Our own Jade Pullen reviews three shows using three different digital animation techniques…
The 3 types of Animation I’ll be talking about in this article are Cel Animation, Stop Motion Animation and 3-D Animation. All three of these types are connected because they all use digital technology in some form. For example, Futurama uses a digital process with 2-D and 3-D composite animation which includes a 2-D background with 3-D models incorporated on top of the 2-D background that is digitally hand drawn. With Robot Chicken, which is Stop Motion
but not digital, although it does use digital video capture and editing. The animator uses a power glove that was originally used for NES video games in the 80’s, but he uses it to capture and control the keyframes in the animating process. Captain Scarlet is CGI (Computer Generated Imagery) that’s just 3-D Animated but has a sense of realism as well.
Cel Animation is where you hand draw a character or object and then digitally paint in the colours before the animation process. Also the storyboard artists have to rough out a storyboard for the animator to follow. Once this is done, the animator animates the character or object by moving the image bit by bit as the animator inserts a keyframe for every time he wants the character to move for a certain angle or specific movement. Then each keyframe is put together and edited with all the visual and sound effects on top of the footage to make a full episode of an Animated TV Show. Most animated TV shows these days don’t really use Cel Animation as 3-D Animation is commonly used for most Animations.
Stop Motion is created by animating a character and moving a part of that character slowly at the same time as taking photos for every keyframe. All of this is repeated several times before there are enough frames used for a scene required. There are other things like visual and sound effects and also music that is imported and edited into the finished product.
3-D Animation or CGI is a process when the animator has to make a physical model of a character and then (with any form of animation) the character is rigged, so that the animator can move any part of that character from it’s arms to the mouth. When dealing with 3-D models, they have to be ‘rendered’ in order for the original 2-D image of the model to appear 3-D when the rendering process is completed.
Cel Animation - Futurama
Futurama is a Comedy Science Fiction Animated TV show about a delivery boy named Fry, who accidentally travels 1000 years into the future after falling into a Cryogenic Freezer. This scene is based off the novel written by H.G Wells which is called ‘The Sleeper Awakes’. Here’s a link to the article about the novel ‘The Sleeper Awakes” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Sleeper_Awakes
Fry then meets Leela, a mutant who becomes captain of the Planet Express Ship, Bender, a robot who was designed and built to bend girders for suicide booths, including others such as Professor Farnsworth, a Scientist and inventor, Hermes who does all the paperwork, Dr. Zoidberg who claims he’s qualified doctor, but everyone else disagrees and Amy, the professor’s assistant. Together they are all part of a delivery company called Planet Express which delivers packages to all kinds of life forms throughout the series.
The show uses Cel Animation which is a traditional technique used to hand draw cartoons and animations, and Futurama was the first Animated TV show to use 2-D and 3-D model animation. Also, The Simpsons and Futurama have similar drawing styles but that’s because both shows are created by Matt Groening. Like many other cartoons and animations most of them in the 1920’s/1930’s were traditionally hand-drawn.
Making the Episodes
Before episodes are animated, the artists have to sketch out a storyboard of what the director/writer wants each frame to look like. After this is done, the artists have to digitally draw out every character, scene, background ect, so that the animators can animate each individual scene until it’s put together to make a full episode that lasts for 22 minutes. The only thing with Futurama that no other show did was use 3-D models over a 2-D background. This feature is commonly used when a ship or object is passing by at an angle where, in a 2-D environment looks flat or compressed. When Futurama first aired in 1999, some scenes looked bland compared to recently in 2013. (when Comedy Central canceled Futurama after it’s 8th season.) This is because digital drawing technology was used much later in the 2000’s and looks a lot clearer and crisper now than in 1999.
Sound And Visual Effects
Most of the sound effects in Futurama are futuristic, because the show is based on the Sci-Fi genre, as well as the main theme song to Futurama being memorable and catchy.
Here’s a link to the Opening Credits to Futurama, including the main theme song. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9lx9uQqSSrk
The art style in Futurama is really interesting and unique because Matt Groening decided to take his drawing style into a new and futuristic era like many other animations such as The Jetsons, which was the first Science Fiction Animated TV show that started out in 1962. Although most of the characters are aliens, mutants and robots, it’s the eye popping effects of the art and character designs that makes the world of Futurama so mind blowing and amazing. The animators used 3-D models to make some objects like the Planet Express ship look more physical than flat, but still keeping the ship and other things such as buildings in the shows art style.
Voice over in Animated TV Shows like Futurama is very important because it allows the animators to express emotions through the animation of the character, for example the character Bender who expresses emotions through mostly his eyes. This makes the viewer believe that the character actually has feelings and emotions rather than just a moving image on a TV screen. In order to do this, the director/writer has to choose a number of people to audition for the voice over of that particular character, like you would do in a video/computer game or Animated film.
Purpose The main purpose of Futurama is to make people laugh using clever references and humor, but also focusing on the fact that most of the show is set in a dystopian future. As with The Simpsons, it focuses on how different families in Springfield interact, socialise with as well as seeing the character’s friendship towards others at home, at work, at school, at the local pub and so on. Futurama revolves around the Science Fiction world only and includes pop culture references in the Sci-Fi genre. Although both shows are similar in art style, The Simpsons is way more popular because of impact it had on the audience. With Futurama, which had only 8 Seasons, didn’t last as long as fans hoped it would because Fox decided to cancel the show as they didn’t want to produce anymore episodes. in 2009 Comedy Central brought back Futurama for a 7th Season which started airing in 2012 but sadly ended in 2013 when it was announced that Season 8 was the final season and Comedy Central said they didn’t want to do anymore. Even though the show went though some cancellations, Futurama did get in fact nominated for 17 Annie Awards and 12 Emmys. Futurama was also nominated for a Writer’s Guild of America. Tv Guide ranked Futurama as one of the most Greatest Tv Cartoon of all time. Futurama also released a whole range of merchandise from a tie-in comic book series to video games, calendars and clothing.
When Futurama came out in 1999, thousands of Sci Fi fans were really excited to see Futurama; a Sci-Fi Animated TV Show that was about the future (like The Jetsons) and since Futurama’s first ever episode, ‘Space Pilot 3000’ loads of people were amazed and still go back and watch the entire 8 seasons again and again, including myself (which i’m a big Futurama fan.) Another thing was that the main characters from the show (Fry, Leela and Bender) are popular purely because of their personality and how funny they were. But the most popular out of them all is Bender, because everyone loved the fact that he did the things none of the other characters did, but Bender also has the most recognised catchphrase ‘Bite My Shiny Metal Ass!’ which was used in the first episode of Season 1, ‘Space Pilot 3000’.
Although Futurama was actuallysuccessful, it did get canceled a few times by Fox and then again by Comedy Central, but Futurama did last longer than most Sci Fi TV shows like Firefly, which only had 2 seasons. Most of the material in Futurama is just a mixture Sci Fi references and hidden maths equations that can be seen in some episodes. The only problem is that it’s aimed at Sci-Fi fans, so those people who are not into that genre won’t get the references or jokes, but they might find some of the humor funny because of The Simpsons, which is still going on TV today. In The Simpsons, the material is funnier because of the different references that cover all sorts of pop cultures, also jokes and character quotes, but Futurama is just as funny as The Simpsons in my personal opinion.
Stop Motion Animation - Robot Chicken
Robot Chicken is a Stop Motion TV Show about random stories and situations revolving different characters from TV, Films, Books/Comics and sometimes even original characters. Celebrities are also included in some episodes throughout the series as well. There are all sorts of characters that the show has created which, in the show have starred in multiple episodes and seasons. Each episode is made up of short sketches, which different characters appear in randomly.
Robot Chicken was based off a comic strip called ‘Twisted ToyFare Theatre’. Most of the time, Robot Chicken parodies everything from TV shows to Video Games. mostly Films such as Star Wars, which they did a full 30 minute episode and was nominated a 2008 Emmy Award for Outstanding Animated Programme.
How Stop Motion is Created
For this particular show, the characters are acted out as action figures, which have been hand moulded and shaped to look like that specific character or celebrity. As for the background, they hand make miniature sets for the camera to make some scenes look more spacious and 3-D, which still takes time to build and set up. To animate a character (or a number of characters) each scene has to be photographed frame by frame (like with most Stop Motion Animation) and then each frame (or keyframe) is put together to make a full episode.
A link about how the show is put together. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R5tcZwUzqoc
One of the Animators on Robot Chicken uses a NES Power Glove which is connected to a camera that can control and capture keyframes just by pressing a button on the Power Glove. It can also control each keyframe by going back and forth on a computer monitor to check if the figure’s movements are in the correct order and sequence.
Sound and Visual Effects
At the beginning of each episode, the opening credits starts off with a dead chicken lying on the ground (with some spooky music playing in the background) until a mad scientist comes across the chicken and takes it to his lab (which is in a castle) where the chicken is re- animated as a Robot Chicken, which is nod to Frankenstein.
Sometimes, Robot Chicken uses Celebrity Voice Actors to voice mainly their own character or even themselves if they are included in the script. But mostly the voice acting is done by the show’s creator and writer, Seth Green (who usually voice most of the characters.) There are also a number of other people who also do voice acting and who are involved with some of the writing as well. Seth Green and Matthew Senreich are the main creators and writers of Robot Chicken and they work together to produce most of the jokes, parodies and references seen in the show. Even though Seth mainly does most of the voice acting, they still need to get people in and audition for the role of a character they have created. Celebrities sometimes are asked to voice their own character from TV, Films, Books/Comics and Video/Computer Games.
The main purpose for this show is to amuse the audience by using dark humour, which sometimes can be seen in an episode where a character accidentally kills another character, or just hinting references to pop culture and parodies that the audience can relate to and find funny. At times the show can go a little too far, but that’s because Robot Chicken is mostly aimed at adults rather than children. There are some ‘main’ characters like the Robot Chicken, Mad Scientist and the Nerd who are featured in most episodes.
I think from what I’ve seen of Robot Chicken, the thing that makes the show so good is (for me) the references and parodies to various TV shows and Films I’m a fan of, but also the most stuff they’ve parodied a lot of is Star Wars, which is one of the most well known franchises ever. Even some celebrities you thought wouldn't want to be involved with Robot Chicken have actually lent their voice for characters in some episodes. Seth Green (who is one of the writers on Robot Chicken) was in a few of the Austin Powers films before he wrote the show. Overall, Robot Chicken lasted for 8 seasons, which is the same number of seasons as Futurama.
With the production process being one of the most important and difficult parts of Robot Chicken, there were some drawbacks when they used figures as the characters. Unfortunately, some of the toys they had were too big to move around in front of the camera, so what they did was to scale down and re-model the existing toys so that it was easier to position them when placed on the set. Also the cost of making a show that is Stop Motion (or any animated Tv show) is really difficult because you have to get all sorts of people to produce, make and design stuff in order for the show to be successful, and it takes lot of time and money before it’s aired on TV. Hiring Voice Actors and Celebrities cost loads as well just for them to do voice acting in a recording studio.
Captain Scarlet was originally a puppet show by Gerry Anderson who created Thunderbirds. This has now been adapted into a CGI animated show. The animation style is realistic while trying to recapture the look and feel of the original series. The Animated Tv Show version of Captain Scarlet aired in 2009 and was a reboot of the 1967 original titled ‘Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons’
Pretty much most of the characters look the same as in the original show, but the quality of the animation was alright (even though in modern 3-D animation, the quality is much better now than in the 2000’s when 3-D animation was mostly used in films rather than TV shows.)
Although the original used puppets, it was the only thing they could use in terms of making the characters look like they were moving like real people. With Thunderbirds, they also used puppets using a specific method called ‘electronic marionette puppetry’, a technique which is where a puppeteer controls the puppet by a set of strings or wires attached to a horizontal bar that allows the puppeteer to move various parts of the puppets body.
A video of the first episode of the 3-D Animated Captain Scarlet https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fuLEfOWzbOA
The process of doing 3-D animation is really difficult because to start off with, you have to create a mesh which an animator uses to carve and shape into an object like a sphere or even a character. Inside the mesh, there is a digital skeletal structure called an ‘armature’ that can be used to move the mesh. This commonly known as ‘rigging’ which is used with keyframes to create movement.
Photo - realistic animation is a technique that uses advanced rendering and gives a character realistic features like detailed skin, hair and clothing effects. it can also make a plant or the sky look real too, which is very useful when animating in a 3-D environment. Examples that show the best use Photo - realistic animation is seen in films like UP and How To Train Your Dragon.
The show is mainly aimed at young kids aged between 6-13 and is a Science Fiction TV Show based on Gerry Anderson’s original Captain Scarlet which includes various fight sequences, action-packed vehicle chases, explosions and more. There are a wide rage of different characters in the show, Captain Scarlet being the main lead character.
In the reboot of Captain Scarlet, the look of the original characters are still the same as in the 1960’s Captain Scarlet. Even some of the remaining voice actors who voiced the original characters are in it as well. Also, the movements of the character models are more refined than the puppet versions from the original series. The original puppets were controlled by strings that meant the puppeteers could only move them at a certain angle, in which the 3-D models had more control over. and had less constraint. This made it easier for the animators to move the characters without any problems, although it can be difficult to animate a 3-D model like a real person, and overall, they did a pretty good job at making the show look like it did in 1967.
The only downside with the reboot is that the quality of the graphics wasn't that good at the time in 2009, even graphics for video games looked alright, but then again the software was state-of the art and CGI especially for films takes ages to make, so they probably had to produce it on a reasonably low budget, otherwise it would have been too expensive. It seems that these days more and more animated TV shows and mostly animated children’s films are 3-D Animated.