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You Can Do Anything in an Animated Cartoon

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The title of this posting is from an old Bugs Bunny cartoon in which Bugs talks about the animation process. It's apropos here because I've been playing around with generating my own animated videos using software anyone can download. So, another possible title would be "You, too, can be Walt Disney."

First, a little language lesson. The word "cartoon" refers to a simple line drawing artists use in one of the first steps in creating a more involved piece of art. Generally, it's made with charcoal or another easily erasable medium. Its purpose is to help the artist transfer the vision in his or her mind to the physical medium, such as a painting on canvas. You can use it to plan what goes where, and change your plan until you're happy with it. Then, you add major color areas. Then, you add details, then, you add shading. Then, you add .... Then, you add ....

Somewhere along the line, you either erase the cartoon, or cover it over with your more permanent medium, such as acrylic paint.

So, the reason we think of "cartoon" as synonymous with "animation" is that any animation requires creating a kazillion separate images, each advancing the action a tiny bit in time. The clip accompanying this article consists of 120 images repeated multiple times. Considering that it takes me at least ten hours to do a proper painting, think about the amount of time and effort it would take to paint all the images for even a 15-minute animation! The first shortcut animators have traditionally used is stopping at the cartoon stage for each image.

Enter computerized graphic imaging.

I didn't hand draw any of the 120 images for the embedded clip. I used a little feature of the POV-Ray software I talked about last month to generate the images automatically. This animation feature allows you to add a CLOCK variable to the scene definition program. You have to tell POV-Ray how many images to render, of course, then tell it how to vary the action from image to image.

In this case, I used a simple chromium sphere reflecting a background "sky sphere." The sphere sits still in front of the camera, while the sky rotates around it. I put the title overlay on later.

When I started the rendering program running, it banged out 120 images in sequence, leaving them as PNG image files on a thumb drive I use for the purpose.

It's still only 120 separate images with 120 different filenames sitting in a directory. It's not an animation. Luckily, the distribution of the Windows 7 operating system I use for this junk included a copy of Windows Live Movie Maker. This is a cute little scrap of code that lets you take your pile of images -- all laid out and indexed by file name -- and assemble them into a movie. Actually, it's a slide show, and you control how long each slide is shown for before advancing to the next. In this case, trial and error showed that the best speed was 0.05 seconds per frame.

The final step was to add the title overlay, save the thing as a project with WLMP filename extension, and then export it as a finished movie in (in this case) a WMV file.

There are several ways to deliver a finished video. The simplest is just to electronically transfer it computer-to-computer as a WMV file. Another way is to burn it to a DVD disk. In this case, I used Examiner.com's ability to embed YouTube videos. I uploaded it to my YouTube channel, then embeded the appropriate code using Examiner's publishing tools.

If I've done everything right, you'll get to see a six-second clip of my animated logo.

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