The Animation Dance Party on collaboration and ‘underground’ art


The Animation Dance Party on collaboration and ‘underground’ art

The Animation Dance Party is a yearly virtual collaboration event for the animation community that brings together a whole host of talent under one, bumping roof. Every animator is tasked with designing a character to attend the party, and giving it some respectable dance moves, of course! Each year’s party culminates in a final film showcasing the work that features a lineup of characters, from which three winners are picked.

The most recent film kicks off with a science-fiction short that follows a group of friends on a journey through a cyberpunk dystopia before arriving at the party. The slick sequence was storyboarded on Storyboard Pro and animated in Harmony, by a talented team consisting of Mike Morris (director and storyboard artist), Brittney Consuegra (art director), Henry Leonardo (2D animator) as well as Jordan Beatty and Matt Watts (character-rigging artists). We spoke with the team to discuss the work that went into the stylish intro.

We will also hear from the three winning animators, Grace Wang, Chaz Walgamott and Xavier Green. These contestants shared the considerations and challenges that went into their characters. Watch the action-packed sci-fi introduction and enjoy the party in full-swing below…

In its third year, Animation Dance Party: Underground Funk-a-Tronic sets the stage for collaboration and creativity.

What was the process in making the animated intro?

Mike: It all started in storyboard and design concepts, with storyboard leaning heavily into the environment design, and at the same time, going back and forth with design on the main three characters. We were on a pretty tight schedule, so it really helped that we could take our animatics straight from Storyboard Pro into Harmony; drawings and all, organize everything, and start building our assets and animating pretty quickly.

Henry: As an animator, I started working on the project after the storyboard, animatics, characters, and background design were done. The intro was divided into many scenes, giving us the opportunity to explore the character rigs in different scenarios. The fact of having the animatics already imported directly from Storyboard Pro to Harmony helped us to know from the beginning the exact duration and timing of each scene, this workflow is the best way to make sure everything matches perfectly with the animatic.

What was the process and the inspirations behind the amazing science fiction background art?

Mike: So many inspirations! Largely from various sci-fi movies, but we really wanted to get across the idea of an overcity and an undercity, and part of that was taken from the Los Angeles skyline, with its towering buildings seemingly all clumped together and a large flatter expanse around it. Something that felt aristocratic and oppressive (yet clean) above, and more gritty below.

The intro video for the Animation Dance Party features cutout character rigs and impressive compositing effects.

Can you tell us about some challenges from the character rigging process of the three friends in the intro? How were they overcome?

Jordan: Overall the rigging process was pretty simple and easy. Especially due to the really great character designs from the team and especially Brittany Consuegra who went over early designs with me. We cut and altered sections of the design to make the rigging and animation process a lot simpler. Stuff that would cover joints and travel through multiple body parts were some of the big removals but she still kept the great esthetic of the design intact.

We kept the rigs very light and simple, no complex cutters or handles which helped keep them on schedule. Originally in the animatic the characters had a face reveal with very limited movement and turns so the first two rigs, Chad and Rose, had simple head shapes, eye swaps, and few broken down pieces such as hair. 

Overall working on the project with really amazing people made the process go super smoothly. Any big issues such as designs and alterations were left with some really talented people. We’re also hoping to release the rigs in the future for people to download and check out. Hopefully include some of the animation from the project!

What thought went into the Animation Dance Party intro’s vivid colour palette?

Mike: Working with our art director, Brittney, we talked over various color schemes, and decided that a stark red against charcoal gray and black was going to be the scheme for the oppressive aristocracy, sort of leaning into some tropes. And darker, cooler colors hit with a cavalcade of brighter highlights and such, for areas further away from the surface.

How did Harmony help when working on the VFX and lighting effects? 

Mike: There are a lot of benefits to doing the special effects work inside Harmony itself. We worked in the Node View a lot to combine various library nodes and such onto hand-drawn effects to get the look we were after.

Henry: Toon Boom has fantastic nodes to create lights and shadows super fast, each character has their own “Apply Peg Transform” node; which helps us create shadows with the character’s shapes without having to duplicate the character itself. After it we use the Blending and Blur Box nodes to integrate the shape with the character’s colors. 

We also used the “Glow” node a lot when the characters activated their anti-gravity suit. It was very quick to apply and tweak to match the correct timing of the animation.

Grace Wang‘s winning entry to the Animation Dance Party contest.

Onto our winning animators. What are the visual inspirations behind your super cool character concept?

Grace:  The theme for this year was ‘Underground Funk-a-tronic.’ So I thought it would be a fun play on words to create a demon character. You know… with demons being from hell, a place that is deep underground… get it? I also thought it’d be a fun contrast to the often gritty and dark demon themes to have her in casual clothes, being the usual wear for underground dancers. 

Since I’m definitely not a dancer myself though, I did look at a lot of footage from street dancers around on youtube and instagram. I noticed many wore loose-fitting clothes that had a few pops of color while being mostly greyscale. Movement-wise, the vibe I got from watching these dancers was definitely a carefree form of freestyle dancing. Energetic, but really in a way that’s following the flow of the music. It was really cool to be able to tell how they love and have fun with dancing, and I really wanted to get that mood across.

Xavier: My favorite part of my character to design was adding the spray can! That was directly inspired by this year’s theme of ‘Underground Funk-a-tronic.’

Chaz: The concept for my character actually came for my daughter who is nine. She loves animation as well and one night we were hanging out doing animation together. I asked her what I should animate, and she told me to do the sun, dancing, with epic sunglasses.

The biggest challenge for me was probably all of the textures and lighting. I wanted to create a hand-painted feel, but without a lot of flicker or boil.

How did you convey these inspirations in the design process?

Grace: For the visual design, I definitely stuck with the mostly greyscale, looser-fitting clothes. I decided to make her horns curl and flow backwards against her head rather than point straight up, to give a feeling that she was just going with the “flow” of the music. I decided to stick to a more purple skin tone in contrast to the usual red that demons are often depicted as. It’s close to red, but a cool color, to better convey her just “chilling”  and enjoying herself, in a sense. I still kept some red in her design though, since I did like the way it popped out against the other muted colors! Namely I put it on her shoes, as they were the focal points of her movement. I also put a red gradient on her hair to better differentiate the hair from her ponytail from the locks in front.

Chaz Walgamott‘s second-place entry to the Animation Dance Party contest.

What is your tip for creating believable movement in an animated character?

Xavier: Arcs! Having every moment follow an arc. The hand arcs, the elbow arcs — even if the movement is extreme and fast — to make as many arks as possible. Animating with arcs in mind makes all the character movements work in Harmony.

What’s some good advice you’ve been given that you can share with aspiring animators?

Xavier: That’s a tough one! I think it is to use references! Going into an animation with only a foggy idea of what the motion will look like generally doesn’t turn out well. Find a good reference even if that means getting out of my chair and video myself doing the action.

Grace: Honestly, the advice I still live by is to just focus on what you love. It might be redundant or inapplicable advice to a lot of people, I know, but for me? Well, I’m a person who gets very demotivated by and wrapped up in others’ expectations, so this advice meant a lot to me.

It’s easy to get lost in what you should and shouldn’t do to attain success, how to market yourself, where you should focus your efforts, where you should be at right now. But there’s a ton of different equally successful career paths that many people have taken. What worked for one person might not be the right path for someone else! 

We’re all here because we love animation, that’s the one thing we all have in common. Just be genuine, what you care about matters! Whether it’s storytelling, or intricate movements, or drawing your favorite characters or all of the above, it’s that passion that drove you to animation in the first place, right? I think that passion deserves some focus and care – it is your own best teacher after all. Get excited! Talk about animation! Your passion can inspire others, can inspire your own growth, and chances are others will care about what you care about too!

Xavier Green‘s third-place entry to the Animation Dance Party contest.

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