I had committed to this frog and princess concept early on, but wasn’t sure if I’d animate in 3d or 2d. I didn’t have a rigged 3d frog model, nor had I ever hand-drawn one. So really, the odds were stacked against me and I spent, as is my habit, the first 7 days of the month in pre-production, plus an extra 6 days of procrastination (also habit) just trying to figure it all out.
BUILDING THE FROG
In Blender, I started pushing vertices around and came up with a relatively nice looking character akin to a style I could just as easily draw, with big eyes and even bigger mouth.
But modelling a character is only the first step. He then has to be rigged with an armature and custom shape keys need to be created and applied, all of which would, in the bigger picture, take up more time than I could safely afford to spend. Especially if this was a one-use character. I mean, how many times am I going to use a frog for an animation?
Therefore, I switched immediately to paper and pencil to rough sketch some ideas, as well as storyboard a few movements, gestures and expressions.
What I really wanted to avoid, when and where possible, was a replica of Warner Bros. Michigan J. Frog, who is a really amusing character and a great reference. His eyes are together and centered on his head. I wanted my frog’s eyes to be at opposite ends and thus, a more distinct design, even if only subtly.
Naturally, the frog is just looking to make out with a hottie. I was getting hung up on details like: “Is he a cursed prince or just a snake-oil salesman?” and “Is she a real princess with a proud lineage or just another notch to be placed on someone’s headboard?”
The frog gets a crown and the girl is in a huge castle with a nice dress so it’s open for the audience to decide.
About 18 days into the month, it amused me to think that the frog prince, while professing confidence in his own judgment, celebrates his confidence by throwing some confetti in the air. I guess that’s my gimmick. But how to animate it?
After tackling cigarette smoke in the previous animation, I figured falling confetti couldn’t be much more difficult. In a time-crunch, however, there’s no easy way to hand draw that much falling paper. So back to Blender and the physics engine.
Adding a particle system and a very elemental bent plane gave me some sweet results after playing with the options. Damping the particles was really the key here.
Not only have I never really drawn or animated a frog, I have very limited experience drawing / animating the female body and face. I did this last year, but it’s more creature than female.
My princess designs were all over the map until I found something that would be simple. The main focus in this animation, for me, is the frog. The princess is a supplement, even though she has two lines of dialogue.
I was intimidated by drawing full-bodied, female lips in a lip sync. Didn’t know how to do it. Was happier avoiding doing it. And literally almost gave up. But then I realized Disney’s been doing this for decades. I just needed some reference material to guide me.
The film “The Princess and the Frog”, it’s a safe bet, is probably nobody’s favorite Disney animated film, and not even in a top 20. I couldn’t even finish it. And the first act doesn’t even show the frog!
So I turned to “The Little Mermaid”. First, the sea witch has incredible lips and expressions, but too extreme for what I needed.
But Ariel really was perfect. A few screenshots gave me the general idea of how the masters do it and I was off and running in no time.
The provided dialogue is not very exciting and lacks emotion at first blush, however, I was able to find a few areas where I could apply some extreme expressions, and this made the entire project much more enjoyable to work on, as well as livening up the otherwise boring audio.
Animating a lip sync on “twos” will work. Animating on “ones” IS work. It’s double the work but makes a huge difference in transitioning from one expression, movement or shape to another.
Yes, certain mouth shapes are best held for two frames (or longer, based on the dialogue), like an “F” or “B, M, P” sound. But sometimes just holding the SAME shape isn’t enough. Sometimes I like to push the expression on the second frame.
I didn’t employ this principle in my last animation (the guy sitting in the tree smoking a cigarette) and that seemed to be okay with the audience. However, because the frog’s mouth is so big and wide, and because he’s walking from A to B, I felt it was most appropriate to animate his ENTIRE lip sync on ones.
This gave me smoother transitions from shape to shape. And I would not do this in 3D or stop motion animation (depending on the circumstances). But I love the result in 2D.
One of the biggest headaches. Finishing the actual hand-drawn assignments didn’t mark the end of the work, as it normally might. In post-production, so many different elements have to be married to complete the project.
The frog is placed in front of the castle background image while the princess is behind it, and then first in front of the window shutters and then behind them as they shut. And the confetti is another ball of worms to be lined up perfectly within the composition.
What a mess.
All we can really strive to do is be better than we were yesterday, in my opinion. I hope I’m accomplishing that goal. And if you’ve entered the contest for May, I wish you the best of luck.