Friday, May 7, 2010

Behind The Scenes - Animating Wombats

Watch, Rate, Fave, and Share 'Three Wombats' on Aniboom

Wombats really aren't that hard to animate.  It's just VERY VERY time consuming.

Everything starts with the storyboards (that is, after a draft of the script is written, of course).  The drawings themselves don't have to be perfect, but it helps. The real focus should be on making all the creative decisions.  How the characters move, how does the camera move, what is the basic idea behind each scene, etc.  Storyboards can end up looking sort of like a comic book version of the movie.

Right after Dan Belleville and I decided on the story (which he wrote), he went off to his little cave and started noodling around with music - a bassoon to be precise.  I loved the idea of using an instrument that was a little out of the ordinary, like our wombats.  And besides, the sound complimented the cute, round, simple wombats. 

I emailed the script to Oliver Darrow, and he was excited to be on board from the start that he recorded a scratch track for us right then and there.  Later, we had him over to the house, and recorded the track right in our living room.  We used a ZoomH4N recorder and an AKG C-2000 B condenser mic. 

Watch the behind the scenes video of Oliver doing his thing here.

I've heard that a lot of animators skip this step, but I do one for every production - even the short little ones.  Mostly because I get too impatient.  I want to watch the cartoon as soon as possible.

All I did was take the storyboards, Dan's music, and Oliver's scratch track (the final audio mix was in Soundtrack) and match everything up in After Effects.  I could have used Final Cut, or Premier, but I knew I was going to do the final edit in AE.  Doing it this way saved us time during the '11th hour' because all I had to do was replace each storyboard frame with a nested animated sequence.

You can see the animatic posted up on Vimeo here.

All done in Photoshop using the 'Animation' pallet, by creating an empty video layer.  The process for any 'cell' animation like this is to create the keyframes first.  Those are the 'extreme' frames, and any other other frame helpful for timing.  Then, you go back and do the 'tweening' - draw the in between frames, between your keyframes.  A lot of apps do the tweening for you, but in order to get the old school feel, we had to do it by hand. 

After I got a few of the scenes drawn out, Kassandra Fry (recent grad from College for Creative Studies) came by to color in the frames - a thankless task that helped me out TREMENDOUSLY.  She really saved our butts on this one - if it wasn't for her help, we never would have gotten this done on time.

So, what she did was create a new blank video layer in the same PSD files in which I drew the frames.  And then she painted using the standard tools in Photoshop - she didn't even have to stay in the lines.  Simple yes, but again, VERY VERY time consuming.  We all had achey backs when it was all over.

First, we had to get the colored frames out of PSD.  There's an export option in the file menu of PSD, so we just used that to kick out individual png files, imported them into AE into timelines based on scene number and bear number, then used the keyframe assistant to sequence everything.  Pretty simple, once you do it a couple times. 

Because I had done the animatic in AE, all I had to do was to bring the frame sequences into my main timeline and voila - we had an animation.  A little bit of color tweaking here, a little audio adjustment there and we were rolling on the export.

That's all there is to it.  Frame animation is actually pretty simple, but just takes a long time to do.  We had a great time doing it, and I hope you watch, rate, fave and share our 'master piece' so we can get to Sesame Street!! (and so Dan can get a blender)


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