Issue: Volume: 23 Issue: 9 (September 2000)

Real Simple

By Barbara Robertson


One response to our increasingly complex and busy world has been a new appreciation of the simple things. In computer graphics, for example, a growing community of artists using 3D tools has begun creating simple, cartoon-like images rather than intricate, realistic renderings. In doing so, one studio, Momentum Animation in Melbourne, Australia, discovered two benefits: They can use inexpensive software to create images for the stories they want to tell, and they can create simple images much faster than if they were to mimic realism. Momentum Animation producer Rachael Perry calls their style of animation "digital 'toons."

"It's a cartoon style of animation, but it's created with 3D tools," she says.

Momentum's most recent project was a two-minute animation within a five-minute music video that was produced for the Australian pop band Bardot's single, "I Should've Never Let You Go," off the best-selling album "Bardot."

Using Hash Animation Master 2000, Momentum created cartoon-style superhero likenesses of the all-female band members who, in the animation, fight a mythical green monster. Each member picked a type of superhero "alter ego," complete with vehicles and special equipment: Katie shoots lasers from a jet pack, Tiffany swings a magical whip from a monster truck, Sally rides a motorcycle and does kung fu moves, Belinda flings balls while riding a scooter, and Sophie shoots power probes from a limo.

The modeling, animation, and rendering for the characters, vehicles, and backgrounds were all done in Animation Master, a $299 3D animation software pack age. "It's definitely a production tool for 3D work, especially when the 3D is stylized," says Dylan Perry, director and Momentum founder. Ten people worked on the project, which took five weeks from concept art to final renderings. The studio runs Animation Master on 12 home-brew, 733mhz Pentium III machines, with additional Pentium III units in a renderfarm.
Momentum Animation used Hash's Animation Master 2000, a 3D software package, to turn band members from the pop group Bardot into cartoon-style superheroes for the band's latest music video. (Images copyright 2000 Warner Music Australia. Animation producti

To create the 3D characters, the team started with concept drawings. Then, they began modeling. Because they wanted a Saturday morning cartoon style for the characters, they gave the girls a long, leggy look. "We spent a long time on the proportions and scale because the girls have very long legs," says Dylan Perry. "We didn't want them to look silly when we started moving them."

For the faces, they created templates using front- and side-view scans of each band member's head. "We'd have a front image in the background, and from that begin building patches and splines. Then, we'd go to the side and pull the points back to create the heads," he says.
In the music video "I Should've Never Let You Go," the digital characters resemble their real-life counterparts. This was achieved by scanning each band member's face.

After that, technical directors (TDs) added bones to the models, assigned points to the bones, and created the inverse kinematics setup for animation. Although Animation Master provides tools for "cutting and pasting" animation sequences from one character to another, the TDs did that only for a few run cycles, according to Perry.

Next, the group began working on the 'toon look. To find a style they liked, they had five of the artists spend a day doing nothing but tweaking the shading parameters to create a range of results based on line thickness, lighting, and other elements.

"At the end of the day, we chose the best one and used those shading parameters for all the characters," Perry says. "I lost. Mine wasn't the best." They also used the shading parameters to render the particle effects created in Animation Master for explosions and smoke. "We had big, blobby smoke," he says. "We tried to stay clear of realistic smoke."

Finally, the group composited the animation using Adobe Systems' After Effects, adding glows to the particle effects and dust.

The result is a reality-based 'toon that incorporates characteristics from the person it's mimicking. "It's a hybrid. It has the 2D look that people are comfortable with, but taken to another level," Perry says. "Some people will know it isn't cel animation, but most people will just think of it as a cartoon."
In the video, the stylized cartoon characters fight a mythical monster, all created with a low-price 3D animation package.

So why not just use cel animation? "3D is much faster," Perry says. "We don't have to draw every frame." Another reason why it's faster is that nothing is shiny or transparent. The rendering is done without reflections, shadows, transparency, and specular highlights, all of which eat compute cycles.

The studio has now done six projects with this type of look, from TV commercials to short films, and is hoping for more-perhaps, even, a feature film. Perry believes that by using these techniques, the studio could produce a feature film in less than a year with only twice as many people as worked on the Bardot animation. But that's not the only reason he likes the studio's "digital 'toons."

"I have to fight with my animators-everybody wants to do photorealism. The photoreal thing slightly bores me," he says. "I just want to tell stories."

Animation Master 2000, Hash (