Tutorial: Collaborating with Cartoon Animator to Remotely create a Fully-Animated Cartoon in 2 Weeks

INTRODUCTION

Veteran Cartoon Animator character designer, and 2D animator Garry Pye discusses how he was able to assemble a small group of talented designers, animators and voice over artists working remotely across the globe; to produce a broadcast quality, 2D animated short film from concept-to-finished project in under two weeks using Cartoon Animator.  

Garry Pye – 2D Illustrator / Cartoonist / Animator

GARRY PYE

My name is Garry Pye and since 2014 I have been a content developer for Reallusion. I am privileged to work with a number of talented people, experienced industry seniors from across a wide spectrum of skills in the animation industry. For some time, several of us had floated the idea of collaborating on the production of an animated short film inspired by the television cartoons of our youth.

Problem was, we were all in different parts of the world and couldn’t get together. So we needed to find a way to all work together with a single goal – Cartoon Animator was able to help us achieve this goal. 

It’s fair to say that I like to test myself. Each time I create a new project, I like to focus on specific aspects and set myself goals so I learn new skills. With my new Cartoon Animator G3 360 Degree character Buz Blowfly and his debut film “Steak Out”, I set myself several challenges. 

First, to create a character whose design was incredibly basic and see if I could breathe life and personality into him and create a performance audiences would engage with. I chose Buz Blowfly because he is essentially a blue ball with four little black sticks for legs and little else going on. I thought, if we can make this 2D character look more like a traditional hand animated cell cartoon and less like a cardboard cutout floating aimlessly across the screen from one point to another, then that will be an achievement. 

In addition, there was now the challenge of working remotely with a group of people, each of whom would be required to work independently and provide their input on this animation to make it work, while never having the opportunity to meet together in one place to discuss it. Everyone would have to do their bit, ultimately requiring all the pieces to be assembled as a finished product. 

And finally, the hardest challenge of all. Could we pull this off in under two weeks. Fourteen days from pencil sketch to finished animation.    

Step 1: Creating Buz Blowfly

Buz Blowfly is little more than a blue circle with four sticks for legs. As far as an overall character build, that’s pretty much it. And that was very much a conscious design choice. I wanted the challenge of creating emotions for this character using his face and wings as well as his overall body movements. With only a simple sphere to work with, I would have to experiment with squash and stretch movements, as well as being able to incorporate the Cartoon Animators Deform tool, which I had previously toyed with but never really put to proper use.

After scanning the original pencil sketch into my PC, using CorelDraw I was able to draw bezier curves over the top of the sketch for each required sprite, creating dozens of new mouths and eyes for almost every emotion possible.

One of Cartoon Animator’s greatest abilities is to take any character design and quickly, and easily, add your own internal skeleton framework, complete with joints, so your character moves freely in front of your eyes within minutes. It is a simple matter of dragging your bones about over the top of the character and previewing the results in real time. 

Once the framework of the character and his bone structure was set up, I went about creating the G3 360 Head for Buz as a Talking Head. With this character, his head and body were essentially the same part, meaning his head is also his body. The benefit here was that once I had him set up properly using the 360 Head Creator, Buz would be able to turn his head and look around with natural movement, again making him appear less like a cardboard cutout and more like a hand animated character. 

Setting up the 360 Head for this character is not only easy, but for me extremely fun with Cartoon Animator. Being able to make adjustments to your characters face in real time as you’re building them is so satisfying, sometimes it seems more like sculpting than assembling. The 360 Head Creator gives the animator total control over the movement of the facial parts, which can later be fine tuned further with the Transform and Deform tools during the animation process. 

Step 2:  We Need a Plan!

When working on a larger animation project, planning is essential. Multiple scenes and camera shots require forethought so that continuity is in place and you don’t find yourself having to backtrack to correct mistakes. When working as part of a creative team with a single goal, planning is even more important so all parties know what’s happening and what’s expected of them.

With a story outline and script written, it was time to hit the drawing board with a good old fashioned pencil and paper to roughly sketch out each camera shot in a storyboard sequence so that everyone involved in the project could visualise the cartoon and share their input into how each shot could be made better. 

Since our voiceover actors would never get to record together at the same time, each needed to understand their role in order to deliver a recording that would fit each scene. Having worked many times with both William and Kelsy, I knew any lines of dialogue in their hands were going to be perfect. 

We agreed that the feeling of the cartoon was to be inspired by the old Looney Tunes cartoons of Sylvester and Tweety Pie we had watched on television growing up. So the background elements were kept simple and built inside Cartoon Animator in a way that allowed the Buz Blowfly character to freely move around in the correct perspective. Cartoon Animator gave us the freedom to make changes quickly and easily as each sequence developed and changes were required. One of my absolute favourite functions of this software is the Z-axis which allows correct perspective layering and smooth camera control giving the scenes a depth that would otherwise be extremely difficult to achieve.

Step 3: Veteran Animator brings Buz to Life 

My friend and animator Declan Walsh is a legend in the art of traditional hand drawn animation, having worked with Disney, and Don Bluth, and animating films such as Thumbelina and Anastasia. We felt that the wings on the Buz Blowfly character would be used to express his emotions and almost become a character with a personality of their own. So Declan went about creating the most visually impressive animated wing prop (ctProp) for Cartoon Animator. Hand drawing 17 individual frames of motion, when combined in a sequence, Declan was able to give the wings 4 separate motion speeds that could be used to propel Buz across the screen.    

So while the head and body of Buz was being constructed on one side of the globe, his wings were being developed on the other, and eventually the two would pair up and Buz Blowfly would take his first flight. 

Step 4: Giving the Character’s Voices

I cannot stress enough the importance of using professional voice artists if you want to elevate your animations to a professional level. When we were first exploring the idea of this collaborative project for Buz Blowfly, William Schenold and Kelsy Little jumped at the chance to be involved. I always make sure I have my voiceovers finished before I start frame one of animation because a good audio clip can often steer your scene in a different direction than expected, especially when you have fun people like Bill and Kelsy who like to ad lib and go off script. You never know what you’re in for and often the best line is the one that comes when the actors are goofing off.   

Even though both these talented artists recorded their dialogue in totally different countries and were never able to read together, with Cartoon Animator that doesn’t matter, as I was able to instantly drop in both recordings, align and trim them where necessary and then start my animation process. 

Step 5: Let’s Get Moving

With the storyboards designed, character developed and voice overs recorded, it was now time to start on the final animation. For me, this truly is the fun part. Taking a flat illustration and bringing it to life. Making him twist and turn, express real emotion and interact with the world around him. 

Thanks to Cartoon Animator’s 360 Head feature, I was able to quickly rig Buz Blowfly’s face in real-time, giving him the freedom to look about in every direction and speeding up the animation process by weeks. But for this project, I felt even that wasn’t going to be enough. We needed Buz to move as if he has weight and I wanted his movements to be fast and energetic, while not being so fast that the viewer would miss the action. This is where Cartoon Animator’s Deform Tool became my new best friend. After blocking in the general movements I was able to go back through the scene to squash and stretch everything from Buz’s body to every element of his face, so his performance became much more fluid and life-like. 

Previously I had relied solely on the sprite swapping method for facial expressions, which works perfectly well, but the ability to smoothly transition from one sprite to another through keyframing with the Deform Tool enhanced my character performance to a level I had never achieved before. Because animation is much more than an object moving from one point to another. It is about capturing the true feeling of movement and emotion. And the Deform Tool absolutely delivers this result. 

Step 6: Editing and Effects

With all the clips completed, it was time to assemble the footage into the final cut, which is a simple process of joining each clip together in your favourite editing software. I use Pinnacle for editing and for my sound effects and music I use Audioblocks.

When the movie was complete, the final decision was made to add some effects using Adobe After Effects which would give it the look and feel of being a retro tv cartoon. This is where artist and animator Warwick Hays brought his skill set to the table. Warwick is a master at using After Effects and with the help of Reallusions plug in which quickly and easily creates a bridge between Cartoon Animator and After Effects, Warwick was able to take the original film and desaturate it to give it a more retro look. In addition, he added a blur effect to Buz Blowfly which gave him more natural movement and finally a vintage film grain effect was added to give the project the feeling of being a recording from an original television program. All of this was done in hours rather than days, and results could be increased or decreased in real-time to get just the look we all wanted. 

And We’re Done!

Incredibly, a project that I estimate would have taken several months to complete, had it been created any other way, was finished from pencil sketch to final movie in exactly two weeks, thanks to the passion and enthusiasm of a group of talented artists. And best of all the project was genuinely fun to work on for everyone. This is because Cartoon Animator allowed us to see our results in real-time, making spontaneous adjustments without the need to redo work. All while having fun with the process of collaborating remotely and enjoying animating instead of being impeded with tedious and monotonous technical work. And because we were able to create the project in such record time, it meant that the enthusiasm for the work never had time to wane. 

At the beginning of every new animation I try to push myself to learn new skills, polish those skills I already have and discover new possibilities within the limits of Cartoon Animator. As this software grows with new plug-ins and tools, so does the potential for me to create bigger and better animated projects. And at the end of each project I hope to be able to look back and see growth in my work. ‘Steak Out’ was a journey in collaboration and character animation that ultimately demonstrates Cartoon Animators ability to produce a quality production by a remote team of enthusiastic, creative people in a very short time frame. 

LINKS:

Garry Pye: https://www.facebook.com/garrypyeanimations

Declan Walsh: http://www.declanwalshart.com/

Warwick Hays: https://www.facebook.com/wthanimation/

Kelsy Little: KelsyLittleVO@gmail.com

William Schenold: william@wjschenold.com  

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