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Filtering by Category: Animation

How to make your own cartoon Series - Part 2 - The animation process

Erik Ravaglia

Hello and welcome back! After we had a look at how Wellpark came to be in this article and we had a more in depth look at the beginning of the production process, it’s time to move forward with production. Shall we?! (if you feel lost, go have a read of the older articles mentioned above).

Final Artwork

Finally after the sketches were approved Pablo would plough through the final artwork. 
To keep up with the pace, the artwork had to follow these simple rules:
- A limited number of details on the characters.
- The characters must be drawn in a basic, frontal position, whenever possible.
- Everything must be drawn in Illustrator to allow infinite scalability.

Pablo would draw in this order: Character -> Mouth positions -> Backgrounds..and repeat.

If you are starting a similar project of your own, I’d recommend that you set up simple rules like the ones above, which would make your life a lot easier in After Effects. At this stage, after that the idea, script and sketches were approved, there was no need to get the final artwork OKed, therefore once the artwork was finished it would be sent to Skelfie to break it down directly.


Breaking down the assets and all that

This was probably the most tedious of the processes (sorry Skelf). It’s a stinky one but someone had to do it. With the way our system worked, the character’s limbs had to be broken down into 3 pieces AND if finger movements were necessary then the fingers had to be broken down into 3 pieces as well. Same treatment for the face where every single element needed to be in it’s own individual layer. AH! The fun and games…

 

After the character was broken down, hence ready to be rigged, then Skelf would move into the lip syncing process using a custom rig we built, similar to this: https://vimeo.com/70295483 (may the animation Gods bless CreativeCow BTW).

Before settling on this we tried a bunch of other more automated solutions, which didn’t really work with the scottish accent AND ended up requiring more tidying up afterwards than anything else. 

A few episodes in and he was the king of lip MOFO syncing. 

Right after the lip syncing process was over, Skelf would start breaking down the background as we wanted to go for that sweet sweet parallax effect. To achieve it, we needed the artwork to be divided in 4 to 5 parts depending on the drawings; I.E. one layer usually being the sky, a few separate ones for the clouds, a few for the buildings and then the individual details on the floor being on their separate layers.

Doing the whole process by yourself would require a bit more patience and I’m aware that it sounds like it could take you forever. Breaking down the assets takes at least a couple of hours, same for lip syncing. If you are by yourself just think small. Settle on a simpler design; a good look doesn’t necessarily require loads of details.


Rigging away

After catching up on everything else it was finally my time to give it laldy

Step one for me (or Andrew once he got on board) was rigging, God bless DuDuf for making the best plugin ever conceived in the history of After Effects (regarding character animation). This tool allows you to rig a 2D character very effectively and in a fraction of the time. Here is a wee video to give you an idea of how good it is: https://vimeo.com/92546892
Rigging was all about making sure that the limbs could move without bits sticking out hence it required a bit of artwork alteration, small details mostly, just to make sure that the movement and the artwork would work seamlessly together without having to play with Rot Morph.

There are 2 ways of rigging your character, and we used both based on different circumstances:

- Split the limbs into different parts (see Paul's harm above).
- Have one long limb, use the puppet tool and parent the points to null objects (check the Fly below).

The first solution made an awful lot of sense given that our characters were pretty much all of human appearances BUT for details like the beard, a wire, cloths and so on we used the second solution.

To have a better understanding on how 2D rigging works have a look at DuDuf tutorials on Duik. It requires a bit of time to catch up with it, but understanding the basics before jumping in head first will save you heaps of time. Like everything else in After Effects, it is 60% preparation and 40% animation, if you have a solid set up you are way ahead of the curve, IMHO.

Let’s get it on..

After having the rig ready to go it was time for us to get animating. We adopted a very simple style, which the client liked from day one. We looked at instances like South Park and Archer where movement is minimal but effective. We had to stick to our guns and make sure that the style would fit with our schedule hence South Park is a great example given that they make an episode every 6 days (great documentary BTW). After a few tests we figured out our sweet spot and we stuck with it till the end. 

The animation part is pretty straightforward: use keyframes like there is no tomorrow. Play with the easing and avoid straight movements as much as possible. Invest time on getting a few things right and the rest will follow. Granted you could spend DAYS getting a rig to work perfectly, crafting a lovely animation but when you have merely hours you have to cut corners. I understand this kills that romantic idea about how animation works. I’m sorry guys, but this was our reality with this project AND it was effective.

After the character was done, it was time to build the backgrounds. Usually they would be built into a series of layers positioned in 3D space so to obtain that parallax effect I discussed above.

One thing I realised later on during the process was that having the cuts ready in advance would save us a bit more time. No need to animate the whole body if we had a close up or only a detail shot. I used to decide these only at the end of the process as we would normally try a few things out, but actually having a clear idea from the start made the process more effective.


Almost done.

To help give all the episodes an overall look, we decided to use a set of 3 additional adjustment layers and a couple of paper textures to ease that sharp look typical of vector illustrations. We had an orange solid on 5% transparency, a black vignette at about 25% transparency and an adjustment layer with a 10 points increased saturation to bring back the colours. The paper textures were used on individual elements to avoid that dirty lens effect typical of when you slap a texture right on top of everything. These little details usually helps to improve the general look of the animation.


Delivery

After the 2.5 day process we would have one episode ready to be sent to the client. Usually feedback would hit us pretty swiftly and given that the client was on board with us since the episode was conceived, chances were, they would approve the episode without any amends. We had a couple of instances where we had to add or remove things and that’s when the time slipped away a bit, but it was never too bad. 


The End

The most impressive thing about the project was the scope of it and we made it with just 6-7 people in the timeframe we had. Looking back, we produced tons of content, squeezing every minute out of any given day. We didn’t go through any big dramas and, more importantly, we got along just fine feeling like brothers in arms during the process.

Many lessons were learned and one of the biggest ones was underestimating the number of assets. I spent days, D-A-Y-S rendering and re-rendering all the different bits needed for both our AND the client’s amends or simply for delivery. Every episode had an intro and an outro, which needed to be created and rendered every single time. Having to do the animation and keep track of all these aspects revealed to be a challenge and it was an oversight on my part. 

In the end, if you are embarking on this adventure by yourself, allow some extra time to adapt and improve your process as you go. Decide how you want your cartoon to look and scale production time up or down based on the quality you need and want to achieve. 

That’s it, this was our experience, thanks for reading this super long article. I hope you enjoyed and learned something in the process. Just remember, ultimately, If you want to make your own cartoon series, just do it. It’s worth it.

How to make your own cartoon series - Part 1 - The Creative Process

Erik Ravaglia

Following the article on how a bunch of friends made Wellpark for Tennent’s Lager, I thought a more in depth look into the process could help anyone who might fancy embarking on such adventure have an easier sail. Part 1 is all about the creative process.

 ILLUSTRATIONS EVERYWHERE!!

ILLUSTRATIONS EVERYWHERE!!

Ready..steady..GO!
Step one was to get ahead on the creative process. Most of the work was to figure out the characters look and decide on backgrounds, colours and line style, taking into account the type of software we were going to use to produce the assets and animate. We knew that After Effects* was the way to go in terms of animation and we needed vector artwork to go with it to allow scalability without losing quality. It took a couple of episodes to settle in with the tools, but after these important calls were made and we had a few simple rules to follow, we could move on pretty swiftly.

*It might seem strange to few but AE is improved during the years on character animation but you need a plug-in like DUIK for this kind of work. If you don’t know how to use it, take a week off before the project and start experimenting with it. I guarantee that you won’t be disappointed. Flash is your next best thing, BUT if you don’t have time to go frame by frame, forget it. There are other alternatives to experiment with, however AE is my to go software. The way you decide to use DUIK would also dictate the type of artwork you need; more on this in part 2.

Client where art thou?
If you are thinking on making a project like this for yourself you are fine to go, although it’s important to note that for us having the client on board with most of the decisions was key. We pretty much worked together as a team and invested some time at the beginning to make sure we were all on the same page to avoid any time wasted on multiple amends. Once we nailed these details everybody’s life got a hell of a lot easier.

MOAR IDEAS!
As many as possible, jot them down, write a small synopsis, move on. Only after collecting a bunch of them could we sniff out the best ones. Having external feedback helped us realise what sucked and what didn’t. I’m the first one to say that if you have an idea you believe in, you should just go for it and learn as you go, however external perspective can save you more than an headache. As a group we talked about the ideas a lot, if it made us laugh, good, otherwise, onto the next one. But seriously, put down a huge bunch before you start writing any script. This was our first dumping ground, if the client didn’t like the idea we would pitch the next one and so on. Many didn’t make it past this stage, I mean MANY.
 
Write’em up!
As soon as we had a bunch of good ideas approved it was time to start scriptwriting. Jo and Ian are pure golddust. They can write a script out of everything AND make it funny. Not all of it came out great but an incredible number just worked. This stage was challenging as more time was needed to refine and write scripts, some of which, turned out to be worse than originally envisioned. Needless to say, to move forward we needed a bit of restlessness and if something didn’t sound right we needed to put it to rest. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes polishing ideas can unlock a whole new level of funny and there are instances in which a good script can rescue a less funny idea but there is no need to fall in love with a concept, a better one will usually come.

After having the script ready, one of the best ways to get it approved was a good voice over, which meant that having a sound guy always available made our life A LOT better and we could figure out how good a sketch was by the recording; it just helps. If you’re embarking on this thing I’d suggest you buy a decent microphone, it’ll help to write the script and act it out, and your recordings will sound much better. 

 Bobby and Paul, now and then.

Bobby and Paul, now and then.

Make it pretty.
After the script was approved Pablo would get into gear. The overall look of the cartoon was already decided at pitch week, hence at this stage we had time to refine it. The look was as important as the feasibility of the artwork for the animation given the time constraints. First of all we needed to be able to break up the artwork pretty easily into different pieces that could then be rigged in After Effects. We needed the artwork to be clear and relatively detailed. Once we became more confident with it we spot a progression. In fact from Bobby and Paul to The Try Hards or The Good Count, for instance, you can see an augmented number of details on the characters and more elements being animated.

Pablo would pick up the idea and start working on the chara design as soon as the script was approved. He only had a little bit of time to come up with a design, and seeing it happen was a delight, he is one talented fella. After sketching up a few alternatives he would then send it for approval, which would generally come in a really short time. Again, if you are working on this by yourself you need none of that, BUT sketching helps you weed out the bad ideas and improve your final artwork dramatically. After one of the sketches was approved by the client we could finally move forward with the final artwork…

 The preliminary sketches for Bobby and Paul

The preliminary sketches for Bobby and Paul

Lesson learned
After a couple of episodes we realised that producing a bunch of ideas altogether instead of scattering the process throughout the weeks would improve our workflow dramatically, allowing us to try new things and polish the animation. We originally wanted to be more reactive and fluid BUT we realised that the jokes tailored to one big event don’t make much sense long term and these videos would have to sit on Facebook and YouTube for a while.  We had to learn that on the job.


Righty-oh! We are done with Part 1, and like every good cliffhanger PART 2 will be coming soon.