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Going Digital And Loving It

Traditional animator Guionne Leroy describes her first digital experience. Currently working on a new clay short, she is shooting it with a digital camera and having a blast with the new opportunities.

leroycamera01.gif A digital shot from the work-in-progress.

I was born in Belgium in 1967, and studied animation at La Cambre in Brussels from 1987 until 1992. I've made several personal animated short films in clay but only one using computer technology. From 1993 until 1996 I worked in the States on the animated features Toy Story and James and the Giant Peach. However, I came back to Belgium a year ago, due to the chance to pursue some more personal work through a commissioned piece illustrating opera music for the French company Pasavision. This clay animation piece titled Arthur is still in production. We hope it will be finished in September. What is special about the project, however, is that we're using a digital camera.

A Unique Idea

This commissioned work has a tight budget, which means I must work with a short shooting schedule, a small team, and no ambitious sets. It was a challenge to come up with rich visuals that were interesting enough to fulfill the task of illustrating such vibrant opera music. Then Stéphane Simal, who offered to co-produce the film, started to talk about an idea he had, about using a digital camera.

This was new to me, as so far I have done all of my works in a traditional manner using 16mm and 35mm film. Since the images we shot would be directly entered into the computer, it has opened the doors to infinite possibilities throughout post-production. Also, I have been able to utilize far more ambitious visuals than such a budget would normally allow. These are the aspects that seduced me. For example, my idea required stylish landscapes that the character could travel in and interact with, but we didn't have the studio space or the equipment for such large sets. So I shot solely the foreground against a blue screen and was able to add a 2D painted background later.

Endless Possibilities

Once the images were stored on CD-ROMs, we used a Macintosh computer and Adobe's After Effects and Photoshop software to continue to build the film. These tools allowed me to create a background, which was a painted sky with moving clouds, or mountains with additional atmospheric touches like fog and lighting changes. I would never have been able to accomplish this through traditional animation methods. I was also able to add finishing touches like motion blur, sparks, shock effects, and more. Another added bonus was that I could correct mistakes like camera bumps or displaced props which can otherwise ruin a shot. I also digitally removed set supports for a sequence with flying butterflies. All of these kinds of tricks are usually reserved for big budget productions.

leroycamera03.gif Shooting in front of special green and blue screens enables compositing of backgrounds in the computer.

I appreciated the fact that when shooting, I could see the day's results in the form of quick-time movies. I found it a stress-free (almost) and faster way to work. This, for me, compensates for not being able to look through a traditional camera lens to view the image. Referring to a monitor creates a kind of distance that I used to consider inconvenient.

Basically, I found this way of working very exciting because it is so flexible and allows so many possibilities. I found the digital camera to be a great tool to use in conjunction with traditional 3D animation like puppets and clay. In fact, it brought the piece to a quality level hard to achieve without a large budget. Most of all, it really opened the door for me to have more creative freedom and a lot of fun!

leroycamera04.gif Thousands of digital images like these are stored on CD-ROM for the creation of individual frames in the film.

Guionne Leroy is a Belgian animator who, since completing her education at La Cambre in 1992, has worked on animation productions around the world, including feature films, commercials and commissioned short films.