Computer Animation as a Hobby

Recently I wanted to have another go at computer animation as a personal hobby. I had dabbled with computer graphics many years ago so was curious to see where the world was up to today. I sometimes watch a bit of Japanese Anime, so I set myself a goal of creating a 10 minute Japanese Anime inspired video for YouTube. (Of course I immediately got gung ho and planned out a series of 13 episodes.)

Some of the software now available is very impressive. “Unity Chan” is a 3D game engine character released a few years back which has her own full music video. These days of course now there is an AR demo as well. But stunning quality from software you use for free (you pay only if you make serious money from it).

(Sneaking on my work hat for a moment, this raised interesting ideas around virtual AR 3D assistants when in a store for looking up product information.)

What I still found daunting was preparing a full 3D model of characters (body, face, and clothes). It is getting easier, but is not yet easy. Creating a movie once you have the characters in comparison is relatively straightforward – Unity 3D now includes sophisticated camera tracking tools for creating movies (see the demo Adam series for examples of what is possible).

For my first go, I decided to limit myself to 2D animation. The Adobe drawing tools seemed pretty universally agreed as being the best (not easy to use, but powerful), so I decided to give Adobe Character Animator a go as I got a special offer where it was effectively free. There are other packages which do similar things.

The first significant problem I encountered was creating the character artwork. I am not an artist! I spent a lot longer than would normally be required to complete some decent looking artwork. This required lots of research watching Anime… I mean Anime drawing tutorial videos… to learn the basics of the trade. Some of my characters are better than others, and I have discovered that drawing something once is very different than being able to draw it repeatedly and have it look the same. It has left me with a greater appreciation of the skill of real artists.

Once I got a few characters going, I moved on to animating my first episode. After that I had to do the voices for the characters requiring audio editing. Of course I needed a script, where I started with one episode then fleshed it out to a series of 13 episodes (typical of Japanese Anime series). Learning how to write a story that is engaging was interesting (not sure if I have succeeded there or not yet!). Each episode has to be interesting, but fit into a longer series as well. To be interesting, there needs to be emotion and a degree of conflict between characters. Oh, and of course you need music that fits in as well. To make it a bit more fun I also had to work out how to write humor into a script, working within the limits of the animation software. Complicated animation for visual humor was too hard. An important lesson was how to get the most out of what the tools can do for you. Again, a very interesting (and long) journey.

I have two pre-then boys, so I decided to aim for youth as my target audience. I also decided to make each episode based around a bible verse to give it a positive message (not just fun to watch).

My update? I have completed the first episode! See https://extra-ordinary.tv/ for a link to the episode and an outline for the full series. Episode 2 is waiting on some friends for voices of additional characters, episode 3 is being animated, episode 4 has a first cut script complete, episodes 5 onwards have outlines … getting there!

Is this a quick past time to do? No! It was very time consuming to learn and is still very time consuming! I am not aiming for commercial quality Anime – that is beyond me. But I did want it to be “decent”. As a result, each episode has taken more hours than I care to admit.

For those not put off and interested in having a go yourself, I have  written a few blog posts on the above site going into greater detail on the tools I used and lessons I have learnt along the way.

Do I regret the time investment? No. I have learnt a lot along the way. And you can get something simpler going with a lot less effort. But at my current rate it’s probably going to take me a few years to complete the series! By then hopefully 3D character creation will be easier, and I can shoot for a 3D instead!

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