For the past 6 months, my friend Kheyal and I (and a handful of other students) have been working on a short animated / live action film called Doodle. The film is a romance about Alex, who has a crush on another guy, Cass, and uncertain how to say it, he doodles a love note on a notecard with a hand drawn character presenting the message. He slips it into the guys apartment and the film follows this doodled character as he comes to life and runs around the apartment trying to deliver the love letter before being thrown away in the recycling.
We have worked a lot on this project (100+ hours), however, today is the first day that we are beginning the hand drawn animation process. I’d like to document the process as I think it’d be helpful to process thoughts!
What have we done so far?
In short, we’ve completed the script, filmed the first half of the pure live action sequence, done countless animation tests, and created an animatic. A large portion of this project has been both of us teaching ourselves how to do hand drawn animation, as we’re both completely new at this.
Here is the very first concept test done in July of 2021 to see whether the combination of live action / stop motion / 2D animation could even work. Each frame was traced onto notecards from a preset 3D animation found online and animated through stop motion. (This was initially done with the conception that the animation would be done with 3D models and drawn in perspective so it looks like the character is standing up in 3D space. We’ve since moved away from that concept but I’d like to explore it some more in the future).
Just a few weeks ago we completed another test but with our actual 2D character, which is the closest concept we have to what the final film will look like:
Live action filming:
In November of 2021 we filmed a majority of the live action setup for our film. This involved a couple months of casting, rehearsals, location scouting, and all the normal short film production stuffs. We had an amazing crew of Emory students come together to make this happen which was so much fun.
I won’t lie though, there was a period of time right before filming where we almost cancelled the shoot day. The script was still being tweaked and we wanted more time to finalize it. In the end we decided to push through as we had already done so much pre-production and with finals for school coming up we didn’t think there would be another time to film. It was a big lesson for us in the importance of having the script put through as many notes possible before pre-production even begins. Given that we’re all full time students though I’m not too upset at us for working on it until the last minute. We still did an incredible thing by even pulling it together for the day (and staying on schedule!) to film anything. I’m very happy we did so.
Now this has been the biggest challenge. I don’t know how to fully sum up this process. It’s been a lot of watching YouTube videos, filming reference, testing out different methods of animation, testing out different softwares, and learning an entirely new skillset of drawing emotive motion.
For reference, in September of 2021 we completed our first animation test (from the reference footage of ourselves acting out the motion):
And just today in January of 2022, we finished a rough for the same motion… nearly 4 months later.
In between these two videos has been nearly 60 hours of work practicing and figuring out the process of animation…
We’ve settled on doing the animating in Blender’s Greasepencil system. While we initially filmed myself acting out all the actions imagining we’d practically rotoscope the movement to Doodle, we’ve switched to doing it frame by frame (with the occasional keyframe) ourselves.
The process of animating:
I’ve found once we get the rough keyframes of the motion, I’ll create a new layer for each body part and rough out the motion frame by frame in between the keyframes. Once we have a rough of the timing, we’ll tweak it and then do a final pass.
We then take this digital animation, and trace over it frame by frame onto notecards. Then by swapping notecards in between photos, we can film and move the character around in the real world!
Mixing together live action / stop motion / and digital hand drawn animation is really the driving force behind this film if I’m being honest. I’m happy that we’ve created a story that can only be told in this format, however that wasn’t the main focus from the start.
A few weeks ago we completed a super rough animatic for the animated portion of the film:
This will be our bible while animating for the next few months.
Speaking of which…
Here is the first pass on Sequence 1 of animation which I’m doing (we’ve split the animatic up into core sequences of 1-6 actions. This is rough and without the sign that Doodle is carrying in his right hand. I’ll be tweaking this for the next couple days while Kheyal works on Sequence 4:
For these rough motions we’re not worry as much about character consistency, as we can redraw that on top later.
I plan on mainly blogging throughout the steps of animation. This will likely mostly consist of my parts of the animation as Kheyal and I will be in different stages at different points, but please note that I’m not the only one doing this. We’ve split up the sequences so I’m doing 1, 3, and 5. We created a whole document outlining what that means but at the moment I’m too lazy to put that in. Suffice to say this will be a personal project blog so I don’t know why I’m spending so much time making this all make sense.
Anywho, with that.
The End 🙂
Not really. This is just the start…