Animation UK, Issue 6, Summer 2001
King Of The US
Tim Barter, Senior Digital Artist at King Camera, takes us through the evolution of a rostrum company into a fully fledged Digital Bureau....
It was 5 years ago now that I was standing on the roof of speedy films with the smell of barbecued sausages drifting past me and feeling rather disconcerted under the monocular gaze of Paul Vester. I'd already shattered a glass of cool white wine and, still fresh faced and bushy tailed from university, had been trying to pluck up the courage to ask him about his latest film Abductions for some time now.
Annoyingly, for someone who was trying to look suave and sophisticated, my unwieldy gait, gangling limbs and ruddy cheeks, were bringing out the mothering instinct in perhaps too many people. And so it was that a rather lovely couple, who were traditional Trace and Paint artists, took me under their wings.
Over the course of that evening I learnt everything there was to know about Trace and Paint; how long it took, how meticulous you had to be, how you had to apply the colours in a particular order and mix them very very thoroughly. They loved it all dearly. They were however realistic and mentioned that, even now, computers were taking over these jobs. The work would dry up soon, but maybe for the new generation, such as myself, it could begin again digitally.
They got me that chat with Paul Vester in the end and we bid our farewells. As I left, I considered their enthusiasm for Trace and Paint, but thought "there but for the grace of God go I...."
Five Years On
And I've just completed outputting 200 runs of digitally Traced and Painted animation for 40 seconds of Bermuda Shorts' "Silent Night Idents" campaign.
I've swapped my red cheeks for red eyes perhaps, but Ink and Paint, as it is now called, is almost the antithesis of the description I was given way back when. The USAnimation 2D vector-based System that, primarily, I've been working with, is so much more than an Ink and Paint program.
We've been using the USAnimation System software for 5 years now, but for its first 13 years King Camera was primarily a rostrum service. After a stint at the National Film Board of Canada, Chris King returned to England, he worked with Kent Houston at Peerless Camera Company. Then he went on to film "Willo The Wisp" and Pink Floyd's animation sequence in "The Wall" before setting up his own Rostrum Company with his partner Adele.
Using the most advanced computerised rostrum of its type, Chris King and Camera Operator Mike Smith continued successfully in the rostrum business for some years. But in the mid 1990's a chance discussion with Jill Thomas at Richard Purdum Productions alerted him to the fact that a great deal of the animation rostrum work that was then coming in, would start to dry up as animation companies deferred to digital Ink And Paint programs.
With alarm bells ringing, Chris did the rounds and looked at USAnimation, Toonz and Animo software systems. However USAnimation appeared the most arresting..."It seemed to derive its look from the way animation was traditionally set up," explains Chris, "and I had the chance to see it actually set up and in action at the USAnimation Bureau Service in Hollywood and I could see that it worked."
"Now five years later the main advantage that I see in it, is that it's just an excellent quality production system. We can deliver jobs in good time; turning them around in a day sometimes without having to hire huge numbers of staff."
And one of the reasons for this speed is that the program is "Resolution Independent". We can work at video resolution change it to anamorphic, whilst outputting the same job at poster resolution or to Flash files. It's Vector based approach makes life, as Digital Artist, so much simpler. Every file takes up so little memory, we can respond to a Directors demands very swiftly and alter things almost immediately in a way that would, of course, be next to impossible with a traditional rostrum set-up.
Ultimately, that has to be one of the main benefits of moving from rostrum to digital. In the days of traditional Trace and Paint artists, every decision had to be made at the beginning of a job. Every colour checked and decided upon long before the animation would be filmed. Now, clients expect to be able to change things up to the very last moment. They will ordinarily have access to computer programs that give them instant changes in a way that ten years ago simply wouldn't have been possible. They are now able to get that extra leeway, while we in turn get to play a far more creative role in a production.
So what next for the future? I've no doubt that at some time hence, I'll be telling some young lad that Ink and Paint is now done solely by computers - no humans needed, but until then I'll continue to have fun using the features and effects of USAnimation to put together even more interesting and challenging projects.
I'll see you at the next roof top party.
The Creative Side of Ink Paint & USAnimation : Triffic
Have I Got News For You : Title Sequence 1997
Holding a special place in our hearts is Tim Searle of Triffic Films. He entrusted us with our first job on USAnimation; a title sequence for the Channel 5 show Club Class. It remains to this day one of our most straight forward jobs but one month later he gave us a whole different kettle of fish.
Tim has a very fluid style and a well developed use of textures. So for the title sequence of Have I Got News For You we found ourselves video capturing many of his relief textures, then applying them to almost every colour of every character within the animation. Each fresh composite would bring a new and exciting finish to the production and, amazingly, the technique we used then, where textures would squash, stretch and move automatically to fit a painted area, is still raising eyebrows today.
We've since worked with him on the title sequence for The Crazy World Of Joe Pasquale, animated sequences from the C4 documentary Why Men Don't Iron and the title sequence for the ITV sitcom Holding The Baby. Each used USAnimations Texturing and Special FX modules to the max; where, for instance, in the Joe Pasquale title sequence we used USAnimation to entirely create a teleportation sequence.
The Creative Side of Ink Paint & USAnimation : 1001 Nights
1001 Nights : Music Video
After a year of jobs with ever increasing complexity we took our next leap; using USAnimation for the kind of Digital Artistry up to that point reserved solely for Post Production Facilities.
1001 Nights was the Bafta nominated animated film. It was made to accompany a 20 minute orchestral soundtrack and contained many different visual styles sourced from different animators. Liaising with Deborah Womack and Rob Stevenhagen of Stardust Films, we took mainly bitmap images and used USAnimations FX modules within CAMERA to create something quite unique. Strange blurs and glows, reflections, continual mixes, focus pulls and colour timing were all used to their full. Rippling backgrounds images filmed on our rostrum were converted to digital files and recomposed into their scenes. Director, Mike Smith would send his comments as Jpeg images from Los Angeles, where Hyperion is based.
Though we built up the Animation at standard TV resolution, the whole job was ultimately rendered by us at film resolution. Its amazing, now, to think that all this was accomplished on only one Silicon Graphics Indy. 1001 Nights was also a learning experience too in producing aesthetically beautiful images from an Ink and Paint Program.
The Creative Side of Ink, Paint and USAnimation: "Tuesday"
Tuesday : Short Film 1998 - 2000
On the basis of the work we'd done with Triffic Films (and subsequently
Sherbet Films, on an Aids awareness campaign) that used textured
images and the resolution independent nature of USAnimation used
on the FX and film output of Stardust's 1001 Nights, we were able
in, '98, to pitch to High Eagle productions for "Tuesday";
a short ten minute film inspired by the children's book of the same
name. The story is based on the exploits of a group of frogs who
magically gain the power of flight.
"Tuesday" really was a holy grail for us in terms of its use of USAnimation, and the degree of creativity it allowed me as digital artist. Apart from the final lab grading, when the digital film resolution frames were output onto film negative, everything to do with the aesthetics of the film was done in our USAnimation digital system at King Camera.
Given that many scenes had upwards of 80 frogs being flown through shot by USAnimation's CAMERA module, all in perspective, all with separate moves and all with self generated highlights, tones, textures and with focus and grading that changed according to their positions it seems amazing that we needed no post production whatsoever - but USAnimation allowed us to make changes fairly spontaneously so that those scenes that we designed and laid out here could be quickly changed or enhanced under Geoff Dunbar's direction. We were able to create some beautiful effects, working on "Tuesday", making it an absolute pleasure to work on.
The Creative Side of Ink Paint & USAnimation : Picasso
Two years ago the new NatWest advertising campaign went down a storm with some truly beautiful animations. One of these was the multi award winning black and white live-action and 2D cartoon romp, "Cash Machines". Directed by Tom Gravestock at Picasso Pictures. What seems like hundreds of characters in Tom's unique style, were digitally painted and composited with live action in USAnimation. Rotating Space stations and flashing lights were then put together using USAnimation, and sent to MPC for a final Inferno comp.
Since that time, King Camera has had the pleasure of working with Picasso on a whole host of adverts, using many different techniques but all put together in USAnimation.
Online Choice.com, Daktarin Gold and Cheese Nips, all directed by Tom Gravestock used USAnimation's Line Thickening Module to enhance their lines. While Cheese Nips also utilized 3D backgrounds realized by King Cameras Maya Artist, Chris Tucker. "Work", directed by Michael Salkeld and "Avaya" directed by Sarah Cox and Stuart Hilton, made extensive use of USAnimations texture facilities. While "Curious George" for MasterCard, directed by Andrew Higgins used a mixture of vector lines and bitmap images to perfectly recreate the character's illustrated style.
All in all, we've been able to work with some great talent and styles, and King Camera would like to thank Richard Price, Jane Bolton, Danielle Susijn, Tom Gravestock, Sarah Cox, Stuart Hilton, Andrew Higgins, Ian Colbard, Anthony Kelly and everyone at Picasso Pictures for their continued support.
The Fantasy Factory by Tim Barter, submitted for CGI Magazine, Spring 2001 (a version of this article can be found on the Pixelution website)
In an industry dominated by Animo and Toons, USAnimation has had some difficulty in getting its voice heard. Now though, with the help of its new UK distributor, Pixelution, it's making some headway. USAnimation's parent company ToonBoom Technologies claims that, world-wide, it is the most popular Ink & Paint programme going, while customer testimonials regularly sing its praises pointing out that in comparative studies it outperforms its competitors. But what exactly does it do that the others don't? And why are web companies beginning to take a serious interest?
Large scale high volume projects were from the outset what USAnimation had to deal with in an industry that, as usual, required lower costs. So the decision was made to dispose with bitmap files altogether and start vectorizing drawings. As a result painting regions and lines now is not only faster but the process uses a fraction of the memory. This fact alone quickly established USAnimation in Canada, the United States and Asia.
More importantly however, given ever-expanding media requirements, and as a result of using vectors, is the fact that the whole production process can now be Resolution Independent. USAnimation can recomposite your output to standard TV, HDTV or Film resolution without any additional work. While in design terms, a director may now plan a scene with no restrictions to camera moves or sizes so that zooming in tight on an element will always give the right resolution.
For a director, of course the most important issue is the amount of creativity an animation programme might allow. Issues such as the fluidity of camera moves, what effects are available and just how much can be precomposited before a job goes to post, will be as important as speed or resolution. For those who use the programme, the question is simply how easy is it to quickly and interactively control?
So how does USAnimation square up?
Firstly, USAnimation's XSheet is about as close to an animator's dope sheet as you can get, except that it is legible and normally contains the correct camera information. It can however support many different cameras simultaneously and has room for about 15 independently moving peg bars. Furthermore, each element and peg bar can be parented so that complex hierarchies can be created. For example a 'cog' element can be parented to a rotating peg that is in turn parented to another element that is parented to a sliding peg.
What simplifies this no end is that XSheet is interactively connected to USAnimation's Scene Planning module, where the elements, their pegs and cameras are all positioned. To move anything you can either click and drag in a selection of different camera windows, or type in co-ordinates. Moves over time can be manipulated using fairings and splines, although its fairing curves can be buggy. Scene Planning also works in a pseudo 3D space which allows you to position elements into multiplanes. Subsequently, in the Camera module where the scene is composited, this 3D data can be used to introduce depth of field.
Its in the Camera module that the fun really begins and where, for me, USAnimation really shines. Based on your XSheet, you are given a default network of modules each offering editable parameters for an element or effect. The Camera module network is more intuitive and easily editable than almost any other network I've yet encountered, although inevitably as USAnimation has become more complex, it has become more opaque.
The Camera module offers a library of FX modules from which new effects can be built. Automatic tones and highlights can be created without the need for artwork and if you've enough time you can have a ripple effect. The best single module is probably the Texture module. This allows you to replace any painted colour with a bitmap texture file. And this file will automatically be squeezed and positioned up to the furthermost N/S and E/W edges of that colour. Effectively, all your flat painted colours can be replaced with textures that move and breath with your animation.
Furthermore, the newly created Texture Line facility uses vector lines to reveal the original bitmap greyscale lines so that the original bitmap quality can be retained where needed. The above two features alone mean that you can composite a job within USAnimation without it looking remotely computerised, something animators have been looking forward to for years. With so many compositing options, many more producers are choosing to entirely render their jobs in USAnimation, only going to post so that their clients can "sit down and eat sushi".
Recently however, USAnimation has encompassed a world where compositing FX are no longer in its domain and post production, sushi or not, isn't even a consideration. Everyone is very excited! Because USAnimation uses vector files it can now output to Macromedia Flash .swf file format, and the whole world of the web has been opened up. ToonBoom has even created a special USAnimation Web Edition for the hard core.
And then there's the Maya to USAnimation Toonshader, which opens a whole 3D world.
And, well I could go on. Suffice to say the whole package squares up very well to the competition. Perhaps now it might get its voice heard. So look out for USAnimation; it wont be difficult to find, it'll be multi-rendering onto a TV, Cinema, or HDTV, or Web Cast near you.
Post Update, May 2000
'King Camera Heads for the Bank'
The current NatWest commercial was produced at King Camera using USAnimation system software, the first television production by the company to be made in 16x9 widescreen. King Camera scanned and painted all the original drawings.
Picasso Pictures' Tom Gravestock, the commercial's director, spent many hours with the team at King Camera, guiding them through the intricate use a simple grayscale palette for fantastically headed characters and figureheads.
Mixing live action with animation, the commercial was composited in Camera, with the futuristic end sequence going to the Moving Picture Company for Inferno.
ToonBoom News, December 1999
'Shining in the UK and India'
Feeling groovy and toonedelic, ToonBoom Technologies decided to attend Digital Media World in London, UK, for this first time...but not the last! Aware of the great creativity of animation studios based in the UK, ToonBoom intends to establish its leadership in the field of 2D animation software and strengthen its presence in that country. The company took advantage of this blazing opportunity to develop new contacts with potential clients, including several educational facilities such as the University of West England, The Finishing School, and The London School of Animation. Another highlight of our participation is that a new distributor for the UK territory has been identified. Indeed, Pixelution Ltd will represent ToonBoom and can be reached at this number: 01462 433 558. Last but not least, we owe special thanks to Tim Barter, from King Camera, for demonstrating so much dedication and commitment to the success of this tradeshow. Tim, your contribution was greatly appreciated!
History | Gallery
| Clients | Press
||Rates | Technical
| People | Map
| Contact | Links