Why More High Schools Need a 2D Animation Program

"Compared to Flash, Adobe Animate and After Effects, Harmony is capable of creating more complex animation in less time." — Suren Perera, director at Sardine Productions

Chop Chop Ninja series and game punch above their weight with Harmony

The studio.

Sardine Productions is a boutique animation studio based in Montreal, Quebec. Founded in 2002 by Ghislain Cyr, it develops distinctive original content for both domestic and international audiences, with millions of viewers in over 200 territories globally. Among Sardine's acclaimed portfolio are television series ToonMarty, Leon and the Chop Chop Ninja Challenge shorts — all of which were created in either Toon Boom Storyboard Pro, Toon Boom Harmony or both.

Having seen firsthand the software's exceptional artistic results, streamlined pipeline and ability to export assets for video game development, it was only natural for Sardine Productions to create its latest cartoon, Chop Chop Ninja, in Toon Boom Storyboard Pro and Harmony 15. The first season of the 40 x 11-minute episode series premiered in Canada on Teletoon in French (September 1, 2018) and will soon launch on Teletoon in English (October 6, 2018). It is based on an IP created and conceptualized by Montreal video game developer Gamerizon Studio Inc., and follows rookie ninja Iro and his three best friends —Jo, Neeko and Tetsuo— as they are trained at the legendary Chop Chop Ninja academy.

Gamerizon first hatched the hit Chop Chop Ninja web-game series in 2009 and it has since gone on to over 20 million downloads worldwide in more than 150 territories, with the United States, China and Canada being its most popular markets to date. The next edition, Chop Chop Ninja Academy, will conjoin the Chop Chop Ninja television series release. It is also the first game in the Chop Chop Ninja franchise to be animated in Toon Boom Harmony, pushing the limits of what most thought was possible for an HTML 5 game and sharing many of the same assets from Sardine Productions' cartoon for added creative quality and consistency, and maximizing multi-screen appeal.

"The most recent Chop Chop Ninja game is among the most advanced HTML 5 games ever produced, largely because we are able to use Toon Boom technology in conjunction with our in-house game animation system," says Martin Lizée, chief creative officer at Gamerizon.

Gameplay in Chop Chop Ninja Academy
Source: Gamerizon
"One of the reasons series and games usually aren't created together is you can't use the same assets necessarily. In this case we were able to do it very closely — and Toon Boom was a key factor in that," Lizée continues.

Toon Boom Harmony became the common thread between the Chop Chop Ninja television series and video game — ensuring a consistency in high-quality animation, ambitious efficiency and artistic achievement.

The production.

Creating an original television series takes time. From the boardroom pitch to broadcast on Teletoon, Chop Chop Ninja took six years. That said, when it was time for animating, the production process became noticeably more efficient courtesy of a streamlined Toon Boom pipeline with preproduction and animatics created in Storyboard Pro, and animation executed in Harmony.

At its peak, there were 60 animators working on Chop Chop Ninja. One of the many reasons Sardine chose to use Harmony was the ready availability of trained talent.

Nicolas Dalpé, production manager at Sardine Productions, says, "Harmony is not only great software, but it also has a reliable support service that can really make a difference during crucial periods."

He continues, "Harmony's solid animation toolset helped our animators add personality and emotion to the characters they were bringing to life."

Chop Chop Ninja being animated in Toon Boom Harmony
Source: Sardine Productions

The team at Sardine produced Chop Chop Ninja as cut-out animation in Harmony. According to Dalpé, this was a stylistic choice that aligned with the story they wanted to tell. Additionally, the effectiveness and efficiency of the software's toolset made cut-out in Harmony a cost-effective way of animating — allowing Sardine to create the show they envisioned on-time and on-budget without compromising quality.

Once original vector-based assets were created by Sardine Productions, they were sent to Gamerizon where they were adapted for the Chop Chop Ninja Academy game. Producing fully animated cut-out characters allowed the developer to skip sprite sheets and create a web game that is much larger and more functional than had been previously done in HTML 5.

"Harmony allows us to have a game with a lot of animation — especially for a web game," says Lizée.

He continues, "Normally, when you use a sprite sheet, you are limited in the amount of animations you can do. Using animatics and cut-out animated characters allows you to include a lot more animation and gives a more modern feel."

The solution.

Among the benefits of producing the Chop Chop Ninja series in a Toon Boom pipeline was no information was lost transitioning between preproduction and animatics in Storyboard Pro and animating in Harmony. Plus, last-minute changes could be easily made. Scenes created in Storyboard Pro are imported into Harmony with the same file names, facilitating tracking and eliminating the need for in-depth external verification — ultimately saving time and money.

Additionally, Sardine's team created a proprietary software to help them manage Chop Chop Ninja production and optimize their Toon Boom pipeline. Creativity and consistency was also paramount. The animators developed compositing techniques in Harmony that could be easily implemented in every scene without compromising quality.

Chop Chop Ninja series being produced in Toon Boom Harmony
Source: Sardine Productions

"We'd work on getting the ‘recipe' to work in one shot, make it adaptable and then incorporate that modular formula throughout the whole series. The more we played around with compositing in Harmony, the more powerful we found it to be — it's exciting and surprising what the software is capable of when you really explore it," says Suren Perera, director at Sardine Productions.

He continues, "Compared to Flash and Adobe Animate and After Effects, Harmony is capable of creating more complex animation in less time."

Because the animators were able to do all the compositing in Harmony, it also eliminated the need to use a third-party software. The digital solution was also the bridge between Chop Chop Ninja the television series and Chop Chop Ninja Academy the web game.

"Initially, our production pipelines were so different that character and background design were the main areas of synergy. Using ToonBoom Harmony is not only more simple and efficient, but it also allows for higher fidelity between the series and the game," says Dalpé.

He continues, "To not have to modify or adapt the production designs is a big step up for quality and productivity."

A gameplay shot of Chop Chop Ninja Academy
Source: Gamerizon
Gamerizon's animator was able to render basic objects at the desired resolution for the web game. Characters were also recreated with less bones in Toon Boom Harmony and animated based on the series' originals. These animations were then exported in XML and converted to a custom format for an optimized javascript animation system.

"We estimate that with traditional sprite sheet animations at a frame rate of 15 fps, the game would have required 440 1024x1024 pixels images for the animated characters. Using Harmony with the mentioned technology helped us reduce that figure by 88 percent in images with a much more fluid frame rate," says Lizée.

Had Gamerizon used sprite sheets, Chop Chop Ninja Academy never would have been the same size or workable in HTML. By using the fully animated cut-out characters created in Harmony, they were able to achieve a more natural, fluid motion — something that is impossible to achieve with sprite sheets in a web game.

Ultimately, by working with Toon Boom Harmony, Gamerizon was able to import vectorized original assets directly from the Chop Chop Ninja television series directly into the game — elevating not only quality and consistency, but also the capabilities of what most thought was possible in HTML 5.

The results.

A still from Chop Chop Ninja, the series
Source: Sardine Productions

When asked if Sardine Productions would use Toon Boom software again, Dalpé says, "This is a no-brainer; Sardine will definitely use Toon Boom Harmony on future productions. With each successive version of the software, it's a pleasure to discover new features. We would recommend Toon Boom to any studio looking for professional tools to optimize and streamline their production pipeline."

Perera would also like to further explore the possibilities and capabilities of Storyboard Pro: "With Storyboard Pro, you can very quickly test out designs and ideas to see if they work or not. Because of this, I'd love to go for more board-driven shows, rather than script-driven. Plotting things out in Storyboard Pro gives us a new dimension in the exploration of different ideas, which I think is very exciting for future productions."

Game over.

About Sardine Productions

Founded in 2002, Sardine Productions is an animation studio with an established presence in both the local and international marketplaces. Based in Montreal, the company maximizes its strength by working with creators, producers and distribution partners from around the globe. Sardine Productions develops and produces intellectual properties and kids content with far-reaching appeal, emphasizing a step-by-step approach to building successful long-term business relationships.