Tag Archives: behind the scenes

How Adult Swim cartoon “TIGTONE” gets animated

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.

The famed “Torture Chair” with a DSLR ominously hovering above it

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!

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“Alien Vault: The Definitive Story of the Making of the Film” Book Review

There is a movie that I really like, I might even consider a favorite, but I can not make myself watch it that often. It’s one of those movies that you need to be in the right mood for, and that mood is unfortunately one of absolute lonesome terror where I don’t mind seeing a phallic looking monster explode out of someone’s chest. In case you are not picking up the subtle hint, I am talking about Ridley Scott’s sci-fi horror classic, “Alien.” A film that would inspire many others after, as well as comics and video games, the original “Alien” used the groundwork laid out by Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” and took things to a new level that made an unforgettable experience where, unlike in space, everyone will hear you scream when you watch it. If you are like me and want to get to know the behind-the-scenes story of this great movie, Quarto Publishing has you in mind with their book, “Alien Vault: The Definitive Story of the Making of the Film.”

Written by Ian Nathan, who has also written the definitive textbook on the history behind the original Terminator movie and it’s sequel, this 176-page tome chronicles the entire process of creating this movie, which in 1979 was quite the feat. The amount of physical effects that had to be used along with the highly-detailed set and costume designs combined with the vision of Ridley Scott and his team led to a movie that created a new type of fear for the viewer and ultimately, a whole new genre for horror. Nathan’s research and interviews give us new insight on the stories that led to so many memorable moments on film.

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The book is filled with added inserts, like posters of H.R. Giger’s artwork, pages of the original script, behind the scenes polaroids, international promo posters, and so much more. I love any book that includes extra bonuses like this, giving me something to read and something to hang on my wall after I am done. It feels like the book has helped me become a production assistant on the set, and I am part of the film crew that is making this epic space scare.

All of the questions you ever had about the movie are answered here. This includes the real reason that the aliens have acid blood, how they shot the chest-burster scene and how genuine the actors reactions were (hint: VERY), and who wore the alien suit. Hearing how the actors formed a true unit behind the scenes and their stories of working together showed how much these actors bonded and why they worked together so well on camera. I don’t want to ruin too much, but I really enjoyed the sections on Ripley’s character, especially with what was cut from the movie that you should read and I should do my best not to spoil.

One of my favorite elements of this book is all of the production artwork. I am a nut for production art, especially concept art and storyboards, and this book delivers on all fronts. While there are plenty of gorgeous full-color photos on set, it is hard not to love the work done by Moebius, Ron Cobb, Dan O’Bannon, and of course H.R. Giger. This movie would be nothing without the creative minds that propelled the ideas that Scott had and took it to a new level that he most surely did not expect. This is a movie about design as much as it is about fear, and the stage was set with every piece of the puzzle that the design team crafted.

You can order “Alien Vault: The Definitive Story of the Making of the Film” on Amazon.com for around $20, and is an absolute steal at that price. Film making is an enigma, especially when it comes to creating intricate scenes with physical effects, and this book breaks it all down for us, as well as giving us the human element with the cast and crew who made this movie happen. This book is for any fan of the “Aliens” movies, as well as movie buffs in general whether you plan on becoming a part of Hollywood or just enjoy watching a great film.

It looks like I am going to have to put on my “big boy pants” and watch this movie again, now that I have a newfound sense of what went on behind the scenes. Will it make things any less scary for me? Probably not, and I certainly hope not, but knowing the story behind the story will give me a whole new way to admire this film.

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