interview with new eden animator – part two: animation process

13, July 2011

Here is Part Two of the interview with New Eden’s character designer/lead animator Freek Van Haagen. Be sure to check out the clip at the end. Enjoy!

What tools are you using to animate New Eden?

Adobe Illustrator for the drawings. Adobe After Effects for the animation. Photoshop for the backgrounds. And finally Adobe Premiere for editing.

What style and restrictions have influenced the look of New Eden?

I kinda shift style every now and then. But I like the strong shapes in the characters. It is a bit American maybe.

New Eden Character Line Up

It sounds weird but it should not be perfect animation. Simply because it’s a series that’s limited by budget and therefore can’t take forever to make. The animation should bring across the joke/story. That’s it. If I can get away with no animation, why not? So basically it’s efficiency. Try and do every shot as efficient as possible. Without falling into the pitfall of rushing over everything.

What was your process for designing the New Eden character?

I just scribble. And often end up with a different figure along the way. It’s a trick I learned.

New Eden Character Sketches

New Eden Creature Sketches

If you really try and get what you have in your head you can loose some spontaneity. You have some idea of course but you shouldn’t be blind to ‘lucky mistakes’.

How do you then convert these character designs into figure that could be animated?

That took a bit of figuring out. Since we use a kind of puppeteer animation technique there are some design elements that go out the door but you have to do that in order to animate. It was just checking what you can do without and still have some sort of design to the characters.

Break down the basic steps of animating a shot of New Eden?

Listen to the voice track about 10 times. Until you pretty much have it in your head. Then act like a fool in front of the mirror saying that line. And watch yourself say it.

Shot Sketch

See how your body moves and what faces you pull. Check out where the actor has put the accents in the dialogue and try to emphasize that with your body gestures.

Murray Face Sketches

After the sketch I draw the character in Adobe Illustrator with everything that needs to move in a separate layer and try to figure out where the pivot points are for each limb.

Breakdown of Character Assets

I have a rough idea of what I want to achieve in animation so I draw different hand gestures that I can use. We can’t animate the fingers bit by bit because that would really take too long. So in the animation style we choose to shift the hand in the middle of a movement. That way you don’t really notice the hard switch.

Breakdown of Character Assets

Then it’s time to import it into After Effects and set up the skeleton using Duik tools.

Character Set-Up in After Effects

This means that I have foot controllers and hand controllers. I only have to move those controllers and the whole arm or leg will move. Which saves time.

After Effects Arm Controller

I usually separate the head in a separate file so I can concentrate on the facial features alone. After that it’s just fiddling until you get it right.

After Effects Face Animation

From there I cut down the movement to the basic positions. “Keys” as they call them in the industry. This means basically that you try and capture the whole performance in two or three body positions/holds that bring across that line of dialogue.

After Effects Animation Keys

You set that up in the character and time it to the dialogue. Then it’s tweaking until the character becomes alive and seems to be saying the line all by themself. I usually start with the lip sync. But sometimes it’s easier to start with the body to see where the accents are put best.

What’s your usually time frame to complete a shot?

Phew … don’t know. A shot can take two to three hours maybe. For animation alone.

Thank you for your time Freek. It’s great to get inside the process and hear how it is being brought to life.  Where can people find you online?

www.freekvanhaagen.nl

As promised, here is a sneak peek of a short piece of character animation from the New Eden pilot.

The backgrounds and audio are still being worked on and it’s yet to be edited for timing but this is a good example of the quality of animation that Freek and our second animator Adam are pumping out.

The New Eden pilot is now complete, so I’ve updated the video below. Enjoy the trailer!

Check out Part One to read about Freek’s animation background and his career aspirations.

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