Thursday, 30 October 2008

Finished

I have finished my first ever E Card. I am quite happy with it - I reckon there is always room for improvment in these things and am never truly happy but its fun and its silly and I like it :)

Monday, 27 October 2008

The Kirk Stomp

With the voices recorded I have cracked ahead with the animation. I had a weekend off because I needed the break and also because of personal reasons. I have moved to a new location and just got my PC back up and running so I'm back in business. This is what I did before the move:

video

28:09 condensed to 51 seconds.

This is Captain Kirk learning how to skit on the banjo and bang down hard on his Star Fleet Stomp Box. This didn't take as long as I thought it would and I was amazed at how far I could think ahead as I planned to make my character move. All my hard work with Flash and investigation into the difference between computer animation and traditional animation has paid off. I understand now that animating with Flash means making puppets out of your characters rather than endless frame-by-frame work. Because of this realisation I can make things look smooth without going to ridiculous lengths.

Sadly at the moment, I want to be drawing every frame in Flipbook and animation the entire piece...but it isn't possible so I am OK with it. My next project will be completely animated in FlipBook and the sound constructed and placed next to it. I will be going through the animation process from beginning to end to make sure I completely understand how it works and have the experience to go straight into a studio environment.

I worked for a lot longer on the other parts of the E Card, getting the sound in place with Flash is a pain the arse but doable with some hard work. I have placed the Captains Log speech into the animation now and have been tinkering with the transition sequence on the bridge. I have also finished my story board and come up what I think is a fun and original piece of work. It's not the best thing I have ever done, but it is certainly good fun.

I have completed the animation for of the other cards - I animated a short skit a while ago that I have been wanting to put towards my college work because its fun and well constructed. I documented the whole thing as I went along and have all the original sketches....I just need to find them. The only other thing to do then is to construct the E Card that you will get out of the envelope but that isn't an issue. I have also got the idea for my third and final E Card in place and have begun storyboarding that also. I will post that storyboard when it is complete and take you through it to show that I have storyboarded and planned each thing that I have done and not just knocked it all up. My folder with all my original drawings will be evidence of that too.

I haven't got long left to do all of this I might add, I want to do another project before Christmas and I have already planned for that too. I am falling behind on my dissertation reading at the moment, but that is just because I'm really enjoying my studio work. My T&P is coming together and really helping me learn all the skills I need to do my studio work - I am updating that blog a little less regularly, but working behind the scenes. It's all slowly coming together.

See you soon for another update - hopefully with my first ever finished E Card. I will leave you with this sneak preview of the already finished animation for my next E Card....oooo enticing!

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Captains Log....

Today I did something I never thought I would get the opportunity to do....I made my very own Captains Log for the Starship Enterprise. Now, I know I will never Captain any ship let alone a galaxy class one, but ti was still a ton of fun and the results are very entertaining. My immediate reaction is that it goes on a bit too long...but its quite well done, even if I do sound nothing like Shatner and more like a TV chef. I cannot post the recording here, but what I will do is post some pictures of how I went about recording the voice overs so that the effort I put it can be seen. Even though the vox are all done in a home studio environment I am very chuffed with how they have turned out, but you will have to wait and hear the quality at a later date. Some pic's:

This is where I do the speaking into - the pop shield cuts out any unwanted air hitting the microphones diaphragm and causing any horrible spikes in my wave lengths.

The black block stood on my portfolio case acts as a sound card of sorts, doing all the work that the computer would struggle with and also giving me additional control over the what is being inputted into the computer. The computer itself acts as the recording device and also the sound desk allowing me to mess around with the EQ as I see fit. For instance on this particular recording I used the sound card to boost the Low end of the signal and then pulled it all together with the EQ add-on built into the program I was using to record - which is an Internet download only program called Mixcraft. It's not a particularly advanced program in terms of what you can do with the what you have already recorded But it does allow for multiple layers and come with some basic effects that can be tinkered with to you liking. I used a lot of bass boost to give my voice a stronger sound, but pulled out some of the top end to the loose some the background noise I picked up for the computer whirring around. All this knowledge is stuff I have picked up over the last few years of playing in bands and making cheap demo CD's. Works a treat though!

This is a picture of my rig. I have dual monitors with one out putting through my HD TV so that I can watch whatever I make straight away on a big screen to make sure there is no gaps in the animation, missing colour or lines that sort of thing and also check that the level of sound is correct and that you can hear everything in the mix. Most people will hopefully be viewing my animation not only on their computer in the future so I consider this a valuable skill and habit that I have got into. By doing I get to see what the audience will see - plus watching things on a bigger screen gives you a better sense of reality and allows you to better foresee how an audience is going to react the finished product.

So there you are, I'm working hard. In my next blog I will be animating the Captain so you can expect another Time Lapse of my hard work!

Thursday, 23 October 2008

If it ain't broke, don't fix it....

....is something you will hear said around my house virtually daily as the place comes apart at the seams. Very often there is little I can do about it, but the beauty of this particular 'broke thing' is that it is my own creation and I can do whatever I want with it. In my previous blog I constructed Kirk in Flash (A program I am now definitely not that into....but that is for another blog). and I mentioned at the end I wasn't happy. A few days down the line and I was still not happy, so I decided to redo him. So here is the video - 'Re-Kirk' and at the end there are two pictures - one of the original attempt and one of the current attempt. You can see the second one is much closer to my original sketches.

video

28:27 condensed into under a minute!

To get a more accurate version of my original drawing, I traced over my character in Flash. The results are much better and I am a lot happier - but I think I will be doing the rest of the animation in FlipBook and exporting it into Flash.


New Kirk

Old Kirk

The differences are easy enough to spot, so I needed point them out - suffice to say I am happier with the newer model. Flash has still distorted him from his original shape - there was one time when I would have been more than happy with this drawing - but now he looks so static and I will only be able to animate him like a marionette puppet. He will be life less and dull looking.... I will post a blog on my hatred for Flash....or rather my realisation that it is not a tool for detailed animation!

Saturday, 18 October 2008

This ship needs a Captain!

And who should I be, you ask? Captain Kirk with his gallant shivelry and over eagerness to physically assault everybody? Captain Picard with his wit, intellect, interest in all things seemingly benine but frustratingly fascinating? Captain Janeway with her ability to get her ship stuck 7 Billion light years away from home on her maiden voyage?

NO! None of the above....my captain is William Shatner! A cameo as himself as captain!

.....alright its Kirk, I chose him because he is the most amusing; not because he is the best Captain (Because he isn't....that honor is Picard's!). I also chose him because he was the most fun to caricature, the best to satire and parody and also the most likely to play the banjo!

Here are some images and then a short video of me creating the character in Flash (A program I find myself less and less fond of...)

Yes it is a terrible stereotype suggesting all people from the Deep South are inbred and play banjo....but it is funny! It's not a normal thing for kirk to be doing though....

..........That's more like it!

Photon Torpedo's FIRE!!!

Back to the Deep South jokes though....Here's Jim blowing the old jug.

And here he is delicately playing the triangle!

I should probably apologise for the image quality....but I'm not going to. These are only rough sketches, getting the depth and what not right. I can trace completed images off of them if I want, but I don't want to seeing as how they are references for when I draw them into the computer, that is when they get polished up - like they are immediately been drawing into a Cel.

video

32 Minutes work condensed to 11 Seconds...

I'm not sure I'm happy with Flash anymore. It really transforms your drawings. The computerised version looks no where near as good as my original sketches....I might redo him but trace over one of my drawings. We'll see, I want to get this project finished....

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

My First E Card

I am coming quite close to finishing my first E Card and I'm quite happy with it so far. There is a few things that I would like to change so far and I am going to make as many amends as possible but I also have to consider that I need to do a few more cards yet.

All of my E Cards would be stacked under the 'Just for Fun' section and this one no exception. The theme across all of these cards is: "What would it be like if humans had never discovered..." And this card theme is "Warp Drive".

The script is about the Starship Enterprise's lack of warp drive. It starts off with a Captains Log detailing the ships current destination and mission and the Captain informing you that they have been traveling for nearly 700 years. Unfortunately, due to an internal error the ships crew compliment are all from the same bloodline... Sadly, there has been a lot of inbreeding.

Here is how the animation has progressed. In retrospect I wish I had made a time lapse of all of the things I have done. In future I am going to make it an essential part of what I do. I just need to figure out how....that way I can just post the results and a video detailing how I arrived at the finished product, much more professional and effective.

This is the final Starship I designed. You can see the original drawing above the finished image. I wanted to use the original Enterprise because of its cult status - I thought it would help people identify with what I was doing. It was nice and easy to construct, but that was the intention when Gene Roddenberry devised it. A nice 1960's UFO, with a brand new (At the time) modern Roll's Royce jet engine and then two long girders. It was supposed to show the cutting edge of modern technology but then take it one step further - into space. It worked, it looked great in the day and if you squint your eyes or you're kind of drunk it still looks just as good today.

This is me constructing the bridge of the Enterprise. I was wanted it to have the modern veneer of the Enterprise D, but have the old naff computers from the original Enterprise. I thought this would create a recognizable environment in which to set my characters. I started with the floor. I wanted to make everything parallel so that it looked more like modern architecture. Saucer section of the Enterprise is round, so I wanted to keep this theme and make the bridge quite round a spacious, unlike say the bridge of Starship Voyager, which is quite confined.

I wanted things to appear like shiny plastic and modern alloys, so I used a lot of gradient fills - something I am normally against. In the shot above I'm about an hour and half in and things were coming together.

A big jump to the final screen here, but this is the almost finished unpolished bridge. The chairs are shaded to make them appear used. All of the computers in the background are alive and computing. I'm quite pleased with it so far. I think it looks quite modern, but also quite authentic and true to the original Enterprise. It is a good solid mix and I think the environment will be appreciated and recognised by the recipient of the card.

The card starts with some interactivity. You have to click the text to begin the short film. I wanted to include some basic interactivity within my first attempt. I want to include more in my future attempts, but I didn't want to try and do too much in my first card, I just wanted to make sure I was capable of turning out a good card with good graphic design and animation: I was considering the time available and the aesthetic; the two primary factors any good animator/designer should take into account.

The envelope then turns on its side and opens in a nice fluid sweeping motion. Getting the top of the envelope to unfold on top of the card and then slide underneath the card when it moves out of the scene was the only difficult part as it involved a lot of layer switches.

The card is emblazoned with the Star Fleet Officers badge - I thought this would be a nice touch and a nice tribute to Trekkie's that might receive the card.

The card is rather bland and boring here...I'm hoping to improve that, but nothing jumped to mind as I was animating the card opening - I was once again concentrating on getting the animation correct.

The logo fades in on the card. I wanted to make the card as if somebody in the 24th century might be opening on their computers, so the graphics are minimal. I could have gone the whole hog and made it like an official message to Star Fleet like in an actual episode of Star Trek, but I wanted to keep the 'card' in peoples minds, not wanting to lose the 'Card' part of the 'E Card'. This is because a lot of the cards I looked at didn't have a very 'Cardy' feel, they were more like short animations or interactive movies and that isn't what people look for in a 'Card' in my opinion. By actually showing the opening of the card before the short animation, it feels more like the sound cards you can get, where a sound triggers as you open it. So, after the logo fades in, the card comes towards the screen and there is a flash of white. The image of the Starship Enterprise floating through space fades in and the animation begins. I am recording the Captains Log with a voice actor this weekend so I'm looking forward to bringing some sound into it because it always instantly improves any animation - it is the second most important part of any media according a recent poll in the Guardian! I will be back with more news and my first time lapse in my next blog!

Monday, 13 October 2008

Star Treking across the universe!

I've always wanted to do a Star Trek parody. I have watched it since I was a little kid and love it to bits, but it is just so perfect to spoof. Thus I have decided to make one of my series of cards a Star Trek parody. It will be the first one I do. I have started work on it already and made good progress in a short amount of time. For your delectation, here is a screenshot!


More to come, including a break down of how I make the card and coverage of all the trouble I run into along the way!

The plot thickens....

As part of this brief, I am supposed to be making cards for Hallmark. Individual cards that stand out and catch peoples attention. They are trying to extend their production line into the E Card market and more specifically into the American E Card market. I can see why after seeing the figures from Jacquie Lawson's website. A giant like Hallmark should be able to just storm in destroy the place, taking over peoples trust and taking their money at the same time - but they might have a tougher job ahead of them than I previously thought! My inside man has once again tipped me off to a source of good information. Cheers, T.

The E Card that I talked about in my blog: http://dansecards.blogspot.com/2008/09/begin.html was actually created by a company called Sugarqube and the 'Envelope' I mention in said blog was infact part of their product; something which they were recognised by - kind of like the Hallmark stamp or the lions on eggs. So if we go to visit their website @ http://sugarqube.com/, what should we find but this:

Eaten alive by American Greetings!

But it goes deeper still. Here is a list of all the companies that have been snatched up by the E Card giant that is American Greetings!

PhotoWorks
Webshots
AmericanGreetings.com
Egreetings.com
BlueMountain.com
Kiwee.com
AGKidZone.com
Care-Bears.com
StrawberryShortcake.com
SushiPack.com
CarltonCards.com

The one that immediately stands out to me is BlueMountain.com. If you google E Cards, it is the first website that comes up. I considered using this site over Yahoo.com because I liked the products they offered and it was one of the more convincing and 'safe' looking websites that I had found. But it turns out no matter which I had chosen, my money would have gone straight to American Greetings. As Hallmark tries to break through into the American market with E Cards, I get the impression that American Greetings will be their biggest opponent and in this war the deciding factor won't be what products they offer, but rather ease of use and pricing.

The fight is on!

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Mike Dietz

As with all my previous project's blogs, I often find myself covering talented artists and animators from around the world and this one is no exception. After spending time writing about 'The animator on Earthworm Jim 1' I took the time to track a name down to put to the work and that name is Mike Dietz.

Mike has worked on loads of fantastic projects and has a wide range of skills as you can see from his video reel here: http://www.mikedietz.com/clip02a.html

He has a blog here: http://slappypictures.blogspot.com/2008/08/hey-over-here.html which has loads of great original drawings and work.

After seeing his work and been unable to 'Subscribe' to his posts I have sent him a warm comment to tell him just how impressed I am with his work and also how impressive I find his work.

Dan said...

Hi Mike. Im a big fan of your work and I didn't even realise it! I am currently studying Animation at Bradford College in the UK and doing research to make some animated E Cards. I have played nearly every game you have animated on and each time come away really impressed with the smooth animation within and only now at University have I found out that you were the person behind all of this great work I have drooled over for many years of my life.

I was writing about your work on Earthworm Jim, not even knowing who you were, so I figured instead of referencing you as the "Animator on Earthworm Jim" it would best to find out who your were. I found your name under 'Animating Director' for the Mega Drive (Or Genesis as it was called in America) game and tracked you down. After visiting your website and watching your animation reel, feeling really impressed and inspired, I found you had a blog.

I am really pleased to have found you on Blogspot and have access to all of your fantastic work. If you could take the time to comment on the blog I am making about you it would be most appreciated. I would hate to drop the ball and state anything that wasn't true about your work, so feel free to correct me as the information I am working with is very limited! If you are feeling particularly smiley when reading this, any information you have at all on yourself (I have read your CV, all of your blogs and bio's on the internet) would be greatly appreciated. I would love to know what it was like work on Earthworm Jim and many of your other great projects!

Thankyou for your time!

Your newest fan,
Dan

The blog about your work is here

My previous blog is all about his work....I just wanted to show I have taken the time to find the man behind the marvelous work the marvelous work that has inspired me since I was a kid!

http://www.mikedietz.com/

The Animation of Earthworm Jim

So my last blog turned into a personal account of my discovery of animation and music. This one will now be what the last one was supposed to be: dedicated to the animation behind the brilliant character of Earthworm Jim - from the video game to the series of the same name.

Character design is the big thing that stands out about Earthworm Jim. As far as original ideas go, this program is leaps and bounds ahead of some of its other counterparts. Once again through my research I have managed to trace Doug TeNapel, the creator of Earthworm Jim, back to having worked with John. K of Ren & Stimpy fame. What a bleedin' shocker! Either the animation industry in the 90's had nobody else working in it or I have just fallen very lucky in all of my favourite animators - or perhaps it is just the way my taste has taken me. But through John. K I found the creator of Cow & Chicken, David Feiss and now I gone back to another cartoon character from my youth I find that it was created by somebody else who has worked on a Ren & Stimpy product - though slightly different this time is that it is a video game.

I always loved the animation on the SEGA Mega Drive because everything was hand drawn, not like games these days where everything is computer generated and then textured. So let me take you through some of the smooth animation in this game. Through my amazing skills and powers I have managed to search the internet and find several gif. files to help me as we go through this great bit of character animation.

A big thankyou to Gif Man 3000 and his 700 year old Geocities page for providing these .gifs. If you ever visit this blog and do not want me to use these .gif files please just let me know and I will remove them!

Earthworm Jim is probably the dumbest character you'll ever meet and if you leave him standing doing nothing for more than 5 seconds he starts mucking about - I think that is why I releate to him. Here he is flexing is muscles whilst he waits for me to pick up the controller.

Here is one of my favourite pieces of animation in the game. Because Jim is actually just a worm, his head can come out of his suit. So it is almost like the suit has a mind of its own and very often it does, especially in the cartoon series. The smoothness of the animation is fantastic, even though the frame rate of the Mega Drive wasn't great, you still clearly see everything that is going on, which can only be credited to the animatior on the game knowing the system and how to use it properly. And its just such a great idea to have your lead character using his own body as a skipping rope.

Here we see Jim getting molested by one of the enemies in the game. This is a great piece of comic animation. One of my favourite thing about ALL of the animation in Earthworm Jim is the liberty taken with the characters form. There is no static build, not one pose that says 'ordinary'. Each piece of animation is carefully considered and the way the animator is willing to bend and break the character shows he/she really knows their classic animation, because they bring it into a modern medium like video gaming so well.

Earthworm Jim was put out in 1994. You didn't really see much 3D work back then, but in Earthworm Jim, the fridge at the beginning, his rocketship and many other small elements were in 3D animation. I remember at young age been amazed by seeing that and only now, slightly older, did I notice this piece of animation. Jim isn't in 3D, but the animator goes out their way by adding a slight twisting movement as Jim hands from things (By his own head :D). Not only is the recurring idea of Jim using his body like worm very funny indeed, but the character actually twists as he is hanging, making him appear solid in state. This is only a tiny bit of animation, but he really does help bring the character to life and help make him appear 'real'.

Everything was smooth in Earthworm Jim, even the jumping. The gameplay left a little to be desired, but the animation always shone through for me. I love how the animator subtily squishes the character up before the jump in just one frame. You bearly see it, but then the way the top of his head is looser and lighter than the rest and follows along behind the jump gives the character weight and life.

Again we see the use of the head here, this time as whip action. Indiana Jones eat your heart out. I would love to see Harrison Ford try to rip himself out of his costume and use his own body to traverse a large crevass. That has to be the most disgusting thing anybody has ever said...


Here I wanted to show Jim jumping onto his Pocket Rocket....but the .gif won't load, which is frustrating. It is the animation with the green background on this website: http://www.geocities.com/gif_man3000/earthwormjim.html

One of the reasons I played this game so much as a kid was to get to the end of the levels and play the fun chase sections where you get to ride the Pocket Rocket. Now I get to the end of the level to see this great bit of animation. The way he tears the Rocket out of his Pocket is hilarious. His hand goes across his body getting bigger to add perspective and then out pops the rocket. Then after jumping on it and the Rocket accepts the weight of Jim with a coy little bounce, the way the Rocket moves back and then shoots off out of shot by stretching the image and pointing the motion out towards the audience with a little turn at the end is fantastic. This piece of animation makes me giggle everytime I see it. The timing is brilliant and you really get a sense that the Pocket Rocket is really powerful. A great bit of cartoonery....its such a shame the .gif won't load so I have had to put a screenshot in instead.

These are just a small amount of the animations to be found in this fantastic video game. I think the Mega Drive and video gaming in the 90's in general really provided a pedastal for animators who wanted to do something a little different with their work. Other great titles like Boogerman, Nutz the Squirrel and Dynamite Eddy really showed that a lot of fun could be had with in-game animation. But none did it quite as well as Earthworm Jim.

Update:
See Mike Dietz, Animation Director on Earthworm Jim and many other fantastic video games here: http://www.slappypictures.blogspot.com/ And see the post after this one to see my update after I found out who the 'Earthworm Jim Animator' actually was!

A brief history of Daniel Hill's interest in Animation and all things cultural....

In the last few moons and with the latest update to the offerings of the Wii's Virtual Console I have once again found myself wrapped up in the universe of Earthworm Jim. This eclectic character, who starting life out as a mere worm, eating dirt and dodging crows has been a part of life since I was a child. I remember sitting for hours on end listening to Night on Bad Mountain rotating round and round desperatley trying to get to the end of 'What the Heck', the second level on the Earthworm Jim - originally released on the Mega Drive.

For quite some time, in fact that is an understatment - since the beginning of my teens, I have been trying to work out why I am so facinated with animation and everything that comes with it. And only playing this game have a realised that since I was a child, I have been watching cartoons, playing with cartoons and living in cartoons. They took over my life and I never even bothered to question whether or not I was ok with that; not once have I considering turning around and saying: "OI! Jim, Chicken, Pantless Red Guy, Wolverine, Cow, Ed, Edd, Eddy, Scooby, Fred, Barney, Yogi, Tom, Jerry, Courage, Bugs, Daffy, Taz, Mickey, Pluto, Goofy. What the hell do you think you are doing hanging around all the time. I'm 21 years of age, I should be cooking up something heroic and saving the planet, not watching your remarkable abilities to survive impossible and often hilarious mis-fortunes and slap-stick humour."

But off course, now its gone too far and I cannot turn them away. They are 'stayers', guests in my think tank....or rather invaders would be a better a term. It would be unfair of me not to stir them in the morning as I wake or to tell them to shut up so I can go to sleep. I feed them, protect them, clothe them and even love them. They return the favour to me in the form of humour, entertainment and learning and I feel gifted with the knowledge that they inspire me to acquire. It only occured to me sitting and researching the animation behind Earthworm Jim that I already knew all of his moves and smooth animations. At the time of its release it garnered world wide acceptence, even prompting one UK magazine to give out its first ever full score mark. And even after nearly 15 years you can see why. It is truly remarkable how well this game has stood up to the test of time. It looks great, it plays great and its sense of humour still stands out. I couldn't help but giggle everytime a crow grabbed a hold of Jim's head and started tugging him out of his Robotic Suit.

But this is not a game review and this is not a homage to all of the great cartoons out there that have inspired me to become an animator, this is just one big sidenote to say that without these things in my life I wouldn't be aware of so many other things. I wouldn't listen to classical music because I wouldn't have understood it or found it interesting - but free licensing of that music and its symbolism means virtually every budget bound game I have ever played has used Night on Bald Mountain or a piece by Mozart and now I am pround to be able to say I can sit hear listening to one of the great classical composers, identifying what he was trying to put across through his music and indeed often humming along.

My sense of humour is wide and accepting, I enjoy everything funny I come across, even if it is in poor taste because games like Earthworm Jim and Boogerman have given me the confidence to indulge in things that we perhaps shouldn't talk about in public. These characters are more than code and animation - they are so believeable and well rounded that they have become people to me. They live with me and in my house their catch-phrases can be heard being used from room-to-room. My family has grown up with these things and they are now embedded come-backs between me and my brother and I wouldn't want it to be any other way.

This has gone beyond what I originally intended it to be so now I will get on with what I originally logged on to do. Document some of the finer points found in the game Earthworm Jim and also the sister cartoon seires. I was also pleased to find out that a new game, series and feature length film are currently in production with the original designer, Doug TeNapel - who I will be doing a seperate post about in the near future.

See next blog for The Animation of Earthworm Jim...

Monday, 6 October 2008

Message Sent...

I have decided to send some E Cards to get the full overall experience of "E Card-ing". To do this I wish to use free E Cards at first and then hopefully go on to actually send some E Cards that I have to purchase. I have a friend who's Birthday is coming up and I think it is a perfect opportunity to see what this craze is all about!

American Greetings are a huge American cooperation that have recently started snatching up licenses and popular E Card websites in a bid to become the main competition in the E Card market. They own and created the famous characters, Strawberry Shortcake and the Care Bears - two huge brands around the world. My interest in them began after I was informed that Jacquie Lawson's website had been snatched up by them and has increased I discover just how deep their website goes. In a bid to better understand online cards sending and receiving [E Cards] I elected to try it out for myself using one of the companies that use American Greeting's E Cards, Yahoo.com. Herein lies documentation of the experience.

http://www.yahoo.americangreetings.com/
is a free website that allows you to send E Cards. So the first task is to find one that I like.


There is plenty of advertising when you arrive.

Some of it is quite good.

There is a good choice of birthday cards.


Some of them really well made.

Some of them not so interesting.


Then there was this one that I really liked....so I elected to send this one: http://www.yahoo.americangreetings.com/ecards/display.pd?prodnum=3137474&path=41027

I really liked the music, its a great twist on a classic tune. The animation was smooth and fun. The text being typed to the card reader was a really good idea because it really brought you into the piece. I was actually quite surprised when the dog tore the card from the screen, it caught me off guard because I was really interested in the animation. The way the 'Happy Birthday' letters danced was a nice little touch...and then the animation on the dog was great. Smooth and as fluid as you can get in Flash. A good sense of humour and everything else just finalised my decision: this will be the first ever E Card I send.

So, first I have to join....

[Insert 15 Minutes]

....done that. Not a bad price. A years subscription is only $15.99


So, I have been taken to the next menu where I get to personalise my card with some text. Kind of like writing in the card. Except I think it will probably just appear at the below the Flash animation. I am going to forward it to myself aswell so that I can see how you go about recieving an E Card, so I will find out where the text goes when I recieve it....of course I won't be adding that part to this blog until my friends birthday, which is the 14th October. A really cool feature is that you can stagger the sending of the card so that it arrives on the persons actual birthday. It sounds simple, but it is something I hadn't really considered. That way you have to sit down and send it on the day....kind of like nipping to the shop when you forget your anniversary ;)

I click send. The browser loads. And its gone. Or rather its waiting to go. Kind of an anti-climax. No, 'well done' or pat on the back. Maybe the gratification comes when I get emailed back saying thankyou....possibly with a thank you E Card.

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Reply!

A very kind gentleman by the name of, T [My source on the inside] has replied to my email to Jacquie Lawson and sent me some interesting information about her website.

In his email he tells me that Jacquie's website has in fact been bought out by a big American company called American Greetings.

Thank you very much, T. I will now go over the data I here to see if we can figure out just how popular E Cards are. How often they are sent, who they are sent by and where they are sent the most is the kind of thing I have been aching to find out about E Cards, because without this information I don't even know my target audience.

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Update.

From analysis of the statistics, I have determined that the people visiting Jacquie's website are predominantly American females over 50 years of age! This confirms my original thoughts that it was most likely going to be women sending E Cards....as men generally don't even send real cards, but to find out that the majority of cards sent from this website have been women over 50 is very interesting. I always believe that the over 50 category were not that well acquainted with the internet and modern technology like personal computers, but these statistics prove that not only are they very aware, they have done something I have yet to do and actually sent E Cards to people. This is very interesting indeed.

Further analysis shows that these women are generally caucasian, earning between $0 - $30k a year, with no college education behind them. My initial reaction to these stats is one of shock. I cannot believe the age of the mass majority of senders. In no way am I suggesting that older people are less capable of using the internet to its potential, but these results are just the opposite of what I was expecting. Although, now I have seen these results I find they actually make quite a lot of sense. It would seem some of the 'normal' card trends have carried over into the world of E Cards quite easily. This demographic is one that I would associate with the consumption of the Greeting Card product and in retrospect I feel quite silly for not anticipating that it would be near the same in an online environment.

This should really help to decide my target audience, but I still have questions about whether you can indeed target a younger demographic and encourage them to send and recieve E Cards not only on special occasions, but also 'Just for Fun'.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Jacquie Lawson

Verbatim, this is the message I have just emailed to Jacquie Lawson, owner and founder of www.jacquielawson.com :

"Though I do not expect a reply as this is the 'No Reply Section', I was unable to locate another way of getting in touch with you after using the help section, so this is my 'last resort', as it were.

I am student at Bradford College in the UK doing a study into E Cards and was wondering if you could provide me with some information.

My study is looking into alternative methods of communication and if they have the potential to overtake or outlast some older methods of communication. I was wondering how popular E Cards are and if you could give me some rough figures on how many cards you sell monthly, quarterly and yearly? Obviously I don't require any personal information or statistics, just some figures to use in my work from somebody involved in the trade.

It would be a great help if you could provide me with this valuable information.

Thank you kindly,
Daniel Hill

P.s. I am an animator by trade and really, really enjoyed your work. It is very affectionate and personal and frequently made me laugh and smile as I went through the VAST amount of work you have put into this website. I will be sending quite a few birthday cards over the coming months and this will be my first stop!

"

I'm hoping to receive a reply from her soon so that I can get some first hand information from somebody who has worked in this field for a long time. I still don't understand how popular these cards are, but it would seem that this woman is making a living from them so they must be reasonably popular. This is from Jacquie's 'About Us' section verbatim:

"Jacquie originally trained as an illustrator at St. Martin's School of Art, and has over twenty years' experience of working freelance in many areas of drawing, painting and design, including architectural perspectives, book illustration, and cartoons.

In the Autumn of 2000 Jacquie created her first animated e-card - the "Christmas Cottage" e-card which is still available from these pages - and sent it to a few friends by e-mail. Over the subsequent weeks she was amazed to receive e-mails from hundreds of people all over the world who had received the e-card from friends.

During 2001 Jacquie drew a few more e-cards, and in November a simple website was created to show off her work and allow people to download the e-cards. In December the "Snowdog" e-card was added to the collection, and the website simply could not cope with the demand. A proper e-cards service was set up and launched in February 2002, and Jacquie has been spending all her available time making new cards for the site ever since.

Jacquie lives in a perfect English country cottage in the village of Lurgashall in West Sussex. The cottage you see in the first Christmas e-card is hers, and the village green in the "Snowdog" card is right outside her cottage. She is a regular at the Noah's Ark pub opposite!

"

Jacquie's website is fantastic and contains hundred of 'home-made' cards. My favorite thing about her cards is the way they seem so personal. They seem hand made for the user, like the sender has gone to effort to make the card as personal the receiver as possible and although they often have limited interactivity for the user, they have just enough to make you feel involved. Even if there wasn't any interactivity, the 'feel', art style and interesting events that take place within the smooth animation would be enough to satisfy even the most demanding of card receiver. I'm gonna take you through one of her cards now commenting and talking about the things I like and the things I would do differently.

Birthday Card: The Fairy Cake

http://www.jacquielawson.com/preview.asp?cont=1&hdn=0&pv=3128546

This card is fantastic for many reasons, but once again it's primarily because of Jacquie's artwork.

Again as with many of the E Cards I have come across so far you have to open the envelope and the card pops out. I like this idea and think it is something I will definitley be adding to my E Cards.

The card nips out of the envelope.

A fairy appears and starts making things appear. This is a nice touch, with a nice sparkly effect as the fairy moves around and makes thing appear. All of items that appear are hand painted and brought into the animation which is a really nice touch, but the fairy herself is animated in Flash. I personally think this works really, really well and the difference between the two mediums isn't as strikingly obvious or off putting as you might think.

There is even a bit of interactivity with the fairy as she says, "Something is missing"and considers what to do next.

So you click the fairy....

....and she tops of the cake with a candle just for that added affect. A nice touch that I really liked. Again this card feels really, really personal.

Just for that addition bit of 'flash', she sets the candle alight and the candle highlights the lighting effects in the room. I really like this card, if I was sent this card for my birthday I would be happy. The artwork is fantastic. The animation isn't anything spectacular but it isn't poorly worked leading to a result that is pleasing overall.

I think Jacquie really brings something original to the E Card market, because her cards are very personal and look like they have been made for her own family and then she has decided to share them with the world. If a time ever comes when people start designing their own E Cards to send to people, this is what you would get. I would love to let a young kid loose with their own E Card. We've all recieved those cards from kids, that end up stuck to the fridge with a scribble on it saying 'I love U mummy' and that would be a really awesome thing to see in the E Card world.

Deeper into the world of E Cards young Danny travelled and shocked was he to find...

I'm sticking with the research at the moment and enjoying discovering all these brilliant E Cards. There have been some really great ones and I have only shown a couple of my favorites so far, so to even it out I will point out why I don't like the following card:

http://www.care2.com/send/card/6539

This card sets out with good intention: getting people to vote. Now I'm not knocking the idea behind, rather the opposite - I think it is a brilliant idea. It also has a good sense of humour and manages to appeal to everybody....so really its not that it is a 'bad' card at all. The problem is that its just horribly constructed and as a graphic designer/animator you look out for well made pieces of work. This is not one of them and sadly a good sense of humour and good intention cannot hide the fact its all a wee bit slapped together. It also is rather disappointing in that it has zero interactivity included in the piece. You don't even choose to start it, so you would open the email in the office block and your speakers would pump out the ghastly soundtrack that comes with it and probably get you sacked - then you really wouldn't want to vote at all.

Let's indeed get ready to rumble....with this dull, poorly constructed piece of naffery...with good intentions.

Obama and McCain slide on from the sides of the screen and the classic robot boxing game influence immediately becomes apparent. Yes its fun and has a good sense of humor, but come on...it even has the cheesy rocky fight night music in the background.....all the way through. A nice addition is the campaign arguments appearing over their heads....the only problem with it is there have used the worse Army Boot Camp font and it just looks fugly. The cheese factors is only heightened with the ole' red, white and blue flag in the background with each persons head been on their own parties coloured body.

Whateva?!? Are you f***ing kidding me? This really is not a proffessional piece of work. At least spell the bleedin' thing right!

There is a 'scene transition' as the Oval Office slides into the background...a very clunky transition and it all seems a bit bleeeearghOMGBBQ?!! to be honest. The characters aren't cut out well or animated well and the whole thing is very pixelated.

Big American smiles all round with the much over used South Park realistic head animation and we arrive at the front of the message:

This is the only good part of the piece...the end and the point of the entire thing. No matter what you do, you won't forget to vote because you will always remember how crap this E Card you received was, which is perhaps what makes this piece of work so good. Because it is cheap, tacky, obtuse, flatulent, poorly constructed, bullish and has everything your average American will not only recognise but also thinks freedom and America is all about, it manages to become the single best piece of propaganda for the election. This can be sent to every office worker, facebooker, myspacer and spam every email address in America in less than an a half hour and required the budget of one Over-American with access to and limited knowledge of an animation tool.

So I haven't missed the point - I know why it looks like it does, what it has been made for and accept the fact that it really does hit its target demographic and hits them hard - but it still LOOKS like crap, even if it does serve its purpose. But I suppose with the election cost at nearly 80 million dollars, they couldn't really have afforded to hire a professional.