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What I've learned about combining 2D and 3D

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What I've learned about combining 2D and 3D

Hi y'all. I've been pretty quiet lately as I try to get my brain around how to do 3D on the cheap. I'm using a not too bad free program called Anim8or and will be bringing the results into my BG in Toon Boom.

My goal has been to use 3D to create animated backgrounds for motocycled riding sequences. I've also decided I can use it for general set design as a shortcut to making my other still backgrounds. I've learned a lot in the three weeks I've been messing around with Anim8or. I've also looked at Blender (also free) and Swift 3D (about $180 US).

I finally put together a short clip of a camera following a theoretical biker through a turn (modeled after one I crashed on years ago). Biggest eureka moment? I spent a bit of time modeling the mountain the road runs next to, only to realize later that it's outside the camera viewpoint. All I need to worry about is what's in the corridor of waht my camera can see. Seems pretty "duh" now, but I was really into envisioning the entire environment. I'm just glad I didn't populate the hill with copies of the 4 trees I made.

Overall, this is great news, because I found modeling the mountain to be kind of a pain in the butt and more time consuming than I want it to be. I can make 2D cutout mountains for the other mountains in the picture. I don't have to worry too much about a lot of texture since the end result needs to be flat and toony anyway. Where I thought I'd have to import the whole image sequence into Flash and vectorize it, I realized that Toon Boom can import the sequence and leave it as is--though Flash would flatten it further.

Soon enough I'll have a link to a trial shot with a rider in it.

Just thought I'd check in for a few and share. Thanks for having me over. :)

rupertpiston's picture
Cartoon Thunder There's a little biker in all of us...

Cartoon Thunder
There's a little biker in all of us...

hey rupert

not sure if youve ever heard of it but Terragen is a pretty cool freeware that you can use for virtual flybys and stuff.
There is a little utilty called cam path thats fairly easy to learn that will animate a path thru your "terrain" and it may be helpful.Its pretty easy to learn but the output takes a while (i usually run them overnight and then import the frames into Flash.
Heres a snapshot a of piece I did for a friend.Its similar to your motorcycle just in the opposite direction (away from the camera)
He was trying to quit smoking so i had the cigarette pop into his "flying" dream to try to get him to go smoke, oh well hope it helps, it may be more trouble than its worth but if you want a more hyper-realistic quality you can achieve it; there is a a "look at path" function for the camera so it doesnt allways have to be head on..Good luck with your project,


Terragen has been suggested to me by ScatteredLogical, too. I downloaded it, and am still trying to figure it out. Is there a way to put a road on it? I'm actually pretty happy with the terrain I've been able to generate so far with Anim8or.

I can see that Terragen does it faster?? I'll figure it out later. But thanks. :D

Cartoon Thunder
There's a little biker in all of us...

yeah roads wold be nice!

as far as I can tell no way to put roads in but hey maybe the forums (at planet terragen?) could help out there?
The only thing I know would be to just have as smooth of a surface that wold be more akin to a "dirt road" so your probably in the right place with anim8or (plus you allready seem to have a good grasp of it, which allways helps!haha)

I can't speak for the speed of Terragen, since my computer is fortunate enough to be very fast, but even when I just had a 300MHz it was pretty respectable for the image quality.

Terragen can do roads and even props, but that doesn't mean it's easy as pie. Doesn't mean it's difficult either, but the nature of the program is what makes me question it. That's something they were just starting back when I was using it, so I can't vouch for it now, but if I had to vote I'd say something more practical with layout and primitives (basic forms I mean) like Anim8or, etc. would be much less of a headache as far as implementation. Especially when it comes to trial and error.

As an aside, it's almost humorous how much that landscape looks like the kind you fly through in your dreams.

Bikin' thru a winter wonderland.... :)

Looks pretty good.

here's the results for now. For a test, I'm pretty happy about it. It proves to me that I can have good riding shots in my cartoon. While it tends to be a big file size, I remind myself that my goal ain't to have it on the web, but to get it in the hands of grubby bikers like myself in the form of DVD.

Cartoon Thunder
There's a little biker in all of us...

Hey that looked pretty good, I was impressed! Did it save you any time to do it this way, or is it all about how cool it looks?

Flash Character Packs, Video Tutorials and more:


And, aaah, I was looking for something that would look cool enough and not take my for gosh-darn-ever to do. Consdering I have a day job brainwashing high school students with American literature, I learned pretty quick and knocked out an okay piece in my spare moments. With any luck I'll be ablet to do more stuff like this this year.

I think the 3D is a big time saver in creating backgrounds.

Cartoon Thunder
There's a little biker in all of us...

Thanks for kickin' the tires, even...

I've noticed a hole at the bottom of two slopes. The perspective is off on the rider and bike since I took it from another road animation I did (a straight ride through). On a couple of the curves he should turn the front end a bit and give us some persective on the side of the wheel.

Nailing the background technique really helps so I can advance my character animation during riding to include little gags and gestures. I psyched.

Cartoon Thunder
There's a little biker in all of us...


try smoothing out the curves on the camera. It snaps around quite a lot which makes the movement of the bike float around the road more than it should thus making it less believable.

Love the bikers beard...


True, that...

I'll work out more control points along the camera path to tighten the control of the camear direction as well as the speed of its movement. It feels to me so far like the changes in speed are a bit abrupt at times.

Thanks for more input.

Cartoon Thunder
There's a little biker in all of us...

on this topic I'll give you a killer heads up on one of the techniques we use at the Mouse House.

First of all, go buy Treasure Planet. Even if you don't thinkt he movie is good (I think it's amazing). We use several proprietary versions of Maya. Meaning we've taken the core program and made a lot of plug-ins, UI changes and so forth for the different tasks that need to be accomplished. Now, I use Treasure Planet as the example because other than stuff coming from Production I.G. This is probably some of the best 2d/3d marrying to date.

In the bonus features of the DVD it talks about the processes used to create this effect. The first is, marrying 3d to 2d. In the case of Silver, this character was for the most part all traditionally animated, with basic animation in place of the parts that would later be 3d animated. The finished line tests were then imported into Maya as an image plane mapped with the video clip of animation. The 3d was then match moved and tweaked to get the effect needed for each scene. This included Silver's eye, Arm, Leg, etc... This pass was rendered out using a toon shader in black and white. The clean-up artists would then lay them over or under the exposures and draw them back in their clean-up of the character. This way, we could get accurate 3d matched with the 2d character, including line weights.

The second thing was to put a 2d animation on a 3d object, like the Ship, or like Jim's Solar Sailor. What would happen there, is, a stand in 3d character would be placed on the animated 3d ship. This character for the most part would be static and not move, he would just be perspective and scale reference for the camera moves. In some cases where there was dramatic charater movement there would be rudimentary animation on the 3d stand-in. We would create a NULL object (also known as a locater in some software) that we would parent to the stand in character. we could then create a new camera and parent it to the Null, so that it is pointed at the character at all times. You can move the camera in or out depending on how much of the page you want the character to take up for the animation. You would then apply an AIM Constraint on the NULL to always point at the camera you will be rendering the scene from. What this does is line up your new camera directly in the line of sight with your original camera. As you render the motion pass from the new camera it will render the stand-in at the perspective of your scene render camera, but will have your character laid out on a full sheet. You can then print off these renders as photo-stats for animating on, and your perspective will match the camera move. You can animate the stand in all you want, you can have him running up and down the bow of a ship as the camera flies by, and he will still look right.

After the animation is done you can then use the new camera's image plane, or create a new Polygon to be textured with the new animation of the character. That polygon, or image plane must then have it's contraint aimed at the scene render camera. If the character has an alpha only he will show up on the boat instead of the whole animation page and he will have his perspective match the camera move. you could render him on the ship itself, but we render them in passes and later composite them, but hey, it still works.

If this seems confusing just look on maya's site for camera constraints and image planes and Null Objects. You could also look up tutorials for Deep Canvas or Deep Paint. Or creating a 3d Multiplane.

hope this helps. Buy the movie and watch the behind the scenes, you'll be impressed I promise.

That's huge help. I'd like to think I may have gotten there eventually, but not with that amount of depth and probably not at all. This is, as I've heard say, the straight dope.

In anim8or there's a thing called a target that I can use to orient the camera or other objects to. I'm not sure what "real" (ie, more developed and higher budget) 3D programs have easing on tweens or not, but using a target will smooth out everything.

I've started to create a few bikes and characters to use for possible 3D shots to include turns and wheelies, but hadn't considered using them as tracing images. My 3D skills aren't good enough to avoid loosing continuity between shots, and I really want to have a 2D look. I had considered using them as reference, but you've opened up a few possibilities I hadn't worked into yet. Great stuff.

And I thought Treasure Planet was terrific. I loved the animation for sure, and I also love it (as an English teacher) when great literature is brought to life effectively in an engaging way.

I'm likely to print your post out to review a bit more. Thanks hugely.


Cartoon Thunder
There's a little biker in all of us...

Just thought of another 'trick' to make this snappier. In maya, you can make a primative NURBS plane that's square and sub-divie the isoparms evenly by whatever number you want. you can then change the view attributes of the plane to Wireframe and place the plane on the ground where your character is standing or sitting or whatever. Then, you can create a Playblast (anyone familiar with Maya will understand that. It's basically a quick pass render of your animation without lighting or texture etc...) from your restrained character camera and it will have a grid at his feet showing you the perspective of the groundplane he's standing on. It's pretty rare that when you have a character on a moving object in 3d space, that he'll have any relevance to the world Grid that is default. This is a quick dirty way to create a Grid that is relative from your character to the place he's inhabiting. I can't tell you how handy that kind of information is, when you need to animate a guy walking in 3d space along the bow of a ship when the camera is passing by. If I had time I'd do a sort of tutorial, but I'm busy and lazy. haha g'luck.

This is GREAT info, guys. Thanks for sharing. I've always pondered the notion of combining 2D with 3D - using 3D for backgrounds, and 2D for character animation, and I'm glad to hear that others are experimenting along the same lines. BTW, is it possible to use a program like the TAB (by Toonz) instead of ToonBoom? Also, how should I export my Maya output (as sequential Targa stills?) for use within the 2D animation program?



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how should I export my Maya output (as sequential Targa stills?) for use within the 2D animation program?



This is totally situational. If you plan on doing all your 2D animation in the computer (like using a tablet and Flash) then probably a .jpg is all you need, you just need a render that's about 72-75 dpi as the same aspect as your animation. I tend to work 150% larger than my final product in most cases. things look tighter when shrunk down 75%, an old trick I learned when I worked in the comic book industry.

If your going to print your exposures out as photostats to place on your lighttable for animating I'd recommend using a higher resolution render, somewhere in the neighborhood of 200+ dpi. Remember that when you have a lot of frames that can be a lot of print off. You may only want to print off every 4th and key frame. Meaning every fourth exposure and any key frames that may not fall on a 4th. This will guarantee a smooth transition of perspective.

Working out your action on an X-sheet and even animating a preliminary run without perspective may help you match move. in other words, say you have Mickey dancing on a floating platform, and a 3d camera sweeps down and passes him. After laying out the scene and animating the camera flying through the scene, you should know exactly how many exposures your scene is. You can then rough out your animation normally just in 2d. Then after you have printed off your photostats you know exactly what poses need to be on what exposures and you can run through your photostats animating overlays timing your animation on top of your perspective renders. You can even shoot your roughs like a line test and just drop it in your 3d scene to see how it's coming out. After you have all your in-betweening and clean-ups you can then put them as an animated texture on your "card" or polygon/plane in the scene.

I know that sounds like a lot. and someone not familiar with the software may not understand what i'm saying but hey, it's after work and my brain is fried. Good luck.

I've been pondering this since your first post, and it's starting to sink in, and make tons of sense. I think what I want to do is work on it, do some experimenting, and write my own directions for it--writing is one of the ways I learn. Did I mention I teach English for a day job? Yeah, the kids in my class are always catching me doing stuff in my sketch book. They also love it when I show them something new.

I'm also the advisor to the animation club at my school. We're developing a piece using similar technology, and this stuff will come in handy there as well.

Huge thanks.

Cartoon Thunder
There's a little biker in all of us...