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rubberonion's News

Posted by rubberonion - May 16th, 2017


Hey everyone in the NYC area! The Rubber Onion Animation Podcast Live Show got residency at Freddy's Bar in Brooklyn and is having monthly FREE shows now!

Fourth Wednesday of Every Month at 8:30pm at Freddy's Bar in South Slope, Brooklyn

The next one is Wednesday, May 24th at 8:30pm and here is the Facebook event post:


We're also on EventBrite: 

And Meetup: 

Spread the word and come out and enjoy a comedy-ish variety show-ish thing about animation-ish!




Posted by rubberonion - January 26th, 2017



Hey Everyone!! If you're in the NYC area, for my Birthday this weekend I'm planning 2 things:

  1. BOOK SIGNING @ 3pm 
  2. MEETUP at ARCADE BAR @ 6pm

My book is "Tradigital Animate CC: 12 Principles of Animation in Adobe Animate" and I'm signing at CARMINE STREET COMICS in Manhattan

After that, we'll head over to Two Bit's Retro Arcade and play TMNT and Simpsons and drink and laugh and it'll be great.

If you're in the New York City area and interested in animation and/or my RubberOnion Animation Podcast, come hang out (and maybe get a book... it's my Birthday afterall haha)!

Posted by rubberonion - July 1st, 2016

As a child of the 80s and 90s, music videos were a huge part of my pop culture experience and the one thing that always stuck out at me were when these videos used animation. It was often experimental and boundary pushing but for my young mind it was worlds colliding.

You can listen to this blog post as a podcast!


And you can now listen to us on SoundCloud

This segment was used in episode #138 of the RubberOnion Animation Podcast (click to listen to the entire episode)! To the list! Starting with...  


"Opposites Attract" by Paula Abdul (1989)

Forever Your Girl, #1 albumfour #1 singles 7 times Platinum

Before being on shows like "American Idol," "The X-Factor," and "So You Think You Can Dance," Paula Abdul was a pop star. She started off strong with her debut album which was a on Billboard, had and eventually went in the U.S. alone. The music video for one of those #1 singles is "Opposites Attract" and won a Grammy for "Best Short Form Music Video"...

MC Skat KatRomany MalcoDerrick 'Delite' StevensAnchors AweighTom and Jerry

... it also features a dancing cat. The music video features the cartoon character , voiced by The Wild Pair (Bruce DeShazer and Marvin Gunn) and a rap segment by  and even another rap by  for the "Street mix" (no, I'm not kidding). There's a Gene Kelly film called , where Kelly dances with Jerry (meaning, from ... apparently this was the inspiration for MC Skat Kat. 

The animation was done by members who worked at Disney outside of work hours and the sequences were directed by Chris Bailey (the upcoming Blazing Samurai). Believe it or not, MC Skat Kat would live on in The Adventures of MC Skat Kat and the Stray Mob. It wasn't the first time that an animated character had been created for the purpose of being a musical performer but it's one of the weirdest.  


"Money for Nothing" by Dire Straits (1985)

It’s widely accepted as the first depiction of CGI humans characters in pop culture history. Amazingly, lead guitarist Mark Knopfler was unimpressed with the concept and originally refused to make it. According to legend it was girlfriend who finally convinced him to follow-through with the project. After initially turning down the idea of a music video he was being pitched again and his girlfriend at the time, who was in the room, said "He's absolutely right. There aren't enough interesting videos on MTV, and that sounds like a brilliant idea." The animation itself was created using a Bosch FGS-4000 and Quantel Paintbox system by Ian Pearson and Gavin Blair. Those two animators then founded a studio called Mainframe Entertainment... today it's called Rainmaker Entertainment, best known for their TV-series ReBoot.

Dire Straits was also shown on stage with bright neon-colored rotoscoping over parts of the footage just to make absolutely sure that nobody was confused about what decade this was. The music video won "Video of the Year" at the third annual MTV Video Music Awards in 1986... it was just that good. But I think its highest honor was that both the song and video were parodied in "Weird Al" Yankovic's film UHF (1989).

Incidentally, though Mark Knopfler initially wanted nothing to do with his own music video, apparently one "stipulation" given to "Weird Al" Yankovic to make the song was that Mark got to play his guitar line on the track himself (and fellow Dire Straits member Guy Fletcher performed keyboards as well). So either he came around to the idea, or "Weird Al" is insanely charming... I'm going with the latter  


"Clint Eastwood" by Gorillaz

This easily could've been my number one pick, but I'll get to that in a bit. If you're unaware, Gorillaz are an English virtual band created in 1998 by Damon Albarn (of the band Blur) and Jamie Hewlett (of the comic Tank Girl). It's arguably one of the most interesting musical and visual experiments in the 2000s. Being made up of entirely animated characters (2D, Russel Hobbs, Murdoc Niccals, and Noodle), it's not the first attempt at a virtual band but definitely the most successful. Albarn and Hewlett decided to create Gorillaz when they were watching MTV. Hewlett said, "If you watch MTV for too long, it's a bit like hell – there's nothing of substance there. So we got this idea for a cartoon band, something that would be a comment on that." "Clint Eastwood" was Gorillaz first single and their first music video. The song itself is an interesting mix of styles and hasn't been easily defined in terms of genre (some attempts include trip hop, alternative hip hop, rap rock, dub, and indie dance). The video (co-directed by Jamie Hewlett himself and animation director Pete Candeland) has a ton of visual and cultural references in the video you might not catch on first viewing like:

  • Starting with a Dawn of the Dead quote
  • The song starts with a yell from a villain (Tuco) in "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly" which starred Clint Eastwood
  • 2-D is seen wearing a T-Virus shirt to reference Resident Evil
  • One of the zombie gorilla hands grabs Murdoc's crotch and pulls him to the ground referencing Peter Jackson's film Braindead.
  • The zombie gorillas do a version of the dance sequence in Michael Jackson's "Thriller" music video
"We worked with Jamie Hewlett more than 10 years ago on a commercial job for Virgin Cola. When Jamie came back to us a few years later to talk about an idea for an animated band that he was creating with a friend, we were intrigued to hear more. The subsequent eight videos from two albums - directed by Pete Candeland and Hewlett - remain something we are very proud of. In each of the videos Candeland and Hewlett have tried new techniques: in Clint Eastwood the animation is exclusively 2D; the characters are combined with live action in Dirty Harry (2005); and CG and background matte paintings feature heavily in El Maana (2006)."

As for why it's called "Clint Eastwood," the info is all over the place. In one account, it's supposed to be based on "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly" (the line "sunshine in a bag" comes directly from that movie - although in the movie it's gold and in the song it's probably weed... probably). In another Damon Albarn thought the melodica he played sounded a lot like the score to the Clint Eastwood's movie "A Fistful of Dollars." Another account comes from a Reddit AMA with Albarn where he says he was inspired by a Jamaican Reggae artist with the same name: "We were recording in Jamaica and listening to a lot of dancehall music and we imagined a cool moniker to have would be Clint Eastwood. Also I'm a great fan of the actor and of Sergio Leone and Ennio Morricone." So... who knows?

The music video was nominated for three MTV Video Music Awards, so they made an animated acceptance speech of the cartoon band members. They spent tens of thousands of dollars on that speech and never got to use it... they lost in all three categories. Someone must've gotten wind of the fact that the band's very existence was to make fun of MTV. The music video actually won an award at Rushes Soho Short Film Festival Awards in 2001, beating an entry by Blur... weird little factoid. Apparently there were ideas batted around for a Gorillaz film, but Hewlett said: "We lost all interest in doing it as soon as we started meeting with studios and talking to these Hollywood executive types, we just weren't on the same page. We said, fuck it, we'll sit on the idea until we can do it ourselves, and maybe even raise the money ourselves." 15 years later, no film... but we have some of the most interesting music and companion animated videos and shorts that the music scene has ever had.  


"Radiohead" by Paranoid Android

There was a time when you could really only hear this song via the music video on MTV... it was too long and esoteric for the radio. The video, for some reason, was just that perfect blend of interesting and weird that it was a hot ticket on MTV and got played often. It was animated by Swedish artist Magnus Carlsson (creator of a cartoon called Robin). He has also made the stop-motion animated feature film Desmond & the Swamp Barbarian Trap (2006). Apparently he came up with the idea for it after locking himself in his office for 12 hours, staring out the window, and listening to the song on repeat. As a matter of fact, Carlsson didn't have the lyrics at the time so the concept for the video was based entirely on the song's musical arrangement. According to Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke, the band "deliberately didn't send Magnus the lyrics" because they "didn't want [the video] to be too literal."

It worked.

It features Robin and his friend Benjamin venturing into the world, running into miserable EU representatives, bar toughs, a prostitute, leathermen, a drug addict, deranged businessmen, mermaids, and an angel who plays table tennis with Robin. The version most often shown was edited to remove the mermaids' bare breasts. Colin Greenwood, bassist for Radiohead, said, "we would've understood if they had a problem with some guy chopping his arms and legs off, but I mean, a woman's breasts! And mermaids as well!" My favorite part of this whole story is that MTV Europe played the video uncut for two weeks because the channel's official censor was ill and unable to work. If you have 6.5min to spare, you need to watch this video.  


"Three Little Pigs" by Green Jellÿ

This is my list... and as such it's going to be colored by my experiences. When I was barely double-digits old, I saw a music video on MTV which consisted of some form of metal music, a comedic retelling of the Three Little Pigs, and animated in clay. Those three things combined into a zone my little brain just could not define. Green Jellÿ (pronounced Jello) is an American comedy rock band formed in 1982. Ten years later the song "Three Little Pigs" was released as a music video single only with the idea that they were "world's first video-only band" - an idea that was sold to Zoo Entertainment in order to get the financing to produce the album Cereal Killer. The thing is... it was a tiny lie. The whole "video-only band" thing was figured out as the album progressed but that pressure produced a video that my little brain saw for the first time and thought "you can do that?!" That particular kind of reaction is rare and I think is the highest form of artistic flattery. Bill Manspeaker (from Kenmore in way Western New York) basically is the band with many musicians joining and leaving through the years. Here's a short list of former members and what they do now:

And what's more... Green Jellÿ created the soundtrack for the Spider-Man and Venom: Maximum Carnage game ("The Mob Rules" by Black Sabbath is also in the game during a boss battle but I'm not sure if it was arranged by Green Jellÿ or not)! The animation itself was done by Fred Stuhr who also directed the "Sober" music video for Tool. Even watching it now, the lipsync during the "not by the hair" moment is really detailed.  


What would YOUR top 5 animated music videos be?

TL;DR While other animated music videos were high-profile and high-budget, Green Jellÿ's "Three Little Pigs" was an Indie outing which showed something that hadn't been done before and did so with comedy and metal.


Posted by rubberonion - May 12th, 2016

Actors in green suits with ping-pong balls.

That's the idea most people have when you say "motion capture" but we are way past that visual at this point. Technology moves (seemingly) so much faster now than it ever has... so much so that it's hard to keep up with the terminology, let alone the techniques. With Jon Favreau's The Jungle Book movie out this week I thought it was about time to devote some time to finding out where "performance capture" falls on the landscape of visual storytelling. Let's explore!

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Or via SoundCloud if you prefer...


Preorder Stephen's Animation Tutorial Book:

The first question we have to address is what the distinction is between "live-action" and "animation" as terms. This always comes up around Oscar time so the best place to start is with the Academy's definition:

An animated feature film is defined as a motion picture with a running time of greater than 40 minutes, in which movement and characters’ performances are created using a frame-by-frame technique. Motion capture by itself is not an animation technique. In addition, a significant number of the major characters must be animated, and animation must figure in no less than 75 percent of the picture’s running time.

I need to point out one particular sentence: "Motion capture by itself is not an animation technique."

That was added for the 83rd Academy Awards in 2010, one year after Avatar swept the Oscars and started this modern conversation. The thing was that depending on how you judge certain factors, it was difficult to decide which category to place a movie like Avatar. Here are the major applicable factors listed out:

  1. Character animation must be created using a "frame-by-frame" technique
  2. A "significant number" of major characters must be animated
  3. "Motion capture" alone isn't considered an animation technique
  4. Animation has to be present on-screen in at least 75% of the movies run time (meaning, the length of the movie itself)

Around the release of Avatar, Gawker (which was quoting a Hollywood Reporter article I can't find) reported that "when completed, Cameron expects Avatar to be about 60% CG animation, based on characters created using a newly developed performance capture-based process, and 40% live action, with a lot of VFX in the imagery." Many people take this to mean that the movie is 60/40 in terms of animation/live-action but that's only counting the character animation, not the scenery and vehicles and I would assume it also does not include the alien animal animation. So far, Avatar fits 2 of the 4 major factors to call it animation. Now we have to look at the technique of the animation itself... the question is how much was "motion capture alone" (which isn't considered animation by the academy) and how much was a "frame-by-frame technique?" Well there were actually production notes released with Avatar with a section called "IS IT ANIMATION" which says:

Ask the animators at WETA, and they’ll tell you that the avatars and Na’vi are animated. Ask Jim Cameron, and he’ll say the characters were performed by the actors. The truth is that both are right. It took great animation skill to ensure that the characters performed exactly as the actors did. But at the same time, no liberties were taken with those performances. They were not embellished or exaggerated. The animators sought to be utterly truthful to the actors’ work, doing no more and certainly no less than what Sam, Zoe or Sigourney had done in the Volume. Of course the animators added a little bit, with the movement of the tails and ears, which the actors could not do themselves. But even here, the goal was to stay consistent with the emotions created by the actors during the original capture. So when Neytiri’s tail lashes and her ears lower in fury, they are merely further expressing the anger created by Zoe Saldana in the moment of acting the scene.

OK so they clearly don't think it's animation, but is it solely motion capture? The question seems to be turning into who's making the acting choices: the performance-capture actor or the animator? But if that's the case, then we're talking about the medium itself and not the technique.  

82nd Academy Awards

Just to confuse things even more, the year that Avatar came out saw the Academy Awards go bonkers trying to figure out what's "live-action" what's "animation" and who gets to also be called "visual effect." Behold:

  • Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel featured an all Live-Action cast except the Animated Chipmunks/Chipettes was submitted for Best Animated Film
  • District 9 featured an all Live-Action cast except the Animated aliens (made partly with "Motion Capture" techniques) was nominated for Best Picture
  • District 9 was nominated for Best Visual Effects
  • A Christmas Carol was made using Performance Capture techniques and also submitted for Best Animated Film
  • A Christmas Carol was nominated for Best Visual Effects
  • Avatar was made using Performance Capture techniques and submitted for Best Picture
  • Avatar was nominated for best Visual Effects 
  • Up was fully Animated and nominated for Best Animated Film and Best Picture 
  • Up was not nominated for Visual Effects

It was a crazy year. It's pretty clear that the lines between live-action, animation, and visual effects are complicated at best and 2009 proved that well. Really, I think this will prove to be a watershed moment of sorts in that it sparked the attempt to redefine classifications which have impacts on things like promotion, budgets, and award opportunities of course. The new thing for 2009 was "performance capture" because up until that point we were calling the technique "motion capture" and with that came certain comparisons that carry over to now, so let's back up and look at that real quick before moving onto any attempted conclusions.  

Often when talking about motion capture with animators the comparison invariably leads to the technique of "rotoscoping." Right off the bat, let's look at the definitions:

Rotoscoping is an animation technique in which animators trace over footage, frame by frame, for use in live-action and animated films
Motion capture (Mo-cap for short) is the process of recording the movement of objects or people... and using that information to animate digital character models in 2D or 3D computer animation.

So basically the thought is that since both techniques record movement in some form and that is used to transfer the movement data to an animated character (either by hand, as with rotoscoping, or by computer, as with mo-cap) that they are equal... only separated by the use of computer.

The method of filming actors and then using something called a "rotoscope" (Max Fleischer patented it way back in 1917 but he created before that) to copy the movement more accurately onto paper was used first to lend realism, not to reduce the budget of an animated film or cartoon. For something like the Fleischer Studios "Superman Serials," it allowed them to add some real detailed movement to the characters. But it's important to note that obviously they couldn't film someone flying or catching a falling building so the animators made those design choices and were not done using the rotoscoping technique. Rotoscoping assisted the animation process in this way all the way through the Disney Golden Era starting with the first western animated feature film, Sleeping Beauty.

Later on, as the technology became more affordable, rotoscoping was seen more as a cost cutting technique. It allowed Ralph Bakshi to finish Wizards the way he wanted to when he was denied extra funding, and it (along with clever staging and use of loops) allowed He-Man to exist in such a rich world on a modest budget. More recently in our time, we've come full-circle back to filmmakers like Richard Linklater using it as a direct style choice like in Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly with the technique itself now using computer-assisted algorithms (note: don't read that in a condescending tone, but if you're feeling jaded the GIF below should help).

(... you're welcome)

The more the technology progress, the more automated it can be which either takes burden of the artists or allows them to reach a detail level they were previously prevented to achieve because of time and/or budget. Because it's "2D," rotoscoping has always been seen as a technique for animation and not a resource for style-choices in live-action. Even so, if you ask most animators what they think of rotoscoping most will answer with some form of "it's cheating," and I think what they're referring to is the GIF above. If animation is too real, it's often seen as unnecessary for the medium because using reference footage that strictly takes acting choices away from the animator and puts it too squarely in the "live-action" realm... so the question becomes "what's the point?" Now everyone please welcome Motion Capture to the conversation.

Remember when I pointed out up top that the technology for the motion capture technique has progress so far beyond the rubber suit + ping-pong balls getup? Well let's go back to that for a second. This were the actors on the motion capture set for Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within.

The white, glowing balls are the reference points which the computer will assign to a model with similar reference points (ie the "elbow" dot's motion will be tracked and applied to the "elbow" point on a computer model). I think everyone reading this blog knows at least that much. The reason this setup is needed is because of the 3-dimensional environment. There's a lot of information in conscious movement - it's one of the reasons that in rotoscoping if you just trace the footage strictly it feels "off." So much of that information is being lost... think of it like it's being filtered through the pencil. In order to make the movement seem real again after all that lost the animator needs to use the same pencil to add in the lost data (adding speed to an impact to feel more "real" for instance, many of you have probably done this off your own reference footage). There isn't any good way to "trace" reference footage in a 3D environment with a 3D model without the use of the computer. So here's where the comparison usually is. All those white dots in the image up there are reference points, the same as you use to check that you have smooth arcs (it's one of the 12 Principles of Animation, so you should be checking your arcs). For every point on the body that isn't tracked, that is "lost" data. The computer fills in the blanks as well as it can but for any "conscious movement" (meaning hand or face) the animators need to fill that in. This is done the same way as it is in rotoscoping: either using the filmed reference footage or creating it straight from their own imagination.

Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within was the 1st full-length photorealistic animated film. It was released in 2001 and at this point only the joints and major rotation points were tracked so there was a lot of work turning it into something cinematic.

Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (considered a live-action film), just one year later in 2002, saw Andy Serkis on-stage performing as digital character Gollum with his co-stars instead of alone and then composited in as it would've been.

By the time we get up to 2006, 2 out of the 3 nominees for Best Animated Film used motion capture: Monster House and the winner Happy Feet. Only Disney-Pixar's Cars was animated without mo-cap.

In 2009, Avatar was released (see above). The technology and techniques had moved far enough ahead that the amount of data which could be captured from an actor's movements meant that the refinement and recreation needs continued to lessen, and that's when people started to determine their own tipping points.  

Better yet... why the question? Ask anyone in the business and they'll tell you that there are many functional differences in producing live-action and animation. The scripts are different, the storyboards are different, the budgeting and timelines are very different... even the marketing is different. The awards, of course, have also been different. They have always been fundamentally different mediums. Rotoscope started as an animation technique to increase realism in animation. Mo-cap's beginnings are virtually the same.

Performance Capture was created specifically to bring the worlds of digital creation and in-camera filmmaking together. Digital characters like Colossus from Deadpool took the work of 5 separate actors (mo-cap, on set eyeline, model for design, voice actor, and facial expressions) including many animators, programmers, and compositors to bring him to life. Deadpool itself took the work of director Tim Miller, an animator himself who co-founded Blur Studio, to bring the whole thing together and make the everything work harmoniously in terms of budget, film times, VFX work, and so on. With movies like Avatar, the new Planet of the Apes series, and now Jon Favreau's The Jungle Book merges the two mediums of Animation and Live-Action so thoroughly while using Performance Capture to increase the amount of actors' input that it has impacts which are felt throughout the process, changing the way budgets, planning, filming, and more are created and addressed. There's a blurry line on purpose and there doesn't seem to be any real right answer to the question of is it live-action or animation filmmaking; I believe it's because modern heavily performance capture based movies are instead a new medium of filmmaking which will continue to create films and characters in such a deeply collaborative way to warrant a new categorization: Performance Capture Filmmaking.

Animators and Visual Effects artists have been undervalued for a long time now and the trend is looking to progress in that manner rather than correct itself. Even with Animation and Visual Effects being a part of almost every film we see today, somehow the artists in these fields of work are overlooked. My feeling of categorizing this new medium of filmmaking is to increase awareness of the intense collaborative effort on the part of everyone involved including the animators and the actors. There should be no "it's all animation" or "it's all acting" because to make these characters come to life and exist in a purely digital form everyone needs to play their very significant parts.


Preorder Stephen's Animation Tutorial Book:

TL;DR The technology, techniques and workflow with in-depth performance capture filmmaking now to consider it a brand new medium.


And don't forget to VOTE FOR YOUR FAVORITE submission for April's #RubberOnionBattle right here on Newgrounds!


Posted by rubberonion - April 4th, 2016

After 4 years of waiting, I'm back at the VLOGs! I'm giving you even more content than usual with a full 25 min video made possible by my awesome Patrons via http://www.Patreon.com/RubberOnion (who got to see this first). To help me make more of these, please consider pledging.

Pre-Order my animation textbook "Tradigital Animate CC: 12 Principles of Animation in Adobe Animate"

"How to Be Productive When Your Lazy" is the episode of my podcast where I talk about why it took me so long to get back to doing these VLOGs

Thanks to all my awesome Patrons!

-Martin Bell
-Ryan Knockaert
-Andrew Kaiko
-Eve Bolt
-Mike Boas
-Tristian Goik
-Lev Polyakov
-Animation Ninja


... and be sure to check out March's #RubberOnionBattle animation collab & vote for your favorite part!


Posted by rubberonion - March 21st, 2016

I get this question a lot, "I know how to animate but I'm so slow! Do you have any tips on how to animate faster?" Yes, in fact, I do! There are 5 main points that can improve your animating speed which are often overlooked. Here's what we're talking about in this post:

  1. Planning in more detail
  2. Refining Character Designs for efficient animating
  3. Becoming comfortable with Hotkeys
  4. Using Program Extensions which help your workflow
  5. Reusing Key Poses from previous animated sequences

Before we get into the tips themselves, I want to cover quickly why you want to animate faster. When people ask me about animation speed, it's mostly centered around freelance so what they're really asking indirectly is how they can either make more money or produce more work to build a healthy and diverse client list. So what we're talking about in this post is specifically about how to improve the speed and efficiency at which you animate, regardless of a possible "parent reason." OK, here we go!

Preorder my book "Tradigital Animate CC: 12 Principles of Animation in Adobe Animate" coming out in July 2016


Listen to this episode in full right here on Newgrounds!

Listen to this blog post as an iTunes podcast!

Or via SoundCloud if you prefer...  

For every hour of planning you save yourself untold amounts of frustrating work. I say "frustrating" because sometimes everything goes smoothly and there are no worries - it's those moments where things (often) don't progress as envisioned and that's where planning saves the day. In our case, planning is mostly turning an envision to an envisage scenario. You want to know almost exactly what you're going to do before you sit down to do it.


A photo posted by Stephen Brooks (@rubberonion) on Dec 6, 2015 at 2:37pm PST

When I want to work on a scene with a lot of acting in it, here's what I often do to prepare:

  • Notes: I jot down a list of things I want to accomplish in the scene. Using descriptive words & phrases help to establish the feel you're going for and I usually use metaphors, analogies and similes. ex: "before jump, he curls like a snake"
  • Listen & Imagine: If there's dialog or any timed soundtrack (like music) I will close my eyes and listen to it over-and-over on loop, imagining how the scene will play out. After I feel like I have something interesting I'll jot that down in my notes and go back to listening. This goes on for quite a while until I have it locked in.
  • Thumbnails: This can play out like Storyboarding but almost always starts with just drawing simple stick-figure like gestures of the main parts I imagined.
  • Timing: Once you start to work on the scene you have envisaged, the timing of it all is the first thing to be lost in translation to the page. That's why I always find that it's important to make a final note about the time each section of the scene will take to happen. You'll probably still need to refine it when you get animating but this will undoubtedly reduce the amount of trial-and-error you'll go through to get it right, and that's a big enemy of speed.

If you follow the logic of this progression, you'll see that it's all about transitioning from the concept of the scene to the details. You make notes about the idea, "see" it in your mind, replicate that mind-movie with thumbnails, and make sure you remember the timing of it all. When I tell people this, the response is almost always something like paraphrasing Pablo Picasso's "Si se sabe exactamente lo que se va a hacer, ¿para qué hacerlo?" (roughly translated as if you know exactly what you're going to do... then why do it?). We don't want to sacrifice creativity or spontaneity for cold efficiency, of course, but it's better to start with a healthy lead and then you can take your time later. The trick is knowing exactly what you want to do but still being free to change it if you have the time. The planning phase fixes almost every problem and will result in you seeing the biggest increase in speed and efficiency... everything from here-on-out will help but only after planning is established.  

If you've ever worked with character designs which are difficult to animate you'll know how great it is to work with well designed characters. Look at Spider-Man in the comic books (top), and compare him to the superhero we see in his hand-drawn animated entries (bottom). Notice a difference?

The webbing is more spaced out in the animated version so that there are less lines to track from frame to frame. This is a design nightmare created by the fact that the character's costume was already established in illustration without animation in mind. If Spider-Man were designed for hand-drawn animation from the ground up, he might look closer to the 60s cartoon version where they just eliminated the webbing on his torso completely... but most likely would find a way around webbing altogether.

So when it comes to character designs, having ones where the figure is clearly represented with shapes and those shapes flow or connect together in an intuitive way means that there is less guesswork involved tracking each feature as you inbetween. You want to reduce the amount of points to track while still maintaining an interesting flow to the form. Take the example of early Tom & Jerry. Look at the early character design for Tom (top) and compare it to the refined one (bottom):

Much like the webbing, the focus of the refining was on reducing the amount of spikes on the fur and instead insinuating it with some larger triangles (internal color changes and in the tufts which protrude).  

Obviously this section is program-specific. And there are plenty of article which will list off all the hotkeys for your favorite animation or design software so I won't be doing that here. I want to instead turn your attention to a graph I made of the speed difference between selecting functions from menus and when using hotkeys:

By having a command of hotkeys in your workflow, you can shave off loads of time when actually animating. Imagine this, have you ever been frustrated by a slow computer and then you work on one much faster and find yourself producing more work under less stress? It's the same concept. Learning and using hotkeys in your work keeps you in the moment instead of taking you out periodically to select a function or tool from a menu. The faster you can naturally flow between drawing, copying, coloring, adding a new frame, playing, moving, deleting, and so on... the more your work will end up being actually more about the creation than reminding you of the fact that you're working on a machine.  

Along the same lines as hotkeys, using extension will help to keep you in the moment. But not all extensions help in that way, it's all up to your workflow. There is an extension for Flash/Animate CC called Tween2Keys (which I use) and a similar one called Convert to 2s which take a tween and converts it to frame-by-frame animation "on twos." This is great for when I've animated a walk-cycle (you guessed it) on twos and want to move it across the stage. Instead of moving the symbol manually on every other frame, I tween the walk across stage. But since the tween is on ones (every frame) and my walk is on twos (every other frame) there's going to be a slip n' slide effect without breaking the tween down to on twos with that extension.

There's another extension for Flash/Animate CC called Keyframe Caddy and it will show you a thumbnail for every unique frame nested inside of a graphic symbol. This is invaluable for working within character packs where different hand and mouth shapes are nested within a symbol and much of the animation is done via "comping," which is replacing one image with another pre-fab image. By being able to see thumbnails and place it on the stage on a new keyframe with one-click, it takes a lot of the guesswork previously associated with the "comping" method. This isn't just to plug my favorite Flash/Animate CC extensions, it's to show you that the extensions you use are an 'extension' of your own workflow - if you think something could be of help, use it and see!  

This isn't limited to key poses, it could be full animated sequences, special effects work (explosions, etc), background character designs, and so on. Obviously you don't want to shoehorn something into a project that doesn't work, but you're going to encounter similar design needs from project-to-project and there's no reason that you can't reuse your own work to speed up the overall production. Disney did this for years... and rightfully so! Think of it as choreography, you don't need to reuse the entire sequence but you can use portions of it. In Disney's case, they repurposed motion by reusing it with new character designs (see below).

I would also like to point out Little John and Baloo above... same general character design (and same actor voicing him). But if you look at Lady Kluck and King Louis, there are slight differences in their animation (namely, Louis slaps the ground). The point being that you can adhere as closely or diverge as widely from the work you're referencing as is needed for the project, which is completely up to you, but the goal is always to save time. In this case, Disney saved time in the planning phase and you can too.

Preorder my book "Tradigital Animate CC: 12 Principles of Animation in Adobe Animate" coming out in July 2016


TL;DR The more time you spend planning, the faster you'll drive through the animation itself. To increase speed even more, make sure the character designs are intuitive, become more knowledgeable about the time saving items in whatever program you're working in (like hotkeys and extensions) and when everything else is accounted for, reuse your own animation where you can while still keeping the quality high.


Don't forget to also check out and VOTE for your favorite submission in February's #RubberOnionBattle!


Posted by rubberonion - March 5th, 2016

Use these links to check out the other parts: Pledge anytime on Patreon

... there's also a "Too Long Didn't Read" section at the bottom if you just want the gist! Listen to this blog post as an iTunes podcast!

Listen to this episode in full right here on Newgrounds!

Or via SoundCloud if you prefer...


  • ... you have more work opportunities coming in than you can actually do
  • ... the time spent working on the projects you do have is crippling your ability to pursue other work and raise your profile.
  • ... your real talent (say, character design) is being held back by the need to divide your attention into other areas where you are less proficient
don't grow too fast.two types of people
  • People who compliment your skills (i.e. they do what you can't or don't want to do)
  • "Mimics" (i.e. someone who can act as your exact clone)
optionsthree levels of tasksbusiness
  • an entertainment lawyer (on a case-by-case basis) to look over contracts
  • a CPA (certified public accountant) to do your taxes and help with things like becoming/maintaining an LLC
  • virtual assistent to do basically everything you can think of: travel research for a film fest (flights, accommodation, etc), inputting business cards you get into a contact sheet, schedule organization, and even google image search for design work
  • designing a color palette
  • making character packs off your designs
  • minor client revisions (changing colors, shifting some timing around after an audio change, etc)
  • cleanup (line/color)
  • background/character design
  • compositor (AE lighting/multi-plane effect)
  • completing a full animation project off of your storyboards
  • What part of your day do you like the most?
  • What part of your day do you hate?
  • What part of the animation process do you like the most?
  • What part of the animation process do you hate?
  • When in the animation process do you tend to slow down?
find out where your speedbumps are in your career as a Freelancer.HATE LIKE HATE LIKE SLOW minehire a virtual assistantanimator who can ink and paintanimator to do lipsyncartist to design backgroundsYou smooth out the speedbumps by hiring specialists to take on small and mid-level tasks which would normally slow you downhire

"You do animation? That's fantastic, can you build my website?"

You and I both know that these are not equatable. I mean, sure, I probably could... but that's not my job.

In this case you can form one type of relationship with a freelance web designer and/or developer that I call the "That's Not My Job" Relationship. Simply put, you strike up a deal with this other Freelancer that when these types of jobs come in that you will pass them directly on to him/her, and when they get a job prospect in animation they pass it onto you.

This is very similar to the previous one in that you're passing work on but it could be anything. However, in this case, the deal is that the Freelancer passing the work onto the other takes a kind of "finders fee" cut of whatever the total budget for the job ends up being.

Many Freelancers like this and will agree to this because it assures a proper weighted balance. If they bring you more work than you bring them, they're getting proportionately more money for the arrangement.

Effectively, it's like a monetary acknowledgement to the Freelancer passing on the work that the reason that job opportunity came to them in the first place was due to all the effort they have put into getting their name and brand out there and seen.

In this case, you're teaming up with another Freelancer who gets work at times you don't. For instance, if you tend to get more work opportunities in the winter than you can actually take but your summers are slow and you meet someone who's experience is the opposite, then you give each other the work you can't do in your respective heavy load times.

It's a mutually beneficial arrangement that appeals to the Freelancer's desire (and need, let's face it) for some financial consistency.

your programmer friend does what you can't do and you do what they can't.loose combination of efforts to break into a market that both of you would otherwise be excluded from.
This 4-part Freelancing School series is part of an ebook I'm releasing this month which will have more detailed information on exactly how to build your freelancing business. The ebook will go into areas that I didn't explore in these blog posts like (in this week's case of expanding your business) passive income and other revenue streams. By becoming a Patron at any level on my Patreon page you'll get the ebook as a perk or you can buy it as a single download on this blog (coming soon). Thanks for supporting!
  • Fixed-cost (aka overhead) - "Business expenses that are not dependent on the level of goods or services produced by the business. They tend to be time-related, such as salaries or rents being paid per month." In our case, this also refers to subscriptions to Adobe Creative Cloud, dropbox, hosting services, url registration fees, business phone lines, etc.
  • Variable-cost - "Costs that change in proportion to the good or service that a business produces." This can be things like sound effects, music or images purchased for use in a project which won't be reimbursed. For the purposes of this blog entry, this will refer to the cost of hiring other people like those referred to above.
The basic strategy is this:(stay with me, here, because it could get a little hard to follow... here we go!)
  • Your fixed monthly cost = $3000 (technically this would be a goal, because maybe you need $1500 in expenses and want another $1500 to "earn a living"... but a goal is a goal so you should treat it as a need)
  • You tend to produce 3 minutes of animation per month, on average.
  • That means you can/should aim to charge $1000 per minute of animation completed.
  • It takes you 3 days to complete one-minute of cleanup animation, you may decide to hire a Freelancer to do that.
  • Your variable cost of hiring the Freelancer is $250 per minute of cleanup animation completed.
  • It's a bit simplistic, but basically your per minute rate is now $1250.
  • You've now saved yourself 3 days of work per minute of animation would would normally complete in a month.
  • Therefor, you've effectively given yourself 9 extra days per month to find work or even animate an EXTRA full minute of animation!
  • 4 minutes of animation produced in that month
  • Earned $4000
  • Paid Freelancer $750
  • Total profit = $3250
you've deepened your client networkincreases your profile as an established brand in the industry.

I hope this 4-part series helped you to either start your own freelance animation business or refine the direction of the one you already have. If you're in one of those two categories, please send me a message and let me know your story because that always brightens my day! THE EBOOK will be on sale this month or you can become a Patron at any level on my Patreon page and get it as a perk! If you signed up for the Newsletter in the month of January and before, you're getting a copy for free... thanks so much for following! As for becoming a Freelance Animator, the bottom line is that nobody is going to invite you into it. If you want to get into the game, you'll have to jump right in. While I do advise you to make a plan to follow through on, you should absolutely revisit that plan as you progress and adapt to the new opportunities and personal experiences that are presented to you. If you want more help than is in these four blog posts (1 2 3 4) and podcast episodes (1 2 3 4), I am available for consultation at $100/hr Skype chat or an hour chat every month for $50 via Patreon.


I have an animation tutorial book coming out in March through the respected art book publisher Focal Press, it's available for pre-order now and is fully updated for the new Adobe Animate CC release! Click the image to check out the Amazon page if you like this and other blog posts and the way I explain things           TL;DR Hire people to take on tasks that you can't or don't want to do (i.e. taxes, scheduling, background design, cleanup animation), form a cooperative relationship with another Freelancer to trade work, and use these options to open up your day and provide more time to search for new job opportunities and complete bigger projects. This is part 4 of 4 in a "Freelancing School" series. Check out the other parts using these links:

Posted by rubberonion - February 19th, 2016

This is part 3 of 4 in a "Freelancing School" series. Check out the other parts using these links:

Pledge anytime on Patreon to get the full ebook in February! Here's what is covered in this week's blog post on MAKING MORE MONEY:

... there's also a "Too Long Didn't Read" section at the bottom if you just want the gist! So let's not waste anymore time and get into the good stuff! Listen to this blog post as a podcast!

Or via SoundCloud if you prefer...  

bury the lede

One of the benefits of freelancing is that you're your own boss. One of the drawbacks of freelancing is that you're your own boss. The fact is that you have no office to walk into and ask for a raise or a holiday bonus. If you want a raise, you have to give a raise to your entire business. That is much easier said than done, though. There are basically three ways you can get more money coming in. You can:

  1. raise your rate
  2. get more work
  3. work more hours (if you're on an hourly rate instead of a per-project one - we'll get to that later).

... that's it. Secret over. You may need the question answered "how to get more work." Here's the answer: find out who needs work and tell them why you're the person for the job... and do that a lot. You may need the question answered "how to work more hours" which I kind of already addressed in my ever-popular productivity post/podcast. But at some you'll arrive a plateau of monetary gain and it will feel like you have no more options left to try. You may be to the point where you need to consider growing your business and diversifying your income (that will be next week's topic), but if not... you need to raise your rate.

Fluctuations in your salary work a lot like weight; and changing your salary is like dieting. The basic idea of dieting is "calories-in vs calories-out." If you're taking in more than what's going out, you'll gain weight. It's the same with your salary. Understand that no matter how many times someone hears this, it doesn't seem to get easier. A lot of new freelancers I talk to respond with "but I already have raised my rate a few times." It's tricky, I'll grant you, because there is a limit to how high you can raise your rates before you start needing to offer something substantially more appealing to your services... but I bet you haven't met that limit yet. Raise your rate.  

There's something you'll eventually have to overcome as a Freelance Animator that I've come to call the "artists' pay insecurity." Artists are fueled by their own motivations, mostly, which culminate in some form of inspiration. But if that's the fuel, the oil to keep the engine running smooth is appreciation. This gets back to an idea we deal with a lot on the podcast which is subjectivity vs objectivity. Take the example of this Rothko painting which sold for $46.5 million at a Sotheby's auction in New York last year. Most people would find that ridiculous... unless you're an art collector. The person buying this piece didn't look at that giant-tile looking, blue & yellow colored painting and think "mm that looks nice... I like that in a quantity the equivalent worth of $46.5 million." Most likely the person recognized the art historical significance of owning a signature style "multiform" piece by Mark Rothko, one of the most famous abstract expressionists. The money that collector paid wasn't based on artistic appreciation but on the recognition of what owning it meant as an investment. So let's separate pay from appreciation because they're rarely equatable. 

Payment isn't a compliment, it's compensation for services rendered (which is often also met with an extra bonus of how valuable your "name" or "brand" is). Artists sometimes treat pay like a pat-on-the-back... like they want someone to just give them the money because they don't want to ask for it. After all, nobody likes to ask for a compliment. If that's you right now, you need to get over that fast. Your animation is worth what you say it is - how much of that "worth" you'll actually receive from the client is relative to how much they value you. That gets played out sometimes in negotiation but don't mistake what we do for some used car salesmen tricks... it's simply about everyone getting something they're happy with. Hiring a Freelancer isn't bargain shopping and most clients know that (especially the ones you're getting in your 3rd year).  

There's something that happens in everyone's Freelance life at some point or another: reaching a "plateau." A freelance plateau is a little complicated because it's about the balance of all the factors which go into your work. Your freelance animation business at this point in year 3 is probably made up of the following:

  • Your rate (aka $$)
  • Number of hours in a day you can work
  • The quality of your art
  • Your efficiency in producing animation

That will result in your salary and the quantity of work producedEssentially, as I pointed out in the start of this post, if you can't give significant growth to any of those bullet point areas listed above, one or both of the previously mentioned results will stagnate... and that's your freelance plateau. I don't particularly like the use of the word "plateau" because... this is a plateau:

That flat-top part there - that's the plateau. I'll often see posts that say "break through your plateau" or "plateau busting" tips... that's a mixed metaphor. It's not a barrier, it's a flat geological formation and I think the word implies that there's nowhere else to go. But it's the word everyone is accustomed to when talking about stagnation so I've used it for communication purposes. The key to getting yourself out of a Freelance Plateau is to stop looking at it as something that actually exists... because it doesn't. It's just a moment in time where your growth has stagnated and there is something you're not seeing and/or doing to change that. There is no plateau.  

"Make more money" is not a good goal. There's nothing specific to aim for and no numbers to track progress. You want to set salary goalposts so you can take your "envisioned" goal and turn it into an "envisaged" one. You probably already have an idea of what you want to raise your salary to this year, just make sure to be realistic about it. If your salary progress has been halted, just getting out of it will be hard so you probably won't make your first few goalposts, but having modest goals will help you not to lose heart when you inevitably fall behind on those goals. I recommend taking your goal salary for the year and then divide by 10 to get your monthly goal. This can account for vacation time, sick days, and those times you're simply not getting work (it happens even in the best of years). That monthly goal will give you all the information you need:

  • How many jobs you need to get
  • What you'll need to charge for those jobs
  • How long you can spend on each job (relative to their budget)

So let's say that you're looking at the month of January and you have 3 jobs lined up: two of which will end in January and one will end in February. You can take your monthly goal, times it by 2 (because you're covering January and February) and then quote each of those jobs a rounded up portion of that total. Example:

  • If your monthly goal is $4000
  • You have 3 jobs starting in January and finishing in February
  • You need those 3 jobs to add up to at least $8000 (to cover the two months)
  • $8000/3 = $2666.67
  • Round up $2666.67 to $3000
  • Quote those jobs at $3000

This is crude math but it should get the point across. You need to weigh your opportunities against your goals and quote accordingly. But the most important thing is to give your client something worth what you quoted. You've made the goal... great. But your client is the one paying you for your work so now that you know what you need to get yourself out of this rut and you've quoted as such, deliver on that promise. Clients will come back to you if you deliver something they're happy with and do so on time... regardless of price.  

This might surprise people, but having an hourly or daily rate actually limits your earning ability. I think most people (especially new Freelancers and even some clients, usually white & lower red chip) think of an hourly rate as an open ended potential to earn tons of money... it's not. It's an illusion which gives too much control to the client. One of the huge benefits to freelancing is that balance you can have between client and contractor. But there are a few things that happen when you charge by hour:

  • you're limited by time
  • no ability to plan for income
  • project scale can change, and with it your total pay
  • does not account for ultimate usage

It's that last one which is usually most beneficial to larger corporations. In Freelance Animation, part of what you're doing is selling the rights to the art you make. The same animation for a small scale job which will be seen by a few thousand people should be quoted less than one with a consumer base in the millions. With a rate based on time worked, this scaling is impossible. When you charge per project, your salary becomes scalable to your efficiency: the faster you work the higher your "effective" per hour rate is.

  1. Be honest, don't swindle. Artists are usually terrible liars and it probably doesn't suit you. Like I said before, if you quote a higher price you should deliver on that. But just remember that the longer you're in the business and the bigger named clients you have in your resume the more cache you have to your brand... that will legitimately raise the price by itself.
  2. Use an "exclusivity" addon As a Freelancer you're often working multiple jobs and sometimes the client wants to know that they have you all to themselves. But they need to know that it's a risky premise for you (putting your eggs in one basket, and all). You can tell them that for an added fee you'll work exclusively on their project for that month, after which you'll take other projects in tandem whether you're done or not (so you don't get stuck working on an exclusive project forever)
  3. Add a "rush order" price If you quote a project at taking you 6 weeks to finish and they would like it done in 4, you can tack on an extra cost for getting it done in that timeframe like a store's rush delivery.
This 4-part Freelancing School series is part of an ebook I'm releasing in February which will have more detailed information on exactly how to build your freelancing business. This blog post is a general taste of what will be in the ebook which you can download by becoming a Patron at any level on my Patreon page. Thanks for supporting!


(for my international readers and people who care not for sports, both of those throws are a called lateral passes... it'll make sense in a bit) Sometimes the niche that you have carved out for yourself goes stale... and that's OK, it's not the end of the world. There are always new areas of animation that are opening up and there's always a hot new style. I'm not saying you need to chase every fad but what we're talking about here is being in and getting out of a rut that has seen your salary stagnate, and if getting out of that means moving laterally into a different area of freelance animation that might be something you'll want to do. Lateral is an adjective which means "from the sides"... so in this case we're talking about when your path forward is blocked, sidestepping to an area where the path ahead is clear. Just like in the GIF above, twice the man with the football had the path in front of him blocked... so he passed it laterally (to the side without directly advancing) to someone whose path ahead was clear. I think the comparison to a football team is appropriate because as a Freelancer you wear many hats, do many jobs, play many positions... you're the whole team.

I used to get a lot of work in game animation, that was a big thing at one point in time. The next big thing after that was banner ads, which I wasn't entirely keen on creatively but it helped me continue to progress my career and salary. Lately I've been contacted to do a lot of explainer videos and even those are on the wane now. To keep growing, I move into different areas where advertisers or parent companies are allocating unusually large funds. My main job is always character animation and the creation of animated shorts, and some of those "hot at the time" areas even still fall into these categories which is great. But when they don't, I don't stop doing the work I love and I'm not usually in it forever - it's a lateral move to an area where my progress forward wouldn't be halted.


A video posted by Stephen Brooks (@rubberonion) on Jan 29, 2016 at 11:24am PST

Law of Large Numbers:

I'm using this term from probability theory a little incorrectly just because I like the name. But basically that law says that the more tests you perform the closer the results will be to the expected value. In our case, the "tests" are our freelance gigs and the "expected value" is our monetary goal. What I'm saying is that sometimes it's better to take many smaller budget jobs with less time commitments than larger jobs with higher budgets. There are a few benefits here:

  1. Lower quality = lower effort = lower creative pressure
  2. Higher turnover rate means more jobs on the resume
  3. Many clients means a widening of your freelance network base
  4. Smaller invoices usually result in faster payment and a more steady flow of income
  5. Diversifying budgets across many clients means if one doesn't pay you lose proportionately less of the whole

There are some obvious pitfalls to this method though:

  1. Constant work means any miscalculation of effort used will create a backlog of work
  2. Easy to get swamped keeping track of communication and the needs of each project
  3. Hard to get out of this pattern once it starts
  4. Limits your opportunity to take on big projects when the opportunity arises if you already have multiple contracts signed

But this is definitely an option. This is what I used to get myself out of the rut I was in during the financial collapse in 2008/9. The opportunity of raising rates on the level of clients I had wasn't there because the jobs at that level where unusually low in quantity - so I dropped back down to white chip and lower red chip clients and back to getting as many jobs as I could in order to crawl out of the pit.  


I have an animation tutorial book coming out in March through the respected art book publisher Focal Press, it's available for pre-order now and is fully updated for the new Adobe Animate CC release! Click the image to check out the Amazon page if you like this and other blog posts and the way I explain things        

TL;DR Set a monetary monthly goal. Raise your rates by emphasizing your professionalism, expertise and efficiency to your client and charge per project instead of by hour.  Alternatively, if you can only seem to get low-paying jobs - lean into that quantity and lower the quality to increase output. This is part 3 of 4 in a "Freelancing School" series. Check out the other parts using these links:


Check out the January #RubberOnionBattle complation right here on Newgrounds and participate by uploading your own to Instagram using that hashtag this month... the Feb battle topic is "Superhero with Useless Power"


Posted by rubberonion - February 4th, 2016

This is part 2 in my 4-part series on how to start a Freelance Animation business. Sign up for my Newsletter in the month of January or pledge anytime on Patreon to get the full ebook in February! Here's what is covered in this week's blog post on BUILDING YOUR BRAND:

... there's also a "Too Long Didn't Read" section at the bottom if you just want the gist! So let's not waste anymore time and get into the good stuff!

This topic was part of the full 2 hour long episode #106 of the RubberOnion Animation Podcast which you can listen to and comment on RIGHT HERE on Newgrounds!

Or via SoundCloud if you prefer...


1>>> Deciding what you want in a freelance business


Morning sketch to loosen up

A photo posted by Stephen Brooks (@rubberonion) on Nov 11, 2015 at 12:42am PST

Last week we talked about what to expect in your first year a freelance animator. That was all about just getting as much work as you could. You learned how to pitch and quote a budget. You built a network and a portfolio.

There's a lot you will learn in that first year that can't be taught - and that's where we focus our attention in the second year. You've basically amassed a ton of data in your first year working completely on your own (like having productivity issues and how to work past them). You have everything you need to build (or rather 'solidify') your "brand."

First, I'll need you to answer a few questions about what you learned in that first year. Namely:

  • Why you like doing what you do
  • What you do well
  • Which jobs do you want more of
  • Why did you get the jobs you did

The things you'll learn from answering those questions are purely focused on you. Because that's a huge part of the freelancing... you. I would say 100% but let's be real, you need clients or customers to complete that equation but suffice to say that without you there wouldn't even be a glint of a freelance business. The point is, if you're going to build a freelance brand... it has to start with something you can do and keep doing. That's what the answer to those questions get you.

Let's take the first question as an example: "why you like doing what you do." Say you like being a freelancer animator because the projects you work on have your style... you get a lot of value out of seeing your own art style spread across the world by way of the variety of clients. In that case... you would want to stay away from jobs where you're asked to mimic a style, where the content clashes with it, or where the end product isn't going to be seen in the way you'd like (i.e. behind a paywall).

That's just the answer to one questions and already you have an idea over the brand you'd like to develop and what its function might look like. I'll address the other three questions and the whole process in more detail in the ebook at the end of the month (don't forget to pledge on Patreon)! Second, now that we have an idea about what you want the work behind your brand to be we need to address the brand itself. The questions are:

  • Are you the brand, is it a business, or both?
  • What's unique about you?
  • Who are your clients
  • What does each "feel" when they think of you(r business)
  • What will help support all of that

The conventional wisdom that you are your brand as a freelancer is a bit misguided, but mostly true. "You" is, as they say, a fluid concept. You don't need to be Andy Kaufman but you are allowed to decide what version of "you" to put out there. I'll give example of these in the ebook but the answer to these questions will really help form what the outward representation of your brand will be.

You have a voice - whether you like it is kind of a separate issue, but it's there. You can either use it or change it but make sure it something you can keep up consistently. You're going to have to have a social media presence in some capacity (at least that's what I'm advocating), which we'll talk about, and I would actually encourage you to let your personality come through but it has to stay on message. For instance...

If you want to be the "retro artist" then your Instagram account shouldn't be filled with pictures of your latest tech. You can have an PS4 but the expression of the joy in that particular purchase doesn't jive with your "brand" then don't share it as such. On the other hand, feel free to share the old-timey refrigerator you just bought. Even though it doesn't have anything to do with animation, if it supports the brand it supports the brand.

If your voice is part of the brand, you need to amplify the "uniqueness" of you to stand out. There are a lot of people who like pop culture, science, storytelling analysis, and learning many different things... but not everyone likes those in the same way I do and has a similar expression to me and deals with animation. That's where I stand unique, so I emphasize those qualities in just about everything I do.

The other questions actually dovetail quite nicely into another area... your niche. So, onto the next section!


2>>> Who your clients are, and developing a niche market 

It's very important to know who your clients are. You can make art for games, sequences for music videos, animated shorts for online brands, motion graphics for commercials... anything really! What you learned in the section above about yourself, your work, and why you were able to get the jobs you did all helped you to figure out who your clients are.

Early on, clients won't find you... you have to seek out the clients. You do this in pretty much the same way as you find any other job, but now you know which jobs to pursue and which ones to let go.

In order to get the jobs you want, show the potential clients a package they can get on board with. That means working within a niche.

What's a niche?

This is a niche. It's basically a hole-in-the-wall where you can put stuff: trophies, icons, flowers, your keys... you get the point. Well this should illuminate an important point about what a niche is regarding your business. You have a product (or are constructing one) and you need to find the right niche to put it in.

Imaging trying to put a signed basketball in a niche that isn't deep enough into the wall, it'll fall out. Likewise trying to place a tall bamboo plant in a niche which isn't tall enough won't be possible.

If you have a dark sense of humor and art style, marketing yourself for preschool animation would be trying to place your product in the wrong niche.

The benefits of a niche are about limiting competition and increasing recognition. You can be "the guy who does weird photographic loops" or make psychedelic hyper-violent cartoon animation... both of those fill a specific niche where you may only be competing with a few other artists (if that)!  


3>>> The “brand” package: name, look, and tagline

Branding is about packaging, and that's what you need to do. If you haven't already chosen a name for your business this would be a good time to do it. You're in the beginning stages of your Freelance business and are still completely malleable.

Type of Names to Use:

  1. Use your own name
    This is obviously the easiest scenario... if you have a unique an memorable name. There's not a lot of people named Rob Yulfo so my cohost on the podcast gets to use his name. There happens to be a lot of Stephen Brooks out there so it was difficult to me to go by my name alone. That's why I needed option 2...
  2. Create a business/personal moniker
    PewDiePie, Egoraptor and my own RubberOnion are all monikers... pseudonyms. We use them as a stand-in for our own personal "art" identities and they can easily serve as a business names by throwing a studio, films, productions, etc at the end of them.
  3. Make a business name
    These are more straightforward business names like Dreamworks or Blue Sky Studios.

How to Pick a Name:

Your name has to be unique, memorable, and easy to reproduce (meaning not hard to spell). It's a balancing act because while nobody can spell "Schwarzenegger," the name is definitely unique and memorable. Because another part of this equation is that you need a name that is untaken. If your name is Kobe Bryant and you're not the "Kobe Bryant" then that's also a problem.

So what you want to do when picking a business name or moniker is to brainstorm words and phrases which describes your brand. Take mine for example: RubberOnion.

  • Rubber comes from "rubber hose animation," an animation style from the 20s and 30s
  • Onion comes from "onion skinning" which is a digital animation term for seeing surrounding frames as transparencies (in traditional animation, sometimes light paper was called onionskin paper, but my name comes from the digital use in order to blend "old" and "new" into one name)

(rubber-hose animation)

One of my favorite website names is Squetch, which is Bernard Derriman's site, taken from mashing together the two words making up the animation principle "Squash & Stretch."

Once you've come up with a good name STOP... you have to check everywhere to make sure that it isn't taken before you settle on it. I'm talking everywhere: URLs, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Tumblr, Google+, everywhere!

It doesn't matter if you're going to use the site, you just need to make sure nobody else does under your name.

So now you've got a name (or are using your own) and you've secured it on every site you can think of... what next?

Logo & Tagline:

These two things kind of go hand in hand because it's not just about the look but about using that to establish a tone. It's that tone which will pull in one audience possibly at the expense of another. Here are some things to keep in mind as you design your logo:

  • Who is your target market (age group, education level, genre interest, etc)
  • What colors do you want associated with your brand
  • Can/should your name be included in the logo
  • What font represents your brand or must you make a custom one
  • Make sure your design is scalable (it will be used in 25x25 avatars and full HD displays at one point or another)

There's two forms of a logo that you should make: a logomark and a logotype. Essentially a logotype is your logo + text (like business name) and a logomark is just the logo. Here are mine:

RubberOnion Logotype (top) Logomark (bottom)



Another very important point is the STAMP TEST... the idea being that if your logo is unrecognizable as a black & white stamp, it's too complicated.

Whether you use it or not, creating a tagline is important for directing focus on what your brand prioritizes. I don't use mine much but in work emails, invoice memos, and business cards but it's:

RubberOnion: "flexible and multilayered"

My tagline supports the business name (rubber = flexible; onion = multilayered) and the terms are what I espouse in my work. So now you have decided what's important to you and your business, you've honed in on a client niche, and have a "brand package" (a name, logo, and tagline). Over the rest of this year you'll be doing the following with it...  


4>>> Self-promotion and how much you can manage


As a Freelancer, you're your own everything (usually). This means you're the IT guy, payroll, marketing department - you name it... you're it. So marketing yourself is part of the game.

The best way to market yourself is one which you can do everyday which supports what you already do. This means having a facebook fan page which supports your brand's personality and links to your collaborators & clients (reinforcing your network at the same time as giving people something to "follow"). It means using a twitter account to interact with fans, peers, and potential/active clients.

Avoid "unitools"

Unitools (single-use tools) are things which have no other function that what they're designed for - think: fryers and rice cookers. We're looking to make use of things that have multiple functions - think: tongs.

Let's take my podcast for instance. It's an awful lot of work for me... and I get no direct monetary return (it's a free show with no sponsors). As a matter of fact, I have to spend money hosting the show. But it serves many functions for me (staying sharp in a career working "from home," having content to release every week, building a following) but it also serves functions for the listener (staying informed, hearing analysis, wasting time on a commute or doing menial tasks... I know my audience).

The subtitle of this section is "and what you can manage" for a reason. I made a very determined decision to produce this podcast and have given it considerable amounts of my time & energy. But this is a unique in my self-promotion lineup because I also...

Even the podcast, which takes such an effort to produce, is also uploaded on the Soundcloud, Newgrounds, and sometimes YouTube... while the post on my own website is double posted on Tumblr and Artiholics.

Try setting up a Newsletter (you can even have MailChimp auto-pull posts from your RSS feed so it's automatic) so people can stay up to date with what you do in another way.

It's all about having avenues to keep your name & brand out there which either doesn't cost you much time ~or~ play multiple rolls of benefit (to you and your audience).

 Building a website is another very important part of self-promotion. I talk about that and other more detailed subjects in the ebook on Starting a Freelance Animation Business coming out next month. If you want a copy you can sign up for my Newsletter to the right sometime in January or become a Patron on my Patreon page at any time!


5>>> Testing your efforts

Periodically throughout the years you're going to want to test and see if what you're doing is working... here are some ideas:

  • Try searching for your business without using your name... only keywords associated with what you do
  • Time yourself (or another) browsing your website in 60 seconds... what was learned in that minute?
  • Ask your clients how they found you, why they awarded you with the gig, and ask for a testimonial

The important part about establishing a brand is that you want it to seem evergreen, but actually remain flexible to the times. Here are a couple logo change examples I pulled from an awesome post on Web Urbanist

Listen to your clients, customers and fans about what they want in your service and if you can accommodate and it fits with the answers to the first question in this post about what you want to do... then do it! It's sometimes difficult to know when being determined is being headstrong... that's actually not something anyone can tell you. It's one of the reasons you became a Freelancer is to make decisions like that for yourself and let your own knowledge-of-self direct your career.  

Listen to this week's podcast for a chat about this topic and make sure you check out next Monday's blog post on the second year in freelancing which is all on growing your brand!  


I have an animation tutorial book coming out in March through the respected art book publisher Focal Press, it's available for pre-order now and is fully updated for the new Adobe Animate CC release! Click the image to check out the Amazon page if you like this and other blog posts and the way I explain things      



TL;DR Use the knowledge of how you work to direct the core beliefs of your brand - this increases the chances of sustainability in tough times because it's built around you. Your self-promotion should be in a voice that supports these "brand beliefs" and consistent across all platforms.

Posted by rubberonion - January 21st, 2016


New Years’ Resolutions are not limited to the gym membership that will never be used or the guitar you were going to learn how to play that one time… sometimes they’re about the career you’ve been wanting to build. While working remotely has become increasingly common due to the prevalence of the internet and cloud based products for businesses, entering the world of Freelance has never been more accessible.

But because of the relative ease of “trying it out,” a lot of people start with a flash and never make it more than a glorified hobby. I’ve made being a Freelance Animator my full-time job since 2006; and on this 10-year anniversary I’ve decided to pass on what I’ve learned about making a real living out of freelancing.

This topic was part of the full 2 hour long episode #107 of the RubberOnion Animation Podcast which you can listen to and comment on RIGHT HERE on Newgrounds!

Or via SoundCloud if you prefer…

This will be a 4-part series, wherein each part constitutes one year… like college. The reason a lot of resolutions don’t end up working out is because there are just too many of them… so nothing get the attention it needs. Focusing on one main goal per year assures that you can make real progress, and as you progress to the next year you’re less likely to lose what you’ve built in the year before.

This weeks is about your FIRST YEAR FREELANCING and the topic is “WHAT TO EXPECT.” We’re going to go over:

  1. How hard is this going to be?
  2. Salary, the hard math
  3. Building a portfolio and client list
  4. How to pitch someone for an animation job
  5. How to quote a budget for animation

If you would like to get this 4-part series as an ebook, you can either sign up for the RubberOnion Newsletter or pledge any amount to my Patreon page (the ebook will be available in the beginning of February after the series has posted).

The last thing I want to say before we get going into the series, even though it might seem self-defeating, is that there isn’t any single tutorial that will tell you exactly how to achieve success because so much of it depends on your own personal will and the uncontrollable factor of timing. So we’re going to be focusing on the general goals and tips that can work across the board so you can get out there and do this thing! Here we go…



The quick and dirty answer is: somewhere between pretty to really hard.

This is the first topic I’m discussing because it’s the one everyone wrestles with when deciding whether or not they should really try this freelancing thing. Think about any long term project, job, research, etc and usually part of the reason someone was able to go through all those sleepless nights and work the way they did was precisely because they didn’t know exactly what lay ahead of them. This is the same idea.

You want to be prepared, but if you think too much about it… well… it might just scare you away from trying. So let’s focus on something slightly different for a moment.


People trying to get back into shape will stick a picture of their former figure on the mirror to remind themselves every day what they’re working toward. It’s not just about visualization but also a constant check against progress – that the path they’re currently on is the right one. So what do you want? Here are some common reasons to go Freelance…

  • Financial independence
  • Freedom to make your own schedule
  • Flexible work environment
  • Control over your career path
  • Almost limitless income potential

Whatever the reason is, or even your reason for having that reason, hold onto it! It’s important to remind yourself from time to time why you’re doing this because you’re going to run into a lot of roadblocks. Namely…

  • Income instability
  • More complicated taxes
  • The need to find work
  • You have no provided benefits (like 401k, dental insurance, etc)
  • Your work/life separation becomes complicated

Like I said, it’s going to difficult. Unless you already have a list of industry contacts and a body of work to show before you make the jump into freelancing, you’re going to have to build everything from the ground up… and that’s the kind of jump into Freelance that we’re talking about here. So first, let’s talk money.


2 >>> SALARY: The Hard Math

The first thing to mention about Freelance is that you’re going to have to make more money than at a studio (salary) job… or at least it’ll seem that way. Play along with this little math game with me. First, figure out how much your monthly expenses are (the easiest way is to look at your monthly credit card and bank statements for the last 6 months to see how much you spend).

STEP 1: For easy math, let’s say that between rent, utilities, food, car insurance, travel, miscellaneous expenses, etc you spend $2000 a month. This will be called X. It’s the amount that you need to make per month as a freelancer. Watch it grow!

X = $2000

STEP 2: When you work at an office, they take your taxes out for you… so what you actually take home on your biweekly paycheck is your “after taxes” (or net) salary and not your “before taxes” (or gross) salary – which is what you’ll have in freelancing most of the time. I’m not going to go into the crazy math that’s needed for this part but just know that with all the tax deduction opportunities for freelancers (like if you buy a computer, you can deduct that amount from your taxable income) but you can usually get your effective tax rate down to about 15% in the United States. So we need to add an amount onto your $2000 needed “after taxes” number in order to get what you’ll need to make “before taxes” as a freelancer. This is pretty complicated math but you need to make $2353 in order to have $2000 leftover after 15% is taken out for taxes.

X = $2353

STEP 3: If you had health insurance through your job, you need to add that monthly amount onto this new number as well. So let’s say your monthly health insurance premiums are $200… add that to the previous amount and the new per month number is:

X = $2653

STEP 4: The last thing you absolutely have to recognize is that you’re not always going to have work. At your studio job, you would know what days you were working and how much you were going to make. In freelance, you have to get the jobs and bill the clients yourself (or have a representative do it for you) and when you first start out, there’s very little chance you’re going to have enough work to cover all months.

So you need to make more money on the months you’re active to be a buffer that will carry you through the months you’re not working. This is a guessing game mostly but I usually tell people to aim for 50% more which means that you’re planning on not having paying work for 1/3rd of the year. So your new number is 50% of step 3 added onto itself making it…

X = $3980


In 2016, there’s an average of 22 work days per month (M-F not including holidays) which means that in order to make $3980 a month you need to make about $180 a workday.

My goal is not to frighten you from getting into freelance, it’s to let you see how much your monthly expenses vs income math changes when you do. That’s part of the deal, you’re giving up financial security in order to have more flexibility, freedom and potential. But in order to capitalize on that potential, you need to work at it… hard. And to do that, you need work. Onto the next section!



Here’s something that might get me in some hot water with the freelancing community… when you’re starting out, you need to take just about any job you can get.

That means you’re going to have jobs that are for a completely unreasonable amount of money in a ridiculous time-frame. The tough truth is that if you’re not able to deliver on those realistic expectations it punishes the client… and if you are, you just learned that you’re way better than you might’ve realized which means on the next job you can charge more (closer to what you’re worth).

Works out pretty well actually. You get some content for your reel and another client to add to the list, which means that other clients will be more comfortable to hire you because you’re not unpracticed.

It’s easy for those of us who’ve “made it” to tell newer freelancers to charge more and don’t settle for less than your worth but almost all freelancers have… because when push-comes-to-shove you need work. And getting five $500 jobs that you have to finish through many sleepless nights in a month will pay the bills while waiting for one that pays $1500 won’t. Experience is how you get better at just about anything and it works in business as well.

The 3 Types of Clients You’ll Encounter:

I breakdown clients you get through the years into poker chips (Old West colors, to be exact).

  • White Chip ($xxx): These are mostly like your friends, family, and friends of friends or family friends… you get the point. If you’re starting off with a nonexistent client list, your network is very limited. They’re 3-digit jobs mostly, meaning you’ll get $100 here and $200 there. These people have rarely hired someone for work and even less so for animation and are very nervous about the purchase. You have to show them you’re excited, get the job done quickly, listen to their feedback, and be sure to limit the amount of changes so you can move onto the next job.
  • Red Chip ($x,xxx): You’ll get Red Chip Clients through networking hard. Use the reel you built up in the first few months to get as much new work as you can and hustle. These guys pay 4-digits so you’re looking at one job paying your month’s expenses if your lucky. You’re still in the work as fast as you can phase but you can rest the hustle a little bit and focus more on quality when the right job comes up to really spice up your new reel.
  • Blue Chip ($xx,xxx): You only get this type of client from high-end referrals really. They’re name-brand clients and once you get your first 5-digit job it feels really good… you made it! Don’t rest on your laurels too much though because while they can cover many months expenses, by the time you get here your expenses might have gone up. Treat these clients well and they’ll do the same for you… but don’t be naive because the business world punishes that.

Places to Look for Freelance Animation Work Early On:

  • Craigslist (yes, really). OK, fair enough, there’s some really scummy people on here – but your early freelancing hustle means you need to contact a LOT of people in order to get work and there’s a lot of people on craigslist looking for cheap animation. Just find the ones not so cheap and scammy and keep your head clear (see below for how to pitch and quote)
  • Forums and Animation Facebook Groups: a lot of animators hire others to help them out when a big project comes in… it’s how I started my virtual studio. When that time comes, many will turn to a forum or facebook group they’re a part of. Working with another animator can be very rewarding because they might show you techniques & workflows you didn’t know and they also know how to explain what they need as the end product… they know the lingo.
  • Freelance websites like Wooshi, iFreelance, elance, can be a bit hit and miss. I wouldn’t ever pay to be listed on one of these sites because in my experience, the client lists is very similar to what you’ll find on craigslist. But you need to spread the message far and wide that you’re ready for work and these are a good resource if free.


4 >>> HOW TO PITCH for animation jobs

Pitching is basically just contacting someone looking for work and telling them why you’re the best one for the job. Mostly this will be through email so you want your first impression to give the needed information without overloading them into not even bothering to read it. Here’s some tips:

  • Tell them who you are, where you’re from (if it’s relevant), and what you do.
         “My name is xxxxxxxxxx and I’m a freelance animator specializing in hand-drawn character animation.”
  • Explain where you saw their call for work and convey excitement about a specific part of the job
         “I saw your post on the facebook group xxxxxxxxxx looking for someone to come aboard your music video project. I checked out the band in the link and I think this gig would be right up my alley and would really like to be a part of it!”
  • Send a link to your website (which should have your reel on the homepage) and one relevant video
         “My online portfolio is located at xxxxxxxxxx.com and I’m also linking a music video I animated for xxxxxxxxxx which might be relevant.”
  • Request a follow up email and let them know you’re available for an alternative means of contact
         “I would love to hear more about the project and talk specifics if you’re available for a Skype chat. My name is xxxxxxxxxx. Looking forward to speaking with you!”

That will get your foot in the door and will get you a message back at least some of the time early on, after that it’s up to you to close the deal. That’s where the second part of this comes in — quoting a budget.

NOTE: The ebook will have more information on things like contracts and methods of payment, but I don’t want to leave you hanging so the quick info is that emails can work as contract in certain situations and getting paid through PayPal for small jobs and Bank Transfer for big jobs is usually the best practice today. To get the more detailed ebook on how to start your freelance business when it comes out next month, sign up for the Newsletter in the month of January 2016 or become a Patron on my Patreon page at any time!


5 >>> HOW TO QUOTE A BUDGET for animation

The first thing you need to do is get information about the project. Not only does it help you actually make an educated guess at an appropriate budget, but it also serves to put your client’s mind at ease that you actually know what you’re doing (you do, don’t you?… don’t answer that). Here are some things to ask:

  • How many minutes/seconds is the animation
  • What is the general content of the action (is it a fight scene or two people talking on a bench… that kind of thing)
  • Number of characters you have to animate
  • Is there a particular style they want to mimic
  • Where do your duties take over (are you provided audio, designs, storyboards, etc?)

With that information, you want to ask “what kind of budget were you thinking for this project?” Mid-level clients seem very hesitant to answer that question… probably because they want to get as much work out of you for as little money as possible (and why wouldn’t they, really) so they don’t want to risk saying a number higher than what you would. That puts the pressure on you. But really… there’s no pressure… here’s why.

You are quoting how much money it would take to complete what they’re describing, in the style they were imagining, in the timeframe they want. The bottom line is that if the number you say is too high for them, you ask the question again… what were they hoping to spend. When they tell you that number you can tell them what you can do for that amount, be truthful, and tell them the ways you can make that happen. They see that they’re getting a good deal and everything is on the table.

Here’s how you calculate a $$ amount:

Think about how many days it would take you to complete the project… then double it. So if you think it’ll take you about 10 workdays, figure on it actually taking you 20. That’s one month.

The reason you do that is not to get more money out of them, because you’re not even thinking about money right now… what you’re thinking about is time. They are going to have changes. There are going to be communication issues. There are going to be a thousand things that you’re not able to account for which will come up in your freelancing career that affect not just your ability to complete the project you’re working on but also take on further projects in the meantime.

In our example here, you’ve figured on a perfect workflow finishing in 10 days. You doubled it to account for errors and figure on 20 days. You figured out your daily rate above ($180 per workday) so you multiply that with the number of days and you get $3600 for the whole project.

From there, you can negotiate all the way down to $1800 (still within the “Red Chip” category) if need be.

Should I go below my quote amount?

That is completely up to you, but there are many times that I have. I don’t agree with the idea that it weakens your position as a professional… on the contrary, I think it reaffirms that you’re in complete control over what projects you take and why.

I will go below a quote for personal reasons like I believe in a project (nonprofit organization) or practical reasons like it’s been a slow month and I need some quick income to offset the loss.

It’s up to you how you make these decisions but if you don’t always need to make high-art, you can compromise however you damn-well please… you’re the boss. Just make sure you’re doing it for your own reasons and not being bullied into it.

There is nothing more satisfying than saying “no” to an unreasonable potential client. You just averted disaster. You’re like the bouncer at your own club… that client was drinking to much and had to go.


Year One, final words…

The first year, you just need to get work… and a lot of it. There will be much more detailed information in the ebook released at the end of the month so be sure to sign up for the newsletter and/or pledge to my Patreon to get it!

If you’re young and energetic I don’t think you’ll have a problem. If you’re a bit older, you’ve probably had the opportunity to get a good list of referrals and references before jumping into freelancing so in that case you’ll be fine. It’s all about leveraging your energy to work and the quality of work you have coming in.

Lower quality jobs means you’ll have to do a lot more of them, which means you need the energy to go through that phase.

Higher quality jobs means that you’ll be able to focus more on the quality of the animation therein, which propagates into getting better work from that in your reel.

Listen to this week’s podcast for a chat about this topic and make sure you check out next Monday’s blog post on the second year in freelancing which is all on growing your brand!

I have an animation tutorial book coming out in June through the respected art book publisher Focal Press, it’s available for pre-order now and is fully updated for the new Adobe Animate CC release! Click the image to check out the Amazon page if you like this and other blog posts and the way I explain things


TL;DR Get as much work as you can. The whole goal for this year is to get as many clients as possible while staying afloat financially and getting a lot of content for your animation reel. Next year, you’ll use this to leverage yourself into a brand and grow.