Monday, September 24, 2007

El Disney Boom

Now that my 401(k) enrollment duties are over, I was back to the usual studio rounds.

The deal just now at Disney Animation Studios on the hand-drawn front is the Toon Boom Harmony software. (These are programs designed for hand-drawn animated product. No hole-punched paper. No eraser crumbs. Just fire up the computer, put your stylus down on the cintiq screen, and have at it.)

Is it good...and getting better? Or is it, you know, not good?

I fell into a long conversation about the pros and cons of with an animator who happens to like the software a lot. He said he has no trouble using it, likes the convenience of not traipsing down the hall to shoot his drawings, likes the new erasable functions of the program.

"But there's still animators here that love paper and don't like doing their drawing on a computer screen. They're like, really strong against it. But the Harmony people have really improved the product from when we first started using it, so I think it's the way we'll go..."

But then I've heard from clean-up artists who say that using the software is like wearing mittens and using a magic marker when they try to get the line the want, so go figure.

And the studio, I'm told, is still weighing other programs and hasn't locked in Toon Boom Harmony as their ultimate software of choice. But it seems to be what's happening for the two hand-drawn shorts now in production.

Draw your own conclusions.

24 comments:

Anonymous said...

Yeah I can't imagine trying to get a damn good clean line with that thing, cintiq or not

David Nethery said...

Getting a good clean-up line on a Cintiq is possible. There can be a long learning curve, but it is possible. Face it, some artists just don't like using a computer stylus and screen to draw with ... and there's nothing wrong with that. The traditional paper and pencil system for animating is finely honed and it ain't broke. (so some will protest : "why "fix" it ?" ) That said, I think anyone who looks at it can see some definite advantages to the paperless system , some of which you've listed above. I'm about as traditional as they come , but I have to confess that since I have been using the Cintiq tablet I've barely touched a piece of paper in over a year.
BUT, technology isn't neutral : any introduction of new technology necessarily creates change: some things are better , but some things that were good are lost. The artist has to decide if the benefits of the new outweigh the benefits of the established way. For me, working on my little projects in my own style they do, but trying to match the line quality and artistry of the classic Disney features using this new method will be a major challenge I think, especially for clean-up artists who have spent years perfecting their craft on paper and now have to learn a new skill set. There's a certain artistic control in being able to manually flip between drawings on the disc, checking the volumes and line quality as you go , which is not exactly replicated using "virtual flipping" on the digital tablet. Inbetweening very close , precise lines becomes more difficult on the tablet , in my experience. Then the tendency is to start relying on digital tricks to let the computer copy & paste parts of your line , or even using automatic computer "tweening" and then it gets really mechanical looking , deadly to the lively, organic look that we love about hand-drawn animation.

I'm excited by what I've heard about the results they got on the Goofy short "How To Hook Up Your Home Theater" . I did hear that it was a grueling experience for some of the clean up artists. (I can easily believe that.)

In my experience, the software that feels most like actually drawing on paper is TVPaint PRO. ToonBoom Harmony (and it's single-user version called ToonBoom Digital Pro ,aka "Solo") have improved in terms of the sensitivity of the drawing tools , but I've used both ToonBoom and TVPaint, and I think for something that's as close to a natural pencil-on-paper feel as possible TVPaint Pro combined with the Cintiq is the way to go.

ToonBoom has definite advantages in that it is vector-based, so it is easier to scale and re-use parts of scenes , and the Ex-sheet function in ToonBoom is easier and more efficient to use than the present version of the Ex-sheet in TVPaint Pro. (but TVPaint Development team has been steadily improving the functions in TVPaint over the last few versions, so I expect the Ex-sheet to get better). ToonBoom is also designed to integrate easily into a large , networked studio situation, so I see the appeal for Disney to go with ToonBoom. I just think the artists would be happier with something like TVPaint where the drawing tools are more sensitive and have that "natural media" feel to them.

*In the interest of full-disclosure: I'm a member of the TVPaint beta testing team, so I'm obviously tilted in favor of TVPaint. However , I'm not a paid beta tester, so my opinions are entirely my own , based on how the TVPaint software fulfills my needs as a traditional animation artist. I have no financial interest in it , I'm just spreading the word to the my brother and sister pencilers. Try out the free demo version.

Mr. Bumpus said...

The majority of people at Disney (from my second hand knowledge) seem to be "not too thrilled" with being on a Cintiq. I think the Cintiq is wonderful for many things, boarding, development art, but NOT animating. I am sure that over time it'll get better and better. But, why are we trying so hard simulate paper and pencil on the computer when all you need to do is, well, pick up a stack of paper and a pencil? If you like it, then cool, if you don't, well, then cool! There's room for both types in the pipeline!
The fact is that the reason this appeals to the studio is because it streamlines the pipeline (i.e. by getting rid of departments like scanning and animation check which means things being cheaper). But the irony is that most people are slower on the Cintiq than they are on paper (which costs more money in time). So, I do wonder if it all evens out in the end? But ya know what, at the end of the day they are doing hand drawn animation which was destined to never come back has it not been for Lassester and Catmull. I think the bigger beef at Disney right now is them wanting to outsource, there's the real battle!

David Nethery said...

" I think the Cintiq is wonderful for many things, boarding, development art, but NOT animating. I am sure that over time it'll get better and better. But, why are we trying so hard simulate paper and pencil on the computer when all you need to do is, well, pick up a stack of paper and a pencil? If you like it, then cool, if you don't, well, then cool! There's room for both types in the pipeline!"

Mr. Bumpus I agree with you and you stated much more succinctly what I was trying to say with my long-winded "on the one hand ... but then again on the other hand..." post above.

As I mentioned , I happen to like working on the Cintiq (with TVPaint) , and while there are some nice artistic/technique things that can be done on Cintiq, ultimately I think what is motivating the push for a Purely Paperless Pipeline™ is what you said: it streamlines things for production management , but not necessarily making it better for the artists who have to draw the stuff. I personally have enjoyed working on the Cintiq , but mostly doing boarding and development art as you say , not much animating or tight clean up.

The animation tests on Cintiq that I have done have been more of the rough-loose line style, so not as hard to do on the Cintiq as a more precise, big-screen Feature Animation style of line quality, which can take twice as long to do on Cintiq. (so, yeah... how is it cheaper for a feature ? You can hire five people to do scanning for the cost of one really good top-of-the-line Key Assistant. The saving on paper and scanning can't be so significant that it makes up for the cost of paying the clean-up artists to spend more time on doing the drawings digitally on Cintiq . Or am I just totally out of it on this point ? )



You also wrote:
"I think the bigger beef at Disney right now is them wanting to outsource, there's the real battle!"

Yes indeed. :-( The rumblings I'm hearing about outsourcing work on the feature is really troubling to me. How is The Glorious Return of Hand-Drawn Animation to Disney served by taking the Space Jam/Curious George model of farming it out all over and then have a core group of fix-it artists back at the main studio to try to make it all work when it comes back from the outside ? Can anyone imagine Pixar ever considering outsourcing large chunks of one of their movies to a overseas studio or even an outside studio here in the 'States ? So it makes no sense to me when I hear the talk that they may be considering that for Disney Animation (if they are , which I'm not certain ... rumors fly hither and thither , but no one has said for certain that the outsourcing thing is going to happen.)

David Nethery said...

And here's another thing I wonder about :

Is it really cheaper to outfit an entire feature crew with $2,500 Cintiqs and the high-powered computers it takes to run them ? When they already have a warehouse full of traditional animation desks ? (no, I don't believe that they sold them all off )

Plus any studio they outsource to also has to invest in the hardware costs of outfitting their entire crew with $2,500 Cintiqs ?

It seems to me if they're seriously considering outsourcing then it will be animated and cleaned up on paper because all the service studios are already set up for that system .

Mr. Bumpus said...

David, totally agree with you on everything.
I know nothing is official about outsourcing. But what I heard, and that's all it is, just something I heard... is that they want to outsource clean up inbetweens for the feature even though the stuff they outsourced on the goofy short had to all be fixed!
Why is it that people think that inbetweens are such a brainless task and therefor not important enough to keep inhouse? This is where A LOT of scenes get messed up. PLUS this is where the mentorship begins! Having inbetweeners inhouse means young artists being able to come in and start from the ground up. Believe me, this is way more important than it probably looks typed on paper here. Without new young blood to keep the older folk honest and inspired, and olderfolk to guide and inspire the younger the studio will go stale!
As I said earlier, at least they are doing hand drawn again, but 2D needs every advantage it can get if it's going to return. Not every hinderance it can get.

Anonymous said...

the simple fact is that this is just another occasion where some disney exec got it in their head that if you throw new, fancy toys at the artists then that leaves them free to be more demanding (i.e. "what do you mean the storyboard for that 45 pg. script isn't done yet? its been a whole week! and with the use of the cintiq it should have been done even sooner! that artist must be lazy").

Anonymous said...

I hear that subs can do animation/cleanup cheaper if they go with paper then scan it. Subs working on Cintiqs costs more money.

I think that Disney is doing this to streamline the process. It's about $$$.

David "Soon-To-Be Blacklisted" Nethery said...

"I think that Disney is doing this to streamline the process. It's about $$$."

Right, but the question on the floor right now is what process are they streamlining ? Are we talking about switching over all the "hand-drawn" animation done in-house to Cintiqs used with ToonBoom Harmony ? Ok, fine. That has some advantages and I can see the case being made for it . But if as you say it's all about $$$ and they're seriously thinking of outsourcing a lot of the follow-up work on "The Princess and The Frog" feature then how does using expensive Cintiqs make any sense ? Most studios they could outsource to are not set up with Cintiqs.

The other Anonymous before you made a good point: if there are execs who have got it into their head that using Cintiqs means everyone can draw faster (better and cheaper) then woe to the artists because it just ain't so... it still takes as much time to do a good drawing freehand on the Cintiq as on a piece of paper. The time saved is later on in the process because the drawings are already digitized and don't have to go through a scanning process . But the actual drawing time is about the same for roughing and actually a little bit slower in some cases for doing the clean-ups.

Anonymous said...

just something I heard... is that they want to outsource clean up inbetweens for the feature even though the stuff they outsourced on the goofy short had to all be fixed!


all had to be fixed?!? -- really? I've seen the goofy short -- and the meticulous work of one of the studios first hand -- please don't paint all outsource studios with the same digital brush. similar things were said when traditional 2d films were outsourced -- i worked for one of the lucky studios to receive major studio work -- and our crew constantly outshone the inhouse folks in the cleanup and inbetween department. Our animators consistantly led the footage race as well -- and no, not because they crapped it out.

Anonymous said...

HERE, HERE!

To the previous anonymous. I too know the group your talking about that worked on the short and their work looked awesome as does the finished short.

Woo Hoo!

David Nethery said...

It's difficult to keep track of who is posting because of the multiple Anonymous's but a few of you Anon's seem to be saying that parts of the Goofy short "How To Install Your Home Theater" were outsourced , am I reading you correctly ? So, the outsourcing has already started ?

(On a short ?! Six and a half minutes and it couldn't all be done
in-house ? I have to say that's a bit odd , but I must not know the full story of what's going on there ...)

Pete Emslie said...

Aside from the question of whether or not using the Cintiq to animate on is as practical as on paper, something else rather sad occurs to me. Back in June of this year, I made the trek to Montreal to see that excellent exhibit on Disney animation art that had first debuted in Paris months earlier. It was wonderful to be able to get within a foot or two of all of the cel setups on painted backgrounds to study all of that gorgeous original production art. In the Studio's quest now for a "paperless" system, future Disney animation aficionados will be unable to ever see tangible, original film artwork on display. Everything will exist as mere pixels within the computer, with only printouts available to frame and hang upon the walls of galleries. I personally consider this a tragedy to befall the Disney legacy...

minxie Mouse said...

Just wondering, speaking of the changes at Walt Disney Animation Studios..... has construction of the new studio started in Glendale yet? Anyone have any info on it?

Mr. Bumpus said...

I heard it's on hold for now--

David Nethery said...

Pete Emslie wrote:
"In the Studio's quest now for a "paperless" system, future Disney animation aficionados will be unable to ever see tangible, original film artwork on display."

You're right about that , Pete, and it is sort of sad. Of course, the cels disappeared years ago, but the drawings, those wonderful, tangible, flippable animation drawings ... yeah, sad to see that part of our craft pass away. As anyone who's ever held and flipped one of those original scenes knows, well, there's just nothing like it.

Doggone it , Pete, just when I'd made my peace with this dang machinery you come along here like Jiminy Cricket and now my conscience is bothering me! (I'm only half kidding, brother) I'm going to go draw something now ... ON PAPER ! (12 Field, Acme punched)

Anonymous said...

Speaking of How To Hook Up Your Home Theater and paperless animation. Was all the animation in this short done paperless? What about the backgrounds then? I understand that not all animators are too excited about drawing on a screen, but it is always interesting to hear about the introduction of new technology at Disney or any of the other major studios.
And from what I have heard, the intention with these shorts is to find new talents in both directing and animating, try new ideas as well as introduction and getting used to new technology. If the experience the upcoming paperless shorts are positive, I would assume that will be the direction where Disney will go. First the xerox process replaced hand inking, then CAPS replaced cels and painting, and now it looks like computers will replace paper. At least it will not be possible to make any more major changes than these, so the paperless production process is probably the last and final big change in the industry.

slowtiger said...

Since I started my career in animation as an assistant and inbetweener, I can safely state that I'm doing clean-ups and inbetweens faster and better on paper because certain assistant's tricks don't have a digital equivalent (yet): putting drawings off the pages, flip a sheet to control shapes, control the volumes - all those helpful tasks haven't been implemented in software yet. So getting a clean line and good inbetweens takes more time than on paper, at least twice as much, and I still don't feel satisfied with the result.

I animate on a Cintiq and in Mirage now (I recommend that software). Line quality is good enough for me, it all depends on the right settings. Animation, especially rough animation, has got much faster for me since the time-consuming scan process can be left out. It's really nice to be able to doodle around a bit and have an instant line test to check the animation.

The main problem with going digital seems to be that the decision affects a whole production line. A digital animator can't hand down his roughs to a pen-and-paper inbetweener (but it would work the other way round). In a bigger studio it shouldn't be a problem to organise workflows in a way that each artist works the way he feels most comfortable in. Independent animators who just work single-handedly shouldn't have problems as well. But for freelancers it gets a bit more complicated. Do I have the same software as the studio I work for? How do I fit in the workflow? Do I really get the portions of work I can do fast and in good quality, or are there tasks better left in the studio (like scanning)?

Anonymous said...

Sounds like Disney after all is not going to do 2D cleanup anyway.

Anonymous said...

'Anonymous' at 10/03/2007 11:33:00 PM wrote:

"Sounds like Disney after all is not going to do 2D cleanup anyway."


Has there been an official announcement of some sort from Disney regarding the outsourcing of Clean-Up or are you saying it "sounds like" that based on the discussion above ?

Anonymous said...

Apparently some of the Goofy short was in fact outsourced to former Disney people in Orlando:

Premise Entertainment

Anonymous said...

Hi

Disney are looking for studios in Europe to do Clean Up. I took part of an official Disney Clean Up test featuring the villian Facillier (Princess and the Frog). We finished the test in January and are now eagerly awaiting feedback from Disney. The program was Toon Boom Solo, and we managed on average about 4-5 high quality full characterdrawings per day. Im located in Berlin, Germany.

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