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ZOOLOOK | Layers Magazine – From Paper to Flash: A Professional Workflow

ZOOLOOK | LAYERS Magazine - From Paper to Flash: A Professional Workflow

Nicholas Da Silva brings stories to life and inspires other artists using Adobe software

When ZOOLOOK Founder Nicholas Da Silva surveys the community of artists around the world, he sees a giant pool of amazing talent. His strong desire to give artists an accessible venue where they could be more widely recognized and rewarded led him to launch The Greatest Story Never Told (TGSNT), the biggest animated storytelling competition ever for artists using Macromedia Flash from Adobe. For this annual event, independent storytellers from around the world are invited to use Adobe Creative Suite 3, Flash software, and other Adobe software such as Adobe Premiere and After Effects to produce original stories for the Web, DVD, television, film, and wireless devices.

“With Adobe software and the Internet, artists have the technology to create whatever we can imagine,” explains Da Silva. “We no longer have to wait for Hollywood to come knocking on our doors to have our stories seen by the masses. Someday, I want to be able to view full-length, pay-per-view movies online, and Adobe products are helping to make that possible.”

Flash pioneer

TGSNT is the latest in a series of endeavors related to Flash for Da Silva, who has a long history of using Flash and other Adobe technologies to bring stories to a variety of mediums and devices. In 2001, he became the creator, designer, producer, and webmaster behind FlashTV, an award-winning global community site created using Macromedia Dreamweaver software from Adobe and flush with movies, comics, games, and music created by independent storytellers from around the world. FlashTV is also a featured podcast on Apple iTunes. The FlashTV site introduces visitors to Da Silva’s vision for the future: “Kill your television. You don’t need it any more. You’ve got FlashTV.”

From paper to Sony PlayStation Portable and Apple iPod

Originally from Brazil, Da Silva puts a multicultural spin on everything he creates. He starts his artwork using a sketchbook and pencils, calling upon his roots as a traditional artist. Then he moves between Adobe Illustrator CS3 and Photoshop CS3 software to refine his designs. “A friend introduced me to Adobe Illustrator many years ago, and I realized that artwork that took me three weeks to produce traditionally could be created in a few hours,” says Da Silva. “Since then, I’ve never looked back.”

As his ideas take shape, Live Trace in Illustrator CS3 allows him to draw his characters on paper and bring them into the computer quickly. Then, in what he describes as the best part, the software instantly converts the bitmap images to vector graphics. “Live Trace is one of the coolest features Adobe ever introduced,” says Da Silva. “I can’t live without it.”

Da Silva uses After Effects to animate his characters; features like Motion Blur let him create eye-catching story transitions and make movement naturalistic. He also uses camera moves in After Effects to bring realism to his animations.

Easy output to multiple platforms

For final animation and output, Da Silva takes his work into Flash. He often reuses and swaps out symbols in Flash to reduce the time it takes to produce properties. For instance, for his digital comic book series Hitless, about a CIA agent who gets double-crossed by his employer, Da Silva created templates in Flash for various target platforms, from Sony PlayStation Portable (PSP) to pocket PCs and the iPod. He can populate the templates with symbols created in Flash, such as talk balloons and characters. He uses Flash to export his work to the required formats, from MPEG to QuickTime. Each comic book also features an original song that Da Silva, who is also an accomplished musician, composes and performs for that issue.

Da Silva’s original plan was to produce Hitless in print, but then he realized that people no longer want to cart around paper comic books. Says Da Silva, “Flash makes it easy to export animated content for multiple platforms. Plus, Flash makes things more interesting because I can add interactive talk balloons, movement, and original music.”

Da Silva credits the combination of After Effects and Flash with his ability to create realistic animations that keep viewers engaged. “With Adobe After Effects and Flash, I can create anything that a high-end VFX studio could produce, only at one-tenth the cost and using my own computer,” says Da Silva. “I’ve read articles saying that 2D is dead, but I don’t believe it, not with the amazing content that artists are creating today using After Effects and Flash.”

When Da Silva creates podcasts such as his FlashTV series for iTunes, he uses Adobe Premiere software to edit the motion content down into bite-size movies. “Adobe Premiere is a fast way to create animations for people with short attention spans,” he jokes. “Podcasts need to be just long enough for someone waiting for a bus.”

Endless energy and talent

Da Silva’s boundless energy and creative talent keep him producing amazing amounts of innovative work. Among his most popular animated characters are the soccer-playing Cave Dudez, who host the TGSNT website and contest. In addition to Hitless, Da Silva has created a digital comic book and music series for the Sony PSP and Apple iPod called Dread & Alive and is co-producing Timeworms, an educational animated series for children. Created by Tim Scully and Da Silva using Flash, the series tells the story of a classroom of bookworms who use time travel to experience world history.

In addition to creating entertainment content, Da Silva’s company ZOOLOOK produces print and online designs for big-name clients such as Chef Hubert Keller of the Fleur de Lys restaurants in San Francisco and Las Vegas, Front 242, Handheld Entertainment, and ZOOM Photography. He also has developed projects for TechTV, Charles Schwab, Divco West, Wyclef Jean, and Maranello California. Still, he says creating entertainment content is his “first love.”

Meanwhile, Da Silva is forging new avenues for other artists. In addition to sponsoring the latest TGSNT competition, Da Silva recently announced the first of its kind: an online casting call inviting the public to appear as an animated extra in his Flash feature film, TGSNT. For a small fee, fans can get their 15 seconds of fame by becoming a member of either the Cave Dudez or Cave Bettiez team. Chosen fans will appear in the background or have an actual speaking part in the movie.

Da Silva is such as prolific artist that it’s a wonder he ever sleeps. He credits Adobe software with his ability to bring his many ideas to life. “I can create a large body of work with the productivity that Adobe software provides,” says Da Silva. “Even better than the time Adobe software saves is the fact that it constantly inspires me to try new things.”

(This article complements the “In a Flash” feature that appears in the May/June issue of Layers Magazine.—Ed.)