Idea for a cartoon

The whole thing started with an idea to compose and record some Christmas songs on the Marimba, as it is a unique and wonderful sounding instrument.  For the entire 2018 year, I was busy coming up with ways to make Public Domain Christmas tunes (those composed early 1900s and before) sound less boring.

After creating 10 tracks, we were preparing for a CD release and were considering ways to promote it.  Both Erin and I let our imaginations run wild and thought that perhaps a video or a story would go nicely with the music.

We came up with the idea of a Christmas dog, Jingle.  It would be an adventure with Jingle going off into the town and the forest.  It would be a lighthearted comedy with some scary moments that go along with the mood of the music.

We figured that we would get a simple illustration or limited animated video produced for as small a budget as possible to help with the sales of the music, and release it on Youtube.

Creating the story

So Erin and I created 3 acts divided into 9 scenes (one scene per music track).  Each scene was created around an already composed Christmas music track.  Our initial drawings, timed with the music cues, looked like this:

Stick art was our medium, but we never claimed to be wonderful artists!

We also created a script that described the events as we wanted them to happen, down to the second.

At this point the cartoon was taking on a life of its own and actually becoming the focus rather than just the music, so we decided to get serious about production.

Hiring an animation house

Next we would have to find a company who could realize our vision.  We didn’t want to go with a full animation house who draws frame-by-frame – imagine the labor costs involved with that – but since the story was around 22 minutes long and actually became quite good, we didn’t want to skimp out either.

That’s when we found Modeo Media – they do Flash and After Effects animation.  They had a few cartoon segments and they looked great, so we went with them.

Along with our stick art storyboards, we gave them a few examples of what we envisioned the style of the dog, the animals, and the backgrounds might look like (taken from Google Images):

Then they came back with this:

And we were sold!

The Real Storyboard

Now it was Modeo Media’s turn to create a storyboard from our script and from our crappy stick art pictures.

Here are some of the examples of their work:

Their drawings were admittedly quite a bit better than ours, but the biggest surprise was that the number of drawn slides increased by 4x!  This was going to be a much bigger project than we realized.

Illustrations in full color

Next we received some fully illustrated versions of each scene.  After seeing these, our expectations grew enormously, and we began getting pickier on the art direction as well:

Wow.  It was good – too good.

Creating the animation

The animation surprisingly did not take as long as we had anticipated.  All of the artwork, the storyboard, and the prep of that art into pieces that would be movable in After Effects or Flash (e.g. the arm of an animal) took several months to build, and the video animation took about that same amount of time.  It’s possible that more artists at Modeo Media were concurrently working on the movements, so maybe that’s why…

The first draft we would get for the animation would be rough.  It would be basic movements that weren’t quite strung together, and sometimes there would just be characters frozen (not yet animated).  The point was that the artists at Modeo Media wanted to make sure that the direction was correct before animating in case something needed to change.

There were about 4 rounds of changes in each scene – each one we would provide notes.  The animation was so good that we were also trying to get them to perfectly animate it to the timing of the music, and add smaller movements that went along with particular beats (like an animal striking something on an accent in the music).  We learned that the animators are not music professionals, so we were indeed asking for too much.

That’s where I came in.  I was a former user of Adobe Flash in the distant past, so refreshing and also learning After Effects wasn’t too difficult, although I definitely stumbled along the way.

Mostly I began just changing timings of movements.  Then it was fixing joints on body parts (occasionally they would stick out in the middle of animations while rotating).

By the end, I was the animation finisher, and was actually creating a few extra animations of my own (new animal movements, creating credits, etc).

Music and Sound Effects

Originally this cartoon was designed to promote Christmas music played on the Marimba.  Now that the cartoon was every bit as good as the music, there was more that could be done.

The cartoon seemed a bit distant from the music because there were no sound effects.  The viewer wasn’t completely involved in the cartoon – it was more just background animation for the music.

So we got a membership to download and use Royalty Free sounds from in the animation.  It started with a whoosh and a bang here and there, but by the time everything was finished, there were quite a bit of noises added to the cartoon to make it come alive.

Quite a bit of the effects are actually percussion hits (e.g. crash cymbals, triangles, tubular chimes).  We decided to have full percussion tracks added to the music, and also some limited strings in the Tchaikovsky Nutcracker movements to give it a concert feel.

What next?

What began as a music CD evolved into a simple cartoon for YouTube, and then morphed into a very well made, broadcast quality animated music video short.  We are now pitching this at Animated Film Festivals because we believe this is a perfect holiday time presentation for TV or a streaming service.

Thank you for your consideration!  We hope that Jingle the Dog brings you as much joy as it has brought us.

Erin and Chris Bishop