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style crit -Richard Kenworthy; Onward

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Found this thanks to John Martz at Drawn, a blog I visit almost daily. First off, I headline the director Richard rather than the illustrator (art director?) James Jarvis as its an animated film. John says he usually dislikes “3D animation modified to look hand-drawn” but he likes this one. What makes it different? Here’s my attempt at an analysis…
the character gets drawn, built up out of lines that are apparently being drawn as we watch. But those lines aren’t still – they vibrate back and forth, jumping between various lines representing the same form. This is a key to convincing NPR look – not that the lines have to boil, but they have to have temporal coherence in keeping with other stylistic elements in the image. Boil is a reference to hand-drawn animated holds, usually 5 rotating drawing of the same image to keep a form from ‘dying’ while other parts of the figure or composition are being animated. Here, the boil is quite convincing with only a mild aftertaste of procedural noise. Nice! There are even areas of tighter coherence… for example the eyes. They’re almost – but not – perfectly coherent. Kudos!

Still – the animation readily betrays ts 3Dd origins… its animated on ones. The figure bends over, stretches. Slow, deliberate movement. And because 3D makes it so easy, its rendered on ones. Which isn’t quite consistent with the idea of boil, or hand-drawn. Down-scaling from 2′s or even 3′s to ones during rapid action would make this much more consistent, and animating more in keeping with 2D traditions rather than 3D would make this even stronger. That is, hold poses longer, then one frame anticipation and in then dive into the move. Assuming, of course, that mimicking “hand-drawn” is the goal, which it may not be.

communicates shade. Very nicely done, again with boil. Slight popping and sliding issues, most evident when the figure bends or moves. This is a common npr issue, as the artist would intuitively account for movement of the underlying form whereas the computer doesn’t have access to this contextual information in most software solutions, and understands it none.

Pear-head is perfectly colored. Not once does the yellow cross the line. Perfection. CG.

Volume preservation…
Pear head moves and bends and as he does so he is perfectly on-target. Again: perfection. CG. This time I think the look suffers. Solidity of form is one of the great advantages of working with cg, but its also one of its great problems. Here, the rough line and sketchy hatching isn’t consistent with a perfectly on-target figure. Here, mesh-deformation would have supported the look – possibly in-rig controls for the animator, possibly camera-oriented taper or noise displacements. Again… I’m being picky and have no idea of time and budget constraints.

Motion Blur…
or the lack of it. So, now Pear-head starts to run. Temporal coherence, previously dealt with via boil is partially abandoned here, as the drawn environment slides past without evident boil. I’ve frame-advanced quite a bit and there may well be boil in there, but traditional artists adapt boil amount to speed and direction. The line direction might have been drawn out to imply blur. Lines might have a smear or a shadow of another cel farther away from the camera’s focus… a number of techniques.

One typical 3D giveaway is avoided here. Because you can, directors often do 3D camera pans and swivels. Richard doesn’t, and I think cleverly so… as other stylistic decisions are built upon the world’s implied flatness.

I may sound critical because – well, I am. But I think the film works overall, so ultimately my critique is positive. This has mostly to do with content. The film uses the stylistic elements to create its own reality. The look is therefore not a gimmick, but a story-telling tool. This is perhaps most evident in staging at about 1:50 and 4:10.  This could not be done without the world-rules established earlier… level-of-detail and representational stroke.

I can’t wait to unleash tools and workflows that allow such talented artists and animators to up the technical finesse of their work another notch or two!

There are 3 Comments to this article

William Eggington says:

The cross hatching landing on a different spot every single frame is distracting to me. I can’t sit back and enjoy it because my eye is instantly drawn to the static “buzz” generated. :-/.

admin says:

Hi Billy! Its very dis-coherent, yeah, but I think it has at least as much to do with the way the strokes are placed: they slide in relation to the underlying geometry’s movement. That’s cardinal – as it disrupts the association of the stroke with what it represents.

stee+cats says:

i like the overall film…

the crosshatching that moves around is not nice to watch…they appear to be shooting for a 70′s wobbly roobarb cartoon style but the oulines doesn’t shift enough and the shading cross hatch sseen unconnected to the model

but the overall film is VERY nice…i wonder what npr renderer they used for this in what 3d app?

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