Cartoon Animator 4 Makes It Easy To Composite 2D Animation And Live Action

This story is featured at Cartoon Brew

Mixing 2D with live-action has been a popular format for movies and TVs over the years.  The obvious benefits of this style include that it produces visually realistic results and makes the film more engaging.  However, creating such a piece can sometimes be painstaking for video makers.  Today we have invited Chris Meyer-White to show you how to easily accomplish video compositing of 2D animation with live footage using Cartoon Animator 4.

A Brief History of 2D and Live Action Animation

My name is Chris Meyer-White.  I have worked in Home Entertainment for 15+ years, in both the US and the UK, and on projects for Warner Brothers, Disney, BBC, Paramount, and many other studios. The most time of which being at Abbey Home Media which was the UK’s leading independent home entertainment company for lots of well-known children’s shows, Care Bears, Topsy and Tim, Peter Rabbit, Sooty, Horrid Henry, Fireman Sam and more.

Before I start showing you the workflow of my creation, let me give you a quick introduction to 2D and live action video.

There are many different styles of animation, 2D , 3D , stop motion, and more. 

One of my personal favourite styles has to be when 2D and live-action are mixed together. This is sometimes known as hybrid animation, and it’s a technique that has been around for over 100 years.

Out of the Inkwell © Max Fleischer

The earliest example of this style I could find was used in the 1918 series, Out of the Inkwell, followed soon after by the Alice Comedies series by Disney. The Alice Comedies were a series of live-action/animated shorts that followed Alice (a live-action girl) having adventures in an animated world with animated characters.

Alice Comedies © Disney

This was a technique that Disney seemed to love as they created many classic movies mixing live-action and animation in films such as Bedknobs and Broomsticks, Song of the South, Mary Poppins, and more.

Bedknobs and Broomsticks © Disney

My Interest in This Style

One film that sparked my early interest in animation was a film that used this technique – Dot and the Kangaroo.

Dot and the Kangaroo © Yoram Gross

Dot and the Kangaroo is a classic story from Australia that sees the main character Dot, lost in the Australian Bush.  Dot and all the other characters she meets in the film are 2D and the backgrounds are either live-action film or photos and, as a 5-year-old, this style really captivated my attention and creativity as it was so different from anything I had seen before. The quality is now a little dated, but it still has a magical charm and such a mesmerising style for a young child to see.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit © Touchstone Pictures

One of the most famous films to mix 2D and live-action has to be the classic 1988 film, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, directed by Robert Zemeckis, starring Bob Hoskins and Christopher Lloyd as live-action characters, along with the other stars of the film, Roger Rabbit and Jessica Rabbit, and many more famous cartoons as 2D characters, in the groundbreaking film where cartoon characters and people coexist in the same world.  And, for me as an 8-year-old, this film was absolutely mind-blowing and really cemented my fascination with both film and animation.

I have a lot to thank the makers of Dot and the Kangaroo and Who Framed Roger Rabbit, as it was these 2 films that made me want to work in animation and film.

With Cartoon Animator, you can create similar styles, easily and fast.

Cartoon Animator, a Must-Have 2D Animation Tool for Video Makers

Over the years, I have used many different software packages to animate – After Effects (using DuiK and Joysticks and Sliders), Adobe Animate, Moho and more.  Cartoon Animator (CTA) is the only software package that I’ve used that was easy to use straight out of the box.  For example, the templates that come with CTA are a fantastic starting point for anyone looking at character animation, the free motions have you animating in no time.

Another reason why CTA is fantastic is that there are always brilliant new additions.  The 360 head turn feature is a game-changer, and the 3D-2D animation motion feature is ground-breaking. 

Now with CTA 4.5 you can export your animated characters as transparent .mov files and use them in external effects and editing software such as Adobe After Effects, Final Cut Pro, DaVinci Resolve, Motion, HitFilm, and more.

CTA supports both transparent video (MOV) and image sequence (PNG) export.  If you choose to export your characters as transparent png sequences, which is great, however, it would result in thousands of files (as each frame was a .png file).  Rendering out as a single transparent .mov file means you can keep the files down, and help keep your project tidy, which really helps the animation pipeline.

Exporting as a transparent .mov file really is as simple as clicking a button.  When you go to render your video, make sure you select Apple ProRes 4444 and this will keep the transparency.  Then import into your software of choice and submerge your character into your scene – it’s that simple.

After Effects

For me, as I always use After Effects, you can simply export to After Effects with the plugin, and select MOV Video, and, like when you render as ProRes 4444, your project will import into After Effects and, rather than a PNG sequence, it will import as one .MOV file with transparency.

Final Cut Pro

As a video editor, I love when you can make a smooth pipeline between software and design, and the new CTA feature of exporting transparent .mov files is a welcome addition to my animation and editing pipeline.  Like you can do with After Effects, you can easily import your animation sequence with transparency and insert this into your video project.  You can easily have your animated characters interacting with video footage in no time. Having this feature I’m sure will help all video editors.

When using this technique in FCPX, my pipeline is as follows:

Design in Photoshop, bring my character into Cartoon Animator as a PSD, animate in CTA, then simply export as a QuickTime using the ProRes 444 codex, import my character’s QuickTime file like I would with any other video clip, and layer up the layers to help embed my character into the sequence.

HitFilm Express

I have to be 100% honest. I’ve been a die-hard Adobe user for years, and am a big fanboy of the creative cloud. I’ve been using After Effects for 15 years now, and will never really use anything else… However, HitFilm Express is really something people should seriously look at when it comes to compiling together sequences from footage created in CTA.  I haven’t really played around with HitFilm much, but I have seen many CTA users use this and they have created mind-blowing sequences.  So I would highly recommend looking into this as a tool to use with CTA.  Oh, did I mention, IT’S FREE!!! Well, the basic version is, however, you can upgrade and I would highly recommend doing this.

With HitFilm, as with After Effects and FCPX, I simply import my transparent QuickTime file and layer up the scene with additional elements.  However, you can do lots of special effects (like you can with After Effects) such as shadows, lighting, and more.  Definitely check it out as it’s a fantastic tool to help add an extra level of sparkle to your animations.

Conclusion

What I love about Reallusion, the company making Cartoon Animator, is that they are always updating the software, constantly making it better for users to create fantastic animation sequences.

Exporting as a transparent QuickTime for Mac and PC is a great addition, especially now you’re also able to export to After Effects as a QuickTime as well as a .png sequence via the AE plugin. This, for me, helps improve my pipeline, and I’m sure, helps other users quickly and simply create broadcast-quality animations.  Download the free trial and see for yourself.
For more information, visit the Cartoon Animator website.

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