Cool and His Gang, Part 2

I recently posted the first part of a three part inteview with Arna Selznick and John van Bruggen, the creator’s ‘Coolman!’ which is currently airing on YTV’s Funpak block. In this second section, we explore their Flash production method and how their three animation teams worked together.

AARON SIMPSON: After Steve Whitehouse joined your team, did the project change to fit the Flash production method?
JOHN VAN BRUGGEN: Definitely. Steve pointed out that we had to revise our schedule so that character design (and breaking) occurred upfront. From experience, he knew that the design for Flash would take longer than the animation; that most of the real planning would be done at the early stage of production.

Steve took our original hand-drawn designs and translated them into Flash. As we approved the line drawings, he picked colors (with our input) and ‘broke’ the final designs. He also rotated each main character, animated walk cycles and did mouth charts.

AARON: Did working in Flash somehow limit the fulfillment of your vision of the show?
ARNA SELZNICK: When we pitched this concept to the folks at Nelvana in 2003, we knew that we’d need to do it in Flash to keep control of the budget; with Flash we could be hands-on through almost every step of the creative process.

Our show was animated on 2′s to get the benefit of Flash’s snappy timing, except for some of the camera moves which we converted to 1′s. So I think that working in Flash was an asset rather than a limitation.

JOHN: We were warned by the techies that Flash didn’t always handle camera moves very well. With no time to ‘shoot’ tests, we worried that the ‘memory hog’ Photoshop files would strobe and boil during camera moves. As such, we decided to create our backgrounds in Flash to avoid going too heavily into Photoshop-generated artwork. We used some PNG textures, but very sparingly. In the long run, we probably got a more original look by going the Flash BG route.

AARON: During the development and production of an animated show, what can’t or shouldn’t be done in the computer?
JOHN: The computer is really just a tool. As much as I sometimes miss designing on paper or painting ‘real’ backgrounds, I have no qualms about working up an idea from the original concept right through to the final product on the computer. It only becomes frustrating when a file corrupts or colours change mysteriously or a network goes down…and you find yourself at the mercy of the computer gods.

AARON: You’re both very familiar with traditional animation development and production. Now having completed 5 Flash shows from end to end, what future do you see for this type of production method?
JOHN: I’d be happy to do a whole series in Flash. The key is to create a show concept which is Flash-friendly and really takes advantage of what the medium has to offer. And to make sure that you spend the time upfront on planning, designs and breaking before the animators begin!

AARON: Tell us about your 3 animation teams.
ARNA: Technically, we had three excellent teams and a one-man powerhouse; Steve Whitehouse created all the animation for the episode ‘Deep Sea Blues,’ setting the ‘Coolman!’ style.

Jens Pindal, Daniela Strijleva and James Roberston animated our show ‘Hootchy Kootchy Haiku.’ Daniela and James also worked with Matt Ferguson on another nifty Funpak show, ‘Harold Rosenbaum, Chartered Accountant Extreme.’

Campbell Bryer and John Mahovlich (Nelvana animators) teamed up to animate our ‘this is how the show works’ episode entitled ‘A Daydream In The Life.’

We connected with Nitrogen Studios in Vancouver who did a great job on two of our shows: ‘Jazz-Matazz’ and ‘Tennis Any1010111?’

AARON: Re-use is one of the biggest benefits of working with Macromedia’s Flash software. Was it a challenge to ensure that your 3 teams benefited from the work of the others?
JOHN: Nelvana’s online network (Nelnet) came in very handy for reuse. Our animators, no matter where they were, or what time of the day or night it was, could share and reuse bits of animation (or make use of stock animation previously generated by Steve). Of course, they had to be sure that any scene they ‘borrowed’ from was approved by us first!

AARON: You’ve produced five 5-minute episodes of Coolman. How long did the animation take?
ARNA & JOHN: Our animators worked fast! All animation took a total of six and a half weeks. We had enough teams that all five shows could be animated concurrently. The trick for us was to keep up with scene approval and retakes!

Check back soon for the last part of this three part interview with Arna Selznick and John van Bruggen, the creators of ‘Coolman!’ And don’t forget to watch their latest episode ‘Hootchy Kootchy Haiku’ at 7:30pm on Thursday, March 10th on YTV’s Funpak block. Then go to the site and vote!

In the meantime, check out these Quicktime clips from two ‘Coolman!’ episodes.

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