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Inside the animation…

With all the hype surrounding Flash TV development and the debate over the cost-effectiveness of Flash projects versus traditional productions, KidScreen takes an inside look at how animation tech-Flash and traditional-actually works....
August 1, 2001

With all the hype surrounding Flash TV development and the debate over the cost-effectiveness of Flash projects versus traditional productions, KidScreen takes an inside look at how animation tech-Flash and traditional-actually works.

Macromedia Flash (US$399), released in 1997, is a vector-based animation technology that enables toonsters to size animation up and down without distortion. It essentially develops a property’s library of animated assets.

Chris Takami, a self-proclaimed Flash evangelist and president and CEO of Balloon Dog Studios in California, has been using Flash since 1997, when Disney lured him away from traditional cel toon work to develop animated storybooks for the Disney Blast website. He has since produced Stain Boy for Tim Burton and The Critic for Gracie Films.

Basically, every aspect of a Flash creation (a character’s head, hands, feet, etc.) can be separated and reused, ultimately making future episodes easier and cheaper to produce. ‘When you create a walking scene in traditional animation, you know you’re not going to use that same sequence later on because the environment will be different and because it’s a time-consuming chore to find the scene in the archives. It’s usually easier to just redraw it,’ says Takami. ‘In Flash, we can grab that cycle with three or four mouse clicks and place it on a new scene. And because it’s a vector, we can size it to that scene.’

On the traditional animation side, Animo is a high-end PC-based animation production system that’s the industry standard. Launched 11 years ago by U.K.-based Cambridge Animation Systems, Animo runs at US$5,530. Used in films like The Iron Giant and The Prince of Egypt, Animo automates and enhances the traditional drawing process of scanning, ink-and-paint and compositing.

Interestingly enough, says Cambridge’s CTO Phil Barrett, the original product was, like Flash, vector-based. ‘But all our customers wanted to automate their existing process rather than use this new one, so we changed gears quickly,’ he adds.

Now, artists use Animo to scan pencil line drawings and bring them into the digital world. Image processing software detects the lines, and the ink-and-paint software helps drop in the color. ‘The compositing program,’ Barrett explains, ‘allows you to bring the different characters and backgrounds together and add effects like blurs, matting, ripples and lighting effects. Then the last step is to output the sequence to a file, QuickTime or Flash.’

Cambridge Animation recently announced that due to high demand from Mac users, Animo will be rejigged for OS10-the latest Mac operating system-in the coming months.

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