Mixing Techniques and Teams to Create Holiday Magic
With its 4,000 square foot facility, BIG JUMP focuses on quality and undertakes an average of two to three series per year using the entire Toon Boom pipeline–namely Manager, Storyboard Pro, and Harmony. Their specialty is a seamless combination of traditional and digital techniques, which deliver impressive results. Led by Rick Morrison, President, Cory Morrison, Vice President/Studio Director, and Rodrigo Amador, Vice President/Studio Director, BIG JUMP brings together highly accredited specialists in all elements of production, producing projects from concept to post. Their collective experience in development, distribution, financing, and producing represents another attractive asset for their clients in realizing their projects to the screen. One of their latest productions stood out and received lots of attention due to the quality of its animation and the innovative approach BIG JUMP took to deliver it.
The Magic Hockey Skates (an Amberwood Entertainment production) is a twenty-two minute television special that is sure to charm the young at heart for many years to come. The Magic Hockey Skates first aired on the Canadian Broadcasting Channel (CBC) in English. The Magic Hockey Skates tells the heartfelt story of a young boy who begrudgingly buys second-hand skates which turn out to make him the best hockey player ever - via three magical wishes. Opting for a tradigital technique, this production was a pure and seamless mix of 50% traditional and 50% cut-out animation, combining character builds with old school drawings to create the classical look and feel. Spanning over six months, this production created close to sixty jobs, including four storyboard artists, thirty animators, six builders, and four compositors.
This production was headed up by Rick Morrison, Studio Producer; Rodrigo Amador, Technical Director; and Cory Morrison, Line Producer. The production crew included these talented people: Shannan Thomson, Line Producer; Sarah Mercey and Jason Boose, Directors; Kris Pearn, Creative Consultant; Collin Tsandilis and Azalia Shin-Chin Liu, Animation Director Assistants; Rob Lundy, Builds Supervisor; David Badour and Robyn Moir, Art Direction; Joshua Gay, Location Design and Layout Supervisor; Alan Stewart, Lead Character Designer; Courtney Dobbs, Character Designer; Darren Ward, Props and Vehicle Design; Scott Armstrong, Lead 3D Designer; Jennifer Myers, Assembly Supervisor; Sy Nguyen, Lead Compositor; Miranda Brewer and Mathieu Hains, Senior Animators; and Daniel Elder, FX Animation Lead.
Amberwood Entertainment provided the team with approved script and voices—one of them being Don Cherry, one of Canada's most famous hockey figures. The pre-production phase took approximately seven to eight weeks and went very smoothly.
Moving on to production, Harmony was put to full use for animation and compositing. All designs (location and characters) including turnarounds were first done in Photoshop and then sent to their Builds Department. Props were designed and created in Harmony, so they could be broken up as they were created. The Builds team redrew the characters in Harmony focusing on extensive breakdowns for the facial features, hair, and head structures while keeping the bodies (arms and legs) very simple. "There are 180 characters in total, which represents an impressive library of assets," explained Cory Morrison. "All animators had a Cintiq pen display which allowed them to create extreme subtleties to enhance expression in the characters' faces. The animators then hand drew the arms and legs to achieve the desired look. Each animator was assigned a number of sequences and all animation was completed within five weeks," he continued. Once design was complete, they turned their attention to colour. Working together, the directors and art directors started to flesh out the colour palette for the show. Design was being completed during the storyboard process. The pipeline was set up so the board artists could pitch their sequences to the directors, make revisions and implement them. Once the board was complete and designs done, layout followed. Production layout was executed in Photoshop as tight roughs; once approved, the art moved to background paint.
At this stage, all lines were removed allowing the BG elements to be defined only by colour.
With over 520 shots to complete, the hockey arena at the head and tail of the show was built and laid out in Maya to achieve the integrity of the ice and surrounding structure, eliminating inconsistencies and allowing for a timely delivery. The Maya sequences, including ambitious camera moves, were imported into Harmony for the animators to complete the shots. "The most challenging were those scenes that contained crowds in the arena. In addition to the 3D arena, it included the crowd cheering animation, as well as the ten players on the ice. Over 90 stand-alone characters where designed to fill the stands. They were all drawn in Photoshop and individually layered in Harmony at the composite stage. We created roughly 20 cheering cycles using deformers on the actual Photoshop files to achieve the desired look without having to do new builds. We then speckled the characters in each crowd shot to bring the audience to life. It worked wonders," stated Rodrigo Amador.
The Assembly Department managed all the assets, carefullyreferencing the storyboard along with detailed lead sheets and assembling each shot with the appropriate builds, background, and design for the animation team.
"We initially focused on shots that required FX elements, moving them quickly into animation. As shots were completed, they went to composite," added Rodrigo.
In parallel with Harmony, BIG JUMP extensively used Manager. Some of the team working on the project was located remotely, including both animation directors. They provided each one with a stand-alone version of Harmony along with the files required to deliver their portion of the animation. "Manager has been integral in keeping everything efficient and most importantly, keeping the lines of communication open," shared Rick Morrison. "Combining in-house with remote talent enables us to grow the studio as production requires, while keeping the overhead down. This approach allows us to tap into talent pools throughout Ontario that we could not access otherwise. This translates into cost efficiencies which are passed on to our clients," added Rick.
"If it was not for the Toon Boom pipeline, we would not have been able to do the project. It is so much more efficient. We created a lot of drawings during the production and Toon Boom is by far superior with its ability to draw directly into the system. At BIG JUMP it is paramount that we keep the artists at the heart of the creative. Magic Hockey Skates was inspired by a traditional sensibility and we strived tomaintain that unique look and feel," concluded Rick.
BIG JUMP has its roots firmly planted as an animation production services facility and that will not change. In addition to being a source for producers and broadcasters globally, they are venturing into proprietary IP. The transition is a challenging one to say the least, thus they will not be venturing out alone. BIG JUMP is presently in discussions with various partners in Canada and abroad to assist them in realizing their concepts to the screen. Look for them at the Kidscreen Summit 2013!
About BIG JUMP Productions
Based in Ottawa, Canada, BIG JUMP Productions is a privately owned, independent 2D hybrid animation production house.