This is a blog following the production of "Merry Melony", an animated graphic novel about a woman in a surreal world.

I'm Eric Drobile, Lead Animator at Reel FX Studios and cocreator of the worlds most fattening webcomic, Hatefarm. Hope you found this blog helpful and/or entertaining! If you have any comments, questions or crits, don't hesitate to use the "Ask Me Anything" link below.

 

I had neglected to do much preliminary design work for the panel design on the last pages. With this I loaded up Photoshop, blocked in a bunch of shapes, and then worked out edge details. I’ll bring this into Flash, recreate it with vectors, and page 3 shall be born. Spoiler: It’s 4 panels of environments!

I had neglected to do much preliminary design work for the panel design on the last pages. With this I loaded up Photoshop, blocked in a bunch of shapes, and then worked out edge details. I’ll bring this into Flash, recreate it with vectors, and page 3 shall be born. Spoiler: It’s 4 panels of environments!

walterostlie asked
I wanted to start playing around with animation, but I've no idea where to start. I was thinking of doing the animation in Photoshop, but it doesn't really feel like it was setup for animation in mind. I know a lot of people use Flash, but I like a more hand drawn then vector look. I started to mess around with Pencil2D it seems intuitive but drawning isn't as 'crisp' as PS. What do you use or what would you suggest learning with?

I’m using Flash CS3, which is perfectly fine to use for traditional animation if you treat it that way. Although I hear ToonBoom is more updated/suited for that kind of thing, and is more popular among professional 2D animators. I don’t know that it’s very difficult, but I would definitely suggest a trial of Flash to learn the ropes — it’s pretty simple.

Here it is — the first page of my animated graphic novel: “Merry Melony” Book One: “Memory”!
http://drobile.deviantart.com/art/Merry-Melony-Memory-Page-One-441312017?ga_submit_new=10%253A1395190984
Open to comments and suggestions as right now it’s not 100% official! While I’m still working things out there is room for modifications. Eventually it’ll be up on it’s own website, but until then, there are many things to figure out.
With this page, I wanted it to have a lot of animation, to be part of the hook, to set the mood (the moment in this story should feel very alive”) and to experiment with how far I wanted to animate things. The next few pages will by contrast have very little animation. I want to use the amount of animation as a storytelling device. This took quite a long time and I’m hoping no other page takes this long… :D
More on the way! The next page is the title page….

Here it is — the first page of my animated graphic novel: “Merry Melony” Book One: “Memory”!

http://drobile.deviantart.com/art/Merry-Melony-Memory-Page-One-441312017?ga_submit_new=10%253A1395190984

Open to comments and suggestions as right now it’s not 100% official! While I’m still working things out there is room for modifications. Eventually it’ll be up on it’s own website, but until then, there are many things to figure out.

With this page, I wanted it to have a lot of animation, to be part of the hook, to set the mood (the moment in this story should feel very alive”) and to experiment with how far I wanted to animate things. The next few pages will by contrast have very little animation. I want to use the amount of animation as a storytelling device. This took quite a long time and I’m hoping no other page takes this long… :D

More on the way! The next page is the title page….

The dangerous thing about taking a break from your projects is the eventual build up of “a thing” — or fear of returning to it. Today I got over the fear and happily loaded Flash again.
Funny thing about designing characters for comics especially, is that you need to think about how they look from not just all angles, but all distances. With comics and other handdrawn mediums, you end up using a different shorthand of linework and proportions the further away the character gets. I hadn’t considered this much with Melony so when it came time to draw her first panel — which was an extreme closeup and huge panel (most panels will be much smaller), I was kind of unprepared. The expression tests had a lively, almost cartoony look to them, and I wasn’t getting it. The dead-on angle isn’t making things easier.
Back to the drawing board, I looked at some Disney expression sheets, and Aubrey Plaza and realized what I was missing, so I did an appeal pass, or beauty pass. After a lot of experimentation came down to these subtle, but important differences in her face. Mainly bigger eyes, younger appearance, and trying to stay away from “deadface”… minor script rewrites need her to have a bit of a smirk here.
Merry Melony after all.
Curious if you have time to reply — what would you guess Melony’s age is? (right image)
Thanks for tuning it, hope to bring more updates soon!

The dangerous thing about taking a break from your projects is the eventual build up of “a thing” — or fear of returning to it. Today I got over the fear and happily loaded Flash again.

Funny thing about designing characters for comics especially, is that you need to think about how they look from not just all angles, but all distances. With comics and other handdrawn mediums, you end up using a different shorthand of linework and proportions the further away the character gets. I hadn’t considered this much with Melony so when it came time to draw her first panel — which was an extreme closeup and huge panel (most panels will be much smaller), I was kind of unprepared. The expression tests had a lively, almost cartoony look to them, and I wasn’t getting it. The dead-on angle isn’t making things easier.

Back to the drawing board, I looked at some Disney expression sheets, and Aubrey Plaza and realized what I was missing, so I did an appeal pass, or beauty pass. After a lot of experimentation came down to these subtle, but important differences in her face. Mainly bigger eyes, younger appearance, and trying to stay away from “deadface”… minor script rewrites need her to have a bit of a smirk here.

Merry Melony after all.

Curious if you have time to reply — what would you guess Melony’s age is? (right image)

Thanks for tuning it, hope to bring more updates soon!

rexsmealart asked
I think Voice Actors Alliance (or something) has a lot of people who'd fit what you're looking for. VA seems to attract a lotta teenage girls who missed out on regular acting school, I guess.

Awesome, I’ll check it out. Last year I did some browsing on a professional VO site, but I won’t have money for that until after the kickstarter (long ways out).

Script Writing

It’s been a while since I posted, but I have been working on MM nearly every day. A mix of drawing and animating the first page, overall story development, script writing and book/movie research! Here’s some stuff I learned:

  • Robert McKee’s book on story (called, “Story”) is incredibly thought provoking, if not a little long winded. Still making my way through it but very glad I am: 
  • The Save the Cat book series are consistently an amazing resource to have when writing a story: http://www.blakesnyder.com/
  • Reading the screenplays to your favorite/similiarly themed films in addition to watching them (and taking notes, trying to analyze structure, etc) is MASSIVELY educational: http://www.imsdb.com/
  • I’ve been getting into the nitty gritty of writing the script using the incredibly helpful program Final Draft. It only took me a little bit to (re)learn the proper formatting for screenplay-esque scripts as it does most of it for you. Wicked cool.

Now that I have the core story outlined, here are my goals for the end of the month:

Have watched/studied the 8 movies on my research list, have finished reading Robert McKee’s story, have the whole script for the first book at a very decent 1st pass if not a 2nd pass. Have the first page completely finished in animation (no sound design yet).

Looking for a leading actress/or actress willing to do some temporary stand-in dialogue recording!

Once I have the first page done I can begin to experiment with sound design as well as a voice for Melony. If you know any potential female actresses than can have a late-teen to early 20’s sounding voice, can do subtle, subdued acting, with a tired, almost “just haven woken up” sound? It could potentially lead into a full paid gig for 5 whole e-books. Or just be a placeholder for now just to get some stand-in audio as proof-of concept! For the time being however, I’m looking for no more than 10 lines of dialogue preferably free, but we might work something out. For the proof of concept stuff — you don’t even need a great microphone. Hit me up if you’re interested. edrobile@ringling.edu

non-fattofuttiricedreamsicle asked
n though I gradually fell out of my Alice in Wonderland-esc phase, I'm still so utterly in love with Merry Melony and I can't wait to see what you have in store. I mentioned before that I saw this animation when I was much younger, and I'm 20 now and it's still stuck with me. Through this animation, you kind of have a life-time fan. I also read HateFarm and such so. (this came out creepier than expected my sincere apologies.)

Thank you!! I realized when I started the revamp that MM fans have been holding on for a really long time. They are way more hardcore than Mall Monkeys fans or Hatefarm fans or fans of anything else I’ve ever worked on — so I wanted to say thank you and make the best damned story I can for you guys. I promise it will be epic! <3

Some classic, 2005 Merry Melony environment shots, above.

As I get into production on the first few panels, my next stop conceptually is develop the look of her starting environment, which is similar to the above. The responsible thing to do is take a look back at the work and see what worked well and what didn’t. The environment in the original piece was working fairly well — the palette and mood, the juxtaposition of surreal and suburban elements, the scratchy, dusty feel of the linework and detail.

What wasn’t working well? What are my goals for future environments? First off, I want to heavily reference real environments — buildings, nature, roadwork and landscape, as well as real life distasters, hurricanes, tsunamis, tornados, earthquakes. Much of the above was just out of my head, which works well enough but isn’t authentic. Authenticity will add atmosphere, creepiness, and above all, fit the story. In Merry Melony, the environment is absolutely a character. It isn’t anthropomorphism, but because of the dreamlike setting, the environment will shift slightly from panel to panel, from mood to mood, giving hints to a backstory but also subtly changing along with Melony’s character arc.

I also am going to go on a referencing journey through as much classic and contemporary surrealist work as possible. My goal certainly isn’t to rip off any ideas but to see how artists tackle the unreal and hopefully gather my own inspiration from it. I will be doing more studies on dream theories and symbolism in dreams.

The plan for the surrealism in the environments is progressive — in the beginning of the story, things are rusted, old, but recognizable. There is a reason for this — things are not that great, but they will be getting a lot worse. There will be geometric mixups, digital-esque gaps in space, combining elements, hallucinogenic texture, physical impossibilities and dark chasms, but you have to start somewhere. As Melony’s journey goes on, everything gets more and more fucked up. Some of the environment art I did a few months ago explores a little more into the middle of the story.

Goals for the starting environment, nicknamed “Shoreline”

  1. Study real environments
  2. Go for appeal and intrigue but support the story
  3. Hint at backstory, foreshadowing
  4. Establish Melony’s connection with the environment (how does she interact, how does she feel about it)
  5. Make it trippy, but evoke a sense of loneliness, loss, timelessness.

So I have a lot of work to do. Stay tuned!

Inspiration for Merry Melony

I’ll be adding to this list as I’m sure I’m forgetting a few things.

The Maxx
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Vanilla Sky
Silent Hill
Salvador Dali/Classic Surreal Art
Coraline
Alice in Wonderland and other popular classic childrens stories
The Matrix (original)
Beyond (Animatrix short)
Donnie Darko
Waking Life

A great week for the project!

What an inspired week it has been! So much on progress:

  • "Medium" decided on…graphic novel with subtle, GIF-like looping animation. The goal for almost every panel is: "Breathing Painting."
  • First proof of concept animated test panel finished…(or at least very nearly…enough to inform the rest of the project!)
  • All characters developed.
  • A roughed out story outline from beginning to end. Theme, character arcs, symbolism…I filled in a lot of holes and I’m very excited about this.
  • Backstory fleshed out. (The B Story, the “behind the scenes secondary story that will be there for those looking, has finally been nailed dow n!)

Of course there is still a TON of story work to do, but I haven’t had the basic broadstrokes of the story down on paper, together and working in the history of…ever.

I wish I could talk more about story discoveries, but unfortunately this department needs to remain the most hush-hush, for obvious reasons. With so much of the framework in place, however, I can begin more aggressively doing environment designs, character explorations (other than Melony, she’s had enough), and even final work on the official first chapter! WOOHOO!