Saturday, April 4, 2009

SHOP TALK: Cintiq tablets and Paperless Animation

The latest issue of Steve Moore's online animation magazine FLIP! has a survey of animator's who are using Cintiq tablets for their professional and personal animation work.

Many of our students at Academy of Art University Online are animating paperlessly using Cintiqs and/or Intous tablets in our "traditional" (i.e. hand-drawn) animation classes . So this round up of professional opinions of how the workflow is changing (for better or worse) using tablet-based paperless animation is on interest.

Check out the discussion:

SHOP TALK: How Do You Like Your Cintiq ?

It's always interesting to listen to animators discussing their favorite tools (it used to be that animators would get in to long, often passionate discussions about what was the "best" pencil .)

I think my friend Rusty Mills has the most detailed answers about what it means to be a traditional animator working on a Cintiq .  Rusty emphasizes that it's not the Cintiq (or other tablets) that make something difficult to draw or to achieve a good line quality: it's the software being used and the computer that the tablet is attached to.

Rusty debunks several myths about using a Cintiq, such as:

"The Cintiq has terrible line quality."

Again it it entirely dependent on the software. Often the user doesn't know enough about a software package to alter the look of the line. I have even seen particular studios mandate bad line quality because the people in charge don't know how to use the software correctly.

If you find using a Cintiq alters your drawing style for the worse try changing some of the setting both in your software and in the tablet driver itself.

Following up on some of what Rusty talks about in that article on the "FLIP!" site here are things that I have found help to make animating with a tablet a much more enjoyable experience:

1.) Adjust the Digital Drawing Tools to your own preferences:

Also, an important point often missed by beginners to tablet based drawing is that the individual animator needs to make adjustments to the pre-set brushes and pencil tools that come with the software , be it TVPaint , Toonboom, or Flash, etc. The digital drawing tools in these programs can and should be tweaked to fit your own preferences , exactly as some animators prefer a certain type of pencil over another. (Blackwing 602 or Blaisdell Layout Pencil? Tombow or Col-Erase Tuscan Red ? ) Don't simply use the default settings on the drawing tools as they come with the software off the shelf . Play. Experiment . Try adjusting the tools until you get a "pencil" or a "pen" line that feels comfortable to draw with.

In addition to adjusting the drawing tools to fit your own preferences also be aware that some of the better animation programs such as TVP Animation (highly recommended) have custom "papers" which can be turned on in the background. The paper will give a more textured, toothy feel to the drawing , simulating the feel of drawing on a slightly rough surfaced paper.

For example here is a rough character sketch I did in TVP Animation with my own custom pencil tools . Most people looking at this sketch would have no idea that it wasn't drawn on paper:

(click image to see it larger)

2.) Project Resolution Size:

Another thing that many people overlook is that screen resolution of the project does matter : if your original file is low-res. like 640 x 480 you will not have nearly the same amount of control and subtly of line as working at full 2K Film Resolution 2048 x 1556 . Many people like to work at HD "wide-screen" resolution 1920 x 1080. Trying to get subtle line quality at 640 x 480 is like drawing on the back of a napkin or on a Post-It note compared to working on a large canvas or a large piece of high-grade bond paper. Sometimes I will work at lower resolutions if I'm just blocking in rough sketches that I know are not going to be any larger, the same as I will sometimes do a rough storyboard using Post-It notes , but if the line quality counts then use a larger resolution .

Then when you export your finished animation for uploading to a website you can reduce the size (say 2048 x 1556 output to 640 x 480 ) so the file sizes aren't unmanageable , but the original resolution should be as high as your computer can reasonably handle (this can become an issue if you don't have enough memory or your CPU is not fast enough ; as always a faster computer with more memory will run better. If your animation software runs sluggishly at high resolutions then it's time to upgrade ) .

3.) Wacom Pen Nibs:

Finally, be aware of the different types of stylus nibs that Wacom makes . The standard hard plastic nib that comes with the pen stylus can tend to be a bit slippery and hard to control as it skates across the surface of the tablet. Some people solve this by putting a thin piece of tracing paper vellum or a frosted (matte surface) piece of acetate over the tablet's surface to give the surface of the the tablet a bit of "grain" so the pen tip isn't quite so slippery. But another option that I prefer (especially for sketching rough animation drawings) is to use the Wacom "Felt Tip" nibs. These fiberous nibs feel more like drawing with a real pencil and are not as slippery as the standard plastic nib. For digital clean-up or "inking" I will sometimes use the Wacom "Stroke Nibs" which are like the standard plastic tip nibs, but they have a little spring in them which gives them a more flexible, springy feeling when laying down a line.

Here's another example of a "traditional" looking drawing done with a Cintiq tablet using the TVP Animation software:

(click image to view larger)

This is by Academy of Art Online instructor Mark Chong. Here's a screen capture time lapse movie of Mark drawing this in TVP:

Here's another video I found on YouTube showing the process of animating a traditional style animation scene (this time using Flash) in a paperless environment on the Cintiq tablet.


Anonymous said...

Hi David,
It's so interesting to see this transition to paperless but it kind of negates where it all started with the old classics which is the "magic" of hand-drawn characters with pencil to paper. There were so many characters which had such an organic design and animation to them that it feels quite special someone sat there laboring their own hand, care and creativity to it. I've heard Disney has stuck to the good ol pencil and paper for the princess and the frog which is exciting to hear. Koda's mom is an example of amazing, realistic animation which I couldn't exactly pin-point as being done like that through a cintiq (not doubting it though!).If you get the chance could you post some more work of koda's mom or tug?? would love to see it!

Great blogging

John T

David Nethery said...

John T -

I hear you.

I vacillate back and forth between whether we hand animators ought to just stick with pencil on paper or embrace the digital tablets ... I guess I have one foot in both camps.

In that FLIP article I referenced Patrick Smith does make an interesting point about digital drawings:

"No matter what, there is the looming fact that you are NOT working on paper, and all that you draw does not actually exist in real life. You are simply organizing one's and zeros, and when the power is off, those drawings don't exist. "I think he is rightly lamenting the fact that with digital animation there is no ephemera left over from the films , nothing tangible that can be touched or hung on a wall . If you've ever had the pleasure of flipping through a stack of classic animation drawings from a Disney film or other classic animation then you'll know what I mean. There's something wonderful about the drawings themselves .

I will have to pull out my drawings of Koda's Mom and Tug and rev up the ol' scanner. It may take a while, but your request is duly noted. Thanks for asking.


Anonymous said...

Yes you would have MUCH more experience in both fields. I have a few friends who did degrees in 3D and I sit by them as they work the programs and even though they love it, they don't feel as connected to it as they do with pencil and paper. I have a stack of Aladdin drawings and some of Beast, and I know what you mean it is amazing.

I have some rough and some clean, and observe that it would take some huge amount of care and precision if someone is to maintain that "magical" quality the roughs omit! I think the roughs I have are glen keane's and they are so loose yet effective and expressive they blow me away.

Keep up the great posts and I look forward to seeing your brother bear drawings! I could imagine how powerful the roughs of Koda's mom would of been.. John :)

Tim McHugh said...

Hi, David!
It is really nice for some of the animators to use cintiq for hand drawn animation. But when I hear rumors like when they use cintiq and not using a traditional style, back in the old days when making Snow White, Looney tunes, Flintstones, etc, I wish somebody would make features for cintiq, just like in the old days. For instance, like the animators rolling and flipping papers, They should probably make an aspect like this to organic feel, when working on a cintiq.

Tmmy92 said...

Hi, David
I love the idea when using the cintiq for hand drawn animation, in case we sometimes feel too lazy or don't have enough money to buy papers. But once I agree with John T, I wish there are more features to animate just like we animate on paper. For example, a new feature that would allow us to do something, just like we roll and flip with papers.