I always enjoy creating special holiday images, and the end-of-year holidays provide a wealth of material. With the Winter Solstice, Christmas, and New Years, there is plenty from which to choose. This time I wasn't particularly creative and borrowed an idea I'd seen in an older clip-art animation I found years ago. The original animation followed the real song "Twelve Days of Christmas" but my version is new. I think it might be easier to memorize than the verses in the original song. The creature graphics came from various clip-art sources and I just multiplied and rearranged them to fit the words. This one is called "Bug Gifts."
The next animation had been an idea for quite awhile and I finally figured out a way to easily depict it. Most of the elements are clip-art (which saves much time when creating animations - no need for drawing and scanning), with only a small amount of "drawing" being necessary and done in MS Paint. The words were added with Ulead Photo Express. Unfortunately, it's subtle. Even with the words at the end, which give the title, some people don't get it. It helps to have raised dogs or cats.
With a basic theme of water for the next issue, I wanted an illustration that depicted the microscopic life in a droplet. Not wanting to spend a long time drawing or creating the images, I found a water-like button in some clip-art that would do. The little organism that is swimming around in one of the "drops" is reminiscent of the tiny Cyclops copepods that I used to watch in our aquariums. Computer animation is perfect for depicting their characteristic jerky motions.
Looking through some dingbat fonts, I was taken with the idea that font characters could be reproduced in any size (the reason that you can change the size of the text on your computer). The shadowed caterpillar is based on an image from "BugsNFriends," a freeware font by M. Klein. The single image was manipulated in Ulead Photo Express, which allows for distortion of fonts. Whether it's fish or bugs, unusually large specimens are always impressive.
Catch of the Day
By our April issue, here in Texas we are well into bug season. Some years, the spring leafrollers drop down on their little silken threads by the hundreds. Nobody is sure why they do this. Could it be they are just having a good time?
The Original Bungee Jumper
After two years of drought we have had a very wet spring. Many people are surprised to know that you don't have to have furry pets to get fleas in your house. They live all over in the outdoors and, when they are particularly numerous, fleas will attack ankles just as if they were any other passing animal. They are not adverse to hitching a ride into a house while they feast, then settling into the carpet. Was the vernal season named after the antics of fleas? Probably not, but it is an amusing play on words.
Based on a very elegant pixellated bit of clipart, the roses in the next graphic turned out to be one of the prettiest images I've used. The moving bugs are based on ones that I made for my own clipart site.
Days of Bugs and Roses
Anyone who's watched tumblebugs for real knows that they don't work as an organized team. Usually, one does the rolling and one sort of climbs all over the ball. I just took some anthropomorphic liberties with the comedy of their situation. "Tumblebug Tiff" was made using a clipart beetle, hand-drawn dung ball, and text added with Ulead Photo Express.
Considering my penchant for puns and other word play, I'm surprised I didn't think this one up before. It is simply a combination of clipart insects arranged in MS Paint, with text added in Ulead Photo Express.
The idea for the next animation came from our own yard, which happened to be filled with spider webs that we believe helped with keeping the burgeoning mosquito population in check. The web was made with a neat little feature called "quickweb" in Serif DrawPlus. There are a whole slew of similar images that can be made by just a click, along with adjustments for various parameters. Saves a lot of time if one wants an aliased image of this type. I just drew in the mosquitoes by hand with MS Paint. Although the graphic's concept is very simple, I used the timing of the frames to add a bit more interest.
Another quick static idea called "Caterpillar Costumes." I always like alliteration, so when I come up with a title like that I have to figure out a way to illustrate it. This one was done completely with clipart.
The best illustration ideas are appropriate to the month in which they adorn the newsletter. Hence, I like to stick to autumn topics during that season, holidays when applicable, etc. In this case, I'd heard some news about football, and I vaguely remembered that the game is mainly played in the fall. I am not a sports fan. I guess I didn't get the "Halloween" kind of morbid humor out of my system in Oct. and so needed to continue the theme into Nov. This is another animation that uses just clipart images and resizing.
Why caterpillars don't play football
Not enough grim humor? I even carried it into the Christmas issue with "Bug Wrap." I'd thought up this idea several months earlier, but knew it would be best suited to the Christmas issue in Dec. The web was created using the "quickweb" function in Serif DrawPlus. Although I use that program for almost nothing else, it is indispensible for making certain shapes and patterns quickly and easily. The insect and spider are scans of old engravings and the wrapping was done with MS Paint and a clipart bow. The legs and wings of the critters move because I used Photoshop Elements to chop them off and rotate them. I then put them back on using MS Paint because I don't know how to do it easily in Photoshop. I find the jerky motion of simple GIF animations to be perfect for imitating the action of a spider in a web.
Valentine's Day often generates ideas about love/sex/reproduction. Heck, that's what it's all about. This time I used the idea that paramecia and other single-celled microbes do not have to bother with courtship and sex in order to procreate. Rather humorously cynical for the holiday, I thought. I drew a single graphic using MS Paint. The 3D effect was achieved using a freeware program called La Fonta. The arrangement on the page uses multiple copies of the same file.
Who needs love?
Sometimes the humor and/or inspiration for my animations or their titles is not particularly obvious to many people. Sometimes it is not even all that obvious to me. This one started as a caterpillar waiting for a leaf to grow so it could eat it. In Feb. here in Texas that really appears to be the case, with bugs sitting around on the branches, not yet having enough foliage on which to dine. Then I was struck by how my title sounds much like the play title "Waiting for Godot." This is a pretty crude animation, done with very simple MS Paint drawn images. I used La Fonta for the 3D effect in an effort to make it a little more sophisticated and less like a kindergartener drew it. I think I was only partially successful.
Waiting For The Growth
The Easter issue offers various symbols for use in graphics, the egg being one of the most versatile. It didn't take a whole lot of imagination to come up with a pretty butterfly emerging from the egg. "Easter Egg Surprise" is sort of like magic, similar to the bunny coming out of the hat. Both the egg and the butterfly were clipart images, manipulated in Photoshop and MS Paint.
I had run out of animation ideas and time, so the next graphic was simply done to match the letters of the heading. Using several characters from a couple of freeware dingbat fonts, I created the colors and 3D effect in Ulead Photo Express. This program also allows for character rotation and resizing. The final "Beetle Burst" was originally round but it didn't fit very well on the screen so I squished the whole thing in Photoshop.
The letters in the heading of the next month were rainbow colored, so that's where the idea for that came from. I thought of calling it "Dining Light," but that didn't make sense in two ways, as the larvae are actually dining ON light. However, the title "Light Meal" worked just fine. I made use of Photoshop to take the rainbow and bend and taper it. It was a bit tricky and I had to try several times to get it right. I even had to review which color goes on top - so much for my memory of physics. The rudimentary bugs were drawn in MS Paint. In the end, of course, the caterpillars leave their signature frass (entomology lingo for poop).
The Independence Day issue couldn't have had a simpler graphic. All I had to do was think about the fact that ants come in red and black, so why not red, white and blue? Putting one colorful individual in the mob of uniform black ants is just the sort of simple and silly humor that I seem to favor, so that's how "Patriot Ant" came about. Perhaps if my animation techniques were more sophisticated, it would reflect in the humor... Anyway, the whole animation was drawn in MS Paint, with a lot of counting of pixels to get the spacing on the ants right.
With the July, 2008, issue, we had produced 100 online versions of our newsletter, without skipping a month. We, if no others, were impressed. The caterpillar was drawn in good old MS Paint. Yes, there are 100 candles.
For some reason, the 100th issue made me think of the "Ninety-nine Bottles of Beer on the Wall" song, and its backwards countdown. The syllables of the song fit nicely with our buggy theme, so I started to think up ways they would be reduced, one by one. I came up with several verses, and a rather strangely convoluted version of the song. Of course, a single animation can only accommodate one verse, so this theme will have to continue in subsequent issues before it arrives at the expected conclusion. Don't hold your breath.
For anyone interested in technical matters pertaining to GIF animations, there was a strange glitch in this particular one. I use Ulead GIF Animator Lite to create the animations, usually after making each frame in something like MS Paint. Afterwards, I reduce the size of the whole file by running it through a little freeware program called GIF Optimizer. Most of the time this works fine and I can shave off a lot of bytes. However, this time, the reduced animation left a small black line at the bottom after the words "stomp on the ground" were removed. When I checked into this, it turned out that it must be a problem with Internet Explorer, which was failing to keep the frame positioned correctly or was cutting off one pixel at the bottom - I never did figure out which. The animation displayed perfectly in both the Ulead program and in Firefox. I spent the time to correct it by removing that one frame, adding an extra pixel to the size at the bottom, and replacing it. As long as I didn't use the Optimizer program again, it works in even the defective IE, and I only added a few bytes to the size of the file.