© COPYRIGHT MMXXI CHROMOSPHERE. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
2D/3D HYBRID ANIMATION / 2021
CASE STUDY NAVIGATION:
PLANNING A STORY IN REAL-TIME
Completing the Proof of Concept scene gave us a lot of insights into what it would be like to work in an Unreal pipeline. One thing we learned that would simplify the process was if we could think about planning our entire episode as if it was taking place on a single set. This led Creative Director Kevin Dart to plot out all of the major moments of the episode in an “action map” which we would use as a reference point for both storyboards and layout animation.
^ EPISODE 3 ACTION MAP BY KEVIN DART
Storyboard Artist Dashawn Mahone, who had also worked on episodes 1 and 2, joined us again to create the episode 3 storyboard. Throughout the boarding process, Dashawn referred to the “action map” in order to keep an awareness of where things would be taking place on our 3D set. This advance planning helped us later to translate the actions into a 3D space more seamlessly.
^ STORY THUMBNAILS BY DASHAWN MAHONE
At Chromosphere, a lot of our writing and dialogue ideas come out in the storyboarding process. As a group of visual thinkers, this is the easiest way for us to quickly generate and share ideas with each other. The storyboards also create a blueprint for the character acting and camera framing, which our entire team follows through the rest of the process.
^ STORYBOARDS BY DASHAWN (LEFT) AND FINAL ANIMATION (RIGHT)
More about our storyboarding process can also be found in this interview at Toon Boom.
COLOR AS STORY
In addition to storyboards, another key element of our pre-production process involves creating a “colorscript”, which is a sequence of small paintings showing what we would like the colors and lighting to look like throughout the episode. The colorscript becomes a key element for deriving other designs from, as well as informing the look and feel of lighting, effects, and materials.
^ EPISODE 3 COLORSCRIPT BY JASMIN LAI
JASMIN LAI (Art Director): The vision for Yuki 7’s visual look comes from analog sci-fi TV shows. We referenced the series The Six Million Dollar Man, Gerry Anderson’s Space: 1999, and a specific opening from Ultraman. A lot of the colorscripts were referencing the way they went about using color in those old shows. Using deep muted tones to pair with bright pops of color. I think using a palette like that helps direct the eye. Yuki 7 is such a frenetic show, it’s got so much energy, and there’s lots of angles and movements everywhere. Having a color palette that helps direct the focal point helps, and it helps tell the story better too.
^ COLLECTED COLOR REFERENCE FROM VARIOUS SOURCES
KEVIN DART (Creative Director): The colorscript also informed so much of the technical process of what we needed to figure out in Unreal because we couldn’t really rely on the out-of-the-box lighting solutions. The colors we use are each picked to capture a certain mood and feeling and it isn’t necessarily that they’re picked to make it look realistic or to make sense logically. It’s all colors that you feel are right for the scene. That meant we had to figure out how to light our scenes in a way where we could pick all the specific light colors and choose exactly which colors we wanted the shadows and highlights to be in order to match the kind of feeling and mood set up in the colorscript.
^ COMPARISON OF COLORSCRIPT PANELS (LEFT) WITH FINAL PICTURE *(RIGHT)
From the colorscript, we would create more detailed designs including styleframes, props, and effect designs. These designs would create a basis for exploring the more intricate parts of the final look, such as the water.
^ ISLA ALHUCEMAS STYLEFRAME BY ELAINE LEE
KEVIN: One of the big design challenges we had was to create an ocean surface that felt really kinetic, but also abstract and expressive. And we knew it was gonna be a big technical challenge, figuring out how to create the water in 3D. But we knew we didn’t want it to be very realistic. These really chunky, but very energetic shapes do kind of capture the action of this boat chase.
JASMIN: So much of the goal we were trying to achieve with the style was to have a graphic and stylized look, but still very dimensional. By using blocky chunky shapes and loose angles and lines, that could provide for a lot of breathing room for animation. So it was one of the main goals too, when it came to these style frames, creating a style that has a lot of stretch that we could really play with and allow for a lot of movements and dynamic energy.
TAKING A 2D APPROACH TO 3D
Much of the early design work involves discovering challenges we will face later down the pipeline, at which point the design work becomes more about helping to solve some of the technical challenges we come across.
^ EPISODE 3 CLIP – YUKI ESCAPING THE MINE
KEVIN: We often try to find simple 2D solutions for what could otherwise be a really complicated 3D problem. For instance, there is a scene where we see the surface of the water from below — as Yuki is escaping the mine. We considered what it might take to come up with a nice 3D solution for this glow on the top of the water. But the moment where we see the water from below is only like eight frames long. And we were pretty sure Jasmin can just paint this as a 360 degree matte really quick, and it’ll be totally fine. And it was, it worked out great. In the film, you’d never know that it wasn’t actually a 3D effect that we made.
^ 360 DEGREE UNDERWATER PAINTING BY JASMIN LAI
360 degree matte paintings were also used to create the sky and coastline scene throughout the episode. Not only was this effective for saving time, but it also gave us a way to incorporate some of the artist’s actual brush strokes and designs into the final picture, which gives it a connection back to our design work.
^ 360 DEGREE SKYDOME PAINTING BY JASMIN LAI
In order to work efficiently, the team also tried to avoid creating new characters wherever possible.
^ 2D DESIGN AND 3D MODEL TURNAROUND OF TIGER LADY
KEVIN: The Tiger Lady villain was one of the only new characters we had for this episode, as well as the Fisherman. To make Tiger lady we basically built her off of Yuki — we thought we would use the exact same model and kind of re-dress her and put some new hair on her. Our Character Designer Claire Nero still found a way to make her super unique and fierce! The Fisherman was built from an incidental character from our pilot episode, who hadn’t actually been 3D. He was a 2D character that we decided to adapt in order to streamline the design process a bit. But we felt for this episode he needed to be 3D in order to not stick out too much.
^ EPISODE 1 INCIDENTAL DESIGN BY KEIKO MURAYAMA (LEFT) AND FISHERMAN DESIGN BY JUNYI WU
We are also always looking for ways to enhance the storytelling through design. Props, characters, and environments can all contain details which enhance the overall experience of the episode.
KEVIN: We really wanted Yuki to look kind of out of her element in this episode and thought it would be funny if she just threw on maybe an extra shirt like you would pack for sleeping in or for an emergency. It’s kind of like all of her plans that she had at one point have gone out the window and she’s trying to improvise now and this shirt symbolizes that. But she still does it all with a positive outlook on life.
^ YUKI 7 T-SHIRT DESIGNS BY JUNYI WU
As a studio with a lot of emphasis on 2D design, we do not have an extremely robust 3D pipeline. Because of this, when we get into 3D there is still some amount of problem solving and experimentation taking place.
^ ORTHOGRAPHIC FORTRESS DESIGN BY ELAINE LEE
ANDREW WILSON (CG Artist): Yeah, sometimes the designs we have are not really completely logical in 3D space. I typically just try to take the most iconic view from the design and trace a silhouette of it so I can at least maintain a similar silhouette of that asset. Then if the other views don’t agree 100% with the other view, because there’s some weird perspective, I mostly will try to work around it by keeping the one view that seems like it will get the most screentime intact. Sometimes we’ll just find ways to maybe cheat the perspective on something, but still try to maintain as close as I can to how it’s designed.
^ FORTRESS MODEL WORK-IN-PROGRESS BY ANDREW WILSON
KEVIN: There’s also a certain amount of messiness and imperfection that we wanted to infuse into the models. You can see this on the characters, how they have blocky shapes and random polygons sticking off of them.
^ HAMMERHEAD SHARK MODEL BY SHREEYA SHETYE
KEVIN: This was all part of the aesthetic and really reflective of our whole approach to 3D, which I would say is a more lo-fi, “rough around the edges” kind of technique where we really embrace all the accidents and strangeness of working in 3D. Most 3D projects are usually extremely controlled and “perfect” in the way they look, and we wanted to do the opposite of that. When it came to the environments, after Andrew had blocked everything in I asked him if he could go through and mess it all up a bit.
^ PLACING BRICKS BY ANDREW WILSON
ANDREW: To add some more messy detail to the fortress, I made a bunch of modular brick patterns, like just big chunks of scattered bricks that you could copy and paste around the fort. It was very much kind of just by hand adding all the little extra bricks and stuff, there was no easy way to do it cleanly. For the mine and some other assets, I just made a few different variations of cards, and there’s a plugin called Mash in Maya, which allows you to scatter things across the surface of geometry. So I use that a lot to scatter the cards around. Afterwards, I’d have to clean up by hand because sometimes they would intersect weirdly, or have weird angles on the corners of the object. So it would mess it up to a degree that wasn’t too insane looking.
KEVIN: Just the right amount of messiness 🙂
^ MINE MODEL AND RIG DEMONSTRATION BY ANDREW WILSON
In the next chapter, we will dive into how we set up our scenes in Unreal for layout, and how Unreal informed our entire animation process.
A CHROMOSPHERE Production
BASED ON A CHARACTER CREATED BY
PROPS & FX
TECHNICAL ART DIRECTOR
LIGHTING & RENDERING
POST PRODUCTION SOUND SERVICES
Boom Box Post, Inc.
SUPERVISING SOUND EDITOR
Brad Meyer, MPSE
Kate Finan, MPSE
Jeff Shiffman, MPSE
Katie Maynard, MPSE
Jessey Drake, MPSE
Xinyue Yu, MPSE
ASSISTANT SOUND EDITORS
NATIVE AUDIO – DAN NATHAN
Dialogue Recorded at
LEAD DIALOGUE MIXER
UNREAL ENGINE SPECIAL THANKS
YUKI 7 THEME
Performed by The Go! Team
Written by Ian Parton
YUKI 7 END THEME
Performed by The Go! Team (feat CHAI)
Written by Ian Parton
The Go! Team appears courtesy of Memphis Industries Ltd
CHAI appears courtesy of Sony Music Entertainment (Japan) Inc.
PRODUCTION ART ASSISTANT
DIRECTOR OF PRODUCTION
The stories, names, characters and incidents portrayed in this productions are ficticious. No identification with actual persons (living or deceased), places, buildings, and products is intended or should be inferred. No animals were harmed in the making of this motion picture
Copyright MMXXI Chromosphere.
Yuki 7 is a registered trademark of Chromosphere.