Echo Bridge chooses Harmony for their highly successful animation business to bring more projects through their door.
Located in St. Petersburg, Florida, Echo Bridge Pictures is an award-winning company specializing in 2D animation for commercials, music videos and television. Founder and Director Esteban Valdez, a classically trained artist and animator known for T.A.S.K, Hustler's Convention, and the new "Zombie Walk" music video from Hip Hop artist Desiigner, cares about quality craftsmanship, cinematic detail and storytelling, and cultivates a culture that is artist-driven. Echo Bridge recently chose Toon Boom Harmony as their primary animation tool to reduce the technical difficulties they were facing with Adobe® Flash® and bring more business through their door.
Echo Bridge offers commission and service work as well as produces it's own content. Competition on a global scale means they not only have to differentiate themselves in terms of the quality of their work but they need a set of tools that can handle a variety of different projects.
A studio that built its reputation on producing excellent quality hand-drawn animation, Echo Bridge was looking for an animation toolset that would allow them to push cinematic limits, enable artistic expression (was artist friendly) and give them a competitive advantage. They started out with Flash because of its price point and familiar toolset. However, its limitations soon started to slow them down and get in the way of creating high-quality content.
"Flash couldn't handle the bigger, more complex jobs," said Valdez. "For Hustler's Convention, I did storyboards in Storyboard Pro and then did some line tests in Flash - they were awful. I was also pushing the cinematography with intricate camera work, there were a lot of crowd shots, panning shots, camera movement, plus layers and layers were needed to achieve the look we wanted – it was just too much for Flash to handle, so we went with Photoshop instead."
Adobe® Photoshop® gave Echo Bridge the pencil texture and hand drawn feel they wanted, but it still presented a challenge when scenes incorporated complex camera moves in the animation.
"There was one scene, I think it was the first cut with four to five hundred frames, all animated on ones. It was my biggest shot with a pan down and across, where the camera rotates, and all this amazing animation that's happening," explained Valdez. In Photoshop, it was really problematic, trying to move the camera with the character, getting everything lined up with the resolution, and making sure there was some parallax." Valdez thought of Toon Boom right then and how the challenge would have been solved a lot faster in the 3D space in Harmony.
Although Valdez hadn't used Harmony, he knew about its toolset as he was a Toon Boom Storyboard Pro customer. He looked at a few different animation tools and Harmony stood out as the best solution for winning more projects while handling his creative challenges.
"We saw more productions asking for Harmony studios," recounted Valdez. "Last year we missed a couple opportunities because we didn't have Harmony. I remember Floyd County was looking for some help on Archer - some character rigging work, setting up scenes and possibly taking over some minutes. They asked if we were a Harmony studio and we said no, we're still on Flash - so we missed that opportunity." After missing out on another Harmony production, Echo Bridge decided it was time to make a change.
The opportunity to do some service work on a new show came in at that moment. It was a Harmony project so Echo Bridge got some licenses and started working right away. At first, animating rigs in Harmony was a bit of a steep learning curve - they had to learn the pegs system, the groups and the composite nodes - but they were up to the challenge.
It took a day to set Harmony up in their pipeline, and they were able to learn enough of the software through tutorials and working together to get the project done. Their team grew to around 50 for the project, which is as large as they've ever gotten.
The more they worked in Harmony, the more it made sense to them. As a long time user of Storyboard Pro, Valdez appreciates the direct workflow between the Toon Boom products. "Before we got Harmony, we had to cut up our animatics in Adobe® Premiere® and do all this stuff - it was something like a 7-step process just to get work files. Now we can go straight from Storyboard Pro to Harmony. On a recent project, it saved us a week's worth of work. It makes sense for us to keep going in that direction."
Harmony is bringing more projects through our door and we get to spend a lot less time working around technical limitations. Valdez
Valdez also likes that Harmony is an all-in-one solution with drawing tools, cameras and compositing capabilities. "It's a better tool. Drawing in Harmony has been much more of a pleasure than drawing in Flash. It's simple and customizable - I can get windows out of my way, make it minimalist which is what I like, and focus on the canvas and timeline. Plus, using the cameras is an easy process. Harmony's animation disk is another favourite of mine."
Echo Bridge recently completed "Zombie Walk" in Harmony, the new music video from Hip Hop artist Desiigner that was art directed by Carl Jones. "It's a project that would have been too hard to do in Flash," says Valdez. "Carl wanted a certain feel which required a hand-drawn approach and Harmony made life a lot simpler. With its colour palette, line lock with camera moves, and the camera itself, we were able to create much more intricate designs - Harmony can handle larger more complex scenes, which is a breath of fresh air. I know some files got bloated and I know Flash wouldn't have been able to handle them. I can imagine that it would have taken us twice as long, just from technical problems alone."
As one of the top independent animation studios in North America where creative talent is as important as technical knowhow, having the right tools and software is key. "Harmony is bringing more projects through our door and we get to spend a lot less time working around technical limitations," concludes Valdez. "It's ability to handle complex jobs means we can spend more time on the artwork and make something better, something that has will stand the test of time. And that's what drives what we do here - making stories that say something, that people will look at in 20 years and think, that was a standard." Judging by what Valdez and Echo Bridge have already accomplished, we'll be seeing some amazing stories from them in the near future.
Images courtesy of Echo Bridge Pictures
Echo Bridge was founded in 2010 and is based in St Petersburg, Florida. They are an award-winning animation studio that specializes in hand drawn animation for commercials, music videos, television shows and feature and short films.