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With Fresh Approach to Rigging, ‘New Pioneers’ Hopes to Revolutionize CG TV Animation [Video]

Ex-Pixar and Rhythm & Hues artist Chris Perry from Bit Films has produced a pitch for a new episodic TV series and partnered with animation software production specialists Anzovin Studio on a new rigging system to produce it.

The New Pioneers is a show set on a future Earth where humans live in a massive electric dome protected from a hostile natural world. Watch the pitch below and a behind-the-scenes video on the rigging and animation toolset further down this page.

Perry, who won an Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Technical Achievement Award in 2014 for his work on Rhythm & Hues’ Voodoo animation system, told Cartoon Brew at the VIEW Conference in Italy that The New Pioneers was a series he hoped adults would watch together with their children.

“I think there’s a lot of fragmentation in animation,” he said. “There are so many shows that are just kids’ shows. But there’s this class of animation, things like Avatar: The Last Airbender, Over the Garden Wall, and Ghibli films, that I definitely love watching with my kids. So, we were wondering, why isn’t there more of that?”

Chris Perry presenting at VIEW.  Photo credit: Riccardo Bucchino. Photo courtesy of VIEW.
Chris Perry presenting at VIEW. Photo credit: Riccardo Bucchino. Photo courtesy of VIEW.

Perry founded Massachusetts-based independent production studio Bit Films several years ago to develop television and film projects. But as an indie house he realized that to break into episodic work, Bit Films would need to produce something that was visually stunning and unusual—but also affordable.

That’s when he got in touch with Raf Anzovin from Anzovin Studio. “He and I had been wanting to make stylized animation for years,” said Perry. “He’s done a lot of it for commercials, but then we finally realized here was a project that we could use for the test.”

To produce the computer animation, Perry says Anzovin developed a new approach to posing 3D characters that is informed more by drawn animation than by CG, as is usually the case. As a result, the poses are more gestural and do not involve animators having to move a rigid hierarchy of joints and bones.

Behind the characters are rigging tools written by Anzovin as Maya plugins (as seen in the video above). “At the core of it,” said Perry, “is a spline deformer as opposed to some sort of linear deformer. Raf has also taken this idea of a ‘free rig’ which first hit press in 2005 with Chicken Little, where all the nodes in the rig are independent. You don’t have a hierarchy of nodes—you can move your character by grabbing and moving anything.”

The idea was to provide a puppet to the animators that was more based on wires than say joints and hinges. The intended benefit is to avoid the complication that arises in a typical animation pipeline where a character is rigged for certain poses but has to be returned to rigging to be adjusted during animation when different requirements are needed.

A still from the New Pioneers pitch piece.
A still from the New Pioneers pitch piece.

“We provide an easy interface for selecting nodes, and then the animator on demand creates a temporary rig at the push of a button to accomplish what they want to accomplish,” said Perry. “There’s a lot of room for improvisation and very low ramp-up time because all you need to learn is which nodes to move.”

The rig setup was used to animate the New Pioneers pitch piece, which Perry has been shopping around. Currently he has not had a sale but does say the feedback he’s received has been encouraging. “We thought we’d try and go through the front doors of some of the major studios, but ultimately we are also trying to cultivate an audience and a fan base. And if people like it, hopefully work will come our way using the same style and tools.”

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