A brief history of my animations

   
   

A lot of the recent content on this site has focused on old cartoons that I made in Flash, but what many of you don't know is that I actually started animating with an ancient program called Deluxe Paint Animation. With this in mind, I've decided it's about time to shed some light on how my 'journey' as an animator began, and where the inspiration for a lot of my current cartoons came from. In order to do this, let's go back to the early 90s, when I was just learning to use...

Let's begin with a little history - a program called Deluxe Paint (DP) was created for the Commodore Amiga way back in late 1985. The program reached 'killer app' status on the Amiga, so EA (yes, that EA) were commissioned to publish new versions of it on different systems, one of which was the home computer. In 1989 and with the assistance of a man named Brent Iverson, EA published a version of DP with additional animation features - it was called Deluxe Paint Animation, and it was and still is totally awesome.

I can't actually recall who it was in my family who purchased DPA (I can just remember the box sitting about in a cupboard somewhere) but what I know for sure is that it was my brothers Ollie and Matthew who got me into animating. Whether this was directly or indirectly I'm unsure, but I remember seeing animations they'd both made (an excellent re-creation of a scene in Terminator 2 by Matthew sticks to mind) and thinking 'I want to be able to do that'. Fortunately for me, being able to draw is something that runs through my family so I at least had a good start. However, being seven years old and not being able to piece a convincing story together meant the majority of my original animations were, how shall we put it, a little lacking.

The above is a scene from Mr Vick goes for a Walk in the Woods , which as far as I can remember was the first cartoon I ever created. The plot makes no sense (we have a few scenes showing how filthy Mr Vick's house is, and then it cuts to Mr Vick walking in a wood and ends) and the drawing is appauling, but hey, I wasn't even ten yet!

Following Mr Vick I made at least seven sequels, although all of these have been sadly lost and I can't remember what happened in them. While I'm sure they were equally as bad as the first, it's nice to think I started by animating a series with an original character and an original story. Why do mention this? Because after the Mr Vick series and a few random cartoons, I turned into a teenager and started creating the very source of evil in the Internet cartoon community. That's right - I watched Xiao Xiao 3 and started making stickman animations.

Wow, look at that background! I can be forgiven though, as every animator makes a cartoon about stickmen fighting each other, right?

Alright, maybe they make two.

Or three.

Or A BILLION VERSIONS OF THE SAME CARTOON.

Eurgh, I apologise. Seriously, I have no idea what I was thinking at this point - all the other cartoons I'd made in DPA had either been original ideas or comical parodies, so for me to start copying cartoons I'd seen elsewhere and basically make the same animation over and over again is just unforgivable. Unfortunately, at about the same time The Matrix came along and I became obsessed with it, so much so that I made...

Just looking at this actually hurts me a little inside, but I suppose this is technically my first-ever movie parody and thus it led the way for the two Matrix spoof movies and without those we wouldn't have had the far, far better Kung Spoon series. Still, at this point I'd entirely failed to grasp the concept of the words 'spoof' and 'parody' - this cartoon was basically me trying to re-create the lobby scene in The Matrix but without any comedy or animatic flair. In other words, it was awful.

I think I was in Year 11 when I started getting things back on track. Having ditched both stickman and parody animations, I started making a cartoon that showcased some of the parties and gatherings I'd been to at the time. I think this is when I really started to understand how to base a cartoon or film around spoofing things I'd seen, for example instead of attempting to replicate everything I was starting to just show the really funny stuff or to exaggerate things for entertainment purposes. It is quite possible that without the cartoon 'Some Stuff I Remember from the Last Couple of Months' I never would have had any idea how to approach a series like The Mumblerhood, which is effectively a very long parody of real-life.

It was also around this time that I started to flesh-out cartoons with proper backgrounds, details and better character animation. As you can see above I was unfortunately still drawing characters with detailed heads but stickman bodies, and this style stuck until I moved to Flash (more on this later). Still, it could be worse - I gave DPA to Dave Newman (a good friend and one of the guys in The Mumblerhood) and he ended up making an exceptionally crude cartoon that includes a woman getting run over by a bearded man in a tractor. See below!

This wasn't the only cartoon Dave made with DPA, as him and I joined forces to create a two-part series focusing on a guy from school that Dave thought was a complete moron. We ended up calling the series Saving Private Woody (don't ask) and while the animation was as crude as you'd expect a cartoon made by two 15-year olds to be, it showcased a surprisingly high level of detail, frame-by-frame animation, and a decent attempt at a story. If the 'Some Stuff I Remember from the Last Couple of Months' cartoon taught me how to do a proper parody, then the Woody series taught me how to base a cartoon around real people - again, this was all clearly leading up to The Mumblerhood.

By this point it was around 2002 and I was becoming slowly aware that all the cartoons I'd seen on the Internet were made in a program called Flash. I had no idea how the program worked and having used DPA for so long I was extremely reluctant to find out, but when my brother Ollie gave me a copy of Flash 5 I decided to have a look. I initially didn't like the interface and had no idea what I was doing (I'll elaborate on this later), so I decided to stick to DPA. Unfortunately I soon realised I had no realistic way of converting DPA animations into a format that would let people watch my cartoons online, so after struggling on and making a few final cartoons, I gave in and decided to see what all the fuss was about.

As I touched on a earlier, switching to Flash was not easy for me - I found the interface extremely complicated (especially given how basic DPA's one is) and I just couldn't grasp features like 'layers' and 'onion-skin'. It was also frustrating going from an animating program that I'd been taught by my brothers and had learnt to use over many years, to a program that I would effectively have to teach myself.

However, after going to DPA for a while and realising how I couldn't keep using such an old program, I bit the bullet and decided it was Flash or nothing. This is easily one of the smartest decisions I've ever made, for several reasons - first and foremost, comparing the features in Flash to the ones in DPA is like comparing a royal banquet to beans on toast. There are just so many things in Flash that DPA doesn't have, like sound incorporation, layers, the onion-skin tool, vector-based graphics (no more pixels!), the ability to import photos and videos, and much more. Another thing that makes Flash so great is that it's the Internet standard for animation, so everyone can watch Flash animations very easily. This was obviously an extremely appealing benefit to me, as I'd been making cartoons in DPA for years and it's exceptionally hard to convert them into a format that everyone can watch.

I can distinctly remember the first cartoon I ever made in Flash, and it wasn't very good. Having been given the program by my brother Ollie, I was eager to show him something made in it and he was interested to see if I could actually use it after using DPA for so long. With no idea how to make a cartoon in Flash beyond knowing how to play an animation and how to go forward a frame, I made an exceptionally awful cartoon showing two stickmen walking about. However, Ollie thought it was great that I'd picked up Flash so quickly and for me this was a big confidence boost. Afterall, it was my brothers that introduced me to DPA and showed me how to use it, so for me to learn Flash by myself and then impress my brothers with stuff I'd made with it was like a reversal of how I got into animating in the first place.

After this, I started to learn the program in more detail and became more confident with adding sound effects, which was something that was still alien to me. I was still learning (and in many ways I still am) by 2004 but I'd grown tired of making random animations purely for the sake of helping me learn Flash, so I decided to make my first 'proper' cartoon in the program. What I made shows Flash at its absolute most basic, but it had sound, music and a proper story, so for those reasons The Andy Animation is something of a landmark.

I remember how proud I was at the time with The Andy Animation, perhaps because I found it hilarious when I made it or perhaps simply because it used new and exciting features like music that I'd never been able to put in a cartoon before. Whatever the reason, I started to realise that I had the potential to use Flash to make some great cartoons, and in 2004 everything I'd learnt before suddenly came to head. What caused this? This:

Bonus Stage is a cartoon with a premise that might just sound a little familar - it's about two friends who live in a house and go on many wacky adventures together, and they're often joined on these adventures by other people who live on their street. I was introduced to the cartoon by my friend Dave in 2004, and I instantly fell in love with it - the style was simple yet had some complex elements, the basic premise was indeed basic but had lots of potential, and the jokes were often laugh-out-loud funny. I think what I loved (and still love) most about Bonus Stage is that it takes the extremely cliched premise of having two housemates - one wacky and one normal - that get up to crazy adventures every week, but then the creator of the series (Matt Wilson) adds some personal flair to it. I enjoyed watching the series so much that I felt compelled to create my own, and this is when everything I'd made in both DPA and Flash came together. Taking my knowledge of putting real people in cartoons, my obsession with lampooning real-world events, and then bunging them into Bonus Stage's formula, I came up with something far in advance of anything I'd made before. That's right - I came up with The Mumblerhood.

Let's not beat around the bush - The Mumblerhood wouldn't have been made without Bonus Stage. The similarities between the two cartoons are obvious, with both focusing on people who live in a house getting up to crazy and often highly unrealistic adventures, often with few repercussions. The twist in The Mumblerhood is that rather than having one wacky character and one normal character in a house like Bonus Stage, The Mumblerhood has two wacky characters (Andy and Dave) and two normal characters (Rich and Tom), and they live in separate houses. This allowed for some pretty comical situations, such as cutting between the fairly mundane events in Rich and Tom's house (such as playing Street Fighter II and doing coursework) and the ridiculous events in Andy and Dave's house (such as having a fight over a mince pie and destroying things with bangers). There are still obvious influences from Bonus Stage though, such as having a one-word punchline at the end of an episode and a couple of spot-specific details (such as the 'meanwhile' sequence in the 'Race' episode).

As time moved by I started to make the series my own and focused more on real-world events, or at least gross exaggerations of them. This is best seen in the episode 'Saturday', when each character has a personal agenda that hugely relates to their real-world counterparts - at the time, I had some history coursework I kept putting off, Rich was (and still is) into making music, Andy always talked about loving America, and Dave was deeply obsessed with The OC. However, these parodies represent what was simultaneously best and worst about The Mumblerhood - as I made the cartoon for my close friends no-one else actually understood the numerous in-jokes, which is precisely why I never posted the cartoon on Newgrounds and generally avoided showing it to anyone except friends of the four main characters. I was perfectly happy with this until late 2005 and, well, I think you all know where this is going.

It was December and I'd just finished making the fourth (and currently last) Mumblerhood cartoon, the 'Christmas Special' episode. While my friends seemed to really like it and I was geared-up to make a fifth episode, I'd started to slowly become tired that I only ever showed the cartoon to about twenty people and it was getting increasingly restrictive making an animation with 'real' people in it. Furthermore, the cartoon featured no voice acting (primarily because it would have been really odd doing the voices for three close friends) and I knew how off-putting it was to stop and read text boxes in an otherwise frenetic series. By May 2006, I'd almost entirely given up on The Mumblerhood (I hadn't animated any of the fifth episode since December) but my first year at university was nearly over and I was really interested in making a new cartoon series over the summer. I was tired of using real characters or spoofing real events, so anything related to real-life went out the window. Shamefully, at one point I considered making a series about a pair of comedy detectives which sounded extremely similar to Matt Wilson's Mark and Toni cartoon, but I decided it was time to grow up and come up with something that was an entirely original idea. In a moment of clarity, I remembered a comic series called Another Day in the Office that I'd doodled over the year while in particularly boring lectures. The series focused on a disgruntled office-worker who had a penchant for pornography and who, while apparently being rubbish at his job, managed to keep it day after day by being a complete bad-ass and stopping the office from being taken over by ninjas, terrorists and all other sorts of nasty people. I decided that this comic would make the basis for a really entertaining cartoon...

The Everyday Adventures of Steve is everything The Mumblerhood should have been - it's funnier, the animation is better, the characters are much more refined, the basic premise allows for a billion different stories and it even has voice-acting. I think what Steve 1 has over any of The Mumblerhood episodes is an awful lot of polish, and with the jokes, characters and story having nothing to do with my friends anymore I was free to show the cartoon to anyone and hopefully they'd like it. After posting it on an online forum I was a member of at the time, someone suggested I should put it onto Newgrounds - this is when everything changed.

Newgrounds did and still does terrify me. Not only is it the biggest animation portal (a place where people submit cartoons) on the Internet, but it also has a voting system whereby if you submit a cartoon to the site and people think it's crap, they can vote against it and it'll get deleted. I've never taken criticism particularly well and so the thought of putting Steve 1 on Newgrounds and having it deleted was a scary prospect, and to be perfectly honest if that had of happened I probably wouldn't have carried on with the series at all. However, I eventually 'manned-up' and submitted it, and something different happened entirely.

Everyone loved it. The reaction was just insane - it got a great score, it made the front-page (which is when the Newgrounds admins like your cartoon and display it on the homepage), won one of the 'top 5 of the day' awards out of about 320 animations and got over 70,000 views. I know that some animations get millions of views and have thousands of fans, but for me to personally go from having a cartoon series seen by about 20 people to over 70,000 felt simultaneously awesome and absolutely terrifying. People even started e-mailing me to congratulate me on the series and to ask me when the next episode was coming out, and I think at this point - when I realised I had fans - I knew I'd really have to start raising the bar on my animations.

I began making Steve 2 a few weeks after the first cartoon, and I knew that if I wanted to keep interest in the series going I'd need to get it finished within a couple of months. The problem was I obviously didn't have any time to learn new animating techniques or improve my drawing style, so instead I aimed to basically make a longer version of Steve 1. Fortunately however I found a few ways of making the cartoon look a lot better than the first without actually doing much - I started adding shadows to everything, took a lot longer on the backgrounds, and put in a proper fight at the end of the episode which wasn't particularly well-animated but was still entertaining. I also addressed a number of problems in the first episode, such as getting extra people to do voices for certain characters (I did all the voices in the first episode) and having an actual story.

Steve 2 was released on the 31st of August and to my surprise did even better than the first episode - it again made the front page but had an even better score than before and actually ended up winning one of the 'top 5 weekly' awards, which is awesome given how Newgrounds gets about a thousand submissions a week. It was even very briefly (we're talking about a day here) the fifth highest-rated cartoon ever on the site, and while it dropped from this extremely quickly it just felt amazing to have one of my 'wacky' cartoons get such an amazing response.

However, as good as this all sounds I was fully aware that my second year at uni was about to start, and Steve 2 had taken me a long time to make. Things weren't helped by the fact I was obsessed with making the Steve series progressive, which meant the third episode would have to be significantly better animated, drawn and written than the previous two episodes. I also knew I'd have to start using full lip-sync, which is something I'd avoided in both Steve 1 and 2, instead opting to use a repeated clip of a mouth opening and closing - I know it looks pants, but I was lazy! Anyway, I knew I wasn't ready to do the third episode yet as I hadn't really mastered things like perspective (for backgrounds), lip-sync and character animation, so I put Steve 3 on the backburner. Completely unsure about what to do next, I decided to make a brief but visually-interesting trailer for a cartoon based on my unfinished Tokyo Sunrise comic - I have yet to do anything for this series beyond making the trailer, but one day I'd love to start a serious animation series.

The problem with Tokyo Sunrise was that I'd always planned it as an engrossing, serious and exceptionally well-drawn cartoon series and as such if I had of made it at the time, I would of faced exactly the same problems I had with Steve 3 - namely, I had neither the time or the skill to make it yet. Clearly I needed to make a series that I could work on very easily with a simple but entertaining plot, and after moving into my house in the second year of university, I got some very obvious inspiration...

I came up with the idea for The Incredible Mr Ahmed in November 2006 - that's right, I'd only lived in my second-year uni house for a month before I realised how awful our landlord was. Anyway, if The Mumblerhood has a spiritual sequel then the Ahmed series certainly fits the bill - the setting is a house, one of the main characters is me, and a lot of the comedy comes from the interaction between one normal character (me) and one crazy character (Mr Ahmed). For those who don't know, the Ahmed series focuses on just how bad my landlord was in my second year of uni, and shows some of the nasty things we had to put up with in the house (dodgy wiring, theft, rats, awful paint-jobs etc).

Anyway, the Ahmed series is rife with deliberately poor animation and crude drawings, which allowed me to produce cartoons in the series very quickly. This is exactly why I started the series in the first place - I wanted to keep active with Flash, but didn't want to spend a lot of time away from my uni work working on any given cartoon. This was also particularly useful in February 2007 when I purchased questionablefilms.com, as it meant I could add new animated content to the site fairly regularly without spending hours doing so. I think the majority of my animation work in 2007 is best demonstrated by the Ahmed series - crude and quick, but still very funny. It was during the first half of 2007 that I also made some of my tiny cartoons such as the Lost spoof and my parody of the awful 'American Pie presents...' movies.

Skip forward to September and I was really geared-up to work on Steve 3. While production on the episode technically began on February 8th, I really did next to nothing on it during my second year and things were even worse during the summer - I went on holiday, got a few jobs, went out with my friends a lot, and basically neglected Flash altogether. After a few good weeks working on the episode I knew I was making something far in advance of both Steve 1 and 2 - I'd started using full lip-sync, the main characters had been re-designed, the backgrounds were in a different league compared to the first two episodes and perhaps most importantly I'd come up with a really good story. Steve 3 is actually the first of the cartoons based directly on one of the Another Day in the Office comics, so for the first time I had the whole thing planned out from the start and gave careful consideration to what scenes in the comic would work best in the cartoon, and what scenes needed to be altered or removed.

I think we've managed to reach the present day (hurrah!) - I'm still making Steve 3 and it's all going well, albeit a little slowly. Aside from Flash, some of you might find it surprising to hear that from time to time I still open up Deluxe Paint Animation and make a little cartoon just for the hell of it - I actually made one last night called Fielden in the Old West, which depicts my housemate Tom as a sheriff in (as you might have guessed) the Old West. You'll probably never see this cartoon becaues it's thirty seconds long and terrible, so here's a screenshot to make up for it:

So yeah, there you go, you know now about the history of my cartoons. Thanks for reading!