Action Sakuga 作画 MAD – Editing Notes –

I finally finished the Action アクション Sakuga 作画 MAD. It was a bit of a nightmare to make in places. But overall I’m very happy with it. I made this video to celebrate getting 100,000 subscribers on my YouTube channel. In this article I’ll talk about how I put it together and how make my videos in general.

I’d been planning this MAD since early last year. I’m always collecting clips for video I want to make in future. I go through Sakugabooru/Twitter regularly (daily if I can) and watch all the new clips. I download clips I like and catalogue them with Adobe Bridge on my PC to make them easy to search. For example, I add info like where I found the clip, who the animator was, tags, a description of what happens in the clip, so I can find them easily in a search. I start editing a video once I’ve found the right songs for them.

My Adobe Bridge set up, Metadata I’ve written to the file is on the right

I started making individual videos for 2nd Hand to Hand Fighting and Swordplay Sakuga MADs last year. But I didn’t feel like I had enough clips to justify making whole videos about those topics. I’ve preferred to make longer MADs for a while now. I didn’t feel like it’d be right to upload a 3 or 4 minute MAD if my uploads are usually ~20 minutes.

I thought if I made an Action MAD I could put in Hand to Hand Fighting/Swordplay/Gunplay, but also put in action clips that don’t fit neatly into those categories. I have tonnes of those less specific action clips in my collection so thought it’d be a good chance to use them.

I had an idea of what kinds of songs I would use for the middle 3 MADs. The songs follow the same theme as the 1st MAD in their series. Both Hand to Hand MADs use Cowboy Bebop music, both Gunplay MADs use brass heavy jazz fusion and both Swordplay MADs use songs by Nujabes. So there’s a connection between them.

I find a lot of music I listen to through Spotify’s Discovery playlists. But I also browse Soundcloud and get reccommendations from friends/family/places like Anthony Fantano videos

The first time I heard Sign by Roosevelt I knew i really wanted to edit to it. It feels really nostalgic and atmospheric but I also love that it gets intense as it goes on. I thought it could work well as an ending song in one of my MADs because it has that “end credits of a movie” kind of feel at the beginning (before it gets more dance hall). I was originally going to use it for the last part of a Fire MAD, but thought it worked better here.

I wanted something Future Funk for the 1st song since that’s what I’ve been usually doing. I like editing to Future Funk. Something Plastic Love related if I could. That way it would be kind of a reference to the Effect Sakuga MAD, which is a similar kind of MAD that uses a song that samples Plastic Love. Plastic Love is also the default Future Funk sample so I thought it would be appropriate for a general action MAD.

I looked through tonnes of playlists, listened to 100s of Future Funk songs but couldn’t find what I was after. So I basically said fuck it and just used a remix of Plastic Love. Tara’s bootleg of Plastic Love wasn’t as fast or long as I wanted it to be. But I liked the mix so I spent a few weeks audio editing to get a version of the song I liked. I think the end result sounds a bit muddy because of all the post processing the song’s been through. I paid a music producer to clean it up, but there wasn’t much he could do. In the end I went with the version I originally made. I enjoyed editing to it. I wish it sounded a bit cleaner and I might redo it sometime in future. But I think it works well in the video.

I pitch shifted and sped up the remix in Audacity then edited and EQ’d it in Adobe Premiere. I used Adobe Audition to test out different EQ settings.

The video editing took about 2 months. I worked with a little over 1000 clips. The intermissions were an idea that kind of came from my last video, the Liquid 液体 Sakuga 作画 MAD. I included some audio from an Utena episode in the MAD since I liked the sound design a lot. I thought it could be cool to make more intermissions like this between sections. It’s a way I could include more nice animation that didn’t fit neatly into the AMV parts. The SFX from the intermissions are from SoundSnap.

It’s hard to describe my editing process but I try to make it feel like the clips are flowing into each other. I try to have a balance between editing songs to the beat, letting them play out to see the animation and keeping the pacing and energy appropriate. There’s a lot of experimenting to see what feels right. I made around 20 different verisions of the opening for example.

I write down ideas I have for how I could edit parts of the video in notepads and test the ideas out. I usually create key sections that I really like first and edit around those. For example I knew I wanted to have the first beat drop in Plastic Love end with a close up of a character’s eye, so I edited around that. It’s then a matter of constantly rewatching the video to see what feels good or what needs work, taking notes, moving things forward and back a few frames, trying out different parts of a clip, watching my library of clips again and searching for new clips as I edit.

I really wanted to have sparks of lightning flying towards the screen after the Star Driver The Movie fight scene since I thought that would be a good follow up. I didn’t have a clip like that initially so I searched the lightning and sparks tags in Sakugabooru until I found the To Be Heroine clip that I thought worked well. I ended up using that in the final edit.

After I finished the semi-final edit it took about a week to replace the 480p Sakugabooru clips with Blu-Ray quality footage. There were 228 clips I had to replace with HQ versions.

I use WPS Office, a free Word Proccessing suite, to keep track of whether or not I’ve replaced HQ footage

Sometimes the timing of the animation in the Sakugabooru clip is different to the timing in the HQ clip. There’s some problem solving to be done when trying to fix that. If the new timing doesn’t feel right I ocassionally change the timing of the HQ clip to match the timing of the Sakugabooru clip. But more often I’ll screenshot the final or beggining frame of a clip and extend it to fill any blank spaces in the timeline left by the timing difference.

I very rarely, almost never, change the playback rate (the speed) of a clip of animation to make it fit. I’d much rather do anything else as changing the playback rate messes with with the integrity of the animation. None of the clips in the Action Sakuga MAD have had their playback speed changed.

Referencing and subtitling for the MAD took about 3-4 days. When I download clips from Sakugabooru I change the name of the file to the video ID. That way all I have to do is copy the name of the clip into the Sakugabooru URL to find the source information. I wrote subtitles using the subtitle feature in Adobe Premiere. You can add text formatting like italics in there as well. To align the subitles to the bottom left of the video and export it in a format that YouTube will recognise the formatting in (the EBU STL format is best for keeping the formatting) I used the open source program Subtitle Edit.

I write the Reference List at the same time as the subtitles so I can see the timing of the cuts

I had the idea to create a document that would let people know where they could watch the sources I used in the video since I get asked that a lot. I thought it would be nice to do in celebration of getting 100,000 subcribers. So I made the Action Sakuga MAD Companion Book in Adobe InDesign over about a week and a half. I basically had a look at some templates to get some ideas and adopted/altered design elements I liked.

My main gripe with the video is the audio quality of the first song. I didn’t see problems with it when I was editing. But by the time I finished editing the video side of things I heard its muddieness in places. It’s artifacts of compression. It was too late to redo when I heard the muddieness as I lost the project files for the song. I was able to EQ it to make parts of it pop out more at least. I think it works well, but I’ll focus on reducing audio quality loss in future videos.

I rendered roughly 32 final edits, the edit on YouTube is the 32-34th version I rendered.

I hope you enjoyed the article and the MAD. Let me know in the comments if you have any questions about my editing process.

Shorts #2: Different Styles of Character Acting

I just finished reading the Illusion of Life- the book about animation by Disney animators Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston. Like you might expect, there’s a lot of talk in it about the difficulty of animation. Even basic actions like how a character should walk are time consuming to develop- sometimes taking months of research. When a difficult kind of animation is mentioned, the authors like to bring up less labour intensive ways to achieve the same effect. There’s even a splash page dedicated to time and cost saving measures.

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Click here to view in higher res

It reminded me of why anime has little chance of feeling the same as Disney’s animation. There’s so much detail in Disney’s character acting. There’s 3-Dimensionality in the figures; convincing portrayals of weight; creative ways of showing emotion; attention paid to the timing of expressions so they transition into each other smoothly; secondary action in the clothing; smart staging; lip syncing- the list goes on.

This isn’t to say Disney is the best at character acting. But, given how quickly anime has to be produced, it feels like there’s no way that the detailed character movements seen in Disney’s works can be replicated in anime.

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Key Animator: John Pomeroy

There have been anime that have tried to replicate Disney-like character acting like Little Witch Academia or FLCL. And high budget anime movies like Metropolis can afford to have more attention paid to each shot. But their approach to animation is completely different. Metropolis, for example, looks beautiful, but this is mainly due to the designs and effects animation rather than the character acting.

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Key Animator: Manabu Oohashi

The effects and camera work in these shots from Metropolis are more focal than the character animation.

But I think Japan is good at getting across complicated ideas in simple forms. There’s just something about expression in anime that isn’t found much in Western works. Mark Henn’s (?) animation of Simba in these shots is impressive. There’s a strong sense of weight, especially in Mufasa’s limp body; smooth follow through animation in Simba’s tuft of hair and ears; convincing animal movement; and thoughtful secondary actions (notice how Simba’s tail, ears and stance shift to emphasise his emotions).

But these shots from Grave of the Fireflies are more visceral in my opinion. I feel the emotion they’re trying to get across more strongly. I think the animator was able to put more emotion in less frames here.

I think it might be because there’s so little else going on in the Grave of the Fireflies shot. The staging, background and animation itself are minimal, only there to frame the acting. That single action of Setsuko turning away from the camera is simple, but says a lot. The Lion King shot might be more technically impressive, but I think all the movement distracts from the emotion a bit. Emotions might be more strongly felt with less movement.

Of course, you could argue that Simba running around, looking for someone to help, works because it’s in line with his innocent character. On the other hand, maybe the Grave of the Fireflies shot isn’t as sad if you don’t know the context. But either way, I think the approaches to the acting in both shots are effective for different reasons.

This is also speaking super broadly. There’s examples of simple character acting in Disney’s works and complicated character acting in anime. But in my experience this generally holds true.

Not all character acting is dramatic either. Character acting can be used to bring across personality or comedy like in shots like these. But even in these cuts, I think that there’s a focus on simple movements in anime shots and complicated actions in Western ones.

There’s also something wrong with acting like the only kind of Western animation that matters comes from Disney. I think articles like this one kind of advance the narrative that Disney has the monopoly on animation in the West and they undersell the importance of people like Tissa David, Rod Scribner or Bill Littlejohn- who developed styles of animation independantly of Disney. But I think it’s interesting to compare the effects these different approaches to character acting have. I’d like to talk more about lesser known animators in the future.

The next short article I post will be about excerpts from The Illusion of Life.

Shorts #1: Thoughts About Flash Tweening

There’s a recent trend in animation of using flash based programs to create inbetweens. In other words, programs like Adobe Flash are being used to automatically generate frames that go inbetween key frames. They can digitally squash, stretch and move parts of the shot to avoid having to make more animation drawings.

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Key Animator: Kiyotaka Oshiyama

A shot from Devilman Crybaby that uses Flash Inbetweening. Original key frames are shown in the upper left. It seems like flash tweening can be done in different ways but works like this one convert the original pencil sketches into digital vector lines so the camera pans smoothly.

Flash tweening seems to be becoming more popular. It can be seen in anything from Masaaki Yuasa’s recent works all the way to shows like Bob’s Burgers. It’s a great time and cost saving tool as inbetweens can be tedious and costly to draw. It’s also controversial in some animation circles as some see it as a way of doing less work.

But a few thoughts on that. Reading the Illusion of Life, it’s clear that a lot of Disney animation techniques came about as a way of making things easier. Walk cycles were created to make easily repeatable movements. From 101 Dalmatians onward only black outlines were drawn on characters (as opposed to the many different outline colours that were used in the past) so they could be xeroxed and therefore inked more easily. Budget saving tricks can be used to produce something artistic.

There’s definitely a particular feel to flash tweened animation. It feels buttery smooth and CGI-like. But I can’t say I think this is better or worse than what traditional inbetweening gives us- it’s just different.

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Key Animator: Shinya Ohira

A shot from Lu Over the Wall that uses flash tweening.

There’s something controlled about traditional inbetweening that makes me prefer how it feels. But I think this is just my taste. As more animated works use flash tweening it’ll stop standing out as much. Like how digital compositing slowly overtook the old process of cel photography.

But I don’t think traditional inbetweening is going anywhere in the near future. There’s too many purists in the animation industry for that to happen. I think flash tweening does give us an insight into what the future of animation could look like though.

Question:

I wonder how hard is it to make inbetweens using flash?

Weekly Post #3- Interesting Animation Techniques

Part #3 of a 5 part blog series, uploaded once a week, where I:

  • Share 3 Songs
  • Write a short article about animation
  • Ask 3 questions
  • Share 5 images
  • Share 5 sakuga clips

So, the bi-daily blog post idea didn’t work out. Other work caught up with me and I realised that writing a post every 2 days isn’t realistic for me just now. Part of the reason I started these regular posts was to get a feel of what I’m able to do on this blog so I’ve decided to make this series come out once a week instead of every two days.

This week’s post is a bit shorter, it’s mostly an add-on to the last article. I’d only planned to write a couple hundred words for these and the last one I did was 3000 so I have to tone it down a bit.

But either way enjoy, and hopefully the extra song, images and clips will make up for a shorter article.

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How to Make a Sakuga MAD

last pLast updated 16/06/2020

Sakuga MADs are animation highlight reels, made to collect, celebrate and appreciate the work of animators. There can also be craft put into the making of these MADs themselves as they can give the viewer a way to experience animation they may have seen many times before in a new light. Good MADs highlight the effort that goes into animation and can make you look at a body of work in a different light.

I thought it could be interesting to talk about how I make my videos, some editing techniques that are common in Sakuga MADs and what, I think, makes a good Sakuga MAD.

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Your Name Analysis

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Last Updated 16/06/2020

 

“Good animators can make a good story a knockout. There is not much that the best animators can do with bad stories”- Walt Disney

Anime has the potential to give us unique experiences. Japan’s animation industry is filled with culture and perspectives that are missing from Western films. However, this culture is too often used as fancy dress on familiar archetypes. Many popular anime tropes simply show or sometimes celebrate ugly sides of human nature as opposed to exploring them. This is part of what makes anime directors like Hayao Miyazaki or Mamoru Hosoda good. Their films are full of rich meaning and they often subvert and scrutinise harmful anime tropes. This context makes Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name disappointing. Shinkai’s film is technically excellent but severely lacking in meaning and humanity. Pretty visuals are its key focus and are meant to distract from its hollowness. It’s not an awful film, but it’s not a very good one.

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Animators Then & Now: James Baxter

This is the first of a series of blog posts I plan to do where I’ll give an overview of an animator’s career, highlight what they’re most famous for and say what they’re doing today.

Today’s post is about James Baxter. Baxter is a British animator who did his most well known work at Disney in the 90s (1). The first credit he has as an animator is on Who Framed Roger Rabbit. He animated Roger, Jessica Rabbit and the Weasels in some shots (1). His animation style is soft and rounded with complex physics. He complemented and helped set Disney’s softer animation style in the 90s.

A compilation of animation by James Baxter.

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Neon Genesis Evangelion On-Air vs. Director’s Cut Comparisons

Last Updated 16/06/2020

Note: These videos have been taken down for copyright reasons, I’m keeping this post up for posterity. If you want to these videos send me a message through the contact me page.

Old Post:

A playlist of comparison videos that show the differences between the original on-air and director’s cut versions of Episodes 21-23 of Neon Genesis Evangelion.

Continue reading “Neon Genesis Evangelion On-Air vs. Director’s Cut Comparisons”