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Joanna Davidovich Premieres ‘Monkey Rag’ Online

Joanna Davidovich is a freelance animator based in Atlanta, Georgia. A graduate of the Savannah College of Art and Design, she has been working as an animator, designer, and storyboard artist on commercials, on-air content, and TV shows since 2005.

Her animated short film Monkey Rag, which debuts online this afternoon, has been making the festival rounds since it was completed last July. Last weekend, the film won the second place prize for Independent Film at the 45th ASIFA-EAST Animation Awards.

The film—one-part short film and one-part music video—is buoyantly animated to the song of the same name by the now defunct folk band, The Asylum Street Spankers. Though Davidovich animates in digital programs at her day jobs, she hand-animated and hand-inked Monkey Rag entirely on paper, using Toon Boom Animate Pro only to composite the film. Her original pencil test is below:

“I knew I wanted to make a short and of all the ideas I had, this was the one that was the most fleshed out,” Davidovich tells Cartoon Brew. “So, I did a really rough board-o-matic and sent it to the band and said it’s most likely not going to make money, it’s just going to go to festivals and online, and they let me use it for free, which was really cool of them.”

Click for larger version.

The project, which Davidovich worked on between freelance jobs and on nights and weekends, took four years to complete. “There were times that I didn’t think I would finish it because I never really thought ahead. Anybody would say, ‘You want almost 4 minutes of full animation? That’s going to take you forever!’ But, I didn’t think about that.” Another detail that wasn’t taken into consideration at the outset was how she would get the completed artwork into the computer for compositing, considering that animation compositing software isn’t really designed for paper productions anymore.

With the aid of Nate Foster, who did the visual effects compositing for the film, she set out looking for a solution. First trying Flipbook Pro, which was unsuccessful, she eventually settled on a mix of Toon Boom Animate Pro and After Effects. When it’s optical registration and batch scanner functions didn’t meet their expectations and they were getting nowhere with customer service, they heard about a Toon Boom representative doing workshops at one of the local studios.

“We lured the guy over with a bottle of Scotch and he sat down and took us through the whole program. Even though it didn’t fix all of what we needed to be fixed, he explained to us what the program was not capable of doing and just knowing that there was no trick to be found [to certain issues] helped. We knew we had to find a work around.” Once they found a solution that most closely met their criteria, she was able to begin sending files to Darren Tate, a London-based animator who volunteered to help with the coloring process for the film. The final film was composited in After Effects, as explained in this multi-part tutorial.

While she is pleased with the final product, Davidovich is still on the lookout for a production system that she can use for post-production on her future projects. “I’ve got a huge list of cartoons to make before I die,” she asserts. But for the actual animation, she’s sticking to hand-drawn for the time being. “I love being able to work these things on paper; I like that when I erase something, it doesn’t go away completely, I can still see my first idea and it’s just not the same when you adjust layer opacity and things like that. [Digital] is better than it used to be; I’ve downloaded some really great custom brushes that make drawing much more pleasurable, but it’s still not the same.”

Click for larger version.
Click for larger version.
  • Ward Jenkins

    Hey! Lookit that! My two assistants doing me proud! Jo, this looks fantastic!

  • Christopher Smigliano

    Beautifully made and utterly delightful! I’m sharing this on Facebook!

  • FM Hansen

    Well done! It looks amazing and I LOVE the animation and timing. So snappy and fun.

  • Roberto Severino

    I’m really impressed! Amazing work.

  • terrific!

  • Sant

    That’s some beautiful and funny and sexy animation

  • Elana Pritchard

    She’s right, there is nothing like hand drawn.

  • William Bradford

    Absoloutely delightful!

  • TStevens

    Super cool. I daydream about being able to do something like this.
    There are still a lot of people producing on paper. Digicel actually works pretty well for doing straight ahead painting but the rest of the program is not of much use. I’ve been exporting files into After Effects for quite a few years with a very high level of success though. Unfortunately, even the Toon Boom products, still don’t have the compositing capability of After Effects. Their optical alignment use to be pretty good though. In the worst case, you just file a set of pegs down to about a 1/8 inch high and tape them to the edge of the scanner bed. Once you get the threshold set right on the scanner, everything goes pretty smooth.

  • James VanDam

    Excellent short. I feel Honored that one of my character design projects in college came at her suggestion. (My professor contacted her about it)

  • Hey Now

    That was charming as hell.

  • Nick A

    Just awesome. I’m blown away. :)

  • Brian C

    Fantastic! Can we get her to make new Betty Boop cartoons?

  • James Madison

    So nice!

  • Harrison

    This film just puts a smile on my face. Good old hand drawn craziness.

  • Ironhorse

    I had more fun watching these four minutes than any recent feature, no comparison.
    And hand-drawn on paper?!? That’s fantastic!
    The inspiration here is right up there with Bakshi’s advice to animators video of years back.

  • Greg Manwaring

    Wonderfully whimsical!

  • Joanna Davidovich

    Thanks everyone!

  • Floyd Norman

    I was fortunate enough to meet Joanna last year while lecturing at Emory University in Atlanta Georgia. I honestly mean it when I say, she is an awesome talent.

  • Richard Bailey

    That’s loads of fun!

  • tom bancroft

    Dang. Just impressive. Strong poses, zippy timing, and really appealing characters and color sensibility. This girl (and group) needs to be doing stuff for MONEY! Keep it up!

  • Chuck D

    After watching this, I was fighting back tears. This was simply the most amazing piece of animation I’ve ever seen. Vibrant, colorful, and just fun. A labor of love in all it’s splendor. Thank you Joanna for inspiring me as an artist to once again to drive even further to get to this level of quality animation. Much success to you in future projects.

  • LubitschTouch

    This is divine. Couldn’t stop smiling. Always wonderful to see work by new female directors, and this is just top drawer cat’s pajamas!

    I expect huge things in the future from you Miss Davidovich. Huge.

  • Awesome, gorgeous stuff!! Can’t we donate to this project somehow?

  • Michel Van

    A Beautiful hand made Diamond in in cruel world of 3D CGI animation!

  • Debra Moorshead

    congratulations Joanna, it’s great to see you doing so well…SCAD students still animation strong.