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by Valerie

(continued from previous page)

Remember last month's animation, "99 Bugs?" Yes, it is continuing. Now it is down to "98 Bugs." Boy, with so many bugs to go, all I have to do is come up with a new way for one to meet its demise each month and I've got a no-brainer subject for the next few decades! Just kidding. In fact, our current heat wave, as well as my lack of patience already has the little beasts dying off in groups instead of individually.

Down to "88 bugs" now. The next issue was for Halloween, so it's time to call in the more creepy arthropods, especially spiders. Just one little larva gets it this time. I'm finding that inventing lyrics that rhyme is going to be the limiting factor on how long I can string out this idea.

Surprise time! Although we started this time with "87 Bugs," I couldn't resist playing with the notion of how quickly insects can reproduce. Although this was created in November, here in Texas it is still warm and I find caterpillars all the time. In fact, I'd just been finding clusters of butterfly caterpillars that were hatching out very late in the season. Even if the cold holds off, the poor little beasts will have no leaves left to feed on soon, as even here we do have deciduous trees that go dormant for our short winter.

Now that I've messed up the original song even more than at the start of this series, I decided to end it quickly. At this point there are so many that I can only call it "Lots of Bugs." Remember, they are just bugs, and not even real ones at that! No need to feel sorry for them. A quick wrap-up to these animations, in my mind, is a very nice Christmas present to our readers. Besides, I'm not one to leave dangling ends to stories. Of course, this idea will simply be replaced in the next issue with another that is equally inane.

With the final demise of the 99 +/- larvae of bugs, I seem to have still been on a kick to draw lots of nondescript little vermin. This time it was the Valentine's issue and so the letters of the title and the dividers in the text all had little red hearts. Chigger season for us is right around the corner, so I drew some of the tiny beasts and the end result was "Chigger Valentine." Nothing too intellectual here; this is mainly simply for the graphic effect. The whole animation was drawn in MS Paint. I always like when I can make the background transparent, but this often creates a larger file than if the background stays white. However, this time the transparent file size was slightly smaller!

Time to take a break from making animations. "Broken Butterfly" was produced by doodling, albeit in PhotoShop. The original image was from a dingbat font and I just kept playing around with filters and such until it looked interesting enough to me (thank goodness for the undo button). The color was chosen to match the lettering of the title that month.

Anyone who lives in the South and drives a car knows about love bugs. They are not a huge problem in our area because it is on the arid side, but near lakes or closer to the coast, these flies can be thick enough to plaster the front of an automobile with their connected bodies. It's as if they prefer to mate several feet above asphalt, especially that which is under heavy traffic. "Love Bugs In the Air" was extremely simple, with only two frames. The insects were drawn with a pen and tablet device, the Wacom Bamboo.

Yet another very silly animation. "April Showers" is just a play on words using a different ending for the familiar saying. I had actually created the pixellated insects some time ago and just reused them. The clouds and the sun were created in my favorite pre-set program for basic shapes: Serif DrawPlus. I don't use that program for anything else, but it is sure handy for making shapes that would take too long to draw by hand. This animation turned out to be lighter when not made transparent, so it needs a border on anything but a plain white background.

With Memorial Day coming up, the military theme was a no-brainer. I started with army ants (which are real) and extrapolated. All frames of "Military Ants" were made using clipart and arranging the ants in various ways on them. Nothing very profound, but why start now?

The arrival of Independence Day always makes me want to include something on the theme of fireworks, explosions, patriotism, or all of the above. This time fireworks won out, with "Fireflies and Fireworks." The idea came easier than the implementation. Each different fireworks explosion is a separate graphic, with different timings to make sure they were never in synch for long. The fireflies are an animated background within the table. I probably should have made the fireworks transparent so there would not be a dark area around each one, but by the time I'd made all the different graphics, I didn't feel like spending the time on it. One of my criteria for these little spot illustrations is that they not take inordinately long to create.

fireflies and fireworks

We were enduring a particularly hot and dry summer, with nearly a record number of days over 100°F. Burning up was on my mind. "Firebug" combines the idea of spontaneous combustion with the colors and look of the title letters for that month's newsletter. I used a "special fix" feature in a program called Ulead Photo Express to add the fire effect, both to the title and to the animation. The program gives the option of using various amounts of fire added to any font character. By using a dingbat that showed an insect, I could make the bug appear to burn up in a rather explosive way. I think it looks very effective.

When I'm pressed for time and ideas, simple is better. I can't believe I hadn't used the idea for "Jitterbug" before. I love puns and easy animations. This one only has two different images, one of which is simply a reverse of the other with a slight skew. For anybody who wants to know, this is an illustration of a thrips (yes, that is the singular form), a tiny insect that can be found in gardens.


I was REALLY short on time for the next issue, having several other pending projects that demanded a lot of computer time. I remembered that I had several music illustrations that featured insects, which I'd drawn for recital posters during my college days. I scanned one, cleaned it up, got rid of the text that surrounded it, and plopped it into the newsletter. "Musical Bee" is from my metamorphosis period, in which I was especially fond of Escher's works on a similar theme. I just had my own twist to the idea.

Time for Halloween themes again. I love these, since there is such a wealth of images and symbols associated with the holiday. This time I used a font for the newsletter heading in which every letter had a 6-legged "spider" attached at the bottom. That cute little bug became the model for the animation, which involved creating a web in a program called Serif DrawPlus, tilting it for perspective in PhotoShop, and using resizing to get the spider from tiny to large as it charges forward. The way it runs forward gave me the impression of the title: "Nightmare." This, as with all my animations, was eventually constructed using Ulead GIF Animator Lite Edition, a little freeware program that I've had for years.

Here in the south, we don't think about autumn leaves falling until nearly the end of the year. Sometime in November, the leaves do start to change color, and this year we had the added effect of heavy rains after a prolonged severe drought. Many trees put out new growth in Oct. as if it were spring, only to then react to the usual autumn changes just a month later. Caterpillars also flourished in that brief period, sometimes defoliating the fresh growth off of entire trees. That gave me the idea of the butterflies covering the tree like leaves, not to mention the annual migration of the monarchs, which sometimes passes right through Austin. I used a tablet (Bamboo by Wacom) to quickly draw the tree. The butterflies were a single character out of a dingbat font, multiplied, resized and manipulated. Yes, "Butterfly Tree" was a little time-consuming, but not really too bad.

I was thinking snow for the Dec. issue and it was pretty easy to imagine changing a typical snowman into a "Snowbug" with just a few simple additions. The program used to make the spheres was ZPaint, which doesn't really do much else, but is quite useful for this application. Making the added limbs match the "look" of the rest was accomplished using characters in a font and manipulating (stretching, skewing) them in Ulead Photo Express. This animation was relatively stationary, so it was possible to create a transparent background without increasing file size.

Because we publish our newsletter in the middle of each month, the Jan. issue has to look forward to Valentine's Day, which always seems a bit premature after we just had our Christmas themed issue the month before. However, I do like the pretty hearts, flowers, and love ideas for the graphics. This time I used a graphic font with nice hearts all around. We just got back from a trip to Wisconsin, and that long drive from Austin to St. Paul on I-35 gave me plenty of time to think about our nation's Heartland - the Midwest. Thus was born the idea for "Wandering Through the Heartland" which is just another of my silly puns. The little bug was modified from one I'd created awhile back for our clipart site. It actually takes more time than it is probably worth to make the little insect crawl all about like that.

I like to vary the colors of our headings from month to month, and often make the opening illustration match. In this case, the graphic font (by Darrian) that I used had matching spot illustrations. It was an easy task to alter one just a bit so that I could make simple animations where the butterfly appears to flap its wings. The idea and the title "Subtle Blues" sort of came to me simultaneously, and they just seem to belong together. A Blue is a kind of tiny butterfly that is really shaped much like this graphic. Changing the timing on each butterfly (they are all separate files) makes their wing motions look very random. Of course I added one that doesn't move, but it takes awhile to figure out which it is.

The Easter issue often uses at least one associated image, but this time I decided to use several traditional Easter "things" as well as my own added one. The various black and white vignettes are basic clip art, with a curly font that just seemed to fit the theme. Using Ulead Photo Express, I can easily add the words I want to each frame. When animations are this simple, it is easy to make them transparent so that it looks like they are almost printed on the page.

Time for a still image. The title "Dung Beetle Cosmology" was given after the fact; it just seemed to fit. The entire image was created in Ulead Photo Express out of dingbat font characters. The font bits were turned, made 3D, colored, and shadowed in the program. I like the way the Earth image takes the place of the dung beetles' ball.

The following animation was prompted by a cluster of web-forming caterpillars that I found recently. I wanted to determine what species they were, so I kept the whole branch in a cage and was rewarded with over a dozen little moths that emerged all at the same time from the mess of leaves and silk. Of course, they didn't pupate in the same cocoon, but I took a little artistic liberty with "Caterpillar Slumber Party" and imagined them having some fun while waiting to emerge as adults. The entire animation was created from fonts (both dingbat and regular), as I am too lazy to draw images myself.

Caterpillar Slumber Party

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