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Season 1 Episode 2: Plan of Action

I have been at work here at MCM for a few months now. I worked with candidate productions, election coverage (the best I’ve seen), Monty’s prep and probably best of all, the exciting task to help with motion graphics for class videos. I enjoy animation, and although I am pursuing video, my hobby is to animate. One project I am currently pursuing in my free time is animating a feature length movie. I explained a little about my goal on my last blog at MCM and now I would like to share my plan of action. I will go into each of these points in-depth at a later time, but for now, my plan of action:

Testing and Research

Outlining the Story and Script Writing

Modeling Characters and Environments

Making Backgrounds and Placing Characters in Them

Testing Movie Assets

Recording Dialog





Testing and Research

Testing involves finding out if this idea is possible, and if so, how to go about doing it. Animating is a large task to accomplish with a team, individually it seems impossible. To see if this was a possibility, I made a proof of concept cartoon. The idea; if I can animate a cartoon for 2 minutes, than a 90 minute film is not impossible. For this extraordinary length, I do have the luxury of being able to reuse backgrounds and characters that are labor intensive to make. One background takes about 20 minutes to make. An average scene would need about 4. A recent episode of the Big Bang Theory for example used 8 different locations in their half hour. If I were to animate the sets, I would need around 32 different backgrounds. For a 2 hour movie I would probably need more, however I can use many “sets” over and over. Research also involves figuring out my assets and making a plan of action.

Pencil test

The pencil test in animation is very similar to a test pilot episode of a show. Before production, it becomes necessary to make a test run of an animation to workout production workflow and to show as a reference for others involved. Part of research is finding an audience. Shows like Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist and South Park, tell me that many viewers would sit through crude animations if the story is there. My proof of concept was a crude animation, with this pencil test; I hope I can showcase more traditional animation. I aim for the best of both worlds.

Script and Story

The script and story is essential to the entertainment process and deserves its own few blog postings. Although we are in a visual medium, and the idea is to show and not tell, I do realize my resources at hand, and a dialog driven movie is the realistic approach here. My inspiration is the sitcom; with a sitcom, everything takes place on a stage in front of a live audience. The sitcom is probably the best example of how much you can do for little.   This is much like animation; if a character needs to go into outer space, they can pull it off with little (another Big Bang Theory example.) The story is what carries the program. Unlike many indie films, this works because it is a comedy with drama driven storylines. This is what my animation will utilize.

For the plan of action: write an outline of a story with a beginning middle and end then work on a fleshed out script with many revisions. For my project, I already have a detailed outline complete and locked and I’m now working on the script itself. My detailed outline includes every scene that will take place, (location, time, and action involved) and my script is the dialog and formatting.  This script is 3/4th of the way finished; revisions are made on a constant basis. My software of choice for my script writing is the free program of Celtx. I chose this for the price and the paid app that allows me to edit dialog on the go and sync to the cloud.

With a script, a shot-list is made to organize the assets and make the required backgrounds needed for this to become a reality.

Backgrounds and Characters

Because the outline is already locked in and shouldn’t be changed too much, I can and have started working on my set and character design. As of this writing, I have made a school, and a home for my main character. I also have a store interior, a basement, a large building, a warehouse, an office, and various other essential scenes made with Google Sketchup for the backgrounds. Google Sketchup is a free 3d modeling software.

Copyright laws are a big consideration and Google Sketchup offers resources that are completely royalty free. Most of my work is original; however there may be times that I would need the help of the community warehouse. Google states that, “you are granted a perpetual, sublicensable, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free and non-exclusive license to download, reproduce, adapt, modify, publish, publicly display and perform, distribute, make, sell, offer to sell, import, and use Models posted on the Warehouse for the uses expressly authorized below. “ These uses include; the use to,“Distributing Models, Creations, and Combined Works to third parties for your business purposes (including for commercial purposes.” For this reason, I would have the same license to use these models, including any that a user uploads (You grant to end users a perpetual, sublicensable, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license (under all intellectual property rights) to reproduce, adapt, modify, publish, publicly perform and display, distribute, create derivative works of, make, sell, offer to sell, import, and use the Models you submit, post or display on or through the Warehouse and derivative works thereof, subject to such end user’s compliance with the terms of this Agreement.” The terms and conditions are almost identical to DAZ 3D and their content. DAZ 3D is the content provider of choice for my characters. I have purchased toons from DAZ 3D and made a few edits for the story. With this, I will be incorporating them into the Sketchup 3d environment for animation.


A Metro Station made by Sketchup user TM0612

Testing Movie Assets

Dialog will be recorded in a rough draft form. Using the shot list created from my script, characters will be in their environments and an animatic and storyboard will be made. A storyboard is like a graphic novel, every frame is seen to help directors share their ideas and technical considerations for production. An animatic is a moving storyboard common in animations. An example can be found here. This will help with finding story holes, share with others that are helping and for pacing…

Any prop used by the character for use will be exported as an OBJ file from Sketchup and used in DAZ 3D. I am currently looking at software such as Poser and Carrara as alternatives to DAZ 3D (but compatible with my current assets) for ease of use.

Recording Dialog/ Animating and Production


After this step, the art of this movie will be made. Using Google Sketchup and DAZ 3D is great, but this looks nothing like the cartoons we know. For this reason, just like traditional animation, backgrounds and characters will be traced.


Click image to view animation

Once this is done, all animation elements will be placed. This includes a composite of a background, characters in this background. Their prop, and head movements from all angles including the six basic mouth shapes for lip syncing. This is the step where all assets will be made and ready for animating. It’s all about layers. Before this however, we need to record our actors.

After the script is completed (are these ever complete?) and locked, the actual dialog used in the movie will be recorded. This is first for two reasons.

Recording audio before animating makes for less work and more fluid performances by our voice actors. All assets will be made, and tested thoroughly with the pencil test. This was first done by Robin Williams in the movie Aladdin.

With everything made, animation although time consuming, will be rather easy and probably take a month or two. After this, it will be time for post-production.

Post Production

Post production involved adding music, folly (sound effects for the movie), closed captioning, and touching up the project “sequences” in programs such as After Effects and even audio is its own post production; audio may be the most important part of the success for this video.

After Effects will be used to add motion blur, color correction, artificial camera shake when needed, and various other tools that may be needed. Although this program is an animation tool, all animation will be done in Adobe Premiere Pro and will be discussed in a later post.


I enjoy animating, but it’s not just the process, (although this is a big chunk) it’s about sharing my work with others; hopefully making people laugh.   Distribution allows me to do this. My goal is to post on YouTube, Vimeo, and also film festivals and pitching to buyers. I want my work to be seen, I want to share it. Above all, I want to share a good movie. I would like to contribute art that can be enjoyed, entertain, brighten someone’s day. I would like to make this all a possibility and it all starts with a plan of action. This blog is important as it helps progress and carryout this endeavor.

Joe Schlesinger

About Joe Schlesinger

Animator, Videographer, Editor, Marylander; goal is to animate and have fun with everything film or television related. I have an added interest for any local production or programing. As an employee here at MCM, I am lucky to be fulfilling my dream everyday! Please follow me on Twitter @thebalabus and show your support for your public access channels.


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