Achieving Hand-Drawn Animation Via CG and Flash

Adam Yaniv, an animator at Rhythm & Hues by day, recently pointed me to this small personal project he created as an entry in Heinz’s Top This TV Challenge.

What’s notable about this spot is how he used a combination of 3D software and Flash to achieve the hand-drawn look. Cel shaders in CG programs generally bother me because in order to create a hand-drawn look, they attempt to mask the CG, and the end result is neither fish nor fowl. Yaniv, on the other hand, used CG only as a foundation to assist the hand-drawn process. He explained the pipeline to me via email:

“I use 3D as kind of my blue pencil phase, getting the characters down in simple shapes, animating their action in front of the camera and so forth. Then I move into traditional frame-by-frame cleanup, using Flash in this case. The key is that cleanup is done in the same exact way that it would be in 2D, no cut corners. Meaning that I make judgment calls on every frame pertaining to model, volume, line-quality and animation style same as I would in 2D. So I use the best of both worlds, it’s all in the technique.”

Yaniv has plans to use this process in future personal projects. He’s excited about the potential of the process citing its flexibility to make changes right through the end of production, the sped-up timeframe in which hand-drawn animation can be created, and the ability to distribute the workload across a team of animators.

It should be noted that Aardman’s recent multiple-award winning short The Pearce Sisters uses a somewhat similar technique, beginning with CG roots and ending up with a hand-drawn look. Though Yaniv’s technique isn’t groundbreaking, it excites me to see artists experimenting with the digital tools at their disposal and finding ways to make technology work for them. As more and more artists like Yaniv embrace hybrid approaches, we can finally put to rest the tired 2D versus 3D debate and recognize the possibilities that exist when digital and hand-drawn are combined.

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  • http://musingsofachick.blogspot.com sudiegirl

    THANK YOU!!!

    I appreciate both forms for what they are, but I get tired of the arguments that one is better than the other. They’re both incredible when done right, and if they can be combined to look even better, than more power to ‘em.

  • http://jeva.hu/mr_smith/ ivan sarosacz

    I think this 2d vs 3d is a bit of a generation problem. in my experience younger animators don’t have any problems with mixing and experimenting with different techniques. older folks somehow fear the computer .. maybe it’s because most of them have problems understanding. don’t know, but one thing I know from my experience: mixing different techniques, being able to use whatever I feel is needed to achieve the look, the feel of my movie is a key for me.

  • http://www.bishopanimation.com Floyd Bishop

    I agree with Ivan. Now cue the posts by people who have no concept of what CG animation is in the first place who insist that the computer killed off pencil animation.

  • Grant Beaudette

    When I was learning 3D I was mostly interested in replicating a 2D look. This easily beats anything I accomplished.

    That clip still has a definite 3D feel to it due to the floaty camera (it’s the movement rather than the look that betrays most 3D masquerading as 2D), but using 3D as a 2D layout tool has some exciting possibilities.

  • Paul

    Heresy! 2D and 3D cannot peacefully co-exist! An artist must make a choice and spend his or her free time denigrating that which they shunned!

    Seriously, nice work!

  • nick

    I am glad to see that most people are coming to their senses. The medium is merely the tool, both have their own inherent qualities. Animation does not discriminate between these mediums. The problem is that early on, when CG was first rearing its head, we were so enthralled by it that we let the computer make most of the decisions. Thankfully, the new generation of animators have realized that the same amount of work applies as in 2D, only instead of solid drawing we have solid posing. Now if we can only get Zemeckis to understand that mo-cap is just a tool…I’m biding my time but I think we’ll get there.

  • Roberto

    The best thing about both Yaniv’s and Aardman’s examples is that they enable the look of illustration in motion without the enormous pencil mileage required in pure 2D. The look restores something special to the technique of animation that has been taken away by overuse of Flash for economic reasons during the past decade. Of course a bevy of 2D/3D techniques can coexist, it’s the film as a whole that matters. The people who need the educating aren’t the artists. Animation does not discriminate. The people who buy the shows do.

  • http://offmodel.blogspot.com Stewart Shaw

    Good point about combining flash (or any 2d medium) and CG. I stumbled upon this very thing for my own recent project. I could refine and experiment with the movement very easily, in combination with extreme perspective and different camera angles in CG. Then draw over the play-blasts in flash, and change when and where I deemed neccessary.

  • http://sewardstreet.com Jim

    The Pearce Sisters is beautiful – thanks for the inspiration!

  • jb

    i’m pretty sure this technique was also used to create the rotating scenes in episodes 1 and 4 of FLCL, which are still impressive seven years later. this technique is the key to integrating 3d with 2d animation, i think. it bothers me when i see glossy cg thrown on top of hand-drawn animation with little regard for how the two match up texturally. futurama used cel shading better than most, but it still didn’t quite match up.

  • http://craigseggs.blogspot.com/ Craig D.

    My daughter has been going through a heavy “Veggie Tales” phase right now. Every so often, an episode will have a bit of 2d-looking animation in it and I’d find myself thinking that it looked pretty good. I also find myself wishing they’d explore it further and do more of it.

    Having watched that HEINZ spot, I’d have never figured it was computer-aided.

  • http://cartoongeeks.blogspot.com/ S. Michelle Klein-Hass

    This is not a new technique. Bill Kroyer did a short called “Technological Threat” which used wireframe computer animation as guidelines for drawn animation. The result is a similar effect to what Adam Yaniv got with his Heinz ad, at least where the robots are concerned.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wX_lAfEAgJc

  • geraldine

    Any info re. how to view The Pearce Sisters? The Aardman site has beautiful clips, no other info?!
    Thanks…

  • http://dsteen.com Dan S.

    I used 3D alot in the animatic of one of my animations to help layout my shots and characters. Also think used 3D to help visualise my backgrounds in the same animation (hehe have a bit of trouble with perspective).