Prior to the creation of the movie “There Ain’t No Surf in Texas” I had exactly zero experience with animation. Well, that is not exactly true, I was an avid fan of comic strips and animation and I had an artistic background, but as far as technical experience I was a complete novice. Yet somehow I became the animator for our independent movie. In just a few months I managed to transfer my ideas from scribbled sketches into a 2D computer animation for two animation shorts in our first movie.
Plenty of people would ask us where we learned to edit our movies or how I learned to animate the cartoons. We learned by teaching ourselves. It turns out that if you work really, really hard, research techniques, read the works of those that know and are willing to learn from your own mistakes, you can teach yourself how to use a vector based animation program and how to create funny animation characters that move smoothly. If you are lucky enough to have an equally creative, talented and hilarious partner to bounce ideas off, suggest ideas and most importantly, be brutally frank about whether something is funny or not – you can do all of this and have an animated cartoon that can make people laugh.
Now when some people hear the term – computer animation – they presume that the computer does all the work. Oh how I wish. What a computer does is basically make it so that instead of drawing 24 images for each second a character moves, you draw one character and then manipulate that character’s image at least 24 times for each second of footage. It is a time saver, yes, but you still end up doing a lot of drawing and redrawing. The computer also will render your animation so that you do not have to take a still image of each frame, which definitely does help, but considering computer technology of the time, the rendering process was slow at best. I can remember waiting for 30 minutes or more for a segment to render just so I could see if I got a finger to move ‘just so’.
To create animation using the standard home computers of the time (the late 1990s) we were riding on the edge of what was possible. Oh sure if we could have afforded the kind of computers large animation companies used then it would have been easier. However everything about this project pushed to the limits what we had to give, including finances. We were self funded and had a lot more enthusiasm than we ever had spare income. We were literally a nickle and dime operation. As it stood, to do computer animation required that we have a very advanced computer with tons of memory, both RAM and storage space. This was back in the early 2000s when this type of computer was costly and memory of any type was costly as well. We also were vexed with monitors that could not display our finished product very well. The CRT units were actually better than the first flat screen monitors as far as animation video quality.
Having a computer that could handle the complex rendering of the animation was not the only requirement. We also needed a computer animation program. Here again, our shoestring budget would not allow us the fancy version of anything, but I did find a simple 2D animation program called MOHO and followed its tutorials to teach me the basics. After that it was a matter of trial and error. And time – so much time. For every minute of animation finished there was at least 1000 hours of effort. Every scene had to be story boarded first. Every background had to be drawn. Every character had to be created and then given a movement framework. Every action of the characters had to be scripted and every movement had to be divided into smaller and smaller increments in order to create actions that seemed smooth and realistic.
The Birth of Dingo
As I stated before having the computer to do animation does not mean it does the work for you. You still must draw the character and in order to draw the character, you need to get to know them. The personality of the character for our animation was a special one for us as this character was an amalgam of used car dealer, shady surf shop owner and every bad person we had ever encountered in life. Almost from the start of our brainstorming sketches the character began to take on a dog like face. We quickly decided this was not a ‘man’s best friend’ type of character but rather an ‘eat your baby’ type of character and thus Dingo came into being. We chose a simplistic 2D stylization that replaced realism with angles and eliminated shading as well. Within a short period of time Dingo was walking upright and wearing a shapeless Hawaiian shirt. He had a surf shop, a ratty van and a mistreated dog tied up outside his shop. He also had things to say.
Creating Dingo’s Voice
Having grown up with Mel Blanc’s incredible voice acting as well as the more recent voice acting by the cast of the Simpson’s I knew we were up against an impossible task. How do you give voice to an animated character. If you have every listened to yourself in a recording then you know the exquisite discomfort you feel when you hear how you actually sound versus how your own voice sounds in your head. Imaging having an animation character’s voice trapped in your head and needing to get your own voice to sound like him.
I could clearly hear in my head the voice of Dingo. He had a very distinctive, masculine and grating voice. My normal voice is not anything like the voice of Dingo, me being female and possessing a smooth and soft tone. Yet, incredibly, the voice that came out of my mouth the first time I tried to ‘channel’ Dingo was the perfect voice for this character. It was rough, harsh, sounded masculine and carried a very disrespectful tone quite well. It also was surprisingly easy for me to create and could turn it on and off at the drop of a hat.
The First Dingo Animated Cartoon
Shak Smak was the name of the first animated Dingo cartoon. It introduced the surf shop, desperate dog named Cur, and the despicable character Dingo within the first few seconds of the animation. We go from the outside of the shop where Cur is leaping and hear Dingo answering the phone. During this conversation Dingo first says his notorious tag line “It’s six feet and glassy!” It turns out that when Dingo lies his nose grows. We also learn that Dingo likes to insult people.
Here he is in his debut: