Cut-out to outstanding: Toon Boom brings big results to Little Furry
Discover how Storyboard Pro and Harmony took the treasured character from comic to cartoon.
Creating both 2D and 3D content for a variety of mediums, DreamWall is a graphic design and animation studio located in Charleroi, Belgium, with 85 animators and technicians regularly and over 100 during high production periods. Among the animated feature films it has worked on are "Asterix: The Mansions of the Gods", "The Red Turtle" and, most recently, "Zombillenium". The studio has also brought to life a number of renowned television series including "Garfield", "Little Spirou" and recently, "Little Furry" — produced in Toon Boom Storyboard Pro and Harmony.
Having worked with Toon Boom software before on projects like "Five and IT", "Denver The Last Dino" and "Abraca", Storyboard Pro and Harmony were the natural choice for producing the "Little Furry" series. Based on a French children's comic called "Petit Poilu" by Pierre Bailly and Céline Fraipont, "Little Furry" is a beloved story in Francophone markets. DreamWall needed a cut-out animation solution for an optimized pipeline that could create brilliant visuals — effectively and efficiently.
The studio's artistic director Olivier Auquier worked alongside director Olivier Brugnoli to transform "Little Furry" from comic to cartoon. When asked about choosing Toon Boom, Auquier said, "Our team of artists is well-trained in Toon Boom software; they love the natural, hand-drawn look and feel in Storyboard Pro and Harmony." He added: "Additionally, the seamless transition between the two programs drove efficiency in our pipeline and led to exceptional 2D cut-out animation results."
To bring "Little Furry" to life, DreamWall started the transformation from comic to 2D animation at the storyboarding stage. "With Storyboard Pro, working with the storyboard artists was really simple," says Brugnoli. "We could work on an animatic, compress it and drop it easily on a FTP to exchange versions. It allowed us to collaborate with artists living around Europe and the world."
During peak production on "Little Furry", demand was great enough that DreamWall hired freelancers. In total, there were over 40 animators and technicians working on the project. For Brugnoli, his biggest challenge was working with scripts that had little to no dialogue. This required pre-timing the storyboard once it was completed in order to provide a rough animatic to guide the voiceover recordings. Those recordings were then used to time the final animatics.
Ultimately, having minimal dialogue in "Little Furry" meant story development was predominantly driven by the visuals, with sound only coming into play during the animatics process. However, audio plays a crucial role in the overall style of the series. To realize the vision of Brugnoli, the final animatics sent to the animators included a detailed list of when characters needed to be lip synced. Because this could all be planned and communicated using Storyboard Pro, alongside setting camera placements, angles and timing, artists were able to focus on creating compelling animation in Harmony, with minimal fine-tuning to timing.
"Occasionally, the timing had to be partially revised for a more comprehensive animation, but everything could be more or less done during storyboarding and then easily animated in Harmony," says Auquier. "This seamless transition between Storyboard Pro and Harmony saved time and resources during production, as there was no need to convert and bring animatics over."
Each episode in the Little Furry series is unique. "For our team, the main challenge was having to animate new characters for each episode and reinventing their way of moving, their attitudes and all the cycles," says Auquier. Harmony's library function became an invaluable resource, particularly for optimizing the reuse of the main pack characters. As soon as a pose or cycle was approved, it could be banked and used again later to save time. This made production exponentially more efficient. Beyond the library, other essential animation tools in Harmony that Auquier used for "Little Furry" included the curve deformers, masking tools and Z depth in rigging.
"We had to create the series with cut-out in mind; a mix of how cut-out works and looks, and how the story should be told audio-visually in 2D animation," says Auquier, "In cut-out, the flexibility that you get with Harmony rigs makes a significant impact as it enables animators to produce quick, high-quality work efficiently. The deformer tools, like the curve deformer options, helped us save time on character design and drawings, as did the use of the Z depth in the rigs and animation."
According to Auquier, their having an in-house Toon Boom expert was essential. "Our expert was involved in each step of production, overseeing all technical choices, animation stages and helping to guide the pipeline," he says. "Having someone who understands every role enabled dialogue between artists and technicians, facilitated the process and ensured our rigs were properly set up to support the cut-out style of animation we were going for."
Having produced 78 episodes of cut-out animation effectively and efficiently, "Little Furry" is a success from both a creative and studio perspective. According to Auquier, the public response has provided positive attention and acclaim.
This is seconded by Brugnoli, "I think that what makes ‘Little Furry' a success is what made the comic book a success: the style looks deceptively simple when there is actually an incredible amount of artistry that goes into its creation. It is very deliberate, and appeals to kids of all ages."
Having had another smooth experience with Harmony, DreamWall is using Toon Boom software on its next production. "‘Abraca' is a much more graphically demanding series than ‘Little Furry' and Harmony has allowed us to create new, better-performing puppets. We wouldn't hesitate to recommend it for any series project," says Auquier.
"I would say that what I like with Toon Boom is that it's made for the animation industry unlike different software like Flash, which are intended for other purposes," says Brugnoli. "Harmony has a full range of tools that help you animate in the way you want, in whatever style the story demands."
Brought to life by a partnership between DUPUIS Publishing and RTBF, DreamWall is a graphic design and animation studio located in Charleroi, Belgium. It creates content in several areas including: 2D and 3D animation market for television, film, advertising and digital industries; made-for-TV branding, broadcast design, virtual sets, augmented reality and virtual reality; and design and animation for corporate communications and marketing.