A Very Happy Ending for Black Comedy Created in Harmony
Crisscrossing the Atlantic between France and Canada, Jean-Louis Rizet, President of TTK, boasts an impressive track record of projects targeted for television and film, including My Life Me, Life on the Block and most recently, The Suicide Shop. TTK offers a complete range of services in digital animation, from executive production to post-production, including 2D/3D animation, ink and paint and compositing. In addition, TTK is part of the Toon Alliance, which also includes Caribara Animation, ETS, Mac Guff, Ramses 2 and Waoo. Each studio brings with it a wealth of expertise to provide a complete turnkey solution for animation production.
Jean-Louis Rizet and his team are true advocates of the Toon Boom pipeline. This is why they chose to produce The Suicide Shop, an eighty-minute animated feature film, completely paperless using Toon Boom Storyboard Pro and Harmony. The Suicide Shop is also one of the first feature films to combine traditional with cut-out animation, the latter amounting to nearly 70% of the animation. The result is simply breathtaking.
With production houses Diabolo Film in France and Caramel in Canada, this co-production brings together a highly talented group of individuals: Gilles Podesta, Producer, France; André Rouleau, Producer, Canada; Patrice Leconte, Director, France; Laurent Donnay, Studio Manager, TTK Canada; David Pelkey, Lead Animator, TTK Canada; Maxime Vallières, Lead Animator, TTK Canada; Stéphane Pogran, Studio Manager, TTK Angoulême; Pascal Herbreteau, Lead Animator, TTK Angoulême. The team at Caribara, headed by Fabien Baboz, oversaw the storyboard, art direction and model pack creation.
Based on the dark comedic novel by Jean Teulé, which sold over one million copies in his native France, The Suicide Shop is targeted to a thirteen-year-old and up audience. A tale about death and happiness, the story is set in a city in which every resident is depressed, when one day a happy and hopeful child is born into a family that runs a shop specializing in suicide equipment. While the novel ends on a bad note, the opposite is true for the feature film, thanks to acclaimed director Patrice Leconte. “This is an ode to life, and animation is the right medium to bring this novel to the big screen,” he said.
As The Suicide Shop is a musical, Patrice Leconte sought actors who could sing as well as act, so that there would be no disruption between the dialogue and the songs. In addition, the 80-musician-strong Brussels Philharmonic Orchestra was hired to perform the music.
Spanning over a three-year period, the animation production took 18 months to complete. The Montreal team included two groups of ten animators, five layout artists and three riggers, while in Angoulême, seven animators and two layout artists were hard at work. The film includes 2,000 shots, 27 sequences and 1,800 backgrounds with up to 200 layers each.
“The ability to import the animatic into Harmony, as well as recover the timing and camera information is extremely efficient,” said David Pelkey. “The smooth integration between Storyboard Pro and Harmony enabled us to create the scenes automatically, which was not only a major time saver, but also eliminated timing errors that could occur when this process was done manually,” he explained.
Upon receiving the animatics, the team analyzed how each character needed to be built, how many props needed to be created, what actions characters would perform throughout the movie, and how many levels were required so that they would be cut accordingly. Characters were coloured with gradients and textures, which made the animation process even more challenging.
With such a high premium placed on creating a rich-looking final product, Jean-Louis Rizet explained how valuable it was to work closely with Toon Boom during the production process. “The Research and Development team collaborated with our animators to develop specific features related to the textures and gradients. This close collaboration enabled us to streamline the production process further and create even more impressive quality animation,” added Jean-Louis.
“We really pushed the quality of cut-out animation to make it look like traditional,” added David Pelkey. “In order to facilitate the process, the animators took the time to set the proper number of layers to optimize the characters. Our rigs were quite complex, but the result speaks for itself. With the new Harmony Network Tree, we managed to have less layers displayed, which visually made it easier to manipulate the parts,” he continued.
The Library played a critical role in this feature film production. It was structured by main characters, secondary characters, occasional characters, as well as props and backgrounds. Each category was further broken down into sequences, then scenes. “We built extensive templates for the characters’ mouth in order to have the proper shape for lip-sync. We also created action templates for the mouth, showing a happy, neutral or sad expression. This proved to be very useful during the sound scrubbing,” stated David. “In addition to the Central Library,” he concluded, “each animator could create a personal library to reuse the necessary assets whenever needed. They also shared these new assets with the rest of the team when it could be useful.”
“As far as colouring went, we set master palettes per scene because of the costume changes between each scene. The camera was easy to use. As a former Flash animator, it was powerful to have a smooth and automatic camera capability such as Harmony’s,” enthused David Pelkey. “We could not have produced such a high quality animation with any other solution.”
Rendered in 2K and with a theatrical release date set for September 26, 2012 in France, The Suicide Shop is undoubtedly a must-see movie, not only because of the great story matter, but also for its sublime artistic accomplishments. The good news is that Patrice Leconte is already developing another feature film project titled Music!, to be created in Harmony and certain to be another masterpiece. As for TTK, the team is proactively positioning itself for several feature films and television series projects. Going beyond a service provider role, TTK is no doubt a partner to consider when it comes to creating quality animation efficiently.
Founded in Paris in 1995, TouTenKartoon (TTK) opened its Montreal branch in 1998, followed by another in Angoulême in 2000, then Liege in 2011.