To encourage animators to try out new tools and techniques following the release of Harmony 21, Toon Boom Animation assembled a demo pack titled The Ingredients of Animation, which features work from six artists participating in the Toon Boom Ambassador Program. Each artist hired for the project contributed scenes, made using a variety of cutout and tradigitial paperless techniques — and were inspired by recipes they have a personal connection to.
Aria Dines is a 2D rigging artist and a commercial illustrator. Earlier this year, she completed her undergraduate animation program, where she fell in love with rigging for 2D cutout animation. Aria says that rigging and directing are her favourite parts of the animation process, and as a result, she aspires to work in the future as a director, or a technical rigging supervisor. Before that, she’ll be working on earning her masters at the California Institute for the Arts, which she started this fall.
We caught up with Aria to hear about the inspiration behind her demo scene. Read on to learn about how she animated her scene, her favourite features of Toon Boom Harmony, and her experiences as an animation student.
Can you describe the story that your scene tells, and what inspired it?
I wanted my demo film to show the fabulous creation of a deep dish Chicago pizza. Making this type of pizza is unique compared to how other traditional pizzas are made, so I wanted my scene to show that process. Deep dish pizza is made upside down in a pan, similar to a pie. I think if you’re not from Chicago, you might not know this!
I grew up near Chicago, and so of course I grew up with Chicago-style pizza. It was one of my favourite dishes as a kid, especially because my mom makes it really well. I love it still today, and it always reminds me of home, my family, and my favorite city. When Toon Boom asked me to create this scene around the theme of food that’s really special to me, I thought yes! I knew right away that I’d create a scene that shows my love for this pizza.
Stylistically, I was inspired by the informative nature of animations I had seen in both educational programs and short films. For example, a short film that was one of my inspirations for this scene was Pinch Cookies by Olivia Watts — one of my fellow animation graduates! The film’s ability to give life to each ingredient as it appeared on screen was an approach I wanted to undertake in my own style of animation and design.
Can you describe your process for creating the cut-out assets that you used in making this scene?
First I drew the sketches out on paper. I prefer drawing on paper and then scanning the sketches in. I used the shape tools; specifically the polyline tools and the line tools to recreate assets that I had drawn out on paper. Then I made a color palette for each colouring I was going to use. I find this helpful for keeping organized.
From there, I varied the line weights, using both thick and thin lines to create some more dimension. This technique is something I’m pretty new to! Usually I use just one standard weight but, for this scene, I really wanted to create dimension for the various assets; adjusting line weight did a good job of that.
What Harmony features did you most rely on to create this scene, and why?
Definitely the node view! That is probably my favourite part of the whole animation process. I love organizing everything in the node view, so that from the rigging side of things I can streamline my workflow. For example, I’ll put into node view the effects I’ll be using as well as my animation pegs. Node view is definitely one of my favourite features — not just for this project, but others, too!
How did you use animation pegs in creating this scene? What purpose did they serve?
Once I had all the assets completed and transferred over to another scene to make the final composite, I inserted the pegs for each asset and set the pivot in the centre of them. That way, when I moved them around they wouldn’t jump all over the place. That way I could animate also on peg layers, not just the drawing layer. Doing this helped me to maintain more organization in the timeline as well as in the node view.
What was your process for adding compositing effects to assets like the fire, pan, and final pizza?
Once everything was placed and animated in the way I’d envisioned, I added the effects. For the fire asset I added a glow node and changed the colour to a yellowish hue so that I could simulate light cast off a fire.
For the final compositing of the scene I created a basic square shape using the shape tool, and removed the fill. Then I added a glow node to it and inverted it so that it created that border. I did the same process for the end of the animation, but just turned it to a circle shape to create a nice frame around the entire animation. That way your attention is drawn to what’s happening in the centre of the screen.
You use shadows in the scene to create dimension. What was your process for creating these shadows?
I used shadow nodes in the node view. For example, the pan asset had a shadow node attached to simulate directional and dimensional shadow. The final pizza at the end of the animation also has a shadow, but I drew that one by hand with the polyline tool around the edge of the border. Then on both the bottom of the main pizza and the slice, I added a shadow node to those elements to give off the cast shadow effect. The effects nodes are so fun, they add that “oomph!”
You’ve just completed your undergrad program, during which you worked on some exciting projects. Would you mind telling us about the project you’re most proud of?
Definitely my animation thesis. It’s a 7-minute long film called Blast from the Past. The film is about a college student who’s having trouble writing an essay for her history class. She’s trying to figure out how to write about influential African Americans through history, but she doesn’t know where to start. The student falls asleep, and then wakes up in the middle of a video game that ultimately helps her out! Throughout the video game she meets influential African American figures; She’s introduced to their ideologies, which help her while she battles adversaries that were common in major time periods in African American history.
One thing that was pivotal in making Blast from the Past was that last fall I took the Toon Boom’s advanced rigging training course with Matt Watts. That class improved my rigging abilities, and it also helped inspire my passion for being a rigging artist. Blast from the Past is definitely a representation of all that I learned in the rigging course. It is a testament to why I love doing what I do!
Aria, what advice do you have for artists who are just starting out with using Toon Boom Harmony?
Whenever you start something new, you’re bound to run into challenges and problems. And that’s okay! Try not to get frustrated, take deep breaths, and don’t be afraid to reach out for help. Toon Boom has a forum and a Discord channel, and both are filled with people from all over the globe who are more than willing to answer questions and share knowledge. You’ll find artists, people from Toon Boom, and ambassadors in those forums and the Discord channel. Take advantage of those resources, and keep trucking. If you really love animating, and it’s what you want to do, pushing through the challenges will pay off in the end.
Want a taste of the newest features in Harmony 21? Be sure to discover the new features here and download a 21-day trial. Curious about the other Ingredients of Animation? You can find more articles about the participating artists here.