🦊 Quick Brown Fox #21

Hey friends,

A warm welcome to over four hundred readers who joined since the last edition! (Wow. I can’t believe I just typed that.) My name is Salman Ansari and welcome to another edition of 🦊Quick Brown Fox! In this weekly newsletter, I embrace my inner polymath and share the outputs from a variety of creative explorations. Each edition typically includes a mix of my thoughts, essays, notes, and art along with some of the best resources I’ve found on the web. Another major theme in my approach with this newsletter is learning in public. Along with my results, I try to share my process and learnings as openly as I can.

Thank you for subscribing! I appreciate you trusting me with your time.

I’m humbled by the incredible response to last week’s essay, The Polymath Playbook. The essay was trending on HackerNews, breaking into the Top 10 to reach #5. The CEO of Shopify shared the essay with a powerful statement. The essay quickly took on a life of its own. Hundreds of retweets, comments, and DMs suddenly flowed into my social inboxes. Each one brought with it a unique story of resonance. I found myself gaining more followers and subscribers in a single day than I had in all of 2020.

I was elated. To see my work resonate at such an immense scale was an incredible feeling. The responses continued overnight and into the next day. I was exhausted trying to keep up. (What a wonderful problem!) As much as I wanted to keep watching and responding to all the reactions, I knew I had to sit down and write this newsletter. This time, it would be going out to more than double the readership of my last edition. I suddenly felt intimidated and could sense the familiar ghosts of self-doubt start to creep their way into my mind.

I realized I needed to take a break and get some fresh air. I took the opportunity to step out and go for a hike at a nearby trail. It was the first hike I’d been on in many months and I was lucky to have the trail all to myself. As I stood among the trees, I immediately felt relaxed. They stood there long before me and they’ll likely be there long after me. Their permanence made my anxieties seem trivial. I lost myself to the gentle sways of their leaves. I absorbed their stillness with every breath.

I took some time to reflect and identified some learnings to take away from this experience. I’m still digesting them and hope to share more soon.


Exit… Stage Left

It’s been a while since I played around with animations. Ready for some fun? 😀 I love animating with Looom and decided to use it to animate one of my characters! I started with none other than 🦊Quick Brown Fox himself.

I saw a clip of one of my all-time favorite Warner Bros. characters, Road Runner, as he makes his signature Beep Beep disappearing act. I wanted to try to animate something similar, but it just didn’t feel right to have my fox jump in the air and hover before taking off. Instead I imagined he’d kick a leg to the side like Snagglepuss’s Exit Stage Left. Snagglepuss looked a bit sluggish though… so I concluded that my fox’s speed would likely be somewhere in between Snagglepuss and Road Runner.

My task was to take these two clips, break them down, and then create a new animation from scratch using them as inspiration. It was my first time animating a character, so I improvised a process. Looom isn’t really designed for this use case, but I still wanted to try with it. Here’s what I did:

  • Grab original videos of both clips.

  • Step through them frame by frame and get a feel for the timing. (e.g. How many frames does the character stay in an idle pose, and how many are with the character dashing off?) I was surprised to see that Road Runner spends only a single frame in transition before disappearing. Also, he stretches out in an exaggerated fashion as he dashes off. I used a similar effect with my fox.

  • Draw rough sketches of poses for my fox’s animation. I ended up doing 24 frames in Looom, at 12 frames per second. This was definitely a challenge given Looom’s inability to duplicate a frame. It meant I had to draw each and every one of those 24 frames by hand, without being able to reuse anything in between. It does give a ‘hand-drawn’ effect, but in some cases (e.g. his leg that stays grounded) I really wanted it to look still, and it’s hard to do that when redrawing every frame.

  • I repeatedly ran the animation to preview and get a feel for it, and adjusted each frame accordingly.

  • Since he wouldn’t have a voice-over like Snagglepuss, or a mid-air hover like Road Runner, I wanted to give my fox some kind of flair before he dashes off. I ended up going with a single eyebrow raise along with a mischievous smile while looking at the camera. I imagined him saying, “Watch this…

  • I loved the puff cloud of air that Road Runner leaves when he runs off and mimicked that effect pretty closely.

  • Finally, I did some outlining and added color. Since Looom only allows 5 layers (and each layer is a single color), I was restricted to 5 colors. I had to make the most of them! Had to use the same color for his belly and the cloud 😅

  • Exported the video as a looping GIF to compress and optimize to view in emails.

Voila!

Don’t doubt it friends… 🦊Quick Brown Fox is QUICK!

THIS IS SO FREAKING COOL. Look at him go! I made that!!

There’s a ton of things I want to improve, but I’m really happy with this as a first pass. In a future iteration, I’d want to clean up the line-work, use more colors, and add some scenery. It’s pretty clear I pushed Looom to its limit for this particular use case. The next character animation I do will definitely be with Procreate. Luckily, I’m already familiar with Procreate as I do all my illustrations with it.

And that, my friends, concludes the story of my first ever character animation. Thanks for being a part of it! 😀


Podcast Interview: Student Mindset

I sat down to chat with Brandon Zhang on his podcast Student Mindset. I had a lot of fun talking to him, and we covered a lot of interesting topics. Give it a listen for some insights into how I think about living a polymath life, managing energy, the contrast between creativity and productivity, the benefits of writing online and much more.

Listen to the Podcast ➡️


Quick Links

Earlier this week, I sent out a quick prompt on Twitter, asking for folks to share some of the best resources on communicating ideas using the power of visual storytelling. I was blown away by the responses. Check out the replies for some incredible resources shared by a variety of experts (and don’t miss the wonderful subthread from Maggie Appleton). Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Ralph Ammer: A wonderful blog that communicates complex ideas using (and demonstrating) the power of drawings. Also check out his TED talk.

  • Nick Sousanis and his book Unflattening: Exploring the medium of comics and the power of visual thinking.

  • Maggie Appleton: Maggie draws beautiful illustrations to explain a variety of topics from technology to anthropology.

  • Chatting with Glue: An incredible comic exploring the nuances of conversation.


Until next time,
—Salman