Sunday, May 20, 2012

2D, Or Not 2D, That Is The Question....

Young Nicholas

      In the early part of 2010, when I was again out of work as a 3D animator, I had a chance to work in a 2D feature film  Santa's Apprentice.  I was desperately looking for a job at the time and heard from a former Disney colleague, that a team of my former Disney friends in Sydney Australia, were involved in this project and that it's possible for me to get some freelance work, because the Animation Director had a few software licenses available to enable someone to work off-site.  The production had been ongoing for 6 months or more already, and only have a few months left before the animation period finishes, so I didn't know if there was still a chance for me to do some off-site freelance work for them. I took my chances and sent a message to the Director anyway, whom I've worked closely before at Disney Australia, of my desire to do some freelance work for him and if he would allow me to do it from home here in NZ. Once he knew that I'm equipped to do the job off-site, he accepted me to join them on the condition that I fly over there in Sydney for a couple of weeks to get some in-house training on how to use Toon Boom Harmony, which was what they were using for this project.  I agreed and thought that the best way to learn any program was to be there in person and see how they do things, learn from my mistakes while immediate technical assistance was available. During that period, I tried my best to learn as much as I can about this 2D animation software, so that once I work from home, I won't be bogged down with solving technical issues about the program because there won't be any immediate assistance.  And for this reason, I decided to extend my stay for another week just to make sure that I learned what I needed to learn.   A friend animator was kind enough to let me stay at her house during those period, as I can't afford to live in a hotel for 3 weeks. This wasn't a big-budgeted movie, so there's no free flight nor accommodation for me to do this. But hey... I rather work than do nothing, so....


      That was also a good chance for me to travel back to Sydney where I've lived for 7 years. And an opportunity to work with some of my former Disney animator friends again. For a short while, it felt just like how it was when I worked at Disney. I was very comfortable with them and realized that we worked really well together as an animation team.  The animating experience were both familiar, yet new to most of us.  We all knew how to animate but now we have to do it digitally. There were a few young, new animators, who we bothered a lot with our technical Toon Boom questions and other basic computer questions, that have not had that similar animating experience as most of us did using traditional medium of pencil and paper.  So they probably have no understanding of how difficult it was for some of us animators to learn how to use this digital program or even the computer and probably thought how were we ever going to get anything done.  And yet once we all learned how to use it, we were very efficient and were managing very well. I found myself very appreciative of the program for it's digital tools that made the animation process much faster, compared to if we were using the traditional medium. The program eliminated the process of pencil test shooting, which is a crucial and an important part of the process to check the timing of the animation.  When we were at Disney, line-testing means waiting in a long cue of animators wanting to do the same with the limited available line testers.  Having the instant playback ability built-in into the program, enables us to check our work instantly, thus making changes immediate as well.  Also, we can now animate to the dialogue audio track more because sound files can be imported into the program. It was just like animating in Maya for 3D animation. It used to be that we'd listen to the dialogue track from a cassette player and looked at the exposure sheet for the correct framing of where the actual sound of the dialogue would be. But now, it's very convenient and faster.  It has many digital tools like camera moves, cut and paste, enlarge and reduce abilities, skew, perspective, color and more, that made the process faster.  No more wasting a lot of paper and lining-up to use the photocopier machines either. It really is a complete 2D animation program.


     There were a few of us animators allowed to work from home. Actually, the producer, whom I've never worked with before, was naturally a bit worried if  I would be able to deliver on time, and  preferred that I work in-house over there. But it was impractical for me to move there, so I promised I wouldn't let them down. They had a really tight schedule and I was reminded by the Director that this production was unlike Disney and missing the dateline would have serious consequences for them.  And my oh my...  I sure worked hard and unbelievably long hours at home just to fulfill that promise.

      It was a 3-month gig for me. I knew that in spite of the benefits of using digital program like Toon Boom, animating in 2D was and still a tedious process of drawing the character and action one frame at a time, which made this style of animating really very unique, charming and special, but at the same time more difficult.  During this period, I worried and doubted myself a lot, if I could really reach and get through the weekly quota, knowing that I'm not known to be a fast animator and using a digital program for the first time without much immediate assistance if ever I encounter any problem along the way.  But I know that I won't get paid for the week if my scenes were not approved by the director, so it was crucial that I get through the scenes quickly daily for the director to review.  I was communicating with my Animation Team Leader over Skype everyday to make sure that I get my feedback notes immediately as well.  Not having drawn for a long time since I developed RSI and quitting Disney, it became really painful physically to draw again. I was risking getting that injury flair up again by doing this gig but had to do it for I assured them of my commitment to finish the work on time.  I just prayed that the pain won't last and was really wanting this project to be over soon.  My feet swelled up due to poor circulation I think, having to sit for long periods of time working.  

Little boy kisses Nicholas

      In the end, the director and producer were really happy with my work and I managed to keep my promise. After that project, I'm not sure if I ever wanted to do anymore 2D animation and go through working like that again.  I realized how more difficult, painful and still slower it was to do any traditional or 2D animation, compared now that I'm animating in 3D.  However, the irony is..... my life now as a 3D animator have not been much different either.  Animating in 3D is also hard and tedious for different reasons, but that's another story. Such is my life as an animator, whether it's 2D or 3D. (sigh.....)

      So here's some of the scenes I've done, using Toon Boom Animate Pro, in rough line test, without the in-betweens.  Enjoy...


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