Use Crowdfunding to Produce Animated Feature Film in Toon Boom Harmony

"Harmony has an amazing range of filters and even particles, so all the effects and final compositing were done within the software." — Michel Gagné

Use Crowdfunding to Produce Animated Feature Film in Toon Boom Harmony

Born in Québec, Canada, Michel Gagné has established his home and one-man animation studio in the Pacific Northwest, USA. He studied animation at Sheridan College School of Visual Arts in Ontario, Canada and in 1985, began a highly successful artistic career. Michel is a computer animation veteran, having used and helped develop one of the original 2D animation/compositing software, Cambridge Animation Systems Animo, in the mid 1990's. After Animo's demise, he was quick to embraced Toon Boom Harmony as not only a replacement, but a major upgrade.

Renowned for his unique vision, Michel has lent his talent to several animation companies, such as Don Bluth Studios, Warner Bros., Disney, Pixar, Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, and many others. His creative work can be seen in over 20 feature films including The Iron Giant, Osmosis Jones and Ratatouille. Aside from his studio work, Michel is a determined entrepreneur who has created work in a wide range of media–from live performances to gallery exhibits. With video game veteran, Joe Olson, he created the critically acclaimed video game, Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet, released in 2011. He was recognized by his peers with a BAFTA and an Annie Award, and has received numerous prizes and nominations from the animation, video games and comics industries. One of his short films, Sensology, was short-listed for an Academy Award in 2010.

Michel Drawing

Michel is also active in the publishing world having written and illustrated several books and comics, such as The Saga of Rex and Insanely Twisted Rabbits. His work has been published by DC Comics, Image Comics, Random House, Fantagraphics, as well as Michel's own imprint, GAGNE International Press.

Following the success of his graphic novel, The Saga of Rex, Michel pursued his idea of turning the whimsical property into animation. He selected four pages of the book to create a 30-second demo, which he intended to use as a test for new software and later, as a mean to raise funding. In preparation for this ambitious project, he searched and inquired about the best tool to adopt and was recommended Harmony. “I tried Flash which didn't resonate with the way I think. If I can't use a software application without reading the manual, then I don't use it. I was an avid user of Animo before, so my transition to Harmony was very quick and smooth. The user interface is very artist-friendly,” stated Michel.

Once the demo was completed, Michel launched a crowdfunding campaign using the Kickstarter platform to finance the production of a short film. The initial goal set at $15,000US was reached in just a few days. Stretched goal were set in increment of $15k/per minute of animation, up to 4 minutes. “The Academy defines a feature film as having a running time of 40 minutes or more, and in order to qualify for an Academy Award, you're only allowed to show ten percent of a movie publicly, before its theatrical release. I want to keep my options open,” he explained.

“The Kickstarter campaign was quite stressful. It was a full time job as you must keep your backers engaged at all times. A lot of people are writing and expecting a prompt answer. It's critical to stay active and provide updates all the time, offering new rewards to keep the interest in the project. I almost felt like a cheerleader during the process,” Michel added.

“The whole experience was worth it on two fronts. My first intent was to get the attention of a producer/investor/studio. I'm currently negotiating the feature deal, so this part worked out well. The second intent one was about proving that with enough skills and imagination, the whole process, from storyboard to final encoding, could be done at professional studio level, by one person. Thanks to incredible advances in technology this is now feasible. For the short film, I did the animatic, the music editing, the animation, the special effects, the compositing, the editing, the encoding and mastering, with a handful of software. All the tools are at our disposal, you can rival with big budget movie production and Toon Boom is a big part of this,” he confided.

  • Saga of Rex
  • Saga of Rex
  • Saga of Rex

When Michel created The Saga of Rex graphic novel, he already had in mind his movie project and built the assets accordingly, following a storyboard approach. All the elements were created in Photoshop and laid out in different layers to be easily reused in animation. All he had to do was to reworked them slightly and import them in Harmony, working paperless and combining frame-by-frame and puppet animation. Prior to that, Michel built the animatic, using panels of the graphic novel, synchronized on musical cues. The musical pieces were selected and licensed from a royalty-free library. In Premiere, he l imported the tracks, visualized how the animation would proceed and edited the musical pieces accordingly. “It's like I'm building the film musically, first—like some sort of Fantasia approach. There are four edits in the music of the short film, but it's really hard to tell where they are,” he specified.

After the animatic was completed, He created rough sketches to test the flow. Once he was pleased with the pace, he imported the various levels of backgrounds into Harmony and created the animation all synced up with the music. “I used Harmony from rough to final animation, including all the compositing. Harmony has an amazing range of filters and even particles, so all the effects and final compositing were done within the software,” stated Michel.

Harmony Interface

Michel exported the project in QuickTime format using the Cineform codec, which generates professional quality MOV files that play in real-time in Adobe Premiere.

Michel admits he was scared to go entirely paperless but Harmony made it easy for him. One point of contention was the transition of his drawing into vectors, but Toon Boom won him over. “Harmony retained the line quality and even made it look better! My transition to paperless was very smooth. The compositing engine is very strong. I keep discovering new features. There is not much to criticize about Harmony; it has everything I need. Its ability to create a combination of puppet and classical animation is a great way to keep the project on budget. You definitely save time using Harmony, the whole process is streamlined and covers all the production steps. Instead of a basic pencil test, I end up with a final product. Using Harmony has made me excited about creating 2D animation!” concluded Michel.

In addition to The Saga of Rex, Michel has been working on several game projects using Harmony, among them is Monster Match by ngmoco:) for which he created all the effects animation. He rendered the effects assets in PNG format with a transparent background to be imported in ngmoco:)'s proprietary software.

Michel's track record is laudable and his creativity will surely continue to amaze his followers. His unparalleled talent transpires in the work he does for his customers and within his own projects. As a seasoned artist, he is well-equipped to creating quality animation and inspiring other creative entrepreneurs to live their passion to the fullest.

About Michel Gagné

Michel Gagné was born in Québec, Canada. He studied animation at Sheridan College School of Visual Arts in Ontario, Canada and in 1985, began a highly successful artistic career.

Renowned for his unique vision, Michel has lent his talent to several animation companies, such as Don Bluth Studios, Warner Bros., Disney, Pixar, Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, etc. His creative work can be seen in over twenty feature films including "The Iron Giant", "Osmosis Jones" and "Ratatouille". Aside from his studio work, Michel is a determined entrepreneur who has created work in a wide range of media, from live performances to gallery exhibits. With video game veteran, Joe Olson, he created the critically acclaimed video game, "Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet" which was released in 2011.

He has been recognized by his peers with a BAFTA, an Annie Award, and has received numerous prizes and nominations from the animation, video game and comics industries. One of his short films, "Sensology", was short listed for an Academy Award in 2010.

Michel is also active in the publishing world having written and illustrated several books and comics, such as "The Saga of Rex" and "Insanely Twisted Rabbits". His work has been published by DC Comics, Image Comics, Random House, Fantagraphics, as well as Michel's own imprint, GAGNE International Press.

He lives peacefully with his wife and dog, in the Pacific Northwest, USA.

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