Comedian Steve Kramer Kicks it up a Notch with Harmony
Steve Kramer, hailing from Kansas City Missouri, got his start in Animation in 2008. A comedian, voice actor, and self-taught Harmony artist, Steve's cartoons entertain hundreds of people nightly at the comedy clubs he performs with fellow comedian Pablo Francisco. Steve and Pablo are currently working a new cartoon series.
Steve, you have a career in comedy, voice work, and now animation. What was it that drew you to animation?
I have always been fascinated with animation. But I thought that the risks involved far outweighed the chance of being discovered by Disney or some other animation company – a career in animation just seemed like one of those unachievable dreams. The idea of trying to match a character's mouths to actual audio…that made me want to forget that I'd ever considered animation in the first place.
But then I saw a video about Toon Boom Animate on Youtube. My jaw hit the floor. I watched as a man used his digital pen on a tablet to move 2D drawings and a camera around in 3D space. It was like the first time you understand arithmetic. All of a sudden, it makes sense. In that moment I thought to myself, "I would like to own that software someday." And when I saw the lip sync feature, I immediately thought to myself, "I need to own this today!"
How did you get your start?
I was approached about producing "Stanford And Sons", a reality show about a comedy club in the Midwest. I said I would do it on one condition. It had to be animated. I then purchased the tablet that the gentleman was using in the Toon Boom Animate promotional video. Then I purchased Toon Boom Animate.
As a self-taught animator, what was your learning experience like?
Knowing there was so much ground to cover was daunting at first. But I dove into the Toon Boom tutorials as well as several tutorials made by fans that go beyond what Toon Boom. Those are available on YouTube.
Once I learned how to build and manipulate my first character, I was ready to move on to mouth drawings and cell swaps. Seeing my character speak with the audio assigned to him for the first time provided me with enormous inspiration to keep learning.
One year later, despite never having been to animation school, my cartoon sizzle was featured at the Just For Laughs festival in Montreal, in 2012. The rest is history.
So now that you have moved to Harmony, do you use other applications to help you express your visual ideas?
Other than Toon Boom, I've used Photoshop and Illustrator. But the drawing features in Toon Boom have improved so much that I rarely use any other products. Once my animations are finished in Toon Boom, I export them to edit in Final Cut Pro.
As a comedian and voice actor who uses animation to add more ‘sizzle' to your craft, how does Toon Boom software help you to express your ideas?
It means everything. As an artist, the greatest fear is of the filter that lies between your original vision and what actually hits the paper. Toon Boom practically eliminates that filter. I do so many voices that I don't even have to hire any actors. I can literally present my vision the way that it was originally formed in my head.
Your work was featured in the Just for Laughs festival in Montreal. How did adding animation help you reach a larger audience in comedy?
If not for the animation, my pilot would have just been another reality show. Animation grabs your attention in a way that traditional video can't. And it looks great on an iPad, which helps tremendously with promotions.
What are your most important creative accomplishments?
By far, the "Stanford And Sons" cartoon. On average, I was working 80 hours a week on the project. At one point, funding ran out for the project and I had to fund it myself because I knew how important it was. I got behind on my car payments and the repo guys started showing up to my comedy shows to collect my car. Fortunately, the owners of the Loony Bin knew how hard I was working and they let me hide my car in their garage.
What kind of techniques do you use to create your animations?
I create everything from celebrities to original characters to 3D building structures to landscapes. If you can think of it, you can bring it to life with animation.
I use a little bit of everything by design. I personally feel that I will be better served as an animator if I can approach animation from all angles because what might seem impossible with one technique could probably be accomplished using another.
Do you have favourite features?
I absolutely love the deformation rig. All of the modules that allow you to basically manipulate a character's limbs are phenomenal. I spent 6 months creating a database of hundreds of arm positions for my characters when this feature showed up on Harmony. All of my work was for nothing but I didn't care. All I wanted to do was learn how to use the deformation rig.
I also love the ability to animate 2D in 3D space. The ability to move the camera around 3D objects or landscapes that you create makes the possibilities endless. Especially when you can lock your characters to the camera.
But, as a comedian, the lip sync feature is by far my favorite as it instantly brings characters to life - and I've seen it inspire young artists to start animating.
Last but not least, the drawing tools are incendiary. You can adjust the settings to your liking, to your drawing style. The paint brushes, the pencils, the ability to go back and adjust lines, the ability to alter character's colors with the click of a button. This is the greatest vector drawing program I have ever used.
Toon Boom makes animation fun. Just when you think they thought of everything, the team at Toon Boom thinks of something else that you never knew you couldn't live without.
About Steve Kramer
Steve Kramer is the "Renaissance Man" of the 21st century. This stand-up comedian impersonates more than 80 celebrities and co-starred with Frank Caliendo on national TV. But his latest achievement is nothing short of extraordinary. He taught himself how to animate so he could put a unique twist on a television sizzle that he single-handedly created and produced. His cartoon was featured at the "Just For Laughs" Comedy Festival in Montreal and he is currently touring with comedian Pablo Francisco.
Find out about more about his company Steve Kramer Entertainment