Animation is not just drawing the same thing again and again to make a flat picture look like it’s moving. What it really comes down to is problem solving. Sure, you could repetitively doodle the same person jumping up and down, but how do you do it efficiently and convincingly?
One of my favorite new Adult Swim cartoon shows is “Tigtone”, originally created by Andrew Koehler, Benjamin Martian, and Zack Wallenfang (the latter of whom is not involved in the current series but was part of the pilot). It combines “Dungeons & Dragons” fantasy settings with the insanity of your typical inane Adult Swim humor. It’s everything I love and more.
The element that absolutely drew me in the most was the animation style. It looked like nothing I had ever seen before, and if you don’t know what I am talking about – take a look at the pilot episode in the video below:It’s clear to see why this got picked up by Adult Swim. It looks like someone took an illustration from a fantasy book or a Magic the Gathering card and somehow enchanted it so that it would become an 11 minute cartoon. Much like how Tigtone needs a quest, I too need one, and today that quest has been discovering how the heck they animate this show! After I saw the first Adult Swim episode aired, I started digging around but was unable to find much. Eventually, I found a video not from the creative team behind it, but from RedLetter Media AKA the home of everyone’s favorite curmudgeonly review, Mr Plinkett. Check out this video below to see a little of the behind-the-scenes production process:
This video revealed that the VO actors often perform their lines with the producer present, and do a very unique motion-capture. Clearly, that is just the first step, but it’s certainly a very big clue to what they are doing.
More recently, Adult Swim released the video below, likely due to folks like myself and readers like you who have been endlessly googling “How do they animate TigTone”?
All that SEO analytical data paid off, and we got more of an official look at how the hometeam produces their mo-cap sessions, involving a piece of apparatus that resembles a medieval torture device that I honestly would not be surprised to see in an episode.
The next big question was how do they take these mo-cap sessions and add it to the artwork?
The clues we got from the video was that they seem to be using Adobe After Effects, a very powerful (and accessible) app that you can get fairly easily if you don’t mind paying a monthly subscription fee.
I started to dig deeper, and stumbled upon this Youtube tutorial by Creativid Studios who seems to be doing something very similar to what the animators behind “Tigtone” are doing.
This form of AE motion capture combines a recording of the actors face with a series of masks, combining an illustration of the cartoon characters face with some holes in it to let the actor’s eyes and mouth peek through.
Once you have those features removed, you then use a Face Tracker that is built into AE to recognize a face, and then creates key frames to track the mouth as it moves. It’s easier to watch the video then have me explain it all, so take a look and see what you think.
Of course, this begs the question – why animate this show in such a time consuming way? In an interview with Little Black Book Online, Benjamin Martian and Andrew Koehler addressed those thoughts, and had this to say:
Andrew: An enormous part of what makes the humour work is the fact that the presentation takes itself seriously. It NEEDS to look like epic, hand painted, exquisitely detailed art in order for the total farce of the writing to work.
Benjamin: Also the style and process came out of necessity and resourcefulness. When we realised we couldn’t produce these fantasy scripts live-action, Andrew used what he had at his disposal to make something work. That something was this 2D motion capture technique. Also, damn all convention.
They went on to discuss how this process came to be, and the hardships that ultimately led them to the one of a kind aesthetic that “Tigtone” has:
Andrew: It was a lot of trial and error, research and development, hurry up and wait, and blood, sweat, and tears. But really it was all about figuring out the practicality of it all – how do I warp his face without distorting his hair, how do I keep the teeth from floating around, etc. The answer always involved a lot of math and a lot of rendering.
Benjamin: Andrew was like MacGyver, digitally duct-taping this process together with different programs and plug-ins. When we started production at Titmouse, the animation studio that produces the series, we had to completely reinvent the production process to accommodate this bizarre technique.
That same article also gives us some of the most exact specifics we have seen on the internet so far about the steps taken to animate in this style:
Benjamin: After we have all the lines recorded and cut into the animatic (animated storyboards) we isolate every line for each character and categorise them by shot angle. We then glue pearl craft beads onto our faces at specific points to track the movement of the entire face. For example, we put three dots over each eyebrow to capture the way the eyebrows bend.
Then we strap ourselves into our motion-capture bench with a camera mounted overhead. We play back every single line on a loop and perform the line, trying to perform in sync with the line.
After that, the motion of each dot on our face is attached to the corresponding dot on the characters’ face to create the motion. Then the animators do a TON of work to hone in the performances – so it’s not just our faces doing all the work.
One of the most important things about doing this with their “torture chair” is making sure the people reading the lines and being filmed are perfectly still. The mo-cap data must precisely match the angles of the characters being animated in order to register with the tracker. If they don’t – back to the torture chair for them to reshoot the scene.
Either way, it seems the technology is in your grasp, and now you too can attain that unique look with your own cartoons! If you give it a try, let us know how it came out and feel free to post it in the comments!