Flashforward 2006 Seattle - 28 Feb 2006

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Flashforward 2006 Seattle Logo



From the Flashforward web site:

Take a step back in time as Mike and Matt Chapman show how they still use Flash® 5 to make the weekly cartoons featured on HomestarRunner.com. Learn the secrets and not-so-secrets of making a 3-5 minute cartoon every week. Hear abour their six years on the web, watch some of their stuff, and learn how they've managed to make a living doing something they like.

The Brothers Chaps appeared at Flashforward 2006, a conference for Flash designers and developers, on February 28, 2006, in Seattle, Washington. They conducted a session called "How and Why Homestar Runner Cartoons Get Made" in Room 6B from 3:45 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. Thunderbird was generously given a media pass from the people at Flashforward to cover the event on behalf of the wiki.

The Presentation

Introductions - 3:45 p.m.

The presentation
The presentation was hosted by Mike and Matt Chapman. While booting up their laptop, one could glimpse "3726 unread emails" on Matt's user profile. After setting up and introducing themselves, they announced that they had each brought a Nintendo DS, and had started a PictoChat which they would carry on intermittently throughout the presentation. Before long two members of the audience had joined the conversation. Matt then showed what he had been working on during they keynote address: A humorous sketch of Mike and two gorillas. After explaining that they were Flash animators for their website, Homestarrunner.com, they showed a sample of their work: virus.

Early History - 3:50 p.m.

First they began with the site history, showing the early progression of the site.

  • Stills from the Original Book, and related the history of making the book during the Olympics of August 1996.
  • A clip from the next thing they had made, Super NES.
  • A clip of a toon they made to teach themselves Flash: Marshmallow's Last Stand. They froze this clip and pointed out various animation problems, such as the jagged edges and inconsistent colors.
  • A clip from the beginning of The Luau; from 2001. Mike commented on stealing the lens flair idea from The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask, and pointed out the bottom edge of the cube of Tofu disappearing early.
  • In late 2001 they started the Strong Bad Emails, along with the original intention of replying to every email in character, and animating a select email each week. That plan was quickly abandoned, but they did decide to start making a Strong Bad Email weekly around January 2002. They then showed a favorite clip of theirs, the love song from montage. They generally consider early 2002 being the point where their animation reached a "style plateau".

Samples of Styles - 3:55 p.m.

They went on to relate how the website is kept creatively interesting, through various animation styles. They showed stills from various animation styles, namely:

Because they are self-employed and thus don't answer to a boss, creatively they are able to do really whatever they want, such as a "bad heavy metal song"; they can do it and call it Homestar Runner.

More History, The Store, and Related Topics - 4:00 p.m.

They then returned to their history of the website, starting in 2001.

  • In 2001 they began selling T-shirts.
  • In August of 2003 Matt quit his job at earthlink, and began working on the site fulltime. Earlier Matt had gone on the earthlink website, and found a page that still featured many of his images he had made for the company, such as a calculator and a wad of money.

They also mentioned the Store, and how they sell products such as CDs, DVDs, Figurines and T-shirts. They try to keep the store a separate entity, without ramming it down visitors' throats. They recalled, with distaste, sites that would play an ad to buy some crap, and another ad after that would link you directly to the store. Their method of building their business ended up building a fan base first out of their own pocket, and then introducing merchandise, which they admit isn't traditionally a good business model. They mentioned that they now live in different houses, with wives, instead of in their parents' basement as some may believe. They showed a still from the 2004 Pulse Interview; which was them pixilated wearing fake mustaches, posing as the Videlectrix programmers. They also mentioned that they still do all of their animation in Flash 5, and began relating the process of creating a cartoon.

Pre-animation Process - 4:05 p.m.

After being momentarily distracted by the continuing Nintendo DS chatroom, they began relating the process of creating a cartoon, "which will just piss you off even more that this is what we do for a living". When they first started creating weekly cartoons they both still had full time jobs, and therefore created the entire cartoons sometimes after watching the Falcons game in its entirety at 2:00 pm Sunday afternoon. Nowadays a typical four minute cartoon takes the entire week, with animation taking place during the last three or four days.

  • Mondays or Tuesdays they begin looking through submitted Strong Bad emails; it sometimes takes four or five hours to find a usable email. They also showcased 5 different groups of emails that would most likely not be answered:
  • They then demonstrated their brainstorming process using two small foam balls. Matt laid on the floor and threw a half-size basketball up in the air, suggesting, "So Strong Bad's going to be in like a box, a cardboard box. That The Cheat peed in." Mike agreed with him throughout this ("Okay, okay, I like it"), then threw his foam baseball at him. They also mentioned that they have been in their office for around two years, and vacuumed it for the first time three weeks ago, so laying on the floor is much nicer now.
  • In addition to brainstorming, they also wander around their neighborhood (and the depressing adult diaper and hearing aid stores found in the strip mall their offices are in) searching for inspiration.
  • After they have an idea of what the cartoon will be about, they usually write separately. After their writing is done they will compare their scripts, and merge them using the best ideas. According to Mike, his writing is usually better. They once again referred to their continuing Nintendo DS conversation, saying that one person said they were giving "too much info".
  • Next is recording the sound, which is done using a fairly soundproof sound room and an audio mobile USB pre-amp with an XLR mic running into it. It used to be Matt just sitting at the computer holding an old Super H film microphone or something, never a system mike. This resulted in numerous background noises, such as Matt's hand moving around, the hum of the computer fan, or Mike doing dishes in the background. In the later days Matt draped a blanket over his head and the mike to minimize background noises.

Animation Process - 4:10 pm

Matt mentioned a little intro cartoon that they made for "the Festival"; Mike corrected that it was a convention (festivals are more fun). They showed a still of the end of the intro toon, and explained Easter Eggs, and how they are the extent of the action script that they use. According to Matt: "So we made a little intro, so anyways we're gonna put on the site, uh, later on this week..." To date, the intro still has not materialized. Then they began to demonstrate the animation process, by adding an Easter egg to the end of the finished toon.

  • The Easter Egg is a scene of Homestar Runner and Strong Bad crouched down behind a podium labeled "Podium Excellens". Homestar says to Strong Bad "Strong Bad, I think the elevator's broke."
  • Matt Chapman's Desktop
    They began by recording the line using the old method of Matt wearing a blanket over his head, and speaking Homestar's line into the mic. Matt also pointed out his laptop's background, which is a screenshot of the Deltaur from Spacequest 1, another 1980's era video game.
  • After revealing that he doesn't label any of his Flash layers, Mike demonstrated lip synching the toon. Mike first mixes up Homestar and Strong Bad, then clarifies that Homestar's head is 3 frames, which gives three different facial expressions to work with. Mike would layer the sound down first, then click on various points of the audio. In Flash 5, this plays a microsecond of the audio, which gives them an indication of what mouth layer to cut and paste into that point. This is one of the reasons they continue to use Flash 5. At least MX 04 does not play a short sound from the point in the audio. They did challenge anybody to make Flash 8 look and act exactly like Flash 5, and they would gladly switch over. Lip syncing the entire scene only took a few minutes to complete.
  • They also talked about the design of the characters, and how they are easy to animate. Although they didn't originally design their characters with animating in Flash in mind, they lucked out that many of their characters don't have arms or legs, and none of their characters are overly complex. That's just how they generally draw and design.
  • Then also talked about the technical aspects of their animation. They have always animated at 12 frames per second, in a 550 x 400 window, because both of those options were the Flash 5 defaults.
  • They also demonstrated "doinking", by making Homestar flinch at certain stresses of the sentence.
  • They demonstrated Strong Bad's Mask design, and how they can easily turn his head just by moving the mask and having it cut off at the edge of his head.
  • They also briefly explained that they storyboard their toons, then opened the floor to audience questions.

Graphics and the Wiki - 4:20 pm

Who does all the voices?

Matt: I doos all the voices. Except for Marzipan, the girl character, which is Mike's wife Melissa.
Mike: Today's our second wedding anniversary, and I'm here.
Matt: She's at home, and pregnant. {sarcastically} Husband of the year...
Mike: I did remember to send her flowers.
  • After that first question, Mike went on to talk about something he ment to cover earlier, their drawing. They draw everything in Flash, using drawing tools and a wacom tablet. Mike first learned with illustrator, and by the time Flash 5 came out Mike was comfortable using program drawing tools. They generally try to always break the lines apart, which doesn't leave a rounded edge and allows you to vary the line width. Mike began to demonstrate his artistic skills by drawing something in Flash 5.
  • Mike carried on talking about early Flash animations, and how everything looked like it was drawn in Flash, with gradiants everywhere, line tools running into each other, and for that reason they shyed away from drawing stuff in Flash, either by tracing in bitmap or scaning it in. Nowadays they are comfortable enough with drawing things in Flash without it looking like it's drawn in Flash. At this point Matt identifies Mike's drawing as a piece of toast.
  • They were again sidetracked by the continuing PictoChat conversation, pointing out a drawing of Mike saying "harrump" that somebody drew on the DS.
  • Mike went on to clarify the process of making a new toon, that while he records the voices Mike will generally draw any new graphics that are needed for that email or cartoon. Once Matt is done recording, Mike is generally done the graphics, they split up the scenes, work towards the middle, and finish up by 5 am Sunday night.

What part of creating a toon is the most fun? - Green Shirt

  • Matt explains that early writing is always hard, sometimes throwing a baseball against a wall for hours on end with no good ideas. Then usually a walk around the "creepy depressing shopping mall" their offices are at and seeing a guy at the adult diaper store, gives them inspiration of what should happen in the toon. That inital flood of creativity is generally the most fun part of the animation process. He also mentions that not speaking for sometimes 18 hours straight with headphones on as they animate things such as the text and Strong Bad's head in a Strong Bad Email gets redundant at times, but they still enjoy it somewhat. He reiterates that the initial sparks of writing ideas are always the most fun. Sometimes in the last three hours of animating a cartoon, they will come up with something else and completely rewrite it.
  • Matt also explains that there isn't a whole lot of quality control. They watch the toon a couple times, tweak small parts and cut out others, and then put it right up on the website. Generally they finish the day they should be uploading the toon.
  • At this point Mike chips in that he enjoys drawing toast more, as he puts the finishing touches on his toast graphic. Matt comments on the toast, that it looks a bit thin, like Pepperidge Farm toast. Mike mentions that sometimes he'll spend hours just tweaking graphics, likening it to peeling dried glue off the nub of a thing of glue, describing it as "very theraputic". Mike mentions that "no one would ever be able to see this", and Matt suggests "Somebody... I don't know, maybe you should look at the..."

The Homestar Runner Wiki

Matt: That's another thing, is that when we're animating, um, we have another resource that we have absolutely nothing to do with, something that's totally fan driven, it's awesome, the Homestar Runner Wiki, uh, that appeared, one day, and it's so exhaustive, it's wonderful. Mike and I, like we don't—we never figured out what the hell a shared library is or how to use it and so we will go, uh, you know "this one has Strong Bad sitting on a couch," so we have be like, "all right, which one has him on a couch," and we'd have to go back and figure it out, but now we have the Homestar Wiki and we just go on and write "couch" or "orange couch" and it brings up like five emails that have Strong Bad on the couch. {audience laughter} And so, it's pretty great. It's very, very, uh, it's extremly all inclusive and sometimes scary. There are pictures of friends that we had never seen on there and they're like, {imitates wiki user voice} "Oh, and this is their best friend!" {slight pause, now with a questioning tone} How, did you—are these people in our house taking pictures of our friends?

Music and Video - 4:25 pm

At this point Mike takes stock of the time, and mentions another factor that adds to the time needed to create an email, the music. *Almost every cartoon has one piece of original music, which is usually done in either audition or garage band, often with their casio keyboard.

  • At this point Mike finishes drawing his piece of toast, mentioning that this is usually at four in the morning when Mike finishes his graphic.
  • Matt mentions that they also have puppet versions of some of their characters, which they sometimes do small skits or musical things with. They generally try to keep the videos short, put them into a tiny window, and compress them using a newer version of Flash. They try to keep their files at around one Megabyte, which helps to keep their bandwidth costs consistant. They also demonstrated their compressed video files, by showing a clip of death metal: "the half hour death metal dungeon hour".
  • Mike mentioned that Matt is an award winning stop motion claymation animator, from a 1987 international media festival in 7th grade. Matt clarified that they may have been stretching on it being international; that one kid maybe having an aunt from Canada was as international as it got.
  • Matt also mentioned that doing stuff like the death metal hour, putting on dumb heavy metal wigs and speaking in Swedish accents helps them branch out.
  • They also mentioned the DVDs, how they came from fan demand of people wanting to watch them on a larger screen or over at a friend's house, and not limited to a computer. They use Flash AM's SWF to AVI to convert to the DVD, without having to worry about any formatting. Then they extrappolate the frame rate to twentynine-nine or whatever the video standard is, and hand it over to Ryan Sterritt to finish up with the DVD magic.
  • Mike mentions that they made the decision to hire their friend Ryan, make him learn the flash to broadcast conversion, having somebody in house who can do all stuff keeps them from having to go to somebody outside and being charged an arm and a leg.

Games - 4:30 pm

TBC's sample 20X6 level
  • Mike also began talking about the numerous games on the site, namely Stinkoman 20X6. He described how he used to just get a flash book, find a sample of a flash game, and just change the graphics, which resulted in really crappy flash based games.
  • Eventually they were contacted by Jonathan Howe from Boston via email, who said "hey, I noticed that your games suck. I like your website, and I would like to make your games better". After showing them some samples, they decided to collaborate with him on TROGDOR!, and subseqently several other games.
  • They talked in detail about Stinkoman 20X6, which is a Mega Man type game based on the character of Stinkoman. They wanted to have a lot of input in the game without having to stand over Jonathan's shoulder, and finally got him to make a level editor for them using Flash. They demonstrated this by creating the pictured level.
  • Demonstrated choosing character.
  • Made ground and platform.
  • Added Chorch (at Mike's suggestion).
  • Added Stobat, a large chicken.
  • Added ladder (also at Mike's suggestion).
  • As Matt booted up the level, Mike explained that they made most of the graphics for the games pixely in Photoshop, then import them into Flash, as there isn't a way to create pixely graphics in Flash that they know of.
  • Matt then proceded to demonstrate the game by playing the level, easily defeating the Chorch (which was stuck in place) and Stobat, and exploring to the edge of the map.
  • Mike: what's up that ladder?
  • Matt: I dunno, let's find out.
  • They explained that for the early games Jonathan would send them a version of the game, they would critique it with changes...
This section is in progress by a firsthand observer.
As a courtesy, please keep edits of this article to minor spelling and grammar fixes for the time being.
After the comvention meet & greet

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External Links

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