Howard Vause’s The Curious Child was one of the first prize winners in Reallusion’s Animation At Work contest, an event designed to promote the software maker’s release of Cartoon Animator 4, an easy to learn, professional, 2d animation studio software.

A freelance media artist and teacher of film and tv, Vause creates shorts for varied clients, using a distinctive hybrid film style. But The Curious Child was his first professional animated film. He was able to create the film thanks to the powerful features and intuitive workflow of Cartoon Animator.

To learn about Howard Vause’s journey from media artist to animation director, we invited him to talk about his experience using Cartoon Animator to create his film. Here’s Howard:

Howard Vause. Photo by Chris Bailey.
Howard Vause. Photo by Chris Bailey.

I was an animation enthusiast even as a curious child. I’ve always loved animation. Growing up in the 70’s I’d soak it up wherever I could: movie titles by Saul Bass; Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion beasts; the made-for-tv cartoons flooding out of Hanna-Barbera.

I obsessed about horror movies too and spent hours drawing monsters. They were alive in my head but on the page they just sort of lay there, staring out.

One Saturday morning in 1974, I saw Bob Godfrey’s Do-It Yourself Film Animation Show. A young Terry Gilliam (Monty Python) was demonstrating his “cut up” animation technique. My little mind exploded with the realization that – just like Dr. Frankenstein – I too could actually bring my monsters to life! This magical process was called animation.

My animation journey started when I was child drawing monsters and bring them to life.
My animation journey started when I was child drawing monsters and bring them to life.

Of course, I didn’t have any equipment. So I just cut out my drawings and moved them around the page. But now animation is accessible to everyone – and there are some fantastic tools out there. Speaking of which…

Joining this contest helped me realize the dream of creating my own animated film – and won an award!

Last year I committed to make a short animated film to enter into Reallusion’s Animation At Work contest.

This would mean actually learning to use Crazytalk Animator (now Cartoon Animator), which had sat unopened on my computer for two years! There was a nagging voice in my head reminding me of this fact.

One year ago I joined Animation At Work 2018. The 2019 contest is currently accepting entries.
One year ago I joined Animation At Work 2018. The 2019 contest is currently accepting entries.

Urged on by the voice, I figured it was win-win: make a dud film and at least I’d have made a film and figured out – a bit – how to use Cartoon Animator. That’d shut the voice up. But, make a good film and I may get a sniff at one of the generous cash prizes on offer to contest winners.

So I took a leap – and I’m glad I did. If you’re reading this, I recommend you leap, too. It’s win-win.

The Curious Child trailer

A couple of friends helped out with music and narration. The film won first prize in the Comic Animation category. When I found out, I actually burst into tears. It was amazing to have something so personal recognized in this way. And of course it was a huge encouragement to complete the film.

So here we are a year later. The film is now complete, has a new (female) narrator and is currently doing the rounds at international film festivals.

It’s awards for Best Film and Best Director (CKF International Film Festival) earned it an Imdb listing. That’s a big personal milestone.

The process of creating this animation by myself

In the process of creating my own animation, first I needed a story to tell and characters to animate. Cartoon Animator has some superb off-the-peg characters available, but I prefer to do my own thing.

I like a tale with a strong female lead. There was a strange little girl character who played Death in an earlier story. I toned down her weirdness and developed a sort of grotesque fairytale around her – The Curious Child who inhabits a world of natural wonder until one day she asks, “Why am I alive?” She visits a grotesque travelling carnival in a fruitless quest for human wisdom. Years later a tiny caterpillar will help answer her big question.

 The little girl who sets on a quest for human wisdom.
The little girl who sets on a quest for human wisdom.

As I began to create the characters I soon realized that it was going to be impossible to complete the entire story in time for the contest deadline. Never mind. I would produce just the first part of the story and see if it was worth continuing. Time and again I experienced the primal thrill of seeing my creations spring into life!

There is a thrill in seeing my creations spring into life.
There is a thrill in seeing my creations spring into life.

Looking back at the project files for The Curious Child there is so much stuff that never got used. Here you can see some of the character development and animated sequences that were scrapped. I’m still learning so much — in future, will storyboard tighter and try to avoid some of the experimental blind alleys I got stuck up.

This animation tool made it possible for me to achieve the dream

I discovered Cartoon Animator through using Reallusion’s stand-alone morph-head product CrazyTalk. I love MorphHeads. The way the image stretches like rubber can produce the most subtle of facial expressions.

Cartoon Animator 4 demo video

But can these new Caroon Animator 4 (CTA 4) 360-heads live up their MorphHead forebears? Spent the past couple of days – and nights – creating characters for a new film (about vampires and body hair, as you ask). So right now I’m battling the urge to go create my first 360 head instead of writing this article! I blame Gary Pye for writing such an inspirational review of Cartoon Animator 4.

There are whole areas of Cartoon Animator that I haven’t looked at yet. My aim is to get so familiar with CTA4 that I no longer need to think about using it as a tool. Same way I now use Photoshop and Final Cut Pro. Familiarity means more time for being creative. It means recognizing potential. And the only way to do this is by working with it a lot. I can’t wait.

Animation is all about unleashing your inner curious child

Roald Dahl said he would feel less intimidated by VIPs by imagining them as the small child they once were. Try it. It works.

At heart we are all just oversized children. And if we can connect with another person at that level, we can communicate our messages and ideas with great power and directness.

We all have a curious child inside – the child who can express and unleash the magic story.
We all have a curious child inside – the child who can express and unleash the magic story.

And what do children love? Pictures and stories. And animation is great at pictures and stories. It can simplify complex ideas and help bring fun and life to even bone-dry information. It is versatile, always cool, anarchic and has an innate magic that mainlines direct to childhood. And that’s just from an audience’s perspective.

If you are already an animator, you know the thrill of breathing life into inanimate material. If you are not an animator – yet – then prepare to experience a Promethean thrill that will have you screaming out deep into the night, “It’s alive! IT’S ALIVE!!!”

Deleted scenes from The Curious Child
Go HERE to learn more about the Reallusion Animation At Work Contest.
Learn more about Cartoon Animator 4 at Reallusion’s website.
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