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Late last week I finished my latest animation, which is based on the song “Jack Sprat (aka Butcher the Hog)” by The Bachelor and the Bad Actress. Here is the video. I’ll write more about how I made it below.

I’m pretty friendly with a few local musicians. (None of them are major stars and all of them have day jobs since they don’t make enough money from being musicians to pay the bills.) A few months ago I did a short animation to Phil Shapiro’s song “Open Source is Yours and Mine.

Among my musician friends are a husband and wife duo known as The Bachelor and the Bad Actress. (I even went to their wedding that was held during the Crazy Quilt Festival in Greenbelt, Maryland a couple of years ago.) At one point I was communicating with Joe the Bachelor on Facebook (yes, he’s married now but he’s still known as The Bachelor because, well, old habits die hard [LOL!]) and I linked to the “Open Source is Yours and Mine” and I joked about offering to trash one of his songs the way I “trashed” the “Open Source” song. He really liked the video and was open to the idea of an animated music video to one of The Bachelor and the Bad Actress’ songs.

Meanwhile I’ve been going to the weekly animation meetup at Makerspace 125 and there is talk about all of us collaborating together on one animation but nothing has happened yet along those lines (as of this writing). When I mentioned this to Joe the Bachelor, he offered to let those of us in that meetup to each take one of their songs and animate it.

I brought it up with the meetup group but it was met with indifference. I decided to do one of their songs on my own and show it to the other meetup attendees just to show that it’s possible. I picked “Jack Sprat (aka Butcher the Hog)” because the lyrics were straightforward and I figured that I could do a comedic animation that’s reminiscent of the old Warner Brothers Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies shorts from the 1940’s and 1950’s.

I used Moho Anime Studio Debut for the bulk of the animation. There were a few times when I had to use Adobe Photoshop for some scenes where using Anime Studio would’ve been frustrating. (Like most graphics programs, Anime Studio Debut uses layers. Unlike the other graphics programs, you literally cannot control the opacity in those layers. So I switched to Photoshop for those times when I needed to control the opacity of certain layers, exported the graphics as a .jpeg, then imported it into Anime Studio Debut. I’m going to stop here on the technical stuff since not everyone is interested in such details.)

This animation was my first foray into actual lip-synching. Anime Studio Debut recommended this free open source software called Papagayo, which churns out lip movements based on both audio recordings and what you type into the application. If you want to know more about this, I suggest getting it yourself, since it is free to download.

I originally planned on doing the entire thing in Anime Studio Debut while I would use iMovie only to put in the opening title and closing credits. There was a snag when I discovered that Anime Studio Debut can’t go any further than 3,000 frames and the song lasts longer than that. I was basically using the app’s default at 24 frames per second. If you do the math, you’d know that the maximum run time that the software can handle is 125 seconds or two minutes and five seconds. The song runs for two minutes and 31 seconds.

I found a workaround when I brought the song into Audacity and broke it up in two. Then I created two separate animation files, exported them separately, then brought them into iMovie where I managed to patch everything together into one file.

While I was working on this, I found out that Moby had been releasing animated music videos. The first one is a statement about people being addicted to their smartphones. The second one has become controversial because it makes an unflattering statement about President Donald Trump but that’s another story altogether. I was influenced by the end titles in both videos and they were my inspiration for how I created the end title in my own animation where I showed people where they can download or stream The Bachelor and the Bad Actress’ music.

Speaking of President Trump, I added some imagery of my own about The Donald along with a quote from George Orwell’s book Animal Farm. See if you can spot them while you’re watching my video.

I have to admit that this was my most ambitious animation to date and there were times when I was on the verge of burnout. And that’s because I was also doing some major job hunting using tips from a book that I had recently gotten a hold of.

I finally decided that doing two big things at once wasn’t good for my health. With the Fourth of July holiday coming up, I decided that I would finish the animation first then resume reading the job hunting book after the holiday. (If this book works for me and I end up getting a new day job to pay the bills, I will write another post praising this book and urging all my readers of this blog to buy it.) With another finished animation under my belt, I now have something recent I can show to any potential employer interested in my animation skills.

I’m also toying with starting a Patreon page where I would make short animations (meaning less than five minutes) for anyone willing to give me some money. Working on this animation has shown me what I can realistically do for a potential patron while setting a price that’s reasonable for the patron while not pricing myself so low that I end up making $1 or $2 per hour (which is impossible to live on anywhere in the United States of America).

By the way, if you like the song, “Jack Sprat (aka Butcher the Hog),”  you can purchase it or stream it through The Bachelor and the Bad Actress’ Bandcamp page.

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I recently completed my latest animation called The March of Liberty. I’m going to post it here first while posting all the details about the making of this animation underneath the video.

Now here’s the story behind this video. Last summer the local STEM center Makerspace 125 decided to offer a series of free weekly workshops on animation, which would be centered around this new animation program that was released as free open source software known as OpenToonz. It created a lot of buzz, especially in the tech press, because this application is based on the high-end software that was used by the Japanese animation company Studio Ghibli when it made its hit anime films like Spirited Away and Ponyo.

So I went to a few meetups where I played around a bit with OpenToonz on my MacBook until I got annoyed that it kept on frequently crashing. I was stuck for ideas on what my first new animation (since doing the web ad for a new non-profit low-powered radio station) would be about until I was working on a page of my Doll Dreams art book in early July. Since the French holiday Bastille Day was coming on July 14, I decided to do a French-themed character. I did some research on the Wikipedia where I learned about Marianne, who is basically the French equivalent of Uncle Sam. So I did some Marianne art in my Doll Dreams book (which I have since misplaced, which is why I haven’t made any further posts about that book since last July).

As I was researching Marianne I learned that not only was she an inspiration for the Statue of Liberty (which isn’t a major stretch since the statue’s creator, Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, was French) but Marianne herself was inspired by the ancient Roman goddess Libertas. When I looked up Libertas on the Wikipedia, I learned that she was based on the Greek goddess, Artemis Eleutheria, which was a variant of the Greek goddess Artemis but her worshippers in the Greek city of Myra named her Artemis Eleutheria (with “eleutheria” being the Greek word for “liberty”).

So once I finished my Marianne page for my Doll Dreams book, I decided it would be cool idea to do a short animation tracing the lineage from the Greek Artemis Eleutheria to the Roman Libertas to the French Marianne to, finally, the Statue of Liberty. I drew a storyboard where I had a woman emerge from a privacy screen adorned with the Greek flag with the name “Artemis Eleutheria,” walk past some of the major Athens attractions, then duck behind another privacy screen with the Italian flag and the name “Libertas,” walk past some more attractions, etc. until the Statue of Liberty appears at the end. I even thought about using the national anthems of the countries involved (Greece, Italy, France, and the United States) as the soundtrack.

But then I hit a major snag and it was regarding OpenToonz. First it was the program’s penchant for frequently crashing. New upgrades were being frequently released and I finally found a version that didn’t crash so often. Now for the bad news. Not only was it extremely difficult to quit out of the application once you loaded it (I had to use “Force Quit” if I wanted to exit from the program) but I also found out that the Mac version of OpenToonz did not export the animation as a standalone video file at all. That’s right, an animation program that didn’t export a standalone video file. My only choice was a series of still images and I would need to find a different video program where I would have to manually put those separated files together and export them as a standalone video file.

That was incredibly frustrating, especially since the Windows version of OpenToonz gave users the option of exporting it as an .avi file. Mac users didn’t even have that luxury. I decided to put The March of Liberty on the back burner rather than waste time dealing with the software turkey known as OpenToonz. Instead I made this video called OpenToonz Sucks where I highlighted all the deficiencies of that program.

I also wrote a blog post detailing further my frustration dealing with that program. I basically wanted to warn other people, especially Mac users, to avoid OpenToonz like the plague. Despite the fact that I gave up on OpenToonz I still continued to go to the animation meetup at Makerspace 125 mainly because they also showed classic cartoons during that meetup so I basically watched the cartoons while doing other things with my MacBook besides making cartoons with OpenToonz. Not long after I made my OpenToonz Sucks video, someone in that meetup group encouraged me to download an updated version. I gave it another shot and found that not only did OpenToonz for the Mac was still not capable of exporting any animations as a standalone video file but this upgrade included being able to export the animation as a series of still pictures in this obscure file format that’s only readable by high-end laser machines. (WTF?!?) That prompted me to write this sequel titled OpenToonz Still Sucks Despite Its Recent Upgrade.

So my March of Liberty animation remained on the back burner for a few months. I looked into alternatives to OpenToonz but I was too cash-poor to even consider any paid applications.

But then I came into some money. It wasn’t a lot of money. Basically I had done some work for a startup back in May but I walked off the job after two weeks because I didn’t get paid. (I was paid for the first few days but then the payments stopped.) It was the same startup where the founder convinced me to write a post about it in this blog instead of getting a separate blogging account just for that startup because he couldn’t be bothered with getting one (despite the fact that many major blogging platforms offer free accounts). That startup was such a disaster that I had to make a new policy for this blog where I would no longer write about any work I do for other people in this blog until after the job was done (or there was some other kind of closure).

The startup owner finally paid me for the work I did in November. Even though I’m glad he finally paid up, I still wouldn’t work for him again for a number of reasons. (Basically the way he ran his business—including not even bothering with registering for a vendor booth at the events where he wanted to sell the startup’s products but, instead, just show up at the event without first notifying the event organizers and mingle among the crowd while selling everything out of backpacks in a manner similar to hot dog and beer vendors working the crowd in a sports stadium—screamed “AMATEUR” and “UNPROFESSIONAL”.)

I was able to use the money to buy a low-end animation program. After much research, I decided on Smith Micro’s Anime Studio Debut. It costs only $30 in the App Store. In addition, I also have the option of upgrading to the more robust $99 Anime Studio Pro at a later date. So far I like the debut version but I’ll definitely keep the pro version in mind if I ever feel like I’ve reached my creative limits with the debut and I really want to branch out further.

Compared to OpenToonz, Anime Studio Debut worked like a dream. There are a few glitches in that software but they were nothing compared to the total fuckery of OpenToonz. I did most of the work in Anime Studio Debut, with a few of the images (which were mainly the background images) being initially done in Photoshop (mainly by applying the various filters on some pictures I downloaded from the Internet) before being imported into Anime Studio Debut. Unlike OpenToonz, I was able to export my animations as standalone .mp4 videos in Anime Studio Debut. I assembled the various animated .mp4 videos in iMovie, paired it with some music, exported the animation, and uploaded it online.

As I was working on this animation, my idea as to how to end it evolved. I originally was going to end it with a closeup of the Statue of Liberty until I read in the news about how the U.S. Mint had issued its latest Lady Liberty coin. Unlike the previous Liberty coins, this new coin features an African American woman (or a Lady Liberty with African American features). Of course that coin received racist backlash.

That incident prompted me to create a new ending. After the closeup of the Statue of Liberty, I feature images of three different Liberty coins. The first one is an older coin depicting the Statue of Liberty. (Actually that one is the dollar coin, which usually has the Statue of Liberty on one side and an image of a deceased President of the United States on the other.) The second one is a 2015 Liberty coin featuring a more human looking Lady Liberty with short hair. The third one is the 2017 coin that has all the racists feeling totally butt-hurt over the fact that Lady Liberty now has African American features. Provocative? You bet it is!

Seriously people need to get a grip! Lady Liberty is no different from other mythical figures like Santa Claus, fairies, and elves. While she may have originated in Europe, there’s really no rule that says that she MUST remain white at all times. Look at elves. They originated in Norwegian mythology but they have literally spread all over the world way beyond the Scandinavian peninsula. Don’t believe me? Check out this ball-jointed elf doll that is currently being made by a Chinese company known as Bobobie and you can even order her right here.

As for the music, I used the national anthems of the various nations represented in the animation. Here’s the information about each song.

“Ymnos seis tīn Eleutherían” (Greek national anthem) came from the Public Domain Archive’s YouTube channel. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution (reuse allowed).

“Il Canto deli Italiani” (Italian national anthem) was declared to be in the public domain by the Italian Ministry of Defense. This version came from Wikimedia Commons.

“La Marseillaise” (French national anthem) was recorded by the U.S. Marine Band in 1897. This recording came from the Internet Archive.

“The Star-Spangled Banner” (American national anthem) was recorded by the U.S. Marine Band in 1910. This recording is courtesy of the Free Music Archive.

In a way it was a blessing that I had to wait a few months later to finish my animation given the current political climate. The Trump Administration has only been in power for two weeks and there is already a lot of daily drama along with a lot of alienated people. (Yesterday President Trump managed to be totally rude to the Prime Minister of Australia. Australia!!! The same Australia that’s among the U.S.’s closest allies!!!) I uploaded that animation soon after the recent Women’s March on Washington so I think it’s very perfect timing to upload a female-centric animation like The March of Liberty online.

Here’s a little change of pace since today marks the official kickoff of Labor Day Weekend.

A few weeks ago I happened to check out this yard sale in my neighborhood, which had a variety of vintage items from the 1920’s-1960’s. I saw a pile of sheet music that was on sale for 25 cents each. I thumbed through them and I saw that they were really old sheet music, some of which dated as far back as the 1910’s. I was also attracted to the beautiful illustrated covers, which were works of art in ways that the sheet music I used to use when I was learning how to play guitar as a teenager weren’t. (The sheet music I used basically just had the title along with a photograph of the band or singer responsible for the song.) I had never heard of any of these songs but the covers were gorgeous.

So I decided to take a risk by buying a few of them. I didn’t have much money on me so I only purchased around six of these sheet music titles for $1.50. I thought it would be cool to see if I could somehow input the music notes into GarageBand and see what it would churn.

But the big hassle is that there isn’t a sheet music equivalent in GarageBand that I could find. I know that GarageBand is easy for dropping various loops in order to make a song and it’s also good for inputing music using an electric guitar or MIDI keyboard hooked up to the computer but I couldn’t find anything in that software that had an interface I could use for inputing the music notes on printed sheet music.

I looked around for a few alternatives and I found this open source program called MuseScore 2. It  has an online sheet music interface where you can drag and drop music notes. What’s even cool is that you can play the piece while you’re working on it (which is great for picking up any wrong music notes) and you can even export the audio as a standalone file. I ultimately brought the audio files into iMovie where I also imported photos of the sheet music covers and I even typed the lyrics to the songs (which is for those who want to sing along). Here are the songs I’ve worked on so far. Enjoy!

Earlier this year I took a class in how to use Adobe AfterEffects that was held at the Takoma Park Public Library in Takoma Park, Maryland. I was offered the chance to take it again this fall starting in early October so I spent my Tuesday nights going back to the Takoma Park Public Library with the same instructor while I was using Adobe AfterEffects. The class ended nearly a week ago. Here are the results, which I’ve just uploaded on to YouTube.

I did a very short video using stock footage of a bee pollinating a flower while achieving a radio waves effect (similar to this animated logo that used to be featured at the very beginning of all films that were distributed by R.K.O. Pictures). I added a message about the importance of not killing bees because they are very important in pollinating flowers that produce corn, wheat, berries, tomatoes, and other types of fruits and vegetables. I later added some sound effects using iMovie. I was influenced by environmentalists (especially on the local level) who have been waging an awareness campaign because many honeybees have been dying in huge numbers for a variety of reasons that are too numerous to write here but this link provides some background information. Here it is.

The other video I created was more of a challenge. I decided to do a video promoting Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign using mainly text that I transcribed from actual audio files. (I obtained the audio from downloading videos from this playlist that came from the Citizen Media for We the People YouTube Channel.) The most challenging part of making this video was the time factor because it was a short class. But I managed to finish a rough draft of the animation by the end of the last class, which I then exported as a QuickTime file. I later imported it into iMovie where I did some trims and tweaks until the video was in manageable form. I showed it to a few friends and acquaintances who are sympathetic to Bernie Sanders and I’ve gotten rave reviews for this. So, without further ado, here is my Bernie Sanders video.

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