Don Knotts

Don Knotts probably would have been fairly far down my list of comedians to reference for this blog, but his name suddenly appeared before me in the book The Ballad of Rango. David Shannon is a writer and illustrator of children’s books, and a friend of Gore Verbinski. He was one of the 3 people to initiate the idea for Rango. In the book he says,

“I’m a big fan of Don Knotts, and we pictured [our chameleon] as that kind of character”

So here is little Don Knotts to remind those of us who know him, and introduce him to those who don’t.

For most of my life I only knew Don Knotts from The Andy Griffith Show, and a few of his kiddy movies. A few years ago I watched “The Love God?” and found it extremely funny for it’s nod and wink to adult entertainment, which is contrary to most of Don’s work. Here is a terrific short review of the movie, which points out how great Knotts was at playing the frightened character.

If you would care to know a lot more about him, there is a seven part interview on youtube. Here is part 1.

Free Storyboarder software

I have an idea for a new animated short film, so of course, one of the first things I think about is creating the storyboard.  To storyboard my Floyd the Android shorts I used a very old version of Storyboard Pro.  I was feeling it was time to update my software, but Storyboard Pro is now much more expensive than the old educational version I was using.

As luck would have it, my Facebook friend John Nicholas Pozega, of PozegaToons, posted a link to a new, FREE, storyboarding software.  It’s called Storyboarder, and it comes from the production company Wonder Unit.

You will find the link to download the Storyboarder software here.

Storyboarder is available for Windows and Mac operating systems.  I was able to download, install and open it in a couple of minutes.  When you create a new project, it gives you the choice to open a script to work with or start a blank board.  I selected a blank board, and it offers 6 of the most common aspect ratios to work from and one joke.

It has a very simple interface that I was able to work with pretty quickly.

It has helpful pop up tool tips, and a selection of grids that can be toggled on and off.  For fun, it makes a scratchy pencil sound when you draw.

You can import drawn images. Apparently, you can use your phone camera to take a picture of an entire page of frames, import the image, and it will automatically split them up into individual images.

What seems to be the most powerful tool is its integration with Photoshop. You can send images to Photoshop, edit them, and when you save it, it goes back into Storyboarder.  That puts a lot of power from Photoshop into Storyboarder.

You can time out your board images by frames or milliseconds. Finished boards can be exported to .pdf or animated .gifs. You can also send it to Final Cut Pro or Premiere through a series of .png images and a .xml for those applications to assemble them.  There is no audio in Storyboarder, so you would need one of those programs to add it.

There are quite a few other features as well.  Visit the download page linked above to learn more.

What I can’t find is much about layers.  There are “clear layer” options, but other than that, no mention of it.  And other than the tool tips, I haven’t found much documentation to look at yet.  I did find some minor bugs, but I am definitely going to get out my Cintiq and give it a more serious try as soon as I can.

Give it a try!


Comic Trios the Freudian Way!

When creating a comic trio, you can either make them all very similar or each very different. Very similar trios are those groups of triplets, like Disney’s Huey, Dewey and Louie, or Hamish, Hubert and Harris from Pixar’s Brave.  Triplets have a fairly specific use in comedy, so it is more common to create trios from individuals who are themselves unique.

The reason for making them different is to develop conflict within their group dynamic. While trios are often engaged in conflict with out side forces, the comedy comes from how they relate to each other.  Most comic trios develop organically, but there is a formula you can consider for creating three contrasting personalities.

The best characters will reflect those traits we see in ourselves. How do you get three different characters who all seem similar to us in some way?  You make each one reflect something common to all humans.  The famed psychologist Sigmund Freud sorted out human personality into three components.  The Id, the Ego, and the Superego.  The theory is that everybody has these three sides to themselves, and together they make a whole.

The id is considered the most primitive of the three. It is like the child who hasn’t learned to wait to get what it wants. The character is impulsive, and often concerned with bodily desires. He or she can also be very emotional when meeting resistance. Often, this is the first, most easily recognized character.

The superego is the most thoughtful. It considers what is right and wrong. This is what is learned through society.

The ego tries to negotiate between the two others.

Here is a convenient graphic:

Sometimes the ego is the leader of the group, but they can simply be the protagonist with two very different buddies. They can also just be the nice, in between one that follows the others.

A good example from animation are the three main characters from the television show Futurama.  Bender the robot is easily identified as the id.  He’s boozy and loud, always looking for an easy way to get ahead of others.  Leela is the smartest of the three, she makes good choices.  Fry, the out of place human from the past is dim witted, but this is his story and the other two support him. He is the ego.

In the Powerpuff Girls, the superego is actually the leader, Blossom. The id is Buttercup, the feistiest of the three.  Bubbles, the fun loving one, is the ego.

While looking for examples of movie trios for this post I found these next images.

The original three Ghostbusters.  Bill Murray as the sloppy, skirt chasing Peter Venkman is the Id. Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis) is analytical and cool, he is the superego.  Ray Stantz (Dan Akroyd)is the one pushing the Ghostbusters business forward, he is the face of the group and works with the others as the ego.

Of course, the trios don’t have to be funny.  The three pictured above are easy to identify.  Gollum, the id, craves only the ring. Sam, the superego, only wants to take care of his friend Frodo.  Frodo, the ego, is the protagonist of the story and he must work with the others as he sees fit.

Once you understand the basic idea, it becomes easy to recognize who is who in most any trio.

The Lucky Character

The conventional screen writing books will tell you that bad luck can get a character into trouble, but good luck can never get him out. That’s cheating. The character has to devise the solution and make it happen.

But when Jack Sparrow sails into port on the top of the mast of a sinking ship, stepping onto the dock as gracefully as you please, luck has brought him in that way. While Jack is a skilled and clever fellow, luck serves him very well through all his adventures. He has charmed the gods.

Buster Keaton’s character was also a lucky guy. When, in Steamboat Bill Jr., the house wall gets blown down on top of him, and he fits neatly through the window, it was pure chance that saved him.

What brought me to think of this was my re-watching of the original cut of The Thief and the Cobbler. Way back in the day, I had the chance to see the original cut of the film. I remember being blown away, especially by the war machine sequence of the climax. I just got around to watching the entire “recobbled cut” on youtube.

As I watched it seemed to me that the cobbler is very much a Charlie Chaplin style character. while the thief is Buster Keaton. In particular, his Keatonesque act is apparent during the war machine sequence of the climax. It is a must see sequence for anyone in animation. It is absolutely spectacular, and NOT included on the horrible “Arabian Knights” video that was made from the parts.

His goal is to steal the three golden balls that are perched at the top of a massive war machine commanded by the evil “One Eye”. The Cobbler shoots a tack, which starts a chain reaction that destroys the preposterously huge war machine. As this world is exploding around him, the Thief manages to avoid obliteration many times over. He casually walks and flies through the conflagration of falling elephants, waves of arrows, and giant spiked balls. It is Buster Keaton on acid.

Here are the two vids that contain the part I’m talking of, but if you haven’t watched the whole thing, start from part 1 and make it full screen.

Initiation gags

It’s good for animators to know about topics of comedy that aren’t in fashion, because they are ripe to be rediscovered, and refreshed for new audiences.  Let’s take a look at the world of fraternal orders. 

For those who don’t know, fraternal orders were/are men’s clubs, where guys could get away from home and act like “real men” for a while.   According to movies and cartoons acting like real men involved wearing funny hats, drinking lots of alcohol, making sacred pledges, using secret handshakes, and going to conventions to do the same things with brothers from other lodges.  It’s full of opportunities for men to make themselves look foolish.  The story lines in these old shows are often  built around the wives disapproval of the men attending the conventions. It’s been done by Laurel and Hardy, The Honeymooners, The Three Stooges, The Little Rascals, The Flintstones and many more.  HERE is a list of famous fictional fraternities.

It is a big subject, so I am going to focus on the initiation ceremonies involved in joining these clubs. There are still initiations and hazing in pledging to fraternities and sports teams on campus.  Sometimes we hear about them in the newspapers when the stunts go horribly wrong.

Making fun of Initiation rituals is part of the tradition of mocking serious things. Fraternal orders, while often good natured, are famous for having very solemn behavior during the ceremonies. To goof on it, you must push it as far as you can.

Here are a few animated examples.  While this sort of comedy is less common, 2 of these are from shows that are still on the air.  First, The Simpsons had The Stonecutters lodge:

In the Fleischer cartoon, Bimbo’s Initiation, Bimbo seems to be kidnapped to join a secret society.

Spongebob had an episode dedicated to the concept of lodge initiations.

Back in the hey day of fraternal orders, an entire business grew from supplying these clubs with costumes, props, and bizarre devices for running meetings and initiating the new members.  Many of these involved electric shocks, firecrackers, and the whacking of butts.  Great grandpa and his pals sure had a weird sense of humor.  Check out some of these pages from the Demoulin Brothers catalog.   As scary as they look, they could inspire some physical comedy.

I swear this next one looks like water boarding.

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