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Concept to Creation: Digital Ink & Paint

Mark Simon continues his series of 12 excerpts from his new book Producing Independent 2D Character Animation: Making and Selling a Short Film.

All images are from Producing Independent 2D Character Animation: Making and Selling a Short Film by Mark Simon. Reprinted with permission.

This is the eighth in a series of 12 excerpts from Mark Simons book, Producing Independent 2D Character Animation: Making and Selling a Short Film. This book is a full-color, concept-to-pitch guide that teaches animators, students and small studios the art and business of producing short, cel animated films. Animation producer Mark Simon has detailed the process in an accessible how-to manner using his award-winning series, Timmys Lessons In Nature, as a guide. This 432-page book contains more than 600 full-color images, interviews and a CD-ROM containing sample animation, animatics and sample software described in the text.

Years ago our only option for painting animation drawings was to trace the drawings with ink onto clear plastic celluloid sheets, or cels. Then the colors were painted, one at a time, onto the back of each cel. The cels were then stacked on racks to dry and took up a great deal of space. As clear as the cels are, they can only be stacked to six or seven levels due to a slightly increased loss of light and color with each layer (Figure1).

Then digital ink-and-paint came along and offered us a quicker way to paint the drawings. We can now keep the quality of the pencil drawing in the final work, and we are no longer limited in how many levels we may composite (layers of art and effects stacked together to form one complete frame).

[Figure 1] Notice that the lowest layer (left) of art is slightly darker than the top layer (right). This is due to the slight pigment in each cel. In the digital world, this loss of light is no longer an issue.

Digital ink-and-paint is the computerized version of finalizing animation art using scanning, instead of inking, for each pencil drawing, and digitally coloring instead of hand-painting each cel. With all the ink-and-paint programs now available we are able to drop fill (single-click paint an entire enclosed area) or use a digital paintbrush to fill colors into our characters. We can change the line color, fix problems in the original art, move and scale the layers of our animation, build a custom palette and export the final art in a number of different video and sequential still image formats. They also all offer dope sheet interfaces for keeping track of scenes.

There are only a few major differences between the available ink-and-paint programs. The biggest differences may be found in the varying interfaces of each software, how user-friendly they are, project management features, camera and compositing capabilities, and whether artwork is kept as bitmap images or converted to vector images. Vector images have much smaller file sizes, are resolution independent, and can be scaled to any size with no loss of quality, but they can lose some of the subtlety of the original penciled line.)

The different processes within ink-and-paint software are broken into sections called modules. A number of the more expensive software programs allow you to purchase and install only certain modules, which helps keep the cost down for a large production. A person doing digital painting will probably not need camera or compositing modules, so only certain modules need to be purchased, and these can be spread out among many computers.

Each of the digital ink-and-paint programs labels its modules differently, but the main modules are usually pencil testing, scanning, ink-and-paint, camera, compositing, project managing, rendering and others.

To start the ink-and-paint process, a number of parameters need to be set for each scene. Every ink-and-paint program allows you to adjust different parameters, some with very few options and others with a great many options. Different parameters may include:

  • How far you can zoom in on a scene.
  • How many frames the scene is.
  • How many levels of animation will be needed.
  • How the dope sheet should be set up.
  • What direction the scanned images need to be rotated.
  • What color palettes to use.
  • What the screen aspect ratio should be.
  • How light or dark the scanned lines should look.
  • And many other parameters. (See Figures 2 and 3.)

simon02_setUp.gifsimon03_setupClean.gif[Figures 2 & 3] Parameter set-up window (top) in Toonz allows you to adjust many settings for each scene. Another set-up window in Toonz (bottom) that allows you to adjust the field size and positioning as well as how the software should automatically clean up the scanned art.

Once you have set up each scene, you may either scan the drawings directly into the program or import the scans you have already saved. If your drawings were numbered in the format the software reads, the imported images will end up in the proper frame and layer on the ink-and-paint dope sheet. For instance, a file named L3F005 will be imported onto Level 3, Frame 5. Even if your software doesnt understand this file format, the naming procedure keeps it clear to the operator where the image needs to go.

When you are scanning directly into the ink-and-paint program, you will have the opportunity to adjust all the settings, and preset how the art will be imported and to what level and frame. For example, you may set the software to automatically hold the artwork on 2s (one drawing for every 2 frames), as in Figure 4. You may always change the settings if your numbering changes at any time during a scene.

As you set up a scene, be sure to indicate when you need to zoom in and by how much. This informs the program to scan at a higher resolution so that by the time you zoom into the art you wont lose any quality. Every ink-and-paint program handles this information differently. In AXA, you need to change the input DPI settings for different zooms. In Digicel, you may set the scene to be 100% (12 field), 150% (for zooming in 3 fields tighter), 200%, 250% or 300% for the largest zoom (Figure 5).

[Figure 5] Digicel ink-and-paint set-up window.

You have a couple of options when you scan images. You may scan them as black-and-white files that have aliasing (a stair-stepped effect on the effect on the edge of angled and curved lines), scan them as grey-tone files that retain the density of your original, or scan them as hand-colored images. Each method has its benefits.

In the case of pencil lines, for instance, which tend to vary in contrast, a black-and-white scan converts all the lines to a solid black. When importing these images the ink-and-paint program then processes them to give the lines an even, anti-aliased edge on both sides. The lines then have an even tone to them.

The grey-tone scans, on the other hand, have a livelier feel to them. The lights and darks of the pencil line are maintained. However, a lot of extraneous markings and smudges are also more likely to scan. Cleaning each image and painting thus takes much longer.

Once the artwork is in the program, you may copy and paste the cels that are repeated within each scene. The software will automatically update all copies of each piece of art when any one copy has changes made to it. In other words, if the drawing on frame 1 is repeated on frames 9 and 15, you only have to fix or paint frame 1 and the other frames are updated automatically. You may check your revised scene any time by playing it within your software.

The remaining chapter covers the painting process, editing your digital dope sheet, setting up your color palettes, using color models, painting tips, using onion skin features, auto fill, changing line color and more. To learn about other topics, check out Producing Independent 2D Character Animation, published by Focal Press. It can be bought at any bookstore or online.

Producing Independent 2D Character Animation: Making and Selling a Short Film by Mark Simon. Burlington, Massachusetts: Focal Press, 2003. 432 pages. ISBN: 0-240-80513-5.

Mark Simon founded and owns A&S Animation, Inc., an award-winning cel animation house in Florida, which develops and produces character animation for commercials, TV, training videos and the Web. He also owns Animatics & Storyboards, Inc., the largest storyboard house in the southern United States, which has provided work on more than 1,200 productions. Marks accomplishments include owning an award-winning advertising firm, being a syndicated cartoonist, production designer of film and TV, writing entertainment industry books and lecturing on both animation and storyboards. Winning more than 30 animation awards for his efforts, Mark has directed Timmys Lessons In Nature (which he sold as a TV series), My Wife Is Pregnant, numerous commercials, training videos and television series special effects.