The Internet: Grass Roots of Digital Animation

The ever improving methods and techniques used for special effects on film has meant that live action sequences have become less and less limited by what is actually possible. With that said, this limit does still exist. There is a cap on creativity with live action, even if that cap is increasingly one of ‘budget’.

Animation, however, is capped only by imagination, and the skills to bring it to life.

We’re not just talking Pixar and DreamWorks here though, the rise of the personal computer in the late 90s, the availability of animation software, and, the endless free learning materials to be found online meant that fairly complex animation was becoming very accessible to a lot of people. Not only did the internet teach people to do it, it gave them a platform to share it, and it gave people like me a platform to ignore my college work and consume it.

The first internet piece I remember obsessing over was the Mario Twins flash animation which was just so ridiculous that I couldn’t help but love it, the intentionally amateur style of animation made it so much better. It was the first thing I had seen really, on the internet, that made think “oh hey, if this is a thing, I am probably definitely capable of making a thing too! … maybe”

Around the same time I had stumbled across a late night, short animation being shown on MTV called Wobble & Bob – basically, two wobbling eggs obsessed with pie. So simple, so random, so good. I quickly found out that this was an online series of animations from a website called Weebl’s Stuff, the cartoon was actually called Weebl & Bob but just for it’s stint on MTV this was changed to ‘Wobble’ due to trademark issues around the name Weeble.

The Weebl’s Stuff website instantly became one of my favourite places on the internet, obsessing over such random classics as Badgers, Magical Trevor and later Cat Face (plus many more, visit, watch them!) The idea that someone’s very random thoughts could be brought to life in this way and, perhaps more fascinatingly, be so entertaining and enjoyed by so many really struck a chord with me.

The ease of which good (free) content is found and shared by friends online now might mean that all this entertainment is taken for granted somewhat, perhaps some younger readers might not appreciate that there was a time when this just wasn’t commonplace. Try to remember the time of there being no internet and then, within only a few years, it’s all there and very much accessible, with almost unlimited new experiences to enjoy (dial up connection speeds permitting of course) – that was pretty exciting.

Back on topic, Newgrounds was still seeing a lot of animations uploaded by a growing user base and Weebl’s Stuff had now introduced Peepl’s Stuff, a user upload area. The quality of the user uploaded content did vary, but, whilst the good ones were great, even the less professional pieces were enjoyable as long as the idea was there. Whilst I had absolutely no background in anything remotely creative, I did have a computer and a strange mind [no citation needed!], and it did make me wonder if I could be a part of this.

Anyone can be an Animator…

The first thing I needed was the software, the popular software that all these animations were being created on was Adobe Flash. If you’ve ever come across tools such as Photoshop, After Effects or Premier Pro then the interface for Flash will be very familiar as they are from the same Adobe suite of products.

I, unfortunately, was not familiar with those tools, Adobe products and Flash were completely new to me. Not to worry though, the internet was here to help, a quick search for “free flash tutorials” on a search engine or YouTube will give you a vast amount of resource to get anyone on their way. So, off I went investing some of my spare time into learning the tools. The basics were very simple and, to be honest, the basics are all you need to create content and wow your mates!

Very quickly I was emailing animations to my friends and feeling quite smug about their reaction to them! However, these were fairly simple and amateur pieces and I wondered what does it take to get yourself to the next level and create contention par with the popular online animations out there? Well, two things sprang to mind, one of which I like to pretend I don’t have and one of which I definitely lack: time and patience.

Time – people tell themselves they don’t have it, but if you want to achieve something badly enough, it will become a priority and you will make time.

Patience – this was my main downfall in my short lived quest to conquer to world of online animation. Animating to a high level is sometimes an arduous task, the end product is well worth it , but it does take a certain level of discipline to get to that point.

So, I failed to take over the internet with my animating skills… It wasn’t through lack of skills or imagination though, nor was it through the lack of accessibility to tools or learning materials. It was down to a lack of discipline, patience and a completely made up ‘lack of time.’ In short, a lack of commitment. I have no doubt though that the internet has allowed anyone, given they have the drive, to become a good animator for an investment of only time and sanity.

One thing is for sure, after learning a bit more about the process of animating, I enjoy other peoples work on many more levels. I’m more appreciative of the effort that goes in to these and in the vast majority of cases, for no gain other than enjoyment of their art form.

Oh, and as a final note, after becoming familiar with the flash interface, this piece by Alan Becker, Animator vs. Animation became one of my all time favourites. As the title suggests, it’s the animator battling his creation, with the Flash software interface as the battleground. Look out for the sequels to this too, well worth a few minutes of your time!

– Neil Astin


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