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Studio Ghibletz brings original stories to life for 2D animated series


Nathan and Cody from Studio Ghibletz are a small independent animation studio who chose Cartoon Animator (CTA) to produce their animated series Spellslingerz, a story with a moral message about friendship and kindness set in a post apocalyptic universe.

In his interview with Reallusion, Nathan outlines why Cartoon Animator was the perfect software choice to bring their story to life and he speaks about his favourite CTA features and what the future holds for Spellslingerz.

“When we started, Cody and I knew nothing about animation. But when we watched that Cartoon Animator tutorial, I was excited when I saw the potential of rigged characters. Within a few hours I created my first animation! From there, we doubled down and purchased Cartoon Animator.”

Nathan – Studio Ghibletz

Q: Hi Nathan. Thank you for your time. We were excited to see what Studio Ghibletz has been up to. Can you tell us more about the studio?

My partner Cody and I, plus our awesome crew at Studio Ghibletz, are currently producing our first animated show using Cartoon Animator. In 2022 we released our first show, Spellslingerz—a post apocalyptic, gun slinging, wild west / fantasy adventure. It’s a 2D cartoon about two girls exploring a post apocalyptic desert and trying to make the world a better place. We’ve planned a story arc and dream of a six episode series. At the moment, however, we’re still in the writing stage for episode two. 

Q: Spellslingerz is such a great series concept. Where did the idea originally come from?

I stumbled across Hellua Boss—the animated YouTube series by Vizziepop. The idea of character driven comedy struck me—that the humor could both drive the plot and develop characters. Also, seeing an indie studio showed me that my dream of making my own animated cartoon was within reach. (As mentioned before, we learned everything from scratch.)

As for the characters, we wanted to create a show centered around friendship. As Alice (the voice of Gumdrops says) “Gumdrops and Sidewinder are friends and family all in one and their relationship goes super deep.” However, the response to their post-apocalyptic world differs. Sidewinder adopts a realist’s approach to their world. In her mind, she lives in a hard world so she must also be hard. This is the only way to keep Gumdrops safe, which is her main goal in the show. Gumdrops, on the other hand, sees the world as repairable, and dreams of seeing rainbows and butterflies. This conflict between these two friends moves the show forward. 

Q: What is your goal for telling the story of Spellslingerz? Is there a moral to the story?

Toward the end of the episode, Sidewinder and Gumdrops argue over the possibility of making it rain in the desert. Gumdrops holds up a fossil and asks “how did this get here?” inferring there used to be water in the desert. This fossil triggers a flashback for Sidewinder.

In the flashback, we see a young Sidewinder hungry, sad, and alone. Gumdrops—still a stranger—notices her. She offers Sidewinder a fossil she can sell to buy some food. This one act of kindness changes Sidewinder’s entire life and she becomes Gumdrop’s best friend. 

When the flashback ends, she sees Gumdrops holding a fossil. In her hard, realist heart, Sidewinder knows all the butterflies are gone and the rainbows are dead. However, she decides, for Gumdrops, “let’s make it rain.” The fossil symbolizes what we do for people we love, and that a small act of kindness can change someone’s life. 

Q: When you decided to make a full animated pilot episode, what made you choose Cartoon Animator as the platform to create your series?

When we started, Cody and I knew nothing about animation. Like JFK, we promised the moon without knowing how to get there. We learned everything from scratch. Along this quest for knowledge, YouTube took note of our plight and their algorithm suggested a video of Cartoon Animator by Reallusion.

Previously, Cody and I had decided 2D animation wasn’t feasible because of our lack of technical ability and resources. A one point we had even planned to use Lego stop motion. But when we watched that Cartoon Animator tutorial, I was excited when I saw the potential of rigged characters. In my mind, it fell between the 2D style we loved and the accessibility of stop motion. So I downloaded the trial version.

Within a few hours I created my first animation (Sidewinder v.1) Ugly as it was, Cody realized what it could become. From there, we doubled down and purchased Cartoon Animator. With Reallusion’s tutorials, we animated the first scene of Spellslingerz. Then we basked in its glory. To us, this scene was indescribably beautiful. Two months ago, we’d been playing with Legos. Now, we felt like Walt Disney. 

What sold me was the software’s intuitiveness. After watching half a dozen tutorial videos, I got the gist of the program. Once I had the basics, the show quickly came together.

” With Reallusion’s tutorials, we animated the first scene of Spellslingerz. Then we basked in its glory. To us, this scene was indescribably beautiful. Two months ago, we’d been playing with Legos. Now, we felt like Walt Disney. ”

Nathan – Studio Ghibletz

Q: What is your favorite genre or theme to work with?

Spellslingerz is a wild west / fantasy mashup—a solid intersection of our two favorite genres. Cody and I thought: how cool would a pistol shooting wizard be? We built our world around this concept. Spellslingers, like Sidewinder and Gumdrops, use guns to channel their magic— like wands. 

Q: Having worked with Cartoon Animator to create a full animated episode, how did you find the process of creating characters? Was it easy and enjoyable?

Yes! We designed our characters in pieces. Each piece corresponded to parts of the dummy template in Cartoon Animator. In the beginning, we manually clicked each piece into place. Later, we used the pipeline feature to import our art directly from Photoshop which makes things fast very easy.

The rigging character bone system in Cartoon Animator made our show possible. A “rigged character” or “free bone actor” is an animated cartoon character you can manipulate like a puppet. With hand drawn animation, you have to redraw the character thousands of times, taking countless hours, skill and resources. With a free bone actor, you simply morph and reposition the character’s body in each frame.

These free bone actors make 2D animation accessible to small studios like ours.

Q: Now that you have used Cartoon Animator, what are some of your favorite features and tools?

Without doubt, the most clever feature in Cartoon Animator are the 3D heads. Your characters can express emotion without changing the sprites (face pieces). This also allows your characters to turn their head. This is a little hard to imagine so I’ve included a video.

Ultimately, giving your toons a 3D head gives them a wider range of expression and motion. Without this feature, Sidewinder and Gumdrops would’ve looked like talking stick figures. The 3D heads gave the illusion of traditional animation without all the hard work of hand drawing thousands of required individual frames. A 3D head takes what would otherwise be stick people and make them into living, breathing 2D cartoons. It adds a layer of polish and detail that gives the characters a level of lifelikeness and warmth. 

As for the bone hands—these give you an unprecedented level of expression. People talk with their hands, characters should too. If you watch the first few seconds, you’ll see Sidewinder talking about squeezing water out of cactus toads. As she talks, she makes a squeeze gesture with her hands. This is perhaps one of my favorite animations in the show because it feels so lifelike.  The hands can be a little tricky to design. Each hand has fifteen parts and it takes time to rig each piece into place. However, the results are worth the effort. 

Q: So what’s next for Studio Ghibletz? Do you have plans for future content in the works? Will you be expanding on the Spellslingerz series?

My goal for future Cartoon Animator projects is the use of the pipeline feature to pipe the animations into After Effects and use Shadow Studio to shade and bevel the characters and scenes. I love the way 2D character designs look after you add shadows and intend to do this going forward.

We’ve kicked around ideas for Spellslingerz episode two. However, we’re leaning towards starting a new project. Because Cartoon Animator now has the ability to export layered scenes as MOV files for post production, we want to apply lighting and shadows using Adobe After Effects.

Originally, we planned to add lighting and shadows to Spellslingerz. Unfortunately, our backgrounds and 2D character designs were too complex. Now we’re leaning towards a simpler animation style with higher production quality.

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