Case study #1: Little Princess

In the Little Princess Christmas Special by The Illuminated Film Company, there is a shot that involves all the characters dancing the can-can, while the camera pulls out through the window to an exterior shot of the castle. The scene is 992 frames long (nearly 40 seconds).

There are 14 characters animated, and including the background, props, effects and overlays, it comes to a total of 58 levels in the Exposure Sheet. Taking the Admiral character as an example, he has 372 elements (which are animatable parts of the skeleton) which reference a total of 689 individual drawings of various parts of the Admiral. Another character, the Prime Minister, has 244 elements referencing 565 drawings. Little Princess is made primarily using bitmaps (there are a few vector effects), and so all the original drawings are made in Photoshop. This scene used 8252 layers in total spread over 73 PSD files. The shot was created in full High Definition (1080p), and the largest layer was 10000 x 6000 pixels in size, for one of the background layers. In fact, the total number of pixels used in this scene was 3,481,000,000 pixels - nearly 3.5 billion - which is the equivalent of 1600 HD frames.

In order to optimise the speed of animation, the animator used CelAction2D's automatic Low Detail mode, which allowed him to work using images that were compacted to 20% of the width of the original images. This meant that the amount of memory the bitmaps took up in his computer were 4% of the uncompressed size. Since the original resolution was so high, it still looked good on a computer monitor to work with. Only when the scene is finally rendered are the full resolution images used.

The bitmaps used by the scene were compressed into a single file, making it easy for the animator to copy onto his local machine so that he could work without taking up valuable network bandwidth, and he could even take the scene home to his own computer and work there if he wanted. The only time the scene had to come back to the studio network was for final rendering.

In the scene's 58 levels, there were 31 different actors, each a unique skeleton, that can represent a character or prop or background section. The total number of animatable parts (elements) in the scene was 3869, any of which could be placed behind or in front of any other. CelAction2D's z-ordering is the most powerful and flexible system available, and made it simple to organise the complex interaction of z-orders that occurs when characters put their arms around each other.

In terms of effects, this scene had many different types. A vector shape yellow glow was placed over each window, and there were several mask effects to cut holes in levels. Some gels were placed over the scene and used Multiplicative blending to subtly adjust the ambience of certain levels.

The can-can dancing was animated on singles, with complex cycles that overlap and interweave with each other. The whole scene was animated by one person, and all the effects and characters were able to be controlled and rendered within the same scene.

All the characters were stock actors that had been created for the TV show, and hadn't needed to be changed for two whole series. As with all CelAction2D production, only brand new animation had to be done for the scene, as any movement that had been done before at any time in the previous two series could be easily reused. And indeed, any can-can dancing required for future series can be reused from this shot.

When you're making TV series, you have to be prepared for anything the script-writers can imagine. So does your animation software. When choosing your tools for your next series, make sure that they can handle the most complicated scenario you can think of, without slowing down to an unusable crawl and without forcing you to split up the scene and composite it later. Right from the start, CelAction2D was created to handle complicated scenes that no other software could handle, and we have maintained that strength ever since.

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