‘Houston Chronicle’ Cartoonist Anderson Goes 3-D

By: Dave Astor

Chron.com has posted Houston Chronicle editorial cartoonist Nick Anderson’s first animation — and it’s in 3-D.

The animation comments on the Supreme Court’s recent Texas redistricting ruling. Anderson said future animations “will grow in complexity.”

Anderson told E&P that the opportunity to do 3-D animation was his “deciding factor in accepting the job at the Chronicle. It is an incredible opportunity to redefine the role of a staff cartoonist.”

The 2005 Pulitzer Prize winner — who joined the Chronicle this February from The Courier-Journal of Louisville, Ky. — said in an e-mail: “When I interviewed here last fall, Editor Jeff Cohen made a proposal that struck me as visionary, especially in the current environment. He told me he wanted to plunge into online animation. But, he reasoned, ‘why should my cartoonist spend his time doing the time-consuming work of the actual animation? Why not hire freelancers to do that?’ His theory is that the cartoonist is primarily a creative person. If we spend too much time on the execution, it leaves a lot less time for creating ideas. A division of labor might be the best way to approach Internet animation.”

Anderson said he did some investigating and found that “virtually everyone is doing 2-D ‘Flash’ animations. I wanted to try something different. I happened to have a friend in Louisville who is an expert in Maya 3-D software. I called him and asked whether it was possible to do what I wanted to do on a limited budget. He felt it would be challenging, but very possible. We hired him, Creston Parker, for this first animation. He helped walk us through what we’d need to pull it off.

“There are a handful of people doing animated editorial cartoons, but to my knowledge, this is the first time a paper has decided to hire freelancers to do the actual animation. It allows me to continue with my daily cartoons, but work on long-term animations at the same time.”

Anderson — who had mentioned, in a June 2006 E&P profile, that the animations were coming soon — said he’s essentially the “creative director” for the animations. He first does a storyboard and gets it approved by his editors. Then he draws the characters for the animation and e-mails them to the animator for modeling. Anderson also did the color work for the first animation by painting flat “texture maps” to give it a watercolor look. Then Creston wrapped the “texture maps” around the characters. “At that point, it’s just a matter of directing the characters and camera angles,” said Anderson.

He added that the animation “adds a lot of complexity and considerable stress to some of my workdays, but it’s also very interesting and rewarding.”

The animation actually was begun many weeks ago. “We finished the bulk of the animation in mid-May, and since then it has just been a waiting game,” said Anderson. “We knew the Supreme Court would rule sometime this session. I had three alternate endings planned, depending on how they ruled.”

The Supreme Court upheld most of the Texas congressional map engineered by former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, the Republican who now faces criminal charges. Democrats and minority groups had accused Republicans of an unconstitutional power grab in drawing boundaries that forced some Democrats out of office.

Anderson, who’s syndicated by the Washington Post Writers Group, initially plans to do one animation a month — with the frequency possibly increasing in the future.

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