Yet another technique for creating the image at the beginning of each LARVALBUG BYTES issue is simply drawing one. "Rainy Day Caterpillar" was drawn with ink and colored with pencils. After scanning the image, I did a bit more shading and blurring of the colors, as well as cleaning up the image, using MS Photo Editor.
Hand drawn frames can be used for animations as well. Several quick sketches of a dehydrating slug were used for the central image in "Slug Melt." The outer images are clip-art animations, while the moving text is simply a <marquee> tag.
One heading that I used had very unusual glassy, dark metallic looking letters. The pair of immature water striders in "Blue Glass Bugs" were created by taking bits of the letters and using them as the elements of the insects. Needless to say, they matched perfectly.
While elegant, detailed images are nice, it is always fun to get back to the rather crude animations that I draw using MS Paint. The theme of the issue on which I used "Scale Insect" was music, which gave me the idea for the animation. For those readers who do not play piano, the caterpillar is plunking out a C major scale, in what is known as classic scale rhythm. My apologies to Steinway for the use of their famous logo. I've been told that I should have added sound to this one, but I really don't like when the computer makes more than the usual warning noises at me.
In keeping with the rather dark humor associated with Halloween, "Cockroach Trick-or-Treat" shows what would probably happen if someone were to open the door to an oversized insect. Yes, the idea was partly influenced by Kafka. The entire animation was drawn using MS Paint.
Now that I know how to create and edit animations, I almost never use those found in clip-art sites in their original form. At the very least, I often have to optimize them for more efficient memory usage. In the case of "Worm Dive," there was little that needed to be done, but I wanted the symmetry of the added bird. The static stork is simply a reversed single frame from the animation.
The technique of fade-out is very effective for rather "tame" animations, but it is difficult to keep the file size to a reasonable level. The letters on "Ghost Caterpillar" were created using MS Word's Word Art function, while the caterpillar itself was a clip-art graphic.
"Larval Lights" was very simple as far as the animation process, but the actual manipulation of the original clip-art image of the caterpillar was quite time-consuming. Each tiny light was added separately to the picture, but then the whole thing was just mirrored.
For "Moon Worms," I drew the moon in MS Paint, then added the little pop-up worms using a popular clip-art animation. Changing the delay on each frame can give an animation the feeling of more random change rather than the predictable evenly spaced delays often used.
Using the special effects of some graphic programs can really save a lame idea. I couldn't think of anything creative to do and so just drew a caterpillar in MS Paint. After mirroring it, pillowing it with La Fonta, adjusting the color to match the heading letters, and adding a drop-shadow, the very ordinary image became much more acceptable. It is called "Lapis Cats."
I've rarely superimposed one animation over another, but I wanted to convey the idea of an individual not quite keeping the same pace as the frenzied crowd. The gray majority is a tiled background image, while the individual larva is a long line animation. This one is called "Larval Hoard."
Sometimes it's just fun to create a montage of several images. When I designed "Christmas Ant Line," I started with the clip-art set of four Christmas tree ornaments. Then I drew a couple frames of an ant to carry each one. When the graphics are placed side by side, they appear to be a continuous line, even though it is just a repetition of the same image. To give the line a start and finish, I found a pleasant Christmas tree on a clip-art site, then added a very simple changing caption, made in MS Paint.
I try to alternate animated and still graphics, but sometimes do a couple in a row that are the same. After two animations, though, it was time for a simple clip art. I had the idea for "Larval Dreams" but wasn't sure how to execute it. It turned out to be more complicated than I first imagined. I drew the caterpillar in pencil, changing it to a black & white line drawing through MS Photo Editor. The butterflies were taken off a clip art CD. To get the graduated colors, I used the Auto Shape function of MS Word. After creating a shape that approximated the area I wanted to fill in, I used the fill effects to put in the graduated colors. Cutting and pasting the base color onto MS Paint, I then overlaid the insect graphic, with the white parts transparent (in order to keep the background solid, I used a mask color). After creating the butterflies, I rotated them in MS Photo Editor, then reduced them with Batch Thumbs. Once I had all the "pieces" it was just a matter of assembling them into the desired design.
For the February 21st issue of 2003, I wanted to make a graphic that reflected both the already past Valentine's Day and the upcoming St. Patrick's Day. After playing around with several ideas, I settled on the concept of a bug playing a ridiculously simple game. In "Bug Game," the beetle starts off amused by the triggered light symbol, but then, even with its tiny arthropod mind, tires of the predictable repetition and so hurries on its way. The "glow" effect was achieved by using the blur function on MS Photo Editor and placing it behind the actual shape.
The idea for the next animation came from watching a flock of cranes fly over our house. The birds were circling in an updraft when I first saw them and looked very unorganized. As they rose higher and higher, their size and calls diminished. Then suddenly, once they had reached their desired altitude, they reformed the familiar V shapes and continued on their northward migration. We also have monarch butterflies that migrate through our area, but of course they just flutter along at random, not at all organized like the birds. This animation is really a smaller picture repeated three times. By creating only the necessary graphics, then duplicating it, bandwidth is saved and loading time is faster. Starting with a clip-art picture of a butterfly, I "squished" it in increments in order to achieve the appearance of the wings flapping. The entire set of frames was created in MS Paint.
Sometimes, amusing ideas just come to me as I'm gardening or watching wildlife. The hard part is to then transfer a simple idea into a usable graphic. For the following animation, I had to draw the different frames. I used a magic marker to give a wide black outline. I then scanned and cleaned them. Since it is really a sort of cartoon, I didn't think that color was necessary and opted to save bandwidth by keeping it in black and white.
The early worm gets the bird.
After doing three animations in a row, the creative fount dried up. I resorted to playing around with pieces of the graphic letters that I used for the heading and came up with "Metal Hole Worms." Using only a small part of the letter "O" in a collage-like format, I made one caterpillar, then used a mirror image to give a symmetrical heading to this issue. The blue eye is simply a clip-art dot.
Having taken a month off from any truly creative efforts, the idea for the next animation came to me when I thought about wanting to include something to do with fireworks (as this issue would be published just before Independence Day). My favorite fireworks are the large and beautiful sky displays, but trying to create an animation that imitates those tends to gobble up memory because of all the tiny dots and detail. In keeping with our insect theme, the caterpillar/firecracker morph was a natural. "Firecracker Caterpillar" begins as a clip-art picture. The forms for the burning fuse tail and the explosion were made very easily with a clever little feature called "QuickShapes" found on Serif DrawPlus, an older graphics program for Windows 95. The final words were layered over the image using the text function on Ulead Photo Express, the program that came with our scanner.
"Gnat Art" is an example of pixel art: the figures are drawn pixel by pixel so the rendering is quite detailed and very "computer" looking. This image is a composite of a still background placed in a table, with an animation centered over it. Although I created the various components, I had used them previously for our clip art site, so I'm just borrowing from myself. The animation is based on a little trick drawing that my father taught me when I was about 6 years old. The 16 dots are drawn first, then, with one continuous pencil line, the loops are added. Done quickly, it can look very impressive; almost like a magic trick. In this case, the gnat is "performing" for an audience of ants.