I've had a lot of questions about how I went about this project, so I figured I'd address the most frequent that I receive, as well as give everyone some insight into the process of creating this animation and the thought process behind it.
As some of you may know already, I got my start as a chiptunes musician. For those that don't know what that is, it means I make music using vintage sound hardware, more specifically those found in older video game systems, like Atari, Nintendo and Gameboy. For a more thorough definition, refer to the Wikipedia article on chiptunes.
I released my first album, 8-Bit Jesus during December of 2008, which was very well received by the Internet, after which I began stirring up other ideas for tracks, and it was only a matter of time before I started arranging chiptunes versions of the soundtrack from Dr. Horrible's Sing-along Blog.
What initially began as a single 8-bit remix of "So They Say" resulted in an arrangement of every track from the online musical, three of which I uploaded to the "8-Bit Collective", and were mentioned by Maurissa Tancharoen and Felicia Day on Twitter. At that point, I realized that just the tracks alone would not pay nearly the amount of tribute that Dr. Horrible deserved, and I decided to create a complete animation.
At first, I struggled with finding the perfect format to represent the original, but I kept coming back to a "Final Fantasy" style RPG. After implementing aspects of some more adventure-style RPG's like Pokemon and Earthbound, I decided to run with it and see where it went.
MUSIC & SOUND
The music for the "8-Bit Dr. Horrible" project was composed in FL Studio with the use of Midi CC signals sent to a cartridge called MidiNES, which manipulates the NES soundcard just like any Midi instrument. I then recorded the tracks straight from a pro-sound modded Nintendo, mastered them in Adobe Soundbooth, and rendered them to a playable format.
The original NES hardware only allows for 5 monophonic channels, which means that there are only 5 "instruments" per track, and each instrument can play only one note at a time. These channels include 2 square leads, 1 triangle lead, 1 noise channel, and a sample channel, generally consisting of drum sounds. With these limitations, I like the challenge of composing full-sounding tracks, so the Dr. Horrible soundtrack was no exception.
Initially, I was going to search the web for sound effects to use in the animation, but I wasn't finding many sounds that I felt were a good fit. Then I stumbled across a program called "SFXR" which gives the user full control over the various properties of synth-generated sounds, and I was able to create the sounds that I wanted.
SPRITES & BACKGROUNDS
I used Adobe Photoshop for all of the graphics in the game. Working with the 256x224 display dimensions utilized by the original NES, I created sprite sheets, cut-scenes and backgrounds, all pixel-by-pixel. For cut-scene images, I took screen grabs directly from the original film as an underlay and drew over them, but all graphics were created with the limited color palette used for all NES games.
There is a close tie between two things for the most time consuming part of this project. The first is the dialogue boxes, which were animated frame by frame. With 181 dialogue boxes throughout the theoretical game, at an average of 40 characters per box (including spaces), that's 7,240 frames worth of dialogue. However, the sprites and backgrounds in the game took a very long time to create, and there's really no way to track how long it took me to draw them all up since I often found myself creating more sprites and background as I had new ideas for the animation.
Before I began animating, I created the in-game sprites for the main characters, a number of NPC's (non-playable characters), and the majority of the ending cut-scene sprites. I also created the background for Dr. Horrible's lair and the laundromat. The rest of the graphics in the animation were created as I progressed with the animation, including the dialogue boxes.
ANIMATION & PRODUCTION
Adobe Flash was my choice of software for animating everything. I unfortunately forgot about the 16,000 frame limit until I was halfway through Act 3, which forced me to split the animation into three parts. The full animation, including the intro and all three acts comes in at 25,469 frames total and at 12 fps, puts the full animation at over 35 minutes. Anyone who's done frame-by-frame animation should be able to appreciate the amount of time it takes to make an animation of this length.
Since Flash is a vector-graphics based program (as opposed to raster, or pixel, based), every sprite and image used in the animation had to be placed at whole-pixel increments on the stage. In other words, the coordinate system in flash allows for images and objects used to be placed at coordinates between whole values. When this happens, the pixels in the image won't display properly, so I needed to douoble-check every object placement to ensure the proper display of the images. This proved more difficult when animating objects, as Flash used motion tweening, through which the program lets the user choose a beginning coordinate and an ending one, and the program fills in the rest. For example, if I started an object at the (16,16) coordinate and animated it to end on the (32,32) coordinate over the course of 5 frames, the firt frame of the tween would land on the (3.2,3.2_ coordinate, which is not a whole coordinate, and would result in the image not displaying properly. To solve this problem, I animated the objects in multiples of 4, since I was working with a 16 pixel grid like most original RPG's.
Additionally, while every image was originally created as a rasterized graphic, those pixel-based images create larger file sizes, so I converted every image to a vector graphic to keep the file size down. This required tracing every bitmap I imported into Flash and aligning them with whole-number coordinates.
For all of the fade transitions in the animation, I created 2 or 3 extra frames of those images by re-coloring each frame with colors available only on the NES color palette. In original Nintendo games, they didn't use any effects or overlays for transitions, but rather a color-replace algorithm that found every color and in sequence, replaced each one with the next darkest color, until all colors were replaced by black. I wanted to stay true to this method of transition, so I did the same...only I did it manually for every transition.
I exported each portion of the animation to the Quicktime .mov video format so I could upload them to YouTube, keeping in mind the 2gb limit on size and the 10 minute limit on length that YouTube enforces. This is why Acts Two and Three are split into 2 parts each.
If you like this project, please listen to 8-Bit Jesus and help support future projects like this one by purchasing a copy.
Also, make sure to check my blog regularly for updates on this and other projects.
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