4 Essentials to Get Emotional Facial Animations

clock January 16, 2017 15:09 by author EliciaT



Our facial expressions usually convey more about our emotions than words. A slight movement of a muscle can completely transform how we interpret one emotion from the next. There are thousands of possible expressions, which make the face one of the hardest parts of the body to animate.

NaturalFront specializes in improving the facial animation process for animators and hobbyists. Animating facial expressions can be difficult to master. However, these essential tips and techniques can help you create more lifelike and expressive animations.

1. Start with a solid foundation.

Each facial expression is the combination of several facial muscles and structures working together. If the construction of your 3D model is flawed, your facial animations will be too. The key is to start with an anatomically accurate foundation. In fact, most animation schools will require animators to study human anatomy. Creating a facial model manually is extremely time-consuming and tedious for animators though.

Technology like NaturalFront can help automate the process. NaturalFront uses real-life photos of human faces to instantly generate 3D facial models. Each facial model is assembled with thousands of vertices and is modelled after the actual human facial construction, so you can create accurate, lifelike expressions.


2. Create a gallery of facial expressions to inspire you.

Most artists and animators use real-life references to guide their own creations. If you are struggling to capture a certain emotion in your 3D models, then do a study of people expressing a range of emotions. You can model the facial expressions yourself and photograph them.

3. Let technology help you.

Although it may improve your animations if you know what muscles and parts of the face are anatomically used in creating them, technology can be used to accelerate and improve the process. Thanks to advanced computing and improved algorithms, it is easier for animation technology to generate facial animations as well as 3D models. For instance, NaturalFront’s 1-Click Animation feature can help animators sync audio files with lip movements.

4. Avoid the uncanny valley.

Creating emotional facial animations may take some practice. If your facial animations are too real, they risk falling into the uncanny valley, a state in which characters have a zombie-like dead look. However, if they are too exaggerated, they won’t be believable. To avoid the uncanny valley, animators focus on eliminating inconsistencies, incorporating eye movement into facial expressions and basing their animations on real-life. Read more on the Uncanny Valley and how to avoid it here.

The face is the main window into a person’s inner emotions, so it is critical for facial animations to be accurate and lifelike. NaturalFront’s technology focuses on improving the traditional 3D facial animation process, so that animators can create more realistic and emotional animations without spending thousands of dollars or hours on it. Learn more about NaturalFront’s Facial Animation Software and Unity Plugins here.

7 Animation Festivals to Look Forward to in 2017

clock December 27, 2016 15:43 by author EliciaT

Animation festivals are prime spots to mingle with other animators and industry leaders, learn about and test cutting-edge animation technologies and be inspired by new animations. Many festivals even offer contests and competitions for animators to show off their skills and recognize their talent. Often for busy animators, finding the time to travel and go to them can be a challenge.

Each year, there are hundreds of art and animation festivals held around the world. But, these 7 animation festivals should be at the top of your list.

1. South by Southwest (SXSW)

One of the biggest and most well-known events is South by Southwest (SXSW). The film festival portion is held in Austin, Texas from March 10-19 and honors the winners of categories like animated shorts, documentaries and more. The deadline for the 2017 admission has passed but there are many more reasons to attend the festival than to compete or celebrate the winners. It is one of the most attended events for industry leaders and features some of the most innovative animation technologies.

2. Sundance Film Festival

Another well-known and prestigious event is the Sundance Film Festival. Top film directors, writers, animators, actors and other creators gather to view and honor the best in the industry.  One of the greatest benefits of attending one of the Sundance festivals is that tickets can give you access to early film premieres as well as exclusive parties and events with industry professionals.  

The festival is taking place from January 19-29, 2017, in Park City, Utah (United States). The submission period for 2017 has already passed, but Sundance has several other international events held at different locations and times throughout the year. An international festival will also be held in London in June 2017.

3. GLAS Animation Festival

A lesser-known, yet intimate event, GLAS Animation Festival is held in Berkeley, California from March 2-5, 2017. Although smaller, it is sponsored by some top animation companies and influencers such as Nickelodeon and Cartoon Brew. Also, special guests like animation legend Brad Bird (The Iron Giant, The Incredibles and Ratatouille) make it a can’t miss event.

GLAS Animation Festival 2016 Trailer from GLAS Animation on Vimeo.

4. Annecy International

The Annecy International Animated Film Festival takes place in Paris, France from June 12-17, 2017. The festival partners with Mifa, or the International Animation Film Market. It is a great event to make connections with networks and others that are interested in financing, selling or distributing animation content.

5. Stuttgart International Festival of Animated Film

One of the top annual animation events in the world will be held in Stuttgart, Germany from May 1-7, 2017. The festival showcases film, video and computer game animation. During the event there are multiple film viewings as well as an award ceremony. You can submit an entry to the festival until January 15, 2017.

6. D23 Expo

If you are a Disney fan, which most animation enthusiasts are, D23 Expo is the place to be. Although more of a fan convention than a film festival, it showcases what is next for the world leader in animation. There are also special events with Disney filmmakers and celebrities as well as fun events like a Mousequerade costume contest. The convention will take place in Anaheim, California, from July 14-16, 2017, and tickets are on sale now.

7. VIEW Conference

The VIEW Conference will be hosted in Turin, Italy from October 23-27, 2017. The event will host some of the biggest names in animation. Here are just a few of the expected 2017 guests: Mike Mitchell (TROLLS Director), Conrad Vernon (Sausage Party Co-Director) and Byron Howard (Zootopia Director). Besides the amazing guest speakers, the conference holds animation workshops, recruitment events and a Games Bootcamp.


The Animated Films We Can't Wait to See in 2017

clock December 13, 2016 08:12 by author EliciaT

As a whole, the animated film release set for release 2017 may not be as exciting as 2016. But, with big successes like Zootopia, Inside Out and Finding Dory, there’s a lot of hype to live up to.

Also, a lot of major studios like Disney and Pixar are gearing up for the huge films they’ll be rolling out in 2018 and 2019. (Toy Story 4, Gigantic, The Incredibles 2, etc.) However, there are a few animated releases that have us counting down the days until we can see them in 2017.

5. Coco

If you’re annoyed by the growing number of sequels and prequels studios keep dishing out, here’s some good news: Disney Pixar is releasing a new original film called Coco. The film is inspired by the Mexican holiday, Dia de Muertos, or Day of the Dead. It follows the story of a young boy named Miguel who explores what would happen if we could actually talk to our dead family members. Lee Unkrich (aka the director of Toy Story 3) directed the film. The film premieres a little after the actual Dia de Los Muertos holiday on November 22, 2017.

4. Cars 3


After the horrible Cars 2 sequel and the even more disappointing spin-off, Planes, nobody was asking for a Cars 3. But, we’re getting one in June of 2017. Mostly, we are excited to figure out what was going on in that extremely dark trailer that showed Lightning McQueen crashing.  

3. Despicable Me 3

If you love animated series, then you’ll want to check out the third film in the Despicable Me franchise. The film has a new villain named Balthazar Bratt, but still has the same lovable characters that made its predecessors successful. You can watch it in theaters in late June.


2. Captain Underpants

The upcoming Captain Underpants movie has a release date of June 2, 2017. There are still a lot of details shrouded in mystery though. Some details that have been revealed have excited many fans of the popular comic book series that it is based on. Ed Helms and Kevin Hart are leading the cast, and it’s being animated by Mikros Image and produced by DreamWorks Animation.

2. The Lego Batman Movie


When The LEGO Movie came out in 2014, it was a smash hit. But, there was one character that stole the show: Lego Batman. Audiences loved the unique and comical spin on Batman so much that he’ll have his own movie in 2017. If the trailers are any indication, it is going to be amazing.

With venture animators, witty writing and clever casting choices (Billy Dee Williams is voicing Two-Face), it could be an even bigger hit than The LEGO Movie. Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait until February 10 to find out.

For animation lovers, there are a few gems in the 2017 release schedule to look forward to. What are your top animated film picks for 2017?


New NaturalFront 3D Face Animation Plugin Version 2.1 Released Just In Time for 2017

clock December 8, 2016 07:54 by author EliciaT

Out with the old, in with the new!

As the year comes to a close, we’re rolling out an updated version of our Unity plugin. NaturalFront 3D Face Animation Plugin 2.1. If you haven’t used the plugin before, here is a brief overview of the top features and capabilities.

  • It simplifies the complex and labor-intensive nature of facial animations.
  • With just a single photo, it can create realistic 3D facial models in a matter of seconds.
  • Facial models are ready to animate with vertices in place and sophisticated, accurate modeling.
  • Built-in facial expressions and audio lip-syncing capabilities accelerate the animation process.

You can also find more information on the plugin in this article or watch one of our video tutorials on our YouTube channel.


The new version has all of the above benefits and more. We made a few changes to improve the performance and user experience of the plugin. Also, after growing requests, we added a Mac version. (Previously, there was only a Windows version.)

Here’s a deeper look at what’s new in the updated Windows and Mac versions:

Improved audio uploading and processing.

Matching lip movement to dialogue and audio is one of the most challenging aspects for animators. Unfortunately, when not executed precisely, it is also the easiest flaw that others will notice. The lip-syncing feature of the plugin helps animators tackle this challenge by matching up audio files to mouth shapes to create natural, accurately-timed lip movements.

The lip-syncing tool is still one of the top features for animators. However, we’ve improved the audio uploading process by changing a few aspects. First, we eliminated the dependency on loading audio. In Version 2.0, the animation heavily depended on loading audio into Unity. The new version eliminates this and makes creating 3D face animation more intuitive. Animators can create animations without relying on loading audio up into Unity.

Planning for the Future

Secondly, an undocumented change to Unity 5.4 disrupted the performance of audio waveform. We updated the plugin, so that Version 2.1 isn’t affected by or dependent on it. But, more importantly, we updated it so that not only this undocumented feature, but any others that may happen won’t impact Version 2.1. In other words, future undocumented Unity changes won’t affect the performance of the plugin audio waveform or other capabilities.

Find out how the NaturalFront 3D Face Animation Plugin 2.1 can save you from doing hours of tedious animation tasks and greatly improve your facial animations. Test out the update and download the Mac or Window versions on the Unity store today.

Is There A Skills Shortage In The Games & Animation Industry?

clock October 22, 2016 08:30 by author EliciaT


Think back to video games and animated movies from 5 or 10 years ago. If you take a look at the computer graphics quality of the 2003 Finding Nemo and compare it to the 2016 Finding Dory, the difference is astonishing. The same can be said for almost every film or video game series when compared to its predecessors. How has the 3D animation quality of films and games evolved so much in the span of a few years? Technology and innovative creators are revolutionizing the industry.

The requirements for a professional animator today are increasingly technical. According to a UK study, software and programming are two of the top skills needed in gaming, animation and visual effects. In fact, over half of the jobs in gaming look for coding and developing skills.

Software skills alone are a requirement for over 64 percent of positions in the animation industry and 31 percent in the video game industry.

Filling these open positions with talented workers with the right technical skills has been a difficult challenge for some. According to the same survey, 47 percent of gaming and animation employers state that finding qualified applicants with the tech skills to fill these roles has been a major hurdle.

Global Animation Outlook

From a global perspective, the skills shortage isn’t as great now as it was last year, but there's still a significant demand. In a LinkedIn report of the top skills that employers are looking for in 2016, game development went from 24 to 29 and computer graphics and animation dropped 20 slots from 17 to 37. It is also important to note that 8 of the top 10 skills were technical.

The need for professionals in the video game and film industries to have digital skills is greater than ever, because cutting-edge technology is in high demand. Creating a full length animated film or a video game often takes years at the biggest studios. Industry leaders are searching for ways to create beautiful productions more efficiently and thanks to technology it’s possible.

For instance, 3D printing has accelerated the modeling process in stop-motion. Facial animation has been one of the most challenging aspects for animators. But, software like NaturalFront’s Facial Animation Software uses advanced algorithms to make realistic and accurate facial animations. Facial models are generated in minutes by using photos of real human faces, which makes the process more efficient and lifelike. Once a facial model is created, it will have realistic animation built-in.

The game and animation industries are increasingly reliant on computer technology. As technologies evolve, studios will be on the lookout for tech savvy, creative professionals that not only keep up but innovate.

4 Steps To Turn Your Animation Hobby Into A Profession

clock October 17, 2016 14:08 by author EliciaT



Animation is a lot of work. It can take a week to create as little as 10 seconds of footage. This is why full-feature films can take 5 to 10 years to make, and why you should think seriously before embarking on an animation career.

However, if you find that you are thinking about your animation hobby and creating traditional or 3D animations in your free time, you could have the chops to turn it into a profession.

1. Test the waters.

You aren’t going to learn how to animate by simply reading a book, you have to test it out for yourself with your hands and learn interactively. You don’t have to go to college to become an animator. Sure, it can provide some valuable insights and help you make connections in the art world and entertainment industry. But, there are tons of resources and tutorials online that are free or low-cost and can help you learn animation techniques and software.

Experiment with some 3D computer animation software like Maya, Unity and 3ds Max, which are commonly used by professional animators. Also, test out tools like NaturalFront’s Facial Animation Software that can accelerate parts of the animation process and help you overcome some of the most challenging aspects like facial animation.

2. Have a focus.

Many professional studios have a team of creators that work in a pipeline to create the final product. One person or team may focus solely on lighting, another on character design and another on animation. You should have a few areas in which you are extremely skilled, but you have to be well-rounded. Make it a point to learn all the areas that go into an animation, but be fantastic in at least one or two of them.

3. Set up your portfolio.

If you really have the skills and guts to be a professional animator, you need to market yourself. One of the most basic ways to market yourself as an animator is to showcase your portfolio and animation reel. Share your portfolio and reel on your website, blog and creative sites like Behance. Remember, when creating your reel, think short and sweet. Highlight your strongest skills, not all your work, and do it in less than 30 seconds. The first few seconds are critical to capture a viewer’s attention.

4. Establish credibility.

There is incredible competition in animation. You need to set yourself apart and establish credibility, especially if you haven’t gone to an accredited school or earned a degree in the field. The growing freelance economy and websites like Upwork and Fiverr are making it easier than ever to land jobs and side projects.

You can also establish credibility as a serious animator by entering animation contests and film festivals. Grow your network by going to industry events and joining groups with people that are also interested in animation.

If you are thinking about turning your animation hobby into a profession, you don’t necessarily have to put all your eggs into one basket and quit your day job. However, you need to dedicate enough time to develop the skills to consistently create innovative and high-quality animations.

Are Realistic Computer Animations No Longer Impressive?

clock September 26, 2016 09:47 by author EliciaT


When early attempts at realistic 3D animation like the 2001 Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, the 2005 Polar Express, and the Grand Theft Auto and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider series were produced, critics, audiences and gamers were either amazed at their advanced graphics and realism or creeped out because at moments, they fell into the uncanny valley. Now, over 15 years have passed since the earliest renderings of realistic animations were created for full-length films.

Realistic animation has evolved well past the days of the Final Fantasy films and Grand Theft Auto games from years ago. Now, the bar for realistic animation is set extremely high, because there are more developed techniques and technology available. Still, some animators avoid hyper-realistic computer animations, because they fear the uncanny valley. Others may think  that since realistic animations have been around for over a decade, it’s not that impressive. So, we asked the question: Are realistic animations no longer impressive?

Animation technology is still evolving.

Some may say that generating a realistic-looking 3D model probably isn’t that amazing anymore, because the technology to do that action has been around and used for a while. However, technology is rapidly advancing and creating animations that wouldn’t have been possible 10 or 5 years ago.

Also, there is still room for improvement, especially when it comes to facial animation. It’s one area that animators have struggled with for years, and it’s the pain point that NaturalFront software is tackling with advanced capabilities, algorithms and technology.

There’s a constant need for innovation.

The fact is that people have a short attention span and get bored easily. We are constantly looking for the next big thing. However, that isn’t to say that well-done computer animations are no longer impressive.

It means that you can’t rely on the same old, techniques and technology alone to impress people. (This is unless you are utilizing new, innovative technologies that revolutionize some aspect of old ones.) Like any art or entertainment form, you need to create something that is unique, thought-provoking and that resonates with your audience to differentiate yourself from other creators.

Game and film animation are different.

It’s also important to note that game animation and film animation are two different areas, that often require unique considerations and have different audiences. For example, games are interactive, which means that characters and animations need to look and animate smoothly from every angle.

When it comes to realistic computer animation, although it is important part of the film creation process, it is more prominent in the game industry. This is likely because game animation is about immersing the player into their own game world, and realism increases that feeling of being a part of the game.

Realistic animation is not dying out anytime soon. If anything, it’s flourishing as the desire to push the limits of art and technology grows. But, the key is to keep pushing the envelope and innovating computer animation technology and techniques, so that they will continue to amaze.

Top 10 Video Games of All Time

clock September 19, 2016 14:16 by author EliciaT

Ranking the best video games of all time is incredibly difficult. To some, it doesn’t feel like the video game industry began that long ago. There has been some debate as to when the first video game was created. But, many argue that the first record of a video game was in 1958, when an American physicist named William Higinbotham created Tennis for Two. Of course, it wasn’t until the Pacman and Asteroid games of the 70s and 80s that video games, as we traditionally think of them, took off.

In that timespan, there have been some amazing and groundbreaking video games developed that deserve recognition. In this blog, we are ranking the top video games (only one from a franchise) of all time, based on several factors, such as: story, animation, characters and gamer popularity.

10. World of Warcraft


The multiplayer online role playing game (MMORPG) World of Warcraft may be considered dated compared to games like Skyrim. However, it wasn’t the world’s most popular MMORPG game for no reason. Its creative use of questing and resting or player pauses, may have set the tone for future role-playing game successes.

9. BioShock


BioShock is a solid video game series. However, when it comes to which game is the best, we vote for the original BioShock. This is because of the creators’ strategic and artistic use of a detailed and dark atmosphere to help tell the intriguing story.

8. Halo: Reach

Choosing the best from the first-person shooter game franchise Halo, is a toss up. But, because of its adrenaline-inducing, finite time to save a planet and advanced multiplayer capabilities, Halo: Reach wins it. It also has more detailed graphics and scenes that make you feel more like part of the doomed planet.

7. Super Mario 64

Super Mario 64 is a little over 20 years old, but it is still one of the best games to date. Of course the graphics aren’t much, compared to today’s standards. At the time, they had an unusual artistic 3D quality. The game had solid player capabilities and challenges, fun Easter eggs, and intuitive controls.

6. Final Fantasy X


Final Fantasy is another amazing video game franchise that has a string of successful titles. With so many to choose from, it is hard to select just one for this list. However, Final Fantasy X is on here for two main reasons: the cinematic storytelling and quality character design.

5. Call Of Duty 4: Modern Warfare

Instead of giving gamers whatever features and customization that they want, Call of Duty 4 used constraints to enhance the overall game experience. The designers really stuck to the idea of submerging the player into the game world by using realistic body and facial animations and gritty, detailed settings.

4. Resident Evil 4

Resident Evil 4 is one of those games that has graphics, animation and a story so well-crafted that it gives you chills. Over 10 years old, it still holds up to the test of time with unique camera angles, and eerie, isolated village environments that make you genuinely feel like you are alone and fighting vicious zombies in a life-and-death battle.

3. Portal 2


When it feels like a ton of video games follow the same or similar model, Portal 2 is a breath of fresh air. It’s imaginative storyline that touches on artificial intelligence and its unique environment are what makes it a truly great game. There are not targets or enemies that you need to kill, but instead puzzles. Those features, combined with its solid graphics and animation make it one of the top.

2. Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

There are few video games that can live up to Zelda. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time was the first Zelda game to feature 3D graphics and it was even listed as a Guinness record highest rated game. The music and story, which intertwines time travel, a love story and a hero’s journey are a few other reasons that you could go on all day about its greatness.

1. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim


Skyrim, the role-playing game by Bethesda has great game design, plot devices, character features and animation but most importantly, it has a unique quality that not only makes players enjoy it the first time but the thousandth time that they play. This is probably because of it's seamlessly never-ending challenges and player mods. Mods can result in funny and breathtaking scenes within the game.

What video games would be on your top 10 list?

The Uncanny Valley: What It Is and How to Avoid It In Your Animation

clock September 8, 2016 21:29 by author EliciaT


If you are a gamer, professional animator or animation enthusiast, you’ve undoubtedly heard about the “uncanny valley”━and also, that you should avoid it at all costs. To designers and animators everywhere, the uncanny valley is something that you never want to see in your work.

What is the Uncanny Valley?

Today the term is common lingo in the art and animation industries, but it started out in a different field. The coin was termed in 1970 by Masahiro Mori, a Japanese robotics professor who studied how humans react to non-human beings.

He found that when we are exposed to increasing depictions of realism the amount of emotion or connection we feel for the non-human depiction increases. However, once the level of realism crosses a certain point, where the inanimate object becomes almost too real, we are repulsed.

The chart of the below response shows that when inanimate objects look not quite realistic, our emotional connection to them immediately drops off. Instead of these inanimate creations being perceived as life-like or realistic, they are as dead as a corpse. Furthermore, when these corpse creations are animated to move, it starts to look more like a scene from Night of The Living Dead or Resident Evil. Unless you are creating a zombie animated film or game, you don’t want your characters falling into this realm.


(image source: Smurrayinchester)

Why the Uncanny Valley Can Ruin Your Animations

The problem with the Uncanny Valley in animation is not that a creation is too realistic. It is that it is almost but not quite realistic. Something is off in the way a 3D model is constructed or animated that makes it creepy and off-putting to viewers. Some highly anticipated animated films like The Polar Express and Beowulf bombed at the box office and were harshly criticized because they made this fatal animation mistake.

How to Avoid the Uncanny Valley

The key in beating the Uncanny Valley is in quality modeling and animation, but also in expressive facial animations. Usually, it is in the facial expressions of computer-generated characters that the flaw becomes the most noticeable.

Don’t give the dead eye.

The phrase, “the eyes are the windows to the soul,” is more accurate than you may think. For example, psychologists and researchers have conducted several experiments that show that eye shape, movement and even pupil dilation can express a person’s emotional state. For instance, your eyes are different when you give a fake smile out of politeness than when you genuinely smile at something that you find enjoyable or funny. When animating, pay close attention to your characters’ eyes. 

Get rid of inconsistency.

The Uncanny Valley is fundamentally caused by a series of inconsistencies. For example: 

  • Inconsistency of realistic modeling and creepy animation;
  • Inconsistency of the animation of one part of the face and another;
  • Inconsistency of the 3D face animation and the expressions of our own faces.

Wouldn’t it be great if there was an animation software that could eliminate these inconsistencies? This is where NaturalFront 3D face animation software can help. It creates 3D models directly from one or more photos of a real person, and realistically simulates the movement of complex facial muscles to create believable expressions ranging from sweet smiles to bitter anger. Furthermore, the software is extremely easy to use, with nearly zero learning curve.    

Lip-sync carefully.

When audio doesn’t perfectly match with an animated character it throws us off. When that animated character is also creepily realistic, it increases our repulsion even further. Lip-syncing is one of the more difficult animation tasks, but with the help of tools like NaturalFront’s 1-Click Animation, animators can upload audio to their creations and perfectly sync it to mouth movements.

Facial animations should reflect actual expressions.

One of the huge reasons why animations fall into the ugly uncanny valley is their not-quite human facial expressions. In animation, you can either be cartoonish or overly expressive or produce expressions that are so realistic and relatable that they stir emotion in viewers. Mediocre or almost there facial expressions will land you in the valley.

However, seasoned animators know that creating believable facial animations is easier said than done. Researchers have mapped more than 3,000 facial expressions that humans are capable of conveying. But professional animators may model millions of possible facial expressions for their characters. Doing all of that in a small team or on your own is nearly impossible for most. That is why NaturalFront also aims to make facial animation easier by generating a wide range of believable expressions in a matter of seconds with its Facial Animation Software and Unity Plugins.

The magic of animation is that it can allow us to create and do things that either wouldn’t be possible or poignant if done in live-action. Creating realistic animations can stir up emotional connections to a point, but it is important to know where that limit is and how to avoid crashing into it.

Kubo and The Two Strings: How the Film Combined Origami, Digital Animation & Stop-Motion

clock September 5, 2016 11:14 by author EliciaT


In recent years, it seems that stop-motion animation in the traditional sense has died off. Today, computer animation technology can do everything that traditional stop-motion creators can, and many times it can do it better, faster and at a significantly lower cost and reduced production timeline.

However, the new stop-motion animated film Kubo and the Two Strings is proving that the two forms of animation don’t need to be pitted against each other. In fact, beautiful and amazing animation feats can be accomplished when creators combine the best of the two techniques.

The film unfolds around the story of Kubo, a young Japanese boy who tells captivating stories with his magical guitar that brings the characters to life in origami form. (It’s also an ode to what animators do everyday as a profession.)

Instead of pitting traditional animation against computer animation, Travis Knight, the film’s director and CEO of Laika Entertainment━the animation studio behind Kubo and The Two Strings as well as Coraline, Boxtrolls and ParaNorman━took the “if you can’t beat them join them” approach.

Background characters were created with digital animation technology.

Building characters for stop-motion is an incredibly laborious challenge. One character could have hundreds of identical models produced. Now, 3D printing and digital technology can help simplify and accelerate the process.

For example, in the animated film scenes where there were many villagers, the team would model a select few as physical puppets in the same style as Kubo. However, in order to save time and minimize costs on creating hundreds of puppets, computer animation technology was used to create background villagers that blended seamlessly into the rest of the crowd.

They 3D modeled thousands of facial expressions.

Creating expressive facial animations, especially when it comes to paper origami style characters may seem practically impossible. But, the film pulled it off. Although the creators of the Samurai-inspired film built most main characters by hand using traditional techniques, they used digital animation tech and 3D printers to produce many of the facial parts.

Each individual character in stop-motion can have thousands of eyes, mouths, eyebrow and other pieces produced in order to animate them and create fluid facial animations. Before, it would take whole teams and years to produce all the necessary parts required to animate a stop-motion character. To overcome this challenge, but still preserve the traditional stop-motion look, the animators modeled the parts digitally and used 3D printers to manufacture them.

In a report by FXGuide, creators behind the impressive stop-motion film said that,

“The Kubo character has 11,007 unique mouth expressions and 4,429 brow expressions, allowing for over 48 million possible facial expressions.”

Imagine how much time and how many people it would have taken to create that amount without the help of digital technology?

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