I'll tell you a story…

2D Animation and Illustration by Renato Vargas

Time lapse video

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A time lapse of me animating Jules Winfield reaching for a gun. Enjoy.


Written by Renato Vargas

June 18, 2010 at 1:55 am

Posted in Animation

How about a clip

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Post written by Renato Vargas. Follow me on Twitter.

Now that things are back to normal, here’s a quick update of The Deadly Truth. This link takes you to a facebook version of the video that looks better than Youtube’s. While you are there, you can always befriend me. ūüėČ

Here’s the Youtube one, which for some reason is one second shorter than it should be. Just a taste:

Note: I’m thinking of releasing the Toon Boom Animate source files for this animation once it’s published so that everyone can learn from my mistakes, so stay tuned!

Written by Renato Vargas

June 5, 2009 at 1:32 am

The Deadly Truth: first update

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My little clip is coming along nicely. Backgrounds are close to done and rough keyframes are in place. Everything on schedule. Progress!!


The Deadly Truth: BG

“The Deadly Truth” will be released on Sunday, June 7th, 2009.

Edit: For those interested, I will post more quick updates through Sunday on Twitter. You can follow me here.

Written by Renato Vargas

May 28, 2009 at 12:35 am

Backgrounds: From Google SketchUp to Toon Boom Animate

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Post by Renato Vargas. Follow me on Twitter.

Hey there, just want to show you some stuff. In my last post I showed you an application called Google SketchUp. Since it’s an incredible tool to develop three dimensional models of whatever you want, I thought it would be a good idea to use it as an aid in the creation of two dimensional backgrounds for animated shorts. I’m still working on the outside shots I showed you before (I’ll post how those turn out in another post) but I’d like to show you how SketchUp is of great help when it comes to drawing perspective. You don’t even have to think about vanishing lines and what not.

We start off with a fairly simple Sketchup cube and with the push/pull tool we create a two wall room (or set). After that we pay a visit to the 3D Warehouse we populate our room with a suitable bed and a nightstand (although here I just modeled this “placeholder” as nightstand). Don’t forget to punch a hole in the wall for our window. We paint everything white, move our view around to get the best shot, and snap a picture (export an image). I’d like to point out that SketchUp is full featured software, so it is capable of much more than these simple things I’m doing. I want to keep the models simple because afterwards, the painting portion will take up most of our time. We end up with something like this:

Renato Vargas, 2009.


We then import our image into our drawing software (in my case, I’m using Toon Boom Animate) and put it on it’s own layer. After that, it all becomes about “imaginative tracing”. Use your SketchUp lines as guides and make sure you keep every drawing in it’s own individual layer (you can group things afterwards). How about we start with the footboard. You can color as you go, or you can color everything when you’re done.

Renato Vargas, 2009.


Now some courtains…

Renato Vargas, 2009.


Now the bed and we improvise a nightstand using our SketchUp placeholder as a visual aid (don’t mind the shadows; that step comes afterwards, but I forgot to take snapshots without them :P).

Renato Vargas, 2009.


And we finish with our walls and the window. At this point you can color everything. Your aim is to accomplish a certain atmosphere. After all, we’re trying to tell a story…

Renato Vargas, 2009.
Make sure you build up a nice atmosphere with every layer you paint.


I’m falling in love with SketchUp more and more. It’s an incredible tool that can save you a few hours. You should give it a try. How do you like our final product?

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Written by Renato Vargas

May 23, 2009 at 12:02 am

Backgrounds: Getting your perspective right with Google Sketchup

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Post written by Renato Vargas. Follow me on Twitter.

When I started with this hobby, I didn’t think doing backgrounds for my animated shorts was going to something to worry about. After all, they were the portion of the whole thing that didn’t (generally) move, right? Plus, I considered myself kind of artsy and I had done a few paintings, so I thought to myself: “How difficult could it be?” I didn’t expect the answer to be “FREAKING HARD”.

As it turns out, creating backgrounds for a short is no walk in the park. It’s not that you have to learn about color, or drawing, or composition, or even effects (which you have to do, though, sorry). The problem with them can be summarized in one word: consistency. That’s right, if you want your backgrounds to frame your animation effectively, you have to be consistent, and as I soon realized, that is one difficult thing to accomplish. When I was a kid, my dad (a civil engineer) taught me how to draw two-point perspective and since then, that has become a bit intuitive for me. However, if my camera looks at the same scene from a different angle and I have to draw that, everything gets screwed up, because it is very hard for me to get the layout right from a different view. I end up with a coach that lies at twice the distance from a coffee table, for example, in comparison to the first shot.

ENTER: Google SketchUp

SketchUp is a 3D modeling application that you can download for free from our friends over at Google. It has many capabilities, but what drew my attention is how easily you can get seemingly complex models done, with just a few clicks. It’s tools are not very intuitive, but the learning curve for them is ridiculously short. With the instructional videos from screen name: SketchUpVideo and 4sketchupgo2school on YouTube you’ll be able to do very nice things with it in a couple of hours (make that three). Some animated series like Futurama, use 3D sets rendered with toon shaders that make their three dimensional objets look like 2D drawings. That’s certainly a nice way to use 3D, but an expensive one, and not the one I want to try out.

You see, I want to draw my backgrounds myself, but I’m going to get SketchUp to tell me where everything goes, and as a bonus to help me out with the perspective. My project takes place near a well-known church in the city where I live, so I want it to be present throughout the short. Unfortunately there was no model for it on Google Earth so I had to create it myself. As I wrote before, it is not complicated at all, once you get the hang of it. The two tools/techniques I used most in this case were the “Push/pull tool” for extruding every structure up from basic shapes drawn on the ground and the “Follow me tool” for mouldings and spheres. Here’s a panoramic view of what I created:

This took me a little past three hours to complete,
including the time it takes to learn basic SketchUp.

In a 3D space where you’ve made a mock-up of your set, and marked with big blocks where your buildings, nature and props go, you can quickly move your camera to explore what shots work best for your project. Not only will you get the correct layout, but you’ll also get your perspective right in every shot. A nice feature of SketchUp is that it lets you apply a photograph as a texture to any surface. In my case, that lets me visualize more clearly what I want as an end result. I browsed through flickr and found some fa√ßades that give me a better idea of the direction I’ll take. Let’s take a look at a nice establishing shot:

Which is based on this original rough sketch:

What if we climb on top of the chapel or take a look across the street?

What next? You can’t use these pictures for your project. No matter how cool it was to craft them, they’re still a long way from finished, so the next step is to take these and import them into your image editing application and paint your scene on top of them, using the blocks as reference for the position of all your objects and using the lines as perspective guides. However. we’ll explore that in a different post. Hopefully, this technique will ease up the process of drawing consistent backgrounds. Have a great day!

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Written by Renato Vargas

May 1, 2009 at 11:03 pm

The Importance of Staying Creative

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Post written by Renato Vargas. Follow me on Twitter.

Some say creativity cannot be forced; that it is something that is either there or it is not; that you either have it or you don’t.¬†Does that mean that you have to sit around and just wait for it to strike you? Well, I say NO, because if I learned one thing is that the longer you sit around doing nothing, the further away you get from being creative. Especially for people¬†who do not necessarily work in a field related to their creative passion. It’s hard to keep up with your daily life, and then come home and burst into a creative frenzy. It is true that you cannot will yourself to be an excellent animator, or just force yourself to have an excellent idea, but there are certain elements of the creative process¬†that you can be intentional about that will eventually lead to a creative explosion. This is not a new idea, but I would like to share with you how I’m slowly applying it to my animation project.

An update on Rezadores’ character development.
You have to intentionally set time aside for your magic. A
n hour’s work¬†can be very rewarding.

The idea behind being intentional about your creative process is that you have to make an appointment with yourself to develop your skills and to simply, well… ¬†use them. In that time, you have to give a hundred percent, as if you were getting paid to work on your project, and the client expects nothing but greatness from you.¬†Play with your craft, be curious about new techniques, but do it for the sake of it and not because you expect compensation. Of course, to be able to do that, you have to¬†take in stimulus, not passively, but in an active and focused manner.

What does this mean? If you were working on an animation about Africa, for example, it would be in order to spend some time researching about the wildlife there,¬† maybe do an internet photo search about the place, familiarize yourself with the physical appeareance of the people that live there, or listen to some sounds that were recorded there. You probably knew that, but what you don’t know is when or what to do with all the materials¬†you’ve¬†researched. This is the tricky part.

You have to set time aside for¬†three things: taking in stimulus, processing that stimulus, and putting things into practice.¬† In that time, the activities you do must reflect an interest in seeing how you can apply the things you perceive to your current project or problem. This is how I’m doing it:

1. One hour a day for me and my creative self. You might be asking, “hey, didn’t he say he’d only be animating three days a week?” You are right, that doesn’t mean that I’m not doing anything on the other days. The actual animation¬†is my practice. The other days I might take in stimulus, process¬†it, or just find another creative outlet (like writing posts about the whole thing ;-)). I try to make a schedule, and if you want to do so at this point,¬†I suggest you do it on a weekly basis. That way, in any given week, you are able to direct¬†more¬†of your¬†attention to any of the three steps I described. At the beginning of any project you might want to spend more days a week taking in stimulus. Later, you might want to cut down on your stimulus intake, to favor the processing part, and once you are well aware of what you want, you might spend more days just creating, until your next project comes along.

2. One hour, and one hour only. Start with a little until it becomes a habit. Oftentimes, when people read posts like this one, they get enthusiastic and set their expectations too high. They think: “Hey, I have more than an hour a day, I can spend three hours doing all this”. Eventually, they get burned, and drop the whole thing altogether. Start with an hour a day. Half an hour would be better. Everyone has half an hour to spare. Refrain yourself a little in order to go on longer. At this point, I realized I was more receptive to creative thoughts at night, so I decided to have my unnecesary creating time¬†around seven in the evening. Some days I’ll animate, others I’ll just work on some concept art or write some thoughts on the subject.

3. Taking in stimulus is an active endeavor. Things like¬†watching youtube videos can be considered stimulus if you take an active approach when doing them. This means that you have to¬†think about whatever project you are working on when you sit down to watch awesome animations on youtube. I will take a blank piece of paper and I’ll¬†write down interesting things I see that can be applied to my project. Is there a cool effect they are using? Are there any interesting camera angles being used? It doesn’t matter; try to get ideas from an otherwise useless activity. Do you have to do this all the time? NO. Remember, this is something you will do in your Unnecessary Creating Time; your hour for yourself.

4. Process your stimulus. The next day, after you’ve taken in stimulus of any kind (web vids, movies, art, television, magazines, etc.) you have to sit down and let your mind generate new thoughts based on what you’ve absorbed. Remember, you don’t have to copy people styles. You are coming up with your own ideas about things. I will take the notes that I wrote when taking in stimulus and think hard about them (maybe, the following day). I¬†then write something about¬†my project¬†or¬†draw some concepts based on that stimulus, taking advantage of what inspired me.¬† New brain connections are created at this point, and you are able to see things under a different light.

5. Apply what you’ve learned. Hopefully, after taking in all that stimulus on purpose and processing it, you will be eager to use it on your project. That means that when your animating day comes you will be full of ideas of what to do and how to do them. This is when your body switches to auto-pilot and creative explosions happen. Put things into practice. Work your magic!

Staying creative is a crucial part of the animation process for hobbyists (and even for professionals, I think). You have to build disciplines and be intentional about some aspects of the creative process, to be able to respond creatively when the time comes. As I said before, the ideas expressed here are not original. They are just how I’m interpreting and applying them to the animation process. If you want to learn more about this subject, I suggest you visit Todd Henry’s Accidental Creative site and listen to the podcasts.

I would be delighted if you shared your thoughts on this subject in the comments.

Written by Renato Vargas

January 18, 2009 at 5:37 pm

From A Forgotten Piece Of Paper To Life

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Post written by Renato Vargas. Follow me on Twitter.

Over the past week I have been discussing how hobbyists like myself tend to omit certain steps, professional studios are obligated to take in the process of creating animated stories, because they feel that everything is in their heads. I certainly followed that logic, and it brought me nowhere, since I didn’t give my characters a chance to develop correctly, which ultimately lead to very inconsistent character animation. It was so bad, that it looked as if the character that started the motion slowly transformed into a completely different one (and not on purpose). You see, the animation process became stagnated, due to the fact that characters weren’t properly taken out of the crummy piece of paper they were conceived on, and put on a nice model sheet that could serve as a reference throughout the entire project, before the actual work started.

From my Rezadores de la Recolección original concept art.
(Click on the image to see the other side of the paper.)

After reading a lot about animation, it became clear to me that I had to adhere, more or less, to the workflow that studios have used since the first half of the twentieth century if I ever wanted to finish my little project, as I stated in a previous post. It’s a proven formula that just works. It was time to put my money where my mouth was. We’ll, I’ve been doing my homework, and it is turning out nicely. I thought I showed you a bit.

Inspiration hits you in the most unusual places. I was at a conference on climate change when the idea for the look of my characters flooded my mind. Luckily for me, they handed out little note taking blocks for the event and I was able to get a couple of poses drawn before the Q&A round. This past week, in an attempt to get this project going, I pulled the little piece of paper (which you can see by clicking, either on the picture above, or here), scanned it, and decided to make a nice model sheet out of it, to be consistent with what I previously discussed about character development. It is nowhere near finished, but it’s a start. Here’s are the steps:

1. Take the character’s measurements. It’s a good practice to think about your character’s size in multiples of its head. That way, no matter where you draw it on the screen you’ll always know if it’s dimensions are right, just by counting “how many heads tall” it is. This was a good time to correct my character’s original measurements, since I wanted him to be exactly five heads tall. No matter what program you use for your animations, make sure you do every step in its individual layer. That way you have more control over the entire process. Here I just drew a couple of horizontal lines marking the head’s superior and inferior edges, copied them and pasted them down the page as reference. A couple of red lines delimit what would be an imaginary sphere embedded inside his head, which is useful for drawing him rough.

Notice how I drew lines that represent its height in “heads”.

2. Rough it out, and draw a half or a full turnaround. This is the time to start figuring out how to quickly draw your character in various views. Make any adjustments to your original sketch here. Don’t forget to use a new layer for this. Block the rest. You don’t want to mistakenly ruin something. In the following image the original bitmap layer is turned off, but you might want to keep it on while you draw on top of it. At this point, keep it simple. You just want to learn to draw your character in various poses and get its dimensions right.

Look for simple shapes that will help you draw your character faster.

3. Clean it. In a new layer, take the pencil or pen tool (something that will give you same width lines, no matter the zoom) and cleanly outline your character. You can take your time with this step. Use your software’s tools to edit the points or nodes that make up the lines. You’ll end up with something like this:

Be very careful with this step.

4. Color it. Our model sheet is starting to look good. Now it needs some color. You can copy and paste the contents of the clean lines layer onto a new one and color your character there. That way you’ll have both versions in case you need to revisit your lines (say, if you’re writing a post about them :-)). Document what colors you are using. If your software doesn’t have color palette management functionality, make sure you know the RGB values for all of your character’s colors. You might (and probably will) need them later. Just write them down.

This is a nice picture you can tape to your wall as reference for your project.

Our model sheets are on the right path now. A couple of expressions and some action poses would be in order, and seem like the next step. What do you think of my process; any suggestions? Tell us all about it in the comment section of this post. See you next time!

Written by Renato Vargas

January 12, 2009 at 2:35 am