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by Valerie

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Our 5th anniversary issue called for a celebratory graphic and "Bug Dance" fit the bill. I got the basic idea for the shape of the bugs from a freeware dingbat font, but actually drew the individual bugs myself, using MS Paint. Creating several different poses gave me enough material with which to work, and I then made them leap vertically to give more interest. I turned them into different colors and used the timing on the animation frames to create the illusion of a rhythm.

The next animation, "Firefly vs. Lightning Bug," began as a verbal pun, since lightning bugs and fireflies are just two names for the same insect. It was only a matter of figuring out the best way to graphically illustrate the idea I had in mind. It turned out to be pretty easy, using the blur function in MS Photo Editor after creating the simple shapes with MS Paint. The timing on each frame added the finishing touches.

How to tell the difference between a firefly and a lightning bug.

Because our newsletter comes out on the 21st of each month, I sometimes use holidays that will occur in the next month. Often, for the June issue, I create an Independence Day cartoon. However, I've done quite a number of those and so chose to highlight the Summer Solstice instead. It took awhile to figure out what I wanted to convey, since there is much mysticism and ritual applied to the lunar holidays. Wanting to play with the idea of the sunlight hitting a carefully chosen spot only once each year, I decided to strip away the solemn and sacred overtones, leaving just the mundane fact that some bugs avoid the light. It turned out to be more difficult to create the animation than I thought it would be. The brick wall is simply a clipart background. The hole was easy enough, with the 3D effect being done in a little program called Z Paint. Even making the light "grow" wasn't too complicated. However, the resulting graphic file size was too large, so I had to eliminate as many colors and frames as possible without degrading the quality too much. The bugs had to crawl out of the light area and end up in the darker part, which necessitated an adjustment of their coloration as well. In the end, it turned out to be a heavier graphic than I would like, but the effect was satisfactory.


Having no intention of doing yet another animation, I planned on creating a static image. However, the idea came into my head of synchronized swimming, or water ballet, (who knows where these ideas come from?) and the animation just about made itself. "Whirligig Water Ballet" consists of one small animation copied numerous times to give the impression of more activity. The original bug image was one of my own clipart graphics, and I simply manipulated the insects in MS Paint. Having a GIF animator program like the Ulead GIF Animator Lite that I use is essential for working with the multiple frames and adjusting the timing of each. After the bandwidth gobbling graphic of last month, this one turned out satisfyingly lightweight.

During a rather dry period in the creativity department, I simply chose a fetching picture I'd taken of a newly hatched baby mantis. This one is called "Welcome to the World."

The idea of the creativity fount drying up gave me the idea for the next image. "Rainbow Fountain" is nothing more than a little clipart doodad that matched the letters of the heading for that issue. A lot can be done with resizing and repetition.

The approaching Halloween issue was just what I needed to get back into animations. Although I didn't need to make this GIF transparent, it ended up optimizing to a smaller size than one with a white background. The GIF Optimizer program that I use works wonders, and I never know quite how much bandwidth usage it can shave off, but it always does pretty well, especially if I try both transparent and non-transparent versions. This one is called "Shadow Show."

After several false starts on an animation for our next issue, I came up with "Weapons of Moth Destruction." It was drawn entirely in MS Paint, but is unusual in that it consists of two overlying files. The aromatic moth balls are on a background layer (which also happens to be transparent), with the rest of the image being a transparent normal animation. I knew that my pun probably wasn't original, but I was a bit surprised at how extensively it showed up on a Google search.

Weapons of Moth Destruction

The next Christmas issue design was planned months in advance, after I'd noticed that the bodies of a type of cactus bug nymph are either red or green, just like little Christmas lights. The shape of the bugs is even bulb-like. "Cactus Bug Lights" started out as a photograph of a single bug. After removing the background, simplifying the color range, and duplicating the insect at various angles, I was able to adjust the color of the abdomen to give a blinking light effect. This was one of the few times I used a more complicated graphics program: Photoshop Elements.

The look of the issue preceding Valentine's Day was Art Deco, so the characters of a freeware dingbat font by Jeffrey N. Levine called "Don't Bug Me" were just perfect. Using just a few of the images, then slightly altering them, made it possible to create a little animated interaction appropriate to the holiday, called "Bug Love."

Having just returned from a lengthy trip to the winter wonderland of Wisconsin, not only did I have very little time to create the next newsletter, but I also had some delightfully different snow scenes. We get precious little snow here in central Texas, so the white landscape in the north was quite a pleasant change of pace. I simply put a border around one of my photos and named it "Wisconsin Winter Worm." For those that are wondering, the "worm" is a tunnel used in dog agility classes and trials.

We are well into spring-like weather weeks before the arrival of the vernal equinox, so I was thinking about new leaves sprouting, quickly followed by the emergence of millions of caterpillars that eat them. The term "Salad Days" came to mind, and I thought it referred to a person's youth, when they are full of energy but still naive and prone to making mistakes. The image that went with this was a small caterpillar eating a big leaf too quickly and giving a little belch at the end. I looked up "Salad Days" on Google and found out that it really is a quote, from none other than the King of quotes: Shakespeare. The meaning is as I'd thought. Where did I ever hear of this before? I certainly cannot remember. Anyway, I like it when the title to a piece can have more than one meaning, from the literal (the caterpillar is eating a leafy green) to the literary (it is an immature insect that enthusiastically gobbles up food too fast for its own good). Of course, caterpillars are genetically programmed to eat as much as possible as fast as possible, so it's only funny to us humans. As if any caterpillar would have an opinion about a computer graphic in the first place.

As with many of my illustration ideas, the next one came from something I'd just recently seen. We have periodic outbreaks of forest tent caterpillars, which tend to congregate on the trunks of trees in the evening for bedtime. They weren't terribly bad this year, but in the past there have been thousands climbing up and down our trees (and eating all the leaves), hence the idea of never ending caterpillar swarms shown in "Tent Caterpillar March." The beautiful pattern on the backs of the caterpillars was easy to replicate and the whole animation was drawn in MS Paint. The final displayed graphic is actually several repetitions of a smaller image presented in two rows to give the "swarm" effect.

The next graphic was for our May issue, so the inspiration for "Graduation" is pretty obvious. I'd wanted to create this idea for some time but could never picture it in my head until now. Again, the entire animation was drawn in MS Paint, so the figures are rather primitive. Any student who has completed his coursework can empathize with the struggling larva and its exhuberance upon completion of the whole ordeal.

As one of the more complicated animations I've designed, "Ode to Insects" took quite a while to complete. The idea was pretty simple, but trying to get a bunch of swarming bugs as well as the words placed correctly turned out to be more difficult than anticipated. The "Ode" is supposed to sound like an ancient poem, but, of course, I just made it up myself. I started with a clipart background. The circling bugs are some of my own older graphics. Placing them over the background was not much of a problem. Getting the text to show over the blue sky was. Different browsers show the same code differently, and when spacing is critical, a few pixels here and there can throw the whole thing off. I had to create a transparent spacer GIF to get the words to be in the uppermost part of the table. Perhaps there is an easier way to do it, but I couldn't figure it out. This set of images does not display quite right in Firefox, and I cannot deduce why. The pixel numbers are counted out exactly and it looks fine in MS Internet Explorer, although the version on our desktop shows the speed of the graphic faster than the indicated timings.

I guess I had poetry on the brain, as the very next graphic is also based on a textual idea like the previous one. This animation had a much different execution, though. "Bug Poem" was inspired by Dr. Seuss' One Fish, Two Fish and a delightful little kids' book called Dinosaur Roar!. The illustrations are all old engravings with text added in Ulead Photo Express. My first version was bigger, but it gobbled too much bandwidth, so I had to reduce the size of the whole thing. Even at this size, it is still heavier than I prefer.

The next month, my idea for a cartoon came out of the blue. It is simply a whimsical version of a pill bug, or roly-poly. They really don't roll up in order to travel faster, but it seems an easy jump of the imagination to imagine something like "Rollin' Along." Slightly reminiscent of a creature created by Escher. The whole animation was done using MS Paint.

By now, I'd been doing a lot of animations and was actually hoping to think up a static image. However, the idea at which I arrived turned out to be best illustrated with yet another animation. For some reason, I thought about how we use insects to describe certain things, even though there is no real "species" for such. An example is "A bee in one's bonnet." What the heck does a Bonnet Bee look like? I also found it amusing that when the words are reversed, it takes a second to think of the associated metaphor. I was quickly able to think up several other different bugs and, voila, another animation. The similarity to "Bug Poem" is probably obvious, as "Know the Metaphorical Insects" uses more old engravings of insects with added text.

Still thinking in moving pictures, I came up with "Pumpkin Bug" after a frustratingly dry creative period concerning an easy holiday like Halloween. With so much entertaining imagery associated with Oct. 31, I thought it should be easy to make some sort of graphic that was keeping with the theme. The big stumbling block is that my idea must also be rather easy to execute because I don't want to spend a lot of time on it. Does the light in the pumpkin come from an unseen candle or is the insect perhaps a lightning bug?

I really wanted to do a non-animated image this time, since I'd been doing animations continuously for the past 8 months. I came close. While the image is static, I used mouse-overs to create an interactive graphic. Images in WMF (Windows MetaFile) format are often cumbersome to edit because they are not as universally accepted by small graphics programs, but for this kind of visual effect, it was the perfect thing. I always end up switching to BMP format eventually, though, as that then is the best way to get to a GIF. It's easy to see why I chose the title that I did.

(move your cursor onto the bugs)

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