Monday, January 19, 2009

First Animation in Toon Boom Digital Pro

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Above is my first animation after learning how to use Toon Boom Digital Pro. I bought the software (educational price) a few months ago and hadn't yet gotten around to trying it out. But finally, last week, I sat down and watched their video tutorials and I have to say I'm very excited about it.

For now, I'm still focused on using Flash because of it's programming capabilities. However, I'm eager to use Toon Boom for making animations that I can then import to Flash.


First things first. I planned out my animation by drawing thumbnails sketches with pencil and paper:
Pre-planning Thumbnail sketches

Using Toon Boom

In Toon Boom, I imported the background that I had painted a few days before (see previous post). I created a new layer and started copying in the drawings straight from my thumbnail sketches. One nice thing about Toon Boom is that it automatically lightens the other, non-active layers. For example, I usually have to lighten the background image in Flash by making it a Symbol and changing it's alpha layer. But in Toon Boom, I can get the same effect just by drawing on another layer.

Pre-planning Thumbnail sketches

Having watched the video tutorials and figured out the hotkeys, I fell into a nice working rhythm pretty fast. Toon Boom makes for a natural environment to those who are used to Flash. All the favorites are there, like the timeline, keyframes, and onion-skinning.

I stuck with my usual routine. Once I finished with the rough animation, I made new layer for the clean animation. In this animation, I used a fairly thick brush and tried to draw the lines as neat as I could. Next time I think I'm going to try for a thinner line, and be more loose with the strokes. But that's for next time.
Pre-planning Thumbnail sketches

Coloring comes last. I originally wanted to buy Toon Boom because I thought it would make the coloring process easier. I'm not completely convinced that that's true, but, we'll see. There's still a lot of room for experimenting.

Toon Boom has an interesting way of approaching coloring. You can turn on a feature that creates "colour lines" as you draw your regular line art. It creates a set of invisible lines that exists underneath the drawing, but not on a separate layer. Then you can fill the color lines with the paint bucket tool. Of course, the paint bucket tool only work when the spaces are completely closed. It's difficult to insure that while drawing, so I spent a lot of time cleaning up the drawings and fixing holes. In that sense, Toon Boom wasn't so time effective.
Pre-planning Thumbnail sketches

According to their video tutorials, the advantage of this really applies to situations when line art is blurry or transparent and it would be difficult to fill in line art directly. However, I thought it might be a good practice to get into, but so far I'm not sure how I feel about it.

Importing to Flash

Once the animation was done, I turned off the background layer and exported the character animation as a swf file. I then imported it into Flash. Flash interprets the swf as a series of Graphic Symbols, which clutter up the library. So, I made a new Symbol and pasted the animation there. I then selected all the frames using the [Onion Skin Select Tool] tool. I pressed Ctrl + B in order to "break" the drawings out of a Graphic Symbol. With all the frames now sitting in this one MovieClip Symbol, I could delete those useless Graphic Symbols from the Library.

Adding Effects

Toon Boom has a multitude of cool effects that you can apply to your animations. However, almost none of those effects apply to the animation once it's been exported to swf. Since I plan to mostly export to swf, I have to apply effects in Flash instead. No problem. Flash was, and will always be, my first love.

For this animation, I wanted to make the ground where the character's walking to feel soft, and to give the audience the sense that the character is part of the environment. You can do that in traditional animation by putting more environmental features over the character, deepening the character's position in the scene. In the frame below, you can see where the character's hands/feet touch the ground that they look like they sink into the ground a little.
Character on background

In Flash, we can do this easily with a mask. Here is my character, positioned on top of the background.
Character on background

Then, I make a mask layer and cover everywhere I want the character to be seen. Because the character changes each frame, I have to change the mask on each frame as well.
Character on background

Then, once the mask layer and the animation layer are locked, you can see the effect in action. Yay!
Character on background

Masks are especially nice because it means I don't have to break up my background. I used masks similarly in this post.

That's all I have to say about this experiment. I hope this was helpful! Now it's time to rest ...
Character on background

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