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How to make your own cartoon series - Part 1 - The Creative Process

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How to make your own cartoon series - Part 1 - The Creative Process

Erik Ravaglia

Following the article on how a bunch of friends made Wellpark for Tennent’s Lager, I thought a more in depth look into the process could help anyone who might fancy embarking on such adventure have an easier sail. Part 1 is all about the creative process.

ILLUSTRATIONS EVERYWHERE!!

ILLUSTRATIONS EVERYWHERE!!

Ready..steady..GO!
Step one was to get ahead on the creative process. Most of the work was to figure out the characters look and decide on backgrounds, colours and line style, taking into account the type of software we were going to use to produce the assets and animate. We knew that After Effects* was the way to go in terms of animation and we needed vector artwork to go with it to allow scalability without losing quality. It took a couple of episodes to settle in with the tools, but after these important calls were made and we had a few simple rules to follow, we could move on pretty swiftly.

*It might seem strange to few but AE is improved during the years on character animation but you need a plug-in like DUIK for this kind of work. If you don’t know how to use it, take a week off before the project and start experimenting with it. I guarantee that you won’t be disappointed. Flash is your next best thing, BUT if you don’t have time to go frame by frame, forget it. There are other alternatives to experiment with, however AE is my to go software. The way you decide to use DUIK would also dictate the type of artwork you need; more on this in part 2.

Client where art thou?
If you are thinking on making a project like this for yourself you are fine to go, although it’s important to note that for us having the client on board with most of the decisions was key. We pretty much worked together as a team and invested some time at the beginning to make sure we were all on the same page to avoid any time wasted on multiple amends. Once we nailed these details everybody’s life got a hell of a lot easier.

MOAR IDEAS!
As many as possible, jot them down, write a small synopsis, move on. Only after collecting a bunch of them could we sniff out the best ones. Having external feedback helped us realise what sucked and what didn’t. I’m the first one to say that if you have an idea you believe in, you should just go for it and learn as you go, however external perspective can save you more than an headache. As a group we talked about the ideas a lot, if it made us laugh, good, otherwise, onto the next one. But seriously, put down a huge bunch before you start writing any script. This was our first dumping ground, if the client didn’t like the idea we would pitch the next one and so on. Many didn’t make it past this stage, I mean MANY.
 
Write’em up!
As soon as we had a bunch of good ideas approved it was time to start scriptwriting. Jo and Ian are pure golddust. They can write a script out of everything AND make it funny. Not all of it came out great but an incredible number just worked. This stage was challenging as more time was needed to refine and write scripts, some of which, turned out to be worse than originally envisioned. Needless to say, to move forward we needed a bit of restlessness and if something didn’t sound right we needed to put it to rest. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes polishing ideas can unlock a whole new level of funny and there are instances in which a good script can rescue a less funny idea but there is no need to fall in love with a concept, a better one will usually come.

After having the script ready, one of the best ways to get it approved was a good voice over, which meant that having a sound guy always available made our life A LOT better and we could figure out how good a sketch was by the recording; it just helps. If you’re embarking on this thing I’d suggest you buy a decent microphone, it’ll help to write the script and act it out, and your recordings will sound much better. 

Bobby and Paul, now and then.

Bobby and Paul, now and then.

Make it pretty.
After the script was approved Pablo would get into gear. The overall look of the cartoon was already decided at pitch week, hence at this stage we had time to refine it. The look was as important as the feasibility of the artwork for the animation given the time constraints. First of all we needed to be able to break up the artwork pretty easily into different pieces that could then be rigged in After Effects. We needed the artwork to be clear and relatively detailed. Once we became more confident with it we spot a progression. In fact from Bobby and Paul to The Try Hards or The Good Count, for instance, you can see an augmented number of details on the characters and more elements being animated.

Pablo would pick up the idea and start working on the chara design as soon as the script was approved. He only had a little bit of time to come up with a design, and seeing it happen was a delight, he is one talented fella. After sketching up a few alternatives he would then send it for approval, which would generally come in a really short time. Again, if you are working on this by yourself you need none of that, BUT sketching helps you weed out the bad ideas and improve your final artwork dramatically. After one of the sketches was approved by the client we could finally move forward with the final artwork…

The preliminary sketches for Bobby and Paul

The preliminary sketches for Bobby and Paul

Lesson learned
After a couple of episodes we realised that producing a bunch of ideas altogether instead of scattering the process throughout the weeks would improve our workflow dramatically, allowing us to try new things and polish the animation. We originally wanted to be more reactive and fluid BUT we realised that the jokes tailored to one big event don’t make much sense long term and these videos would have to sit on Facebook and YouTube for a while.  We had to learn that on the job.


Righty-oh! We are done with Part 1, and like every good cliffhanger PART 2 will be coming soon.