"When we got the green-light for a third season of Sidekick", the immensely popular kids action-comedy based around the slightly neurotic side-kick Eric, who's lost his hero, Maxum Man, "we knew we wanted to take the entire show to the next level," says Darin Bristow, Nelvana's Supervising Technical Producer.
Recently sold to Cartoon Network, Sidekick is a huge hit and gaining even more momentum amongst viewers. "Already setting the creative bar high in the sky for its cutting edge Design and Art Direction, we wanted to really focus on taking the Animation to a whole new creative and technical level," Darin continues. "Joey So, Dean Outschoorn (‘Sidekick' Director /co-creator and Animation Director respectively), and I knew that trying to top the first season's stunning animation (provided by Nelvana's internal animation team and the highly talented team at Pipeline Studios Inc.) would prove to be really tough challenge." Dean readily admits he was impressed by the outstanding quality of the first and second season's animation.
"It was actually a really interesting situation because Pipeline's team and our team were animating every other episode, so it stimulated a friendly competition about who could out-animate the other team!" explains Dean. Joey So quickly adds to Dean's comments: "The only winner was the show, as each team turned in highly impressive episodes! I was a very very happy Director!"
1. Darin Bristow, Supervising Technical Producer | 2. Supervising Technical Director, Kevin Colbourne, and Series Director Kevin Micallef | 3. Joey So, Director; Dean Outschoorn, Animation Supervisor; Rob Risek, Design Supervisor; Katrina Santilly, Technical Director
The Sidekick animation style in the first season is very fluid, highly exaggerated, and highly entertaining. It really enhances the series' humor and pushes the boundaries of television animation. So strong was the animation quality, that it would take a detailed strategy to attempt to push it further. With Harmony 9's release on the horizon, it was to become part of the plan.
It is usual for many studios to avoid major software upgrades while in production, but after Nelvana saw what the new version had to offer, they had to make it work. "We sat down and discussed the specific areas of the animation style we really wanted to enhance, and once we pinpointed exactly what our goal was, we decided that in order to achieve it we would have to re-invent our approach to how we use of the Harmony toolsets," notes Dean. Relying on their well-established Toon Boom pipeline for some time, Nelvana had to be careful about altering their proven recipe for success. Nelvana's teams are always trying to push their project's artistic and technological limits, and their goal of delivering an even higher quality new season of Sidekick would prove no different. Determination and perfect timing seemed to play integral roles in their next decision. "All of the powerful Harmony toolsets were already being implemented on Sidekick", Darin Bristow explains, "so when we heard Harmony 9 was being released, we did some extensive internal testing, and with Toon Boom's technical support team fully backing us, we discovered that with an enhanced character break, plus implementing Harmony's new deformer modules at precise rig levels, we could achieve the superior animation style we desired, while still meet the hectic deadlines and delivery dates that a TV series schedule demands."
The results of Harmony 9's implementation have been outstanding. James O'Connor, a Sidekick Animation Lead explains: "The overall ability to add 3D-like animation and subtle volumetric touches to essentially flat characters is truly remarkable, and the way we've re-rigged our assets allow for greater speed and durability. Harmony's many new features have affected the production beyond just the animation too. Rob Risek, Sidekick's Design Supervisor agrees: "As a designer, Harmony 9 gives me everything I've wanted in a 2D digital animation program. The new features within line tool alone will open up countless new design possibilities and allow our future shows to have an even broader look and appeal. It also makes production more efficient which lets me focus on being creative."
Toon Boom's technologies are used to solve many other production challenges that Nelvana's many complex productions can present. On Detentionaire, another hot new series' from Nelvana's 2011 line-up, the team was faced with a completely different challenge.
"Detentionaire is a very unique project" Bristow admits, "and with each unique project comes a very specific set of creative and technical obstacles we must solve in a efficient and reliable way that can be sustained on a very rapid production schedule." The obstacle in question was how to re-create a very 3D looking background within the 2D production environment. Lee, the lead character does a lot of skateboarding down the hallways of his high school, so to avoid separately rendered frame elements, Nelvana used the 3D building tools in which each wall was painted within Photoshop, then mapped onto the appropriate surface and rotated into place. Kevin Colbourne, Detentionaire's Supervising Technical Director explains: "Using Harmony's Z-depth capabilities we were able to transform and arrange our 2D background elements on all 3 axes' within the camera's 3D space to create dynamic background ‘sets' for our chase and skateboarding sequences. This has really added to the unique look and feel of this ambitious series". The result is simply stunning and of course easily re-useable within the Harmony template library system. When Detentionaire Director Kevin Micallef went to Post to view some of the latest dailies, he was simply blown away. "Toon Boom has given our team the tools to showcase their talents and knowledge of classical animation. From storyboard to final compositing, this software enables us to push the boundaries and deliver top quality entertainment."
Now that Nelvana has made the successful jump to Harmony 9, all future 2D productions will be following suit. The teams are excited about getting their hands on the new version and there is a buzz around the studio about the new creative possibilities that await them. In fact, Darin and his Technical team were so astounded by Harmony new features that they launched a studio-wide software ‘sneak peek' and invited everyone. "When Francisco and Steve came to show us the latest release, as always we were excited for what they were going to show us. We always love having our extended family here, but this time around when they previewed the new tool sets such as the animation deformers, the texture manipulation tools, the line tool upgrades, and the vector particle generators, our jaws just dropped! This version is leaps and bounds above the competition. There is no comparison anymore!" Darin concludes.
Pipeline Studios is a state of the art Canadian Animation Studio devoted exclusively to the production of quality entertainment. The Pipeline Brand has become synonymous with innovation, quality and reliability. They encourage creative thinking and empower their artists to push the envelop on every project. Pipeline has been at the forefront of creative and technical innovation and continues to expand its role into the co-production of feature films and creative development of animated shows, online and mobile content.