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by Valerie

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Inspired by the latest news about Mars' opposition, I was thinking astronomy when I came up with the next image. Although the design is simple, I had to learn to use a new program in order to render it. The caterpillar began as a clipart Windows metafile, a narrowly used format that has many limitations, but also some nice features. By using a program called Metafile Companion, I was able to change the color of the caterpillar to gray, eliminate a shadow, and add the lines and stars. Without going into a lot of detail, the benefit of working with the metafile in this case was that the final image would have uniform anti-aliased edges when I converted it into a GIF for use on the web. The graphic is called "Vermiculus Major," a name I invented for an imaginary caterpillar constellation. The translation from Latin basically means "Big Grub."

I couldn't think up anything original and so decided to do something a little different. I take a lot of photographs of flowers, insects, and other small creatures, partly because I am interested in that type of photography and partly to provide illustrations for use on our Garden website. This image departs from the norm of having a title. It is simply a photo of an inchworm in a rose, taken at Zilker Gardens, here in Austin. The frame around the picture was designed to match the letters of the heading.

After a break from creativity, I got the urge to do something a bit more involved. Halloween images are always particularly substantial grist for the animation mill, and the old song about the worms crawling in and out lends itself nicely to simple GIF animating, so "Ghoulish Grub" was a natural. The skull was from a clip art collection and the grub was drawn directly in MS Paint. This was another case of using a Windows Metafile for the original image, so that I could change the colors quickly. After converting it to a bitmap and keeping it aliased (no smoothing of the edges), it was easy to manipulate the jaw and also move the grub along through the cartoon. Worms and skulls can be portrayed in a variety of ways and so this idea may appear in an alternative form sometime in the future.

The worms crawl in, the worms crawl out...

Just before creating the November issue for 2003, we had a rather intense wind storm that finally blew most of the dying leaves off the trees in our yard, all in one night. This gave me the idea for "Autumn Caterpillar" which simply plays on the idea of more than just leaves falling. All the frames were drawn in MS Paint, hence the simple look to the cartoon.

Good thing it only happens to trees...

I was on a roll with the silly animations and continued with the Christmas issue. "Kissing Caterpillars" was, once again, drawn completely in MS Paint, but the mistletoe is actually a separate clipart graphic. Having started out as a Windows Metafile, I changed the colors and removed detail from the original image to match my hand-drawn caterpillars. It might be noticed that most of my recent animations are not transparent and so need a frame when shown over the gray background image of these pages. Although I'd like to have the aesthetic quality of the transparency, the file size of the GIF animation can be reduced far more when it is left out, sometimes by as much as 80%. Because our newsletters always have a white background, it makes no difference until I transfer the images here to the archives. Although I like to add graphics to our pages for cosmetic reasons, I am ever aware of bandwidth usage, especially for people viewing our pages through dial-up modems.

Once again using a clipart image as the basis for an animation, this graphic was a bit more subtle than most. The images of candy were simply color shifted to give the different "flavors" and the one animated piece has a maggot drawn in MS Paint. Because all the action takes place within the border of the image, no transparency is necessary. The surrounding "candy box" is simply an HTML table. I added the text at the top because I wasn't sure that the illusion of candy was obvious. Perhaps only somebody who has eaten an old piece of chocolate and then discovered worms in it can really appreciate this little cartoon. The words below were created using the text function in Ulead Photo Express, a program that happened to come with our scanner.

Have a piece of candy...

The issue for which the following design was created happened to fall just before Mardi Gras and the letters of the heading were colorful and festive in appearance. As I've done before when a better idea just wouldn't materialize, I took elements from the letters of the text and turned them into larval insects. Once this graphic was completely, the caterpillars had a rather angular and modern look, thus inspiring the title "Punk Caterpillars."

Not quite ready to do another animation just yet, St. Patrick's Day was the inspiration for "Clover Caterpillar." While the design looks pretty simple, it actually involved a lot of different steps to get to the finished product. The clover leaf was a Windows Metafile clip art image, which I altered, colored, and then made 3D using a program called La Fonta. It was then reduced numerous times in Batch Thumbs. The caterpillar was another clip art image that only had to be rotated and reduced, then combined with the other images.

We were having a bad (or good, depending on your point of view) spring for caterpillars in our yard, with so many of the wee beasts that some of our smaller trees were completely defoliated as they started to leaf out. It was also a great spring for many flowers, so the following animation merely evolved from those ideas. The entire cartoon was drawn in MS Paint, except for the flower petals, which were designed using a "quick draw" function in Serif Draw Plus. After reductions in the size of the images and the color palette, and optimizing in a program called, appropriately, GIF Optimizer, the total size of the animation was reduced to a manageable number of kilobytes and "Super Cat" was born.

Sometimes a rather strange idea can result in a graphic for which nobody really needs to know the background. The following image began with the eggs, matching animated letters in the title in which the letters "hatched" out of eggshells. For some reason, I thought of green caterpillars and then of the Dr. Seuss book, Green Eggs and Ham. Twisting the words around resulted in "Green Cat and Eggs." The egg was a clip art illustration and the caterpillar was scanned from an old engraving, colored and given 3D effect, using various programs for each step.

I love fireworks, especially the big colorful ones. The effect of watching these large displays from a distance has always fascinated me. When up close, the explosions seem to go slower than when seen from far away. I'm not sure which I prefer, they are just different experiences. The idea for "Bug Works" came from some bug stars that I created for our clipart site. I started with the existing graphic and then moved the bugs into the center and outwards to dissolve. The final effect was so neat that instead of just making 3 as I had intended, I made 6. The cityscape below started as a clipart line but I embellished it to make it more interesting. The separate animations are positioned using a table. Each image has a different number of frames and different timings so that they appear more random. In spite of the incongruous light background, I think the effect is rather good.

I think the creative fount dried up after my last effort so the next graphic is pretty simple. "Lime Bugs" started as a freeware font by Jeffrey N. Levine. Using Ulead Photo Express, I simply used several of the "letters," added 3D and shadow effects, and mirrored the images. The colors and texture matched the letters of the heading.

The letters of the heading for the following issue were a brilliant gold and I wanted an equally bright image to match, hence "Rainbow Cat at Sunset." The caterpillar was hand drawn (after the larva of the Gulf fritillary butterfly) and scanned in. Colors for the background sunset were added in Microsoft Word, while the rainbow on the bug was created in paint, then blurred in MS Photo Editor. For such a simple result, I often use an embarrassing number of different programs. At least it doesn't take very long.

The title came first on the next image. "Bug Bomb" is a composite of two different existing clipart images. The ladybug bomb began at the full size and I just reduced it over and over in MS Paint. Creating the trajectory was easy in a single graphic, that was then split up into separate frames. The final explosion was part of another animation.

Whenever the Halloween edition of our newsletter rolls around, I enjoy giving vent to my delight in darker humor. "Into the Light" was conceived from an insect's viewpoint, as it heads into the mesmerizing blue light of an electric bug zapper, with pathetically predictable results. This idea actually came from a handheld bug zapper that we love to use on mosquitoes. The entire animation was drawn in Microsoft Paint. I liked the title so much that I included it right under the image.

Into the Light

The color scheme for our November issue was purple, hence the unusual hue of the cicada larva in the next animation. This one was pretty simple. It used an existing tiny clipart bug and I moved its legs to imitate the staggering gait of the real creature. The title, "Persistence," is ambiguous; it can either refer to the animal or to the viewer who watches and waits for something more interesting to happen.

The idea for "Snow Worm" came to me long before I figured out how to realize it. The first problem was how to create a basically white graphic and make it show up on the white background of our newsletter. Then next was how to make it 3D. I solved the first by adding a background. The snowflakes are a serendipitous addition found in the options of my Ulead Photo Express program. A simple border gives the necessary frame. The 3D snowballs were created with Z Paint, a limited, but very useful little freeware program. It took a bit of practice to place them just right, but the final effect was just what I wanted. The facial features were added the same way. In one version of this graphic, I made the background move, but that created a file that was too large for practical web application.

Once again, I came up with the name first, then had to figure out the execution. "Queen of Hearts" seemed like such a good Valentine's illustration that I was quite happy when I found an old engraving of a termite queen that would work. The hearts matched those used with the heading of that issue. Not sure how to combine the images I wanted, I resorted to finally trying to use the layers feature in Photoshop Elements (a program I'd received several months ago). This program is less intuitive and more complicated than the other graphics applications that I usually use, so I had to refer to the Help files a couple of times. Once I got the hang of it, the ease with which I could manipulate the various aspects of the layers made it worthwhile.

Time for another animation. We'd had a lot of rain, and the shape of a beetle comes close to a raindrop. It wasn't much of a stretch to imagine "Bug Drops" but implementing the idea took me awhile. This is actually a single graphic shown twice, side by side. The whole thing was done using Microsoft Paint.

I'd just gotten back from an extended camping trip in southern Florida so beaches were on my mind. Insects are often found on the beach, usually having been blown there, or washed up; it is not a friendly environment for small non-aquatic creatures. Most of the elements of "Beach Bug" were found in various clip art collections, but the wave was hand drawn in MS Paint.

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