CAP 101 - Concept & Character Development

Lesson 7 - Inking, Scanning, and Tablets


This lesson discusses using ink to finalize drawings, scanning your drawings, and using tablets to make electronic drawings. It also provides some instructions for using Flash. Objectives important to this lesson:

  1. Using a scanner
  2. Using a digital tablet
  3. Scanner settings
  4. Importing files into Flash
  5. Drawing tools in Flash
  6. Gradients
  7. Onion Skin option

In chapter seven, The Art of Flash Animation begins with more of Mr. Smith's anecdotes about his life as an artist, this time leading up to his recommendation that it is much better to create your drawings with a digital tablet than to draw them by hand and scan them into digital form. He also allows that this is not practical for some users, so he discusses both techniques.

We have already looked at drawing techniques that can be applied to using a tablet as well as to using a pencil. If you continue to use a pencil, you will need to scan your drawings to get them into electronic form. Mr. Smith recommends drawing in blue pencil that will not scan, and finishing the drawing with ink. He discusses using a good quality pen, and or using a brush and a bottle of ink. In either case, he still prefers that the aspiring artist follow his advice to invest in a tablet.

Some advice about scanning drawings is offered:

  • Scan in black-and-white or line art mode. This avoids some of the gray smudges that may still be on your drawing. The goal is to get clean solid lines for your animation.
  • Scanner software often lets you choose to scan at specific numbers of dots per inch (dpi). If you are scanning for a web animation, don't bother scanning at higher than 72 dpi. (This can have an exception: you want higher resolution for a web presentation if you are going for high definition.)

The chapter moves on to discussing Flash. Mr. Smith recommends using 720 by 480 as a default resolution for your files. He reminds us that we should also set a frame rate, which is dependent on whether we are shooting on ones, twos, or threes. His discussion gives the advice that you can set your favorite resolution and frame rate as defaults.

Shooting on... Film Video
Ones (each frame once) 24 frames per second (for NTSC) 30 frames per second
Twos (each frame twice) 12 frames per second 15 frames per second
Threes (each frame three times) 8 frames per second 10 frames per second

In the last lesson we learned about importing a file to the stage and to the library. Think of the library as a file area for quick access to files you may need again. When you import a file, it is typically a raster file. In Flash, we want the files to be vector files. Confusingly, Mr. Smith (and Flash) also refer to raster files as bitmap files. This designation includes actual bmp files, as well as gif files, jpg files, and any other type that is not a raster image. Mr. Smith offers a technique to convert such a file to a vector image:

  1. Import the original file.
  2. From the Modify menu, choose Bitmap, Trace Bitmap.
    1. On the settings dialog that appears, he recommends leaving Color threshold and Minimum area at the default settings.
    2. If you are working for the web, try setting Curve fit to Smooth. For more detail, set it to Normal.
    3. Examine the example of three settings for Corner threshold on page 252. Choose your setting for this parameter based on the level of detail you want to keep in the new image.

The discussion of the Paintbucket tool reveals an unexpected feature. In most programs this tool will fill areas you don't mean to fill, if you have not closed all your shapes. Ideally, you should close gaps in your shapes with the Paintbrush tool. In Flash, you can get away with not closing them all by using one of the Close Gaps settings on page 256. This link will take you to another discussion of this and other tools in Flash.

In the Captain Obnoxious box on page 257, there is an interesting insight. Mr. Smith has been working on making a drawing of a lion into a vector image. He reveals that his idea of scanning at 72 dpi does not always work. In fact, he started scanning this image at 75 dpi, and finished by scanning it at 150 dpi. So, the best setting for a given drawing may not be the same setting you used for another drawing.

In his discussion of the Paintbrush tool, Mr. Smith discusses using different levels of physical pressure on your stylus when drawing on a tablet. We will work with this in class, with the Wacom Bamboo tablets. General rule: the harder you press, the wider the line you will make. (Do not press so hard that you damage the tablet!)

An odd related issue is illustrated on page 261. Mr. Smith is discussing brush size, a feature common to all art programs. His illustration shows something unexpected. He drew a line, zoomed in, drew another line, zoomed in again, and drew a third line. Upon zooming back out, his second line looks thinner than the first, and his third line looks thinner than the second. In other art programs I have used, your brush size is set as a number of pixels, not a size relative to your zoom level in the scene. You will want to experiment with this in class.

Each object on the stage in Flash can be selected. It can also be manipulated. Mr. Smith suggests selecting an object, then right-clicking it to get a context sensitive menu. On the menu, choose Free Transform, which will let you rotate, resize, and modify the object.

Several pages are used to describe different modes for the Paintbrush tool. The text defines the differences between brush modes.

  • Paint Normal mode keeps objects separate from each other, and lets you move them in the scene even if they overlap.
  • Paint Fills mode flattens the scene. If an object is overlapped in Paint Fills mode, the part that is overlapped is lost. This is illustrated with the picture of a lamppost on page 264. Mr. Smith drew a lamppost. Then he drew squiggles on it. Then he selected and moved the squiggles. The area on the lamppost where the squiggles were shows squiggle shaped cutouts with the background color peeking through them. In the course of this example, Mr. Smith also reveals that dragging an object will move it, but Alt-dragging the object will copy it.
  • Paint behind - applies new brush strokes behind the other objects on the screen, as though the new brush strokes were in a layer under the other objects.
  • Paint selection - applies new brush strokes only to objects that are selected
  • Paint inside - applies new brush strokes to only to the color you start painting on. Assume you have painted an object in two colors. You pick a new color and choose Paint inside. You start to paint in areas of the first color. Your strokes will not stick to the second color, only to the first one.

Mr. Smith turns to the Pencil tool, explaining that it is useful when you want to retain the same line thickness after enlarging an object. Lines made with the Paintbrush tool will get thicker when objects are enlarged.

The Pencil tool has modes as well:

  • straighten - makes your lines more vertical, horizontal, or diagonal; allows less jerkiness in your pencil strokes
  • smooth - allows your lines to have curves in them
  • ink - allows you to do more detail work, but also allows you to make errors the other modes leave out
  • stroke modes - this is a separate setting that sets a solid, dotted, thick, or thin line

Mr. Smith reveals that Flash also has a toggle to treat your drawings as objects or as lines. Turning on the Object mode will allow you to select objects as described above. Turning it off will make the lines you draw just lines, and you may not be able to select an entire object on the screen. In general, you will want Object mode turned on.

Mr. Smith returns to the Paintbucket tool to discuss Gradient fills. As he explains, a gradient is a transition from one color to another. The button below, for example, is filled with a linear gradient that changes from orange on the left side to purple on the right side. The text also describes a radial gradient, one that changes from the center of an object to the outside edge of it.

There are more gradient types, and you can use custom colors in them, not just the colors in the standard palette. You should try a few of the variations listed in the text.

The next Flash feature described in the text is the Onion Skin option. Onionskin has long been a generic term for tracing paper. As shown in the link above, this technique has been used in traditional animation to remind an artist what was in the last frame while the next frame is being drawn.

In the same way, the Flash Onion Skin option (on the Timeline toolbar) lets you see the image from the last frame (faintly) while you are drawing the next frame. Of course, you do not want to simply copy the last frame, you want to make a new drawing showing the next position of the character. You can change the number of visible frames in Onion Skin mode, and you can choose to Edit Multiple Frames. So we see that animation frames are like ogres: they have layers.

Mr. Smith also discusses a cartooning technique used in most Hanna-Barbera cartoons. Most of their animal characters are drawn with minimal clothing that actually serves an animation purpose. A collar of any sort makes it easier to animate a character's head without having to animate the body. A collar or necklace hides the fact that you are cheating when you choose not to animate the character's neck. In fact, you may not see a neck at all. Even when there is no collar, characters can be drawn so that an arm or a shoulder obscures the neck, giving us the opportunity to animate body sections separately (or not). This technique is described at the Wikipedia site in an article on the Hanna-Barbera studio. Apparently, their reliance on dialog and minimal animation in some shows led to their work being described as "illustrated radio". (Where have we heard that phrase before?) In their defense, Hanna and Barbera did not use this technique on every shot. They worked on many Tom and Jerry features for MGM, and those characters typically show lots of body movement and no collars. It is common, however, on their Saturday morning work for their own studio.

Is it a bad technique? Mr. Smith doesn't think so. He walks through a setup for this technique starting on page 285. He continues the lesson in minimal animation, showing how to copy from one frame to another, and changing the portions of the character that he wants to animate.

Assignment 13: We should now have the Wacom tablets installed in the classroom. Work through the examples in the chapter, noting any differences between the version of the program the author used and the version we have in the classroom. Try drawing in Flash and work up to his animation example at the end of the chapter. Use the techniques from the chapter to improve the storyboard assigned in Assignment 12.