Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Canadian/French manual to cat whiskers and mouse ears: by Emily Philpot

You know the old saying, "I learned everything I need to know for life in Kindergarten." Well, that saying definitely applies to my new line of work. Coloring. Essentially, my new job abides by one key rule....stay within the lines!!!!

I was recently hired at a small animation company in L.A. My new job is in the ink and paint department where we color and edit hundreds and hundreds of frames for the animation department. My exact title at this company? Well, I waiver between calling myself an "inker" (not to be confused with stinker) an animation assitant, or a digital painter.

For those who follow my blog even occasionally may know thatI just graduated from college. Every new graduate knows that your first job is pretty important in setting the stage for your future career. Your salary history counter starts ticking, you break in your power heels and you learn to navigate the corporate world. For me...I stand armed with my colors and magic mouse (the Apple wireless mouse- not Mickey mouse or Mighty mouse or whatever mutant mouse would be magic...because that's just creepy) , ready to face "the man." Sure, I didn't picture starting out as an "ink and painter," but I never knew how fun this job could be.

What is my job like? First, you are assigned a scene that holds anywhere from three to 40 feet of frames. Each frame has to be colored individually. Just to explain - a frame is a picture of whatever cartoon is moving at the time. Each frame changes their postion slightly to give the idea of motion. Think of a flipbook. I have to color every page of that flipbook. Sounds easy enough.

Did I mention that I never really enjoyed coloring as a child? Coloring books were not as interesting as playing "house" outside. When I did color as a kid, I also never believed in finishing a page. The idea was to scribble enough color on the page to get the general idea and move on. Most of the drawings I did as a kid were....abstract and modern. Even if it was supposed to be a drawing of an elephant - it always looked like a painting someone did while high on crack (though in my case as a three year old, it was probably more like large amounts of sugary candy) and looked more like a grey wall of circles and dots with a florish of random blue lines zigging around the poor elephant's ears. Oh if I could only write a letter to me and warn little three year old me of the imporance of choosing colors and closing gaps.

My work is more difficult than just getting out crayons and "being inspired." The problem begins with the actual animation software. It's written by a Canadian/French company. Which means even if there was a manual (which of course there isn't) it would be in Canadian French. Better yet, even if this magical manual did indeed exist it would be like this...

::Pretend this next section is in snobby French:::

Oh yes, so to color your seemly simple sketch of a mouse(P.s. our company has created several cartoon characters that are mice) first you must stare at the screen for twenty minutes looking for impossibly invisible gaps between lines. We did this just to be snobby. Your life of precious minutes is not important to us. We invented the Canadian bacon (how we can turn pigs into Canadian citizens are beyond us...but still-we did it and you eat it) after all and are therefore better than you ::sniff::

We did not think that you should be able to just click on the section you want colored (say you want to color the mouse's jacket or shirt collar) a certain way. If even a molecule of space exists between separation will not be able to do anything. We created this program for the sole purpose of laughing at you. You are stupid. ::sniff::

Once you have closed the gap between separation lines, you will be allowed to color. But of course, you must click 1o different buttons hidden under buttons that have nothing to do with what you want to do. If you want to paint one of the lines that outline the character, you cannot just click "paint"- you have to click "repaint" even if you have never painted it before -you are repainting it because we said so and we are French. You can switch from the paint mode to the brush mode by holding down the "b" key...but don't even think to ask about a short key to switch back to paint...we didn't invent one- you have to manually find the "repaint" button on your own. If you are so lucky to figure out the process to get to the paint bucket and palette - you must now navigate through the true hell we have created for you - the invisible deleting button. ::sniff::

We tried to ease you into a sense of false security by creating false "short step keys" that should techinically trick you into thinking you can paint quickly and painlessly. However, we have hidden short keys that are also similar to your known short keys that actually delete frames - without telling you. What does this mean? You will think you are almost done with your project and will then learn that instead of using the "z" key to zoom in - the "z" key has been deleting frames silently (like a serial killer with a silencer). You now must color an additional 70 frames- once you can find them in the vortex of files of course. You must manually import each frame ONE BY ONE into your x-sheet. Because importing all of them at once would create a laziness that we do not want to support. (what is that? We are lazy for not creating a manual??? Need we remind you that we invented mustard??????) :::sniff::

Once you have successful manuvered through our program and colored the big sections of the picture of your cute zittle mouse (accent added for additional snobbery) your true talent (although we of course do not think you have any talent you idiot American inker who just graduated college) will be put to the true French test. You must perform the "self-color" lines drawing test. If you can do this we may permit you to eat a baguette as an award. However, do not become too proud in your do not speak French and will always be inferior to us. ::sniff::

To draw the self-color lines that outline the character, you must protect every color you have already used- or we will ruin everything you have already done. Yes, if you don't protect every color you have used we will override it and erase the last eight hours of your work. Oh and if you try to use the "z" key to undo the last step- we will punish you by once again deleting some frames. And of course not tell you. Oh and we will spell "color" like "colour" just to show you that your spelling is inferior to ours.

If you try to switch from paintbucket mode to the brush mode and then back again to paintbucket mode, we have commanded the program to flip out and do random things like delete frames, use your credit card, call the French police, and of course - delete frames. We would apologize for this inconvenience but...we are the French- and we don't apologize. ::sniff::

We have also commanded our software to condense the lines that were so clear in the orginal sketches to all intersect with no distinct direction. This will challenge your weak American minds to figure out the difference between the whiskers, nose, and facial components of your cute little mouse cartoon. You will have to manually disect every line and continually redo your work when you find that you have mistaken an eyebrow for an eyelid. This is what you get for being inferior to us. Phewy on you!! :sniff::

If you need a break from staring at the screen all day, we suggest you get a flight to Quebec- it is always nice here and perhaps we can educate you to the more sophisticated things- like French wigs, perfume and animation software. Because as everyone knows...the French are known for their superior computer skills (sarcasm added by this American blogger to protray her bitterness towards this quirky software).

However, just in case anyone from my office or management team reads this (or even anyone who is French) please know that I write this all in fun. While the software has bugs and as everyone calls it "quirks", the whole idea of coloring for a living has kinda grown on me. It's kinda fun to design characters that I know little kids will watch and giggle because they are so cute and michevious. While the animation software does have some logistical issues, it does cut the process by quite a bit if you think about what they had to do before computers. So to the French....please hire some nerds and work out the "quirks" and make our (the inkers) jobs a bit easier.

Now if you will excuse me...I have to go find some deleted frames.

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