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?







Best 3D Animations of 2015

clock December 9, 2015 21:11 by author EliciaT

Each year, talented 3D animators release their newest creations. This year there have been several fantastic 3D animations released. However, a few films stick out more than the rest. Below, we have compiled a list of the best 3D animations of 2015.

The Little Prince

The film, based on the well-known children’s book by the same title, uses a mixture of computer and stop-motion animation. The characters, lighting and style of animation are reminiscent of  Antoine de Saint-Exupery's illustrated novella. However, the main reason the film makes this list of top animations is its unusual and captivating use of color.

The film has become an international success at the box office. According to the latest report, it has sold over 12.5 million tickets at the international box office, becoming the biggest animated release for French filmmakers.

Inside Out

 

Inside Out follows the story of a girl named Riley as she deals with the typical struggles associated with growing up. It portrays her emotions━fear, anger, joy, disgust, and sadness━ in the form of 3D animated characters.

The film’s creators worked directly with renowned psychologist Paul Eckman to understand and capture the complex facial expressions. Eckam is responsible for creating the mathematical-based Facial Action Coding System that influences several animators when creating facial animations.

The Pixar produced film has received critical acclaim from a number of organizations. It recently received the 2015 New York Film Critics Circle Award for best animated feature, and has been dubbed as a possible Academy Award contender.

Peanuts Movie

The Peanuts Movie from Blue Sky Studios is arguably one of the greatest animated features of the year. Bringing famous 2D characters and stories into the world of 3D animation is a difficult challenge for the most talented animators to tackle.

However, the film’s animators worked diligently to create the 3D film, while preserving its 2D roots. Creators studied the comic strips to guide them in their work. The facial animation was especially tricky, with animators using new rigging techniques, which they called UVN transformation, that allowed the eyebrows and eyes to slide around the face.

In the end, their hard work paid off. The film manages to capture the essence of the original 2D Charlie Brown comic strip world using 3D computer animation technology.

The Good Dinosaur

 

The Good Dinosaur is another 3D animated film released by Pixar this year. The film’s major feat is its hyper-realistic world. The animators used real-life resource material to create the breathtaking settings. They studied United States Geological Survey (USGS) data and other footage of environments and weather to create the scenes.

The film’s team of creators researched heavily to develop the artwork. The animation tends to outshine the story, but has given it recognition as one of the most beautiful creations of 2015. The film was recently named as a nominee for best animated feature in the 43rd Annie Awards.

The year has produced some shining examples of well-crafted and beautiful computer animations. As we anticipate next year’s releases, what 3D animations of 2015 do you think should be added to the list?






Why Rigging Is Bad For 3D Facial Animation - revisited

clock October 23, 2015 13:54 by author EliciaT

 

 

Animating realistic facial expressions in 3D is one of the most difficult tasks for animators to accomplish. Unlike the rest of the body, movement of the face isn’t controlled by a simple hierarchy system of joints and bones. Instead, dozens of complex muscle movements control facial expressions.

Furthermore, facial movements are subtle. A slight change in the position of the eyebrows or mouth can completely alter an expression--and the meaning we attribute to it.

For example, a smile may seem like a simple expression to capture. However, there are many different types of smiles, each with their own significance. In fact, psychologists at the University of California at San Francisco once mapped and studied over 3,000 facial expressions. 

Facial animation is challenging, because of the variety of expressions and the complex system of muscles that work together to create each one. Therefore, some of the traditional methods that animators use to control body motions simply are not suitable for facial animation.

What Happens When You Use 3D Rigging For Facial Animation

One of the common methods that animators use is 3D rigging. The way 3D rigging works is by constructing and attaching simulated bones and joints to a character model.

In many situations, 3D rigging is one of the most useful tools in an animator’s tool bag. It is useful when moving limbs and other body parts that rely on a hierarchy system.

However, for facial expressions, 3D rigging is often very time-consuming and inefficient. Animators first need to construct a rig that is based on a loose idea of the locations of muscle tissues. Then, they must make a guess (remember your last visit to a casino?) as to how those muscles move to create various emotions. The whole process can take weeks or months and can result in inaccurate and unrealistic facial expressions. How can the current animation process be improved?

Curve Controlled Modeling

 

An innovative technology called Curve Controlled Modeling (CCM) is here to substantially improve the facial animation process.

What is Curve Controlled Modeling?

Curve Controlled Modeling (CCM) is a newly developed technology that is designed specifically for animating complex muscle movements. It utilizes a modeling tool called NURBs or Non-uniform rational B-spline Curve.

If the history of technology development is one of your favorite subjects, you might recall that some of the most important advancements are based on finding and using analogies. For example, the Theory of Gravity is based on the analogy between a falling apple and orbiting Moon. The Theory of Relativity is based on the analogy between on-the-earth standstill and out-of-this-world speed-up. Curve Controlled Modeling is also based on a powerful analogy that was recently discovered (can you guess analogy of what). How can this analogy help you? It can help you complete complex 3D facial animation much more quickly and at a much lower cost than traditional approaches. Once again, the Moon is not going around for nothing. 

Rigging animated models is still an important part of the 3D animation process. However, when it comes to facial animation, it is certainly not the most efficient option. Curve Controlled Modeling can help animators complete life-like facial animations while eliminating rigging time and formidable costs associated with them. To learn more about CCM technology, view our videos here.







 



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