Web Series Wednesday: Askaran

Article by Seaton Kay-Smith 

If I spend too long without making something, I get itchy fingers. 

I work as the Head of Development and Head Writer at Paper Moose, a creative agency in Surry Hills and we regularly make web videos and branded content for an array of companies – however, there is a difference between making something to sell a product or service and making something for the sole purpose of making something. 

So, with incredibly itchy fingers, I decided to make Askaran. 

I had started mining jokes from my days doing stand up, turning them into a series of three panel comics about an odd looking character named Askaran and his mute ventriloquist dummy, when I realised: three panel comics were great and fun, but I wanted to make a web series. 

‘But to make a webseries takes time’, I thought. It takes a team of people all dedicated to the realisation of a dream. And that would take, as previously mentioned, time – not to mention, money. 

And these fingers aren’t going to itch themselves! 

But there was a problem – there were many – I’m not an animator. I can barely draw still images as evidenced by my three panel comic strips on Instagram. I can also be kind of impatient as evidenced by my desire to make something without having to put a crew together or find money. 

But I had a goal, a small goal; ten one minute animations for Instagram – and I was going to find a way. 

First I looked into the best and easiest way for someone who had never animated before to animate, and didn’t find any way. Every way seemed hard. “What the hell is an onion skin?” I shouted into the void. How do I make people walk? How many drawings do I have to do? 25 frames a second? That’s too many frames – 60 seconds would be, like, 1500 frames! I can’t draw 1500 hundred frames. What the hell was an onion skin!? 

I had to find another way. 

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I remembered a time from my past when I’d made short GIFs using Photoshop and decided to see if I could, essentially make a one-minute GIF. It was worth a try, and after a bit of experimentation, I had my technique. 

I would draw three versions of a shot – and export that into a GIF, then I would draw the same again with various sizes of mouth (which I would use to make the characters look like they were speaking) – and turn that into a GIF. Then I could turn these GIFs into mp4’s and cut them together to create my scenes.

It was slow, it was laborious, but I could only imagine how much more of each of those two descriptors it would have been if I had done it properly.

But I didn’t set out to do it properly; I simply set out to do it. 

Using a guiding track of my own voice, I put together the episodes in the crudest of ways. To an actual animator I’m sure I would have looked like a monkey trying to open a coconut with a rock. Sure I might get the milk, but there’s coconut everywhere and I’ve hit my own thumb almost as often as the coconut. It was not a graceful approach. 

With a pilot episode put together, I decided to show the Paper Moose team and get some help. I took it to our weekly development meeting – usually, we spend that time trying to get good stuff off the ground – but I thought I’d buck the trend by vomiting my animation onto them. 

And they watched it and they were supportive. So, using that good will, I enlisted my voice talent and sound recordist: Rob Hughes recorded the voices of Maren Smith, Nick Hunter, Mike Funnell, Jazz Twemlow, myself as Askaran and himself as the Butterfly, then I completed the animations. 

It wasn’t the smoothest ride, it’s not the finest animation – but you know what? It’s finished and it exists and some people like it. And as long as a couple of people do – then it’s all worth it. 

So there you have it, what started out as a nice little article about itchy fingers and a desire to create, turned into an expose on what a lazy impatient person I am. 

I hope you’re one of the few people who like the animation. You can see them all – and the series of three panel comics – over on my Instagram now (@seatonks) or compiled in an orderly fashion at http://www.seatonkaysmith.com/askaran and http://www.seatonkaysmith.com/askaran-the-cartoon/

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