they read this post, they would realize that it's not Flash that you hate, but the misguided system in the Animation industry that forces you to use Flash to get the job done on time and as cheaply as possible.

JohnK said...

>>John's comcast commercial, which was about a minute and a half long, took about 5 weeks to animate between 4 animators which is twice the amount of time that it takes to produce one 22 minute episode of Foster's.<<

and that was all part time at nights and weekends.

Plus all the drawings were drawn custom with no stock library to work from.

And that was much faster than doing any traditionally animated commercial that I've ever done.

JohnK said...

>>It would be nice to make the characters more expressive and create more drawings. But with the time given, we make the best we can.<<

Hi Pringle

it's the best Flash on TV I've seen. You guys do a great job! (as you always do for me)

Señor Chips said...

hey John,
I didn't mean to sound like I was bashing the commercial in any way. I was attempting to point out quality vs time. Your flash work has a ton of quality but a lot of time is also put into it compared to foster's lack of quality but stealthly turnaround. And as you pointed out compared to traditional productions, your methods of using flash helped you turnaround a high quality product in less amount of time.
Sorry I wasn't clear.


PCUnfunny said...

Hey John, did you ever hear of a program called "Shorties Watchin' Shorties" on Comedy Central ? That had some decent flash animation. Here are some clips:

Shorties Watching Shorties - 108 - Tracy Smith

Cops Pulled Over

Eric Ingram - Dog Attacks

By the way, I had weird dream with you in it last night. I was at a barbecue,or something, and you were there. You wanted to talk and I started cursing then you told me to watch my mouth. Then you wanted to say something but everyone was talking and then you started ranting like Ren in "Stimpy's Breakfeast Tips". You were so angry, all sweaty and your shirt was half buttoned with your chest exposed. You should do a post about your dreams.

SugarPete said...

Personally, I'd take El Tigre over Fosters any day. Foster's is purely stock expressions with flat and boring layouts. Tigre has some really dynamic shots and lots of funny expressions.

Aren't some of your guys working on that show, John?

Jim Rockford said...

Its sad to think that we arent capable of doing even 60's Hanna Barbara limited style animation anymore!
I see your point about flash being a necessary evil,due to budget constraints,but I personally have to agree with Pete Emslie,I prefer traditional hand drawn animation.
I dont like the way flash looks,its too stiff and digital almost "sterile" looking.
I think the more computer tools that will come along will only make things worse and worse as people abandon traditional animation (which takes time,effort and talent) in favor of easier to use "cost saving" contemporary technology.
Thank God that studios in the 40's and 50's came up with the dough to produce the golden age classics we now marvel at.(and that we didnt have the technology we have now)
Hell if you could work wonders with 1/5th the budget of the Simpsons why doesnt someone give you the chance to make some real cartoons?

Didnt Nick make out pretty well with Ren & Stimpy?

I'd hate to even think of the budget "Family guy" gets!

Forget flash! the answer is for someone to come up with the buget to let you do things your way!
Look at all the crap hollywood throws money at! somebody throw some John's way!

Trevour said...

I've only had limited experience in Flash making general web animations, so I don't know all the ins and outs concerning full-blown cartoon animation. But I'm trying to figure out, why CAN'T Flash let you create a traditional-looking cartoon?

Flash would work perfectly fine with pencil tests, right? If you're set at 12 or 24 fps, and you scan each drawing in (or draw digitally, whatever), it should appear as authentic as any type of software that allows a sequence of frames, correct?

Therefore, if Flash does good on that front, how about animating full, completed scenes? You can make layers (as many as you need), and you can virtually move your camera any way you want to. So the 'technical' side of things are pretty similar to traditional methods, right?

So this leads us to the actual animated characters. Why do they always look so cheap? It's because lines are digital and 'perfect,' and tweening is overused to simplify a movement. It's stupid. The tweening always looks inconsistent with the rest of the animation. Cut out the tweening, and you should still be able to animate anything in a traditional sense, right?

I do understand the time and budget issues in today's environment - hence I can see the necessity of inking everything digitally over the tedious task of hand-inking one drawing at a time. But I think this adds to the "Flash look." Vectorized ink lines, whether from Illustrator or Flash or whatever - seem to make even the most expressive drawings look sterile. Something is definitely lost. I honestly think if there was a way to maintain a more natural/organic ink line, that a cartoon in Flash would feel a whole lot better.

Of course, if you can't draw in the first place and don't know how to do layouts and animate things (regardless if your inkin' is superb or not), this isn't gonna help your cartoon at all. Let's face it - most Flash cartoons are plain terrible because the creator relies more on Flash functions and cheats, and less on their own creativity and handiwork. But I think in the case of what John has accomplished lately - in such works as "Weird Al," Tenacious D, and the recent Comcast commercial - limited animation and all - I want to believe we're heading into a brighter direction. If we could reach a point where lines looked less 'perfect' and motion tweens were 100% eliminated (and perhaps adding a convincing noise filter to "soften" the overall picture) - wouldn't a Flash cartoon become something so indistinguishable from the old-school methods of manual cameras and hand-painted cels?

We're not there yet, but shouldn't we be eventually? I get sad too when I think about how animation has totally gone digital - but this is the world we live in, isn't it.

Jim Rockford said...

Whoops! just noticed I mispelled Barbera in my previous post....sorry Joe!

Oliver_A said...

As I said earlier, with the right algorithms, you COULD actually mimick the look of traditional animation very closely. The problem is, in the digital domain, adding imperfections actually means more work, while in the real world, you pretty much get it for free, and no one so far seemed to have bothered to put this extra effort into the software. Which brings the question: how much input did the developers of Flash had from traditional animators?

10 years ago, no one would have bothered to spend extra CPU time to render imperfections, simply because computers were not fast enough to accomplish this without much extra rendering time. But nowadays, this isn't a problem anymore.

JohnK said...

>>how much input did the developers of Flash had from traditional animators? <<

They had a lot of input from me. I showed them how to do lip synch and explained exposure sheets and many other things to them.

But they sort of only half took the advice and made the program more complicated and clunky than an animator would want.

I still have my outlines of how to make a program strictly for animators and animation producers and directors.

cemenTIMental said...

Everyone moans about flash tweening but I don't get it... who would even ATTEMPT to use that feature EVER?? It's totally useless. Whenever i've tried I've spent ages chasing the stupid thing around with shape hints because it for some reason wants to change a rectangle to another rectangle via an insane twisted blob instead of a simple rectangle changing size. :)

PCUnfunny said...

I have limited exprience with Dlash but I agree with cementimental. Right now, the technology is far too primitive to have in-betweens.

PCUnfunny said...

I meant Flash ! Flash !

Oliver_A said...

>>>I still have my outlines of how to make a program strictly for animators and animation producers and directors.<<<

Of course I can only speak for myself and I don't know how much software developers are reading your blog, but I sure as hell would love to see your outlines!

Colter said...

I was wondering when this issue would come up. The problem isn't Flash the program, the problem is the cheating tools that Flash allows.

You can make great traditional animation with Flash, you just need to do it and resist the urge to use tweening. You also need to become adept at drawing with a tablet, it is a lot more efficient than scanning drawings and then tracing.

Flash began as an internet only tool, and it is only beginning to expand into television.

smackmonkey said...

A few points need to be mentioned regarding Foster's and why it's now a benchmark of sorts for the industry.

Though hailed as the new direction for animation back in the 90's and quickly forgotten after projects like Mucha Lucha, Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends certainly breathed new life into the app. Funny that Mike Moon (along with talents like Craig Kellman, etc.) designed Foster's to be rendered primarily in Illustrator utilizing Flash merely as a means to an end, albeit an economical one. Cartoon Network would have green lit a show about horse turds to keep McCracken on their payroll but extremely limited animation, in the form it has taken, wasn't necessarily part of the original plan.

Yes, it was a writer-driven show from the beginning but, at least at the board level, there were chances for drawing off-model and imbuing the characters with a little life. Some of that shows up in the early episodes. Here's the important part - When called upon to animate any character off-model or any action non-profile THE FLASH ANIMATORS COULDN'T MEET THEIR DEADLINES! Anything that had to be animated on paper before tracing in flash bogged the production down so badly that the approach to the show was changed to eliminate (IMHO) anything fun to draw. All that was left was dialogue but the audience tuned in anyway. Flash is cheap, looks polished, and the average Joe can't tell the difference between it and hand drawn work. Profit being the only thing that execs take notice of we now have a system dominated by flash product.

Sad to say but anyone who thinks Flash is allowing animation to return to the glory days of in house production has another thing coming. IF the overseas studios start buying Wacom tablets we could all be out of work. Again. Those of us that saw the runawy work of the 70's and 80's see the same set-up all over. I hope it doesn't happen but I'd start saving my pennies. Do you really want to compete with the wages in India or wherever just to make Flash cartoons?

So what is Flash? Nothing more than a glorified ink, paint, and camera system. It CAN be used to finish out traditional work as John has done or to facilitate something fresh like Foster's. But it's no substitute for art.

abwinegar said...

I'm sorry, If I seemed rough on the blog. I miss understood what kind of humor you guys liked from your dvds.

I'm not a mean person. I wouldn't hurt a fly. I care about people and want to help people. Infact that is why I came here to get ideas for the projects I've been working on.

Here is one:

I will never be as good as you guys. That is why I wanted to learn from the best.
I've been a fan for a long time, and will always be one.

I'm sorry to have mislead you.

Trevour said...

I guess I also wanted to know why Flash is preferred over other animation applications, such as FlipBook or even the mega-expensive Animo. I can see price being a factor, but a new copy of Flash CS3 is still $699 USD! Furthermore, the work environment in Flash seems less on par with animation procedures than these other programs.

I honestly want to know - why exactly is Flash an industry-wide standard? Wouldn't these other animation-centric programs be more appropriate for producing [good] traditional cartoons, or is it just because they're much more tedious and time-consuming than Flash? Again, does it all come down to schedules and budgets? Until reading this post, I never really thought about it.

PCUnfunny said...

"or is it just because they're much more tedious and time-consuming than Flash?"

I think Flash is alot more tedious and time-consuming but it's far less expensive then hand drawn animation.

slowtiger said...

trevour: Have a look at AnimeStudio which is a lot cheaper than Flash but has many of Animo's capabilities. The company is here: http://store.e-frontier.com/us/user/anime_studio_5_pro_english_full_version_product_24608
Take care to read the forum about the software where many artists post their examples: http://www.lostmarble.com/forum/

Conceit Arturo said...


This is the best Flash has ever looked in my oppinion, please John check it out

Michael said...

This is a fascinating post, John. The limits of Flash really do come down to what goes into it. I really enjoy seeing samples from artists who have found work-arounds for the ugly Flash tweening. The brothers m piece is especially enjoyable.

One method is to ink all your drawings including the tweens on paper and color them in Illustrator avoiding the nasty color palette of Flash alltogether. There is a lot of fiddling with the settings to get Illustrator to trace the line work faithfully but it can be done.

My own solution is to draw and paint art in gouache on paper, scan it in and use Flash just for assembly. To get a bit technical too I import the images as transparent PNGs avoiding vector art. The animated intro to the puppet show Babs and Knuckles was done this way. (The intro is about 30 seconds and the rest is a puppet show with some more animation 3/4 in.)

Yes, I'm a huge Cartoon Modern/UPA fan and no I'm no John Hubley.

rodineisilveira said...

Jesus, Johnny K.!

I recognize these scenes of an episode from the Flintstones classical series (1st season)! It's one where Fred obtains two personalities: one in which he acts on a temperamental mood (habitually) and another, where he acts as a British lord, calling Barney of "Bernard" and Betty on her Christian name (Elizabeth). Every that after he was bonked with a bottle of Cactus-Cola.
This episode brings the animation made by Carlo Vinci and layout done by Ed Benedict.
Well, that's it!

Cheers from this faithful friend who always writes 4 U,

Rodinei Campos da Silveira (from São Paulo, Brazil)



rodineisilveira said...

Johnny K.,

I've comitted a mistake about that episode of the first season from The Flintstones (the classical series), where Fred acquires two personalities: the layout isn't made by Ed Benedict; and yes by Walter Clinton.
This was what I've had to report here.

six1s said...

I've always been a fan of Filmation myself. -sigh- They don't make em like that no more.

Asafaga said...

The article leaves the sensation that when a computer is used for 2D, Flash is the default and only tool to use, and for a real hand drawn animation we must turn to out light tables.
I must remind you there are bitmap animation programs, amongst which one have literally changed my life. I'm full time animator, and I work in drawn 2D. My SOLE tool of choice is TVP Animation (http://www.tvpaint.com/). Since I started using it I draw naturally, feel traditional, I work traditionally, and I do all of it in third of the time it would have taken me was I to do it via light table. I sketch in it, Line test, Clean, ink, backgrounds and composite. It sounds like I'm advertising it but I'm only enthusiastic about it because it still amazes me this program can give me so much freedom to create yet so few people know about it. I really recommend you give it a try, if you are in the look for a really good 2d animation tool

David Germain said...

I'll admit that I was quite skeptical and a little scared when I first started working with symbol flash here at Helix. I was so used to drawing that I had such a hard time gettng anything to look right. If not for the guidance of my animation supervisor (and chum from animation school), I'm not sure how far I would have gotten.
But, it's been a few months now. I've been given many tips and have found a few on my own. Most importantly, I've managed to apply much of my classical animation training to make the moving symbols at least resemble animation. I still much prefer good ol' hand drawn stuff, but I'm now much more comfortable at my job.

Adam G said...

"But they sort of only half took the advice and made the program more complicated and clunky than an animator would want."

I think flash 4 was the best version for animation. It was the simplest.

Useing hand painted backgrounds behind flash animation can really make it look closer to traditional animation. I think it also helps if you use a filter in postproduction that slightly softens the hard flash lines.

DorkyMalone said...

This is incredibly interesting to me. I've just finished a 30 second piece of animation at work (even though i have no formal education in animation) using Anime Studio ( http://www.e-frontier.com/article/articleview/1913/1/793?sbss=793) and most of the work had been done on character setup before me. Its an extrenely easy app to use (evident in my success of using it) but leaves very little to the imagination. I've had to fight for every bit of fun i've added to the process. It's been cathargic to hear John himself admit that Flash presents some shortcomings. Just let it be known that Flash aint the worst there is. It makes you draw actual drawings, something Anime Studio lets you skip dandily over. So keep on the flash development, John, You could be doing so fucking worse.

HotTaco said...

"I'm a purist and I don't like the way Flash inbetweens look. They are too mathematical-even in the hands of the best Flash animators."

Hey John - Have you ever looked at Anime Studio Pro? It's a vector animation program kinda like Flash, but without the awkward booger-in-a-blender shape-tweening that Flash forces. You actually bone/rig your characters which gives you more control which gives your characters a more organic look.

Don't hit me. =[

:: smo :: said...

i've been trying to find a mix of things when i'm actually working on a project that allows me to draw at all [a ridiculous situiation to be in...not drawing?!]

i worked on a pink panther commercial at one point, and i used exposure sheets and drew all my keys on paper. then scanned them timed it out in flash based on my x-sheets and then inbetweened in flash. that seemed to work well.

and to this:

"I was able, I would go back to the 60s system of limited animation."

i think if we were to really study the early flintstones, and to look at flash symbols as cels we could do a pretty fair job of creating a similar feel.

see what cels they keep static and just move around, see what parts are animated and how, and build your layers that way.

i want to try it out. if i do i'll send it to you.

- Terrence said...

How much of the concerns of Flash and the look and the life of it really matter to the audience at large? I think we see a lot of artists talking about line quality and the difference in tweening, but does any of this matter one bit to the viewing public? Kids today have grown up in a world where full 3D, anime, and digital forms of animation are the standard.

I find it strange, though, that in a world of free content out there on the net, some of the strangest videos, and even some anime mash ups, get hundreds of thousands or million of views, but great, original 2D animation, available for free, rarely gets more than a couple of thousand views. Is the demand really there?

We can sit around and wish that producers or studios would suddenly decide to pay $500,000 per episode to traditionally do a show instead of getting it done in Flash for $80,000 or so, but who can justify it?

BTW - I already see studios in India advertising Flash animation for $300 per minute total cost on their website. How can we compete with that? That's less than $10,000 for a half hour show! It's coming whether we like it or not.

Abhinab said...

I am working in for last 5 years. And even I started out with cut out style animation. Now I am working with muchha luchha team from last 2 years and I have learnt a lot of thing regarding how t control things flash. But to bring out life in flash u need to have strong 2d basics. We are working with digital pen to achieve the flow in animation but through the limitation that flash provides. Yes it is cheaper so we are preferring flash over other software. But till now what we have done we have achieved a good sound result. Am not against any medium of animation but if we can achieve desirable result for today’s' short shot time and budget then flash is a better option. Thts it even we r working in solo and harmony but it depends on project to project. Lastly sorry guys if in any way I looked biased. But it’s true that we can manipulate things on there strength. Iron rod can’t behave like stick and vice a versa. So to use iron rod as pillar we need less and provide more strength where as we need more wood to generate the same strength. I agree traditional animation has more life in it then software generated but it again depend upon the person who is doing it. If u r good enough u can bring out same thing. We are in flash using everything from motion tween to shape and also key frame animation at times. I hope I am not sounding too arrogant. Hope this discussion is alive till now. Pls forgive me if I have stepped in to some wrong zone.

Mattieshoe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Iron maiden said...

IM sorry john but I have to disagree with you with the fosters home for imaginary friends its well desighend
but not appeal the pic with the kid and that ugly lumpy blue blob looks like garbage not only that but the whole background is clutterd and unapealing

Michael Stone said...

I am a newbie and my question is how many keyframes would you recommend for inbetweening in order to make it look smoother?

Everything you said seems to make a lot of sense how ever the actual reality today (like you said) leaves us without much of a choice, so taking all that into consideration how many keyframes to inbetweens would it take to look smoother than most without actually going frame by frame?

BC Rice said...

Honestly, I just care about the story. I don't care if a movie is shot on a Red cam or film or a DSLR, if it's a good script I'm going to like it.

Rotoscoped? Traditional? Flash? AE puppets? Just doesn't make a big deal of difference so long as I'm compelled to start and finish what it is I'm watching.

I will say, though, that you can draw as much or as little as you'd like in Flash. You get out of it what you put into it. I feel like your post was almost a traditonal pencils vs digital pencils position. Seems slightly nonsensical. You can draw each individual frame in Flash if you choose. That's why it and programs like it are, in my opinion, superior to traditional animation, because you have the option to have the exact result you're looking for.