May 30, 2008

Cool Tools: Pencil

Animation can seem so intimidating these days. With companies like Pixar churning out high-quality 3-D films with a staff of hundreds, animating can appear a daunting task to the common man. But it doesn’t have to be and Pencil proves that with its free and simple-to-use 2D animation software.

Pencil mimics hand-drawn techniques and stays simple by doing so. You draw each individual frame as if it were a single animation cell. The great thing about this is that you are able to test out the animation by stepping through it frame-by-frame. You can even play through the entire sequence using built-in playback controls.

Drawing tools are limited to basics such as pencil, pen, paintbrush, polyline, eraser, and fill bucket. These tools allow you to draw at any scale and to any size you desire. Once your animation is complete you can export it as a sequence of PNG frames, as a flash video, or as a QuickTime movie. There’s even a basic sound feature which lets you add audio to the timeline.

Pencil, as with any other animation software, can be a challenge to use if you are completely new to the process. But it’s a decent piece of software to learn on. If you consider yourself to be rather experienced, you can enjoy this tool for the pure enjoyment of it but you might be bothered by its simplicity.

Whether you’re new to animation or a seasoned pro, Pencil is an engaging, though basic, piece of software. Pencil may not have as many features as other animation programs out there but with its hands-on feel it can be a lot of fun.

May 23, 2008

Cool Tools: Celtx

Screenwriting is a part of the filmmaking process that doesn’t get the respect it deserves. Screenwriting ensures that a story is put together with the correct doses of structure and style, that characters appear as three-dimensional beings, and that a plot comes to a logical conclusion. Screenwriting programs such as Final Cut Pro and Movie Magic has helped writers complete their scripts but at a costly price. Now there is Celtx, a free screenwriting program which carries nearly all the weight of its costly competitors.

Celtx allows users to write and format screenplays to meet submission standards set by the theater and film industries. With it’s plethora of features and dedication to the field of scriptwriting, don’t you dare call it a word processor. It’s put together by the same people behind Mozilla, it carries a similar interface, and it’s just as good a product as Firefox is.

The software comes with a number of templates. Upon opening the program you are prompted to select from film, audio-visual, theatre, audio play, storyboard, and text templates. Most commonly you’ll be using film but it’s nice to know that these other options exist. In addition to the standard scriptwriting templates there are a number of other features such as a production calendar, storyboarding capabilities, and elements that can be tagged to the project. These tagged elements serve as notes that can be embedded in your screenplay. For example, you can attach a sketch to a character’s name.

One area where Celtx thrives even more than its pricier competitors is in its collaboration tools. There is something called Project Central which allows users to upload scripts to a central server and then collaborate on them with other users of the software. Collaboration can be open to the public or open only to users that the writer selects.

As someone who spent over $200 to purchase Final Cut Pro a few years ago, I can truly say that I wish Celtx had been around. It is a great competitor to the expensive software programs and with the price difference being what it is, I’d say go for Celtx.

May 20, 2008

A Day in the Life of a Freelance Writer: Interview with LorRae Crubaugh

LorRae Crubaugh has more than 20 years of experience in integrated marketing communications. She currently works as a freelance writer with her company Hurrae! She works on a variety of projects including advertising copy, speech writing and grant writing. She previously served as copy director for an advertising, design and marketing communications firm and as Creative Director for a full-service advertising agency.

What's your title?

Freelance Writer. I do writing of all kinds – ads, brochures, newsletters, websites, training DVDs, television and radio commercials, trade show booths, speeches, press releases, and grant writing. I also do research, proofing, and copy-editing.

How do you explain your job to your mother?

A better question would be how I explain this job to my father. Since I started in the agriculture market, my dad could see my work when he went to farm shows. He’d tell the person at the tradeshow booth, “My daughter wrote this brochure.”

How did you get started?

I got my first job in the ad business after writing a story to honor my dad in “Hoard’s Dairyman,” the bible for dairy farmers. It was a tongue-in-cheek story about how after I got out of college I couldn’t find a job and ended up back on the farm. Even though I now had a degree, it didn’t seem to make any difference to the cows! But my dad, who had the wisdom from the school of life, knew the secret to happiness all along.

My first job was as a junior copywriter in an agency specializing in agriculture. Later, I moved up to the largest ad agency in the country and started doing more business-to-business. Eventually I ended up in foodservice promotion. As a freelancer, I also was able to gain valuable experience in the healthcare market. That’s another great aspect about being a writer … you never stop learning!

What's your educational background? How did you get experience?

They didn’t have an advertising major when I went to school, although they did have marketing. I have always felt communication of all kinds is important – from sign language to the vibes given off by plants. My major was German and my minor was Speech Communication.
I’m almost embarrassed to say that the fact that I grew up on a farm probably helped me get my first job in agriculture more than my degree. I knew what kind of job I wanted though and I went out of my way to get a work/study position in the public information office at one of the schools I attended. I got to try my hand at alumni newsletters, course announcements, radio spots, and more. I knew instantly this was what I wanted to do!

What was the last project you worked on?

A $45,000 grant proposal to help people living in poverty meet their basic needs and build their financial security so they can become self-sufficient.

Describe a typical day (or week) in your life when you're working.

I often work all night long if I’m on a roll. I try not to do this if I know I have a meeting or another deadline the next day. I often do it just because I want to. Then when I get to where I want to be, or just decide I’m finally too tired to continue, I’ll eat a huge breakfast in the wee hours of the morning and go to sleep until I wake up. (Ok, I know it’s not healthy to eat before you go to bed, but otherwise I keep waking up because I’m hungry!) Not having to set my alarm clock most days is living my dream!

How do you sharpen your skills and stay motivated?

Good question. My biggest challenge is that the wrong things motivate me. Since I work at home, I am often more motivated to start the day with a leisurely breakfast and meditation, weed my garden, make a healthy meal, try to tame a rescued cat, put in a load of wash … and by the time I’m ready to start my freelance work, it’s almost lunch time or later. But since I’m a night owl, it usually works fine for me to work late at night.I sharpen my skills by networking with others in the industry and by attending workshops.

What advice do you give to those who want to join your profession?

You need a lot more than just creativity. You have to be able to think strategically, and it helps if you can spell!

A Series of Questions:

What do you like most about your job?

Being my own boss and setting my own schedule. I’ve read that the people with the most control over their lives live the longest; I plan to live to 100. I also find peace in the fact that even though I can lose accounts and clients can switch jobs, no one can fire me!

What major job annoyance would you eliminate forever?

Interruptions when I’m on a creative roll.

Where do you find inspiration?

Everywhere! Mostly from real life … in the crazy people I meet, in nature, my kids, my pets … some of my best ideas have come while in doctor waiting rooms or in the shower.

Where do you hope to be (career-wise) in another year?

I hope to still be freelancing in my big Victorian home surrounded by cats, a bunny who lives in the room connected to my office, and a turtle. I also hope to be making more money doing it!

If you could go back in time and meet to your pre-professional self, what would you tell her?

I would tell myself not to be afraid to venture out of my comfort zone.

What’s your motto?

I’m actually still working on it. My company name is Hurrae! which is a spin-off of my name – LorRae. Once I understand a product, I throw myself into it. I can get excited about everything from manure pits and rodenticides to BLUE BUNNY ice cream. So I’m thinking of a tag line that says something like: “Excitable … in a Good Way” or “Excited about Life” or “Turning Cartwheels for my Clients.”

May 6, 2008

Cool Tools: Soundsnap

Looking for the right sounds effects to lend credibility to your video project? Want to add the sound of a creaky door for your horror film? Maybe you want a futuristic-sounding laser blast for that new sci-fi project you’re working on. You could get a tape recorder and search for those hard-to-discover sounds or you could head over to and get those sounds for free and with little hassle.

What is Soundsnap? It’s a legal platform for finding and sharing free sound effects and loops. The sound library is made up of a collection of original sounds that were made or recorded by its users. So they’re not the same sounds or songs you would find in commercial libraries or on sample CD’s. There’s an archive of some 30,000 audio clips, ranging in length from seconds to minutes. Browsing the site you’ll be able to access various categories such as nature, science fiction, animals, and sports.

You can also search for sounds by typing in a keyword. Using my favorite animal as an example, there are four search results for chimpanzee including “Chimp-chattering” and “Chimpanzee in space talking over radio.” You can preview the sounds in a matter of seconds and if you find something you like you can download it as an mp3, a wav, or an aiff.

SoundSnap was originally started by a small group of sound people from all over the world. Users who have contributed to the sound vault are a diverse mix of sound designers, sound artists, web game developers, filmmakers and music producers. Members of the community are encouraged to add their own sound clips so they site can become continue becoming a strong resources for the creative community.

If you’re missing a certain sound for your project, try looking for it at Soundsnap. Alternatively, you can carry your sound recorder around with you on your daily errands and continue searching for a “chimpanzee in space talking over radio”.