Interview for the Adobe blog : Nickolay Tilcheff

I was recently interviewed for the Adobe blog.

The conversation revolved mostly around EDAP Tools, our motivation to start the project and my use of Flash/Animate as a professional tool of choice, but I also touched upon some topics about my early interest in cartoons, how Vlad and I met and the history of the first incarnation of Electric Dog back in the twentieth century.

We're hopeful that this extra publicity will reach more people, and more animators will learn about the tools and start enjoying the benefits of Smart Magnet Rigs and all the other powerful features.

To our long-time users the interview will not bring any unexpected insights into our future plans, but fans may find the read enjoyable, so here is the link:

20 March 2023

I just found out that the Adobe blog link above is dead.
I don't know if it is only a temporary issue with a site certificate or the subdomain was abandoned.
(There is a copy in the Internet Archive, but the CSS may not load properly.)

Even if it reappears later, this source seems to have become unreliable, so for convenience, I am publishing the interview below. Since I don't own the copyright for the questions, they are omitted, but I have rephrased them as subheadings, and the answers should give enough context to allow for an enjoyable read.

Interview with Nickolay Tilcheff

About my early years

It must have happened too early to have a memory of a single event. I have been drawing and paying attention to form and light since I can remember myself.

Both my parents are architects and both are very capable drawers, knowledgeable and appreciative of all art forms. Words such as composition, balance, proportion, gamma, harmony, perspective were spoken around me in conversations as I was growing up. Drawing materials were always available at home. My parents gave me praise for some of my sketches and guidance when I needed it. I got pleasure out of drawing and I kept doing it for hours. 

By the time I was 11–12 I was absolutely fascinated by cartoons, knew how they were made and had decided that I wanted to become an animator. I used to draw simple animations at the corners of the thicker textbooks.

I loved extreme cartoon violence and knew that if I saw Tex Avery, William Hanna and Joseph Barbera in the opening credits it will be a great cartoon. It was more difficult to pinpoint exactly what drew me to the cartoons made by what I thought to be two brothers – Charles M. Jones and Chuck Jones. Now I know. It's the brilliance of style, class and timing.

Growing up behind the Iron Curtain I was also exposed to some Czech, Hungarian, Polish and Russian animation which had their own cosiness, different themes and a much broader stylistic variation than the Hollywood cartoons of the Golden Age.

Another thing that has always fascinated me is the natural world, the animals – their looks, their behaviors, their incredible adaptations. I had a period when I wanted to be just like David Attenborough. But high-end camera equipment and exotic wildlife were out of reach, so I had to stick to my pencils and markers.

In 1992 I started an animation course in Sofia and during the first class I sat next to a guy my age, called Vladin Mitov. Looking back at it, this was a life-changing event. Vlad became a life-long friend and business partner.

Our animation teacher, Mr Krassimir Ivanov, an established animation professional, was the best teacher a young man could dream of – approachable, knowledgeable, funny, encouraging and inspiring. Not only this, but a few years later he was gathering a team to work on some early multimedia CD-ROM titles and invited me to join, which was my entry into the industry in 1994.

I later finished a film university, majoring in Directing for Animation and have worked on many TV shows and interactive titles since then. I've done nearly everything, but specialize in character animation and character design.

In the last 10–15 years I have also been sharing what I’ve learned with younger colleagues, either at the studios where I work or as a college lecturer. More recently I've been doing this online by writing articles, tutorials and recording video demonstrations.

Here are two examples: Character Rigging for Flash Animation and Classic Tween Workflow.

About Flash extensions

Flash is a major part of my life. We first met in 1998 and it wasn't love at first sight.

Electric Dog v.1 was a service studio and at the time we were working on all kinds of edutainment titles for the US market using raster-based workflows. Then suddenly clients started requesting Flash as they could use the same assets both in-game and online.

At first we only utilized it as a digital ink and paint tool, but soon after that we started to understand the power of Symbols.

In the following years Flash grew exponentially. I learned how to use it to achieve great results and it has been my professional tool of choice ever since. 

The core functionality of Flash was great, but at the time it wasn't as animator-friendly as it is now. There were lots of problems with ergonomics. Some 10 years ago I was teaching at an animation college in Sydney and students were puzzled by the lack of easy access to many frequently used functions.

So after a short discussion with Vlad, we decided to resurrect the Electric Dog and start addressing these UX deficiencies. This was in 2010. Since then Flanimate Power Tools grew and grew, both in popularity and functionality, and this surpassed even our wildest dreams.

Vlad and I work so well together on idea generation, trouble-shooting and problem analysis. It's both very enjoyable and extremely rewarding.

About what we see as reason to be proud

It has to be our invention of Smart Magnet Rigs.

It is a hybrid system which delivers the benefits of both the traditional 'free floating elements' approach in Flash with its ease of use and the 'skeletal' approach with its structure, while at the same time eliminating all the negatives and constraints that these two well-known approaches present.

The users are free to pose as they wish, using the Free Transform tool and any other in the default Flash / Animate tool set for as long as they want, but also the joints are magnetic and a body part can be snapped back into position at the press of a button. Elements know where they belong in the character hierarchy, so all kinds of chain selections are possible. KineFlex, one of our SMR tools generates on-the-fly skeleton, which only exists during the transformation and does not impose any rigidity to the structure, the way traditional bone systems do.

We introduced the core functionality of Smart Magnet Rigs in 2013 and constantly keep expanding the possibilities and the toolset with each new version of Flanimate Power Tools.

The tools work in all versions of Flash and Animate, starting from Flash 8.

Examples of work done with EDAP Tools

With pleasure!
This is a selection of favorite shots from a little kid's show that I worked on as character and production designer and animator (among other roles).

The series is called Animal Alphabet and is produced by Blake eLearning for their Reading Eggs Junior program.

It's worth noting that all the above was achieved only in Flash / Animate, enhanced by Flanimate Power Tools without any further compositing or editing.

If viewers are interested in my thought process behind the show, they can read this article:
Organic Animation and Cinematic Look in Flash.

And this other example is our announcement for the release of EDAP Tools v.5.

The source file is actually available for download from our website. Readers can open it and study its structure and how I animated a double-bounce walk cycle.

About the nearest future

In the nearest future I'm really looking forward to the coming spring. Birds have already started to perform these wonderful concerts at 4 a.m.; possums wake me up at night and the trees are in bloom. Spring in Tasmania is beautiful and I love how it stirs the wildlife into hyperactivity. I look forward to many bushwalks and photo shoots.

Vlad and I just released v.5 of EDAP Tools and have already started working on some bold new ideas, which have to remain secret for now.

I'm also planning to continue writing articles on digital cutout animation and making more video tutorials, whenever time permits.

Last, but not least, I will continue to contribute feedback and opinions to the Animate dev team to help them better understand the needs of animators and animation designers.

Advice for aspiring animators

First and foremost to find realistic information about the industry, the work availability in their region and the life style that a long-term commitment to such a project-based industry would provide. It is not for everyone. 

Then to ask themselves if there is something else they would want to do equally or more than to have a career in animation. If the answer is “no”, they have to adjust their expectations to match the reality and then be prepared to work very hard on building their own character. One needs to be extremely persistent, motivated, tactful and realistic about their own skill-level.

There is a lot of fake hype how much fun it is to be an animator. Sure, there are fun moments and the results can be very rewarding, but mostly it is endless hours of super concentration and hard work, often in solitude.

In 2D animation solid drawing ability is an absolute necessity. Young people should draw every day from life and from imagination, without limiting themselves to any one style. If they sense that some things are more difficult to draw than others they should tackle those without delay. An animator has to be able to draw anything from any angle, in any pose from imagination.

Choosing art as a career presents serious challenges. One needs to develop methods to stay creative and not burn out, to be able to produce professional level content 8–10 hours a day, every day.

Building a solid foundation of anatomical knowledge, broader general culture and practicing the animation principles should be a good start.

Formal education might help, especially the social aspect of it – getting inspired by peers and networking.

I encourage young people to draw on paper, not only digitally.

I am biased, but Animate is one of the most accessible, yet extremely powerful and versatile tools, so anyone interested in making animation should try it and give themselves enough time with it to fully grasp the possibilities that nested symbols present.

About EDAP Tools

Electric Dog Flanimate Power Tools can be downloaded from our website.
We also provide the necessary documentation, workflow suggestions and sample files to get new users started.

Nickolay Tilcheff
August 2019

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