The 4 most exciting things in animation right now!

The modern animators secret weapons!

justGoscha
Feb 18, 2021 · 7 min read

Animation has always been a fascinating art form for me. I think right now, we live at the start of a new golden age for animation, as evidenced by great animation productions appearing in fast succession and innovating in the medium, like Klaus and Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse. In the 90s and 00s there was predominantly Disney and Pixar that dominated the animation industry when it comes to film, and TV animation seemed to be mostly aimed at kids, with only a handful of exceptions. The term independent animator or indie animation studio was pushed to the fringes of the internet and only existed in the shadows.

This current rise of interest in animation brings with it a new set of amazing tools, that people could only have dreamed of decades ago. I want to present to you the four tools that make me the most excited being a freelance animator myself. I will order them in ascending order, so the most exciting comes last!

#1 — DAIN APP

Dain is an app that lets you interpolate frames of an animation or any video. For example, you could take an animation that was done with 12 frames per second (or animated on twos how animators say) and interpolate the animation to 60 frames per second or higher. Frame interpolation like this has many use-cases. It could allow making slow-motion video from a video that does not really have enough frames to run smoothly in a slower framerate. It also allows animation that normally is not associated with a high frame rate to cut down on manual work and bump up the frame rate and make it appear smoother than it normally is. Especially hand-drawn animation and stop motion usually is recorded in 12 fps except for some action scenes where it is 24 fps.

Now, I don’t want to say in any way that a higher frame rate is always better. I think a frame rate nowadays is a stylistic choice. An animation as little as 4 or 6 frames per second can read totally fine. And it will have an entirely different effect compared to the same animation done in 60 frames. Especially in the cases where the frame rate is low as a deliberate stylistic choice, an artificial bump of the frame rate will even degrade the experience, because the artist put exactly the amount of information needed to carry the story into each frame of animation. All the added frames will have no intention behind them and just smooth out what is not intended to be smooth. Aside: That’s why you also all disable the frame smoothing in your TVs by the way.

Talking about TVs, you might now say, wait yeah, my TV has that. What is so new about that frame interpolation?

Good thing you asked. TV screens nowadays have often an interpolation option that is even turned on by default on some of them and makes everything look like Mexican telenovela. This frame interpolation is usually a very simple one, because it must be done in real-time, e.g. calculated while you are watching, and what it does is simply finding the average between 2 pictures. The DAIN method, which stands for Depth-Aware INterpolation. It uses AI and machine learning methods to figure out the depth of objects in the frames, and from that make the best interpolation. It takes significantly longer but has a much better result than the classic interpolation.

Like the best things in life, DAIN is free.

2 — EB Synth

EB Synth is a tool that allows transferring the style of 1 picture, to an entire video. Think, you take 1 frame from a video, then you re-paint that frame in a Van Gogh style, and then EBSynth applies that style over the entire video. I can imagine a multitude of applications for that technology. I will list some of my ideas.

First of all, this is awesome if you are going for a rotoscoped animation style because you don’t have to painstakingly animate every single frame, you just record a reference video and then transform it into an animation. And additionally, you can use much more complex paintings as your style. It could take you hours to paint that 1 frame, but you don’t have to paint it 24 times per second anymore, instead, the computer does that.

A second awesome application is making low-poly environments in a 3D software and then using EB Synth to give that work some details. For example, creating a city environment from simple blocks. Then taking that 3D sketch and make concept art from it and finally render it as a video. This workflow can be useful in the concept and pre-visualization stage.

And the third application that comes to mind is related to the first one but applied to real frame-by-frame animation. The final coloring of an animation is one of the slowest processes in frame-by-frame animation. This tool can speed up that process. When you do only flat coloring initially and then do all the detail an lighting in a separate painting. This detail can be used with EBSynth to enhance the animation. This use-case has been demonstrated a couple of times as you can see from the following examples.

There are even more potential applications for EBSynth like face swap, retouching and digital make up, but I just wanted to focus on the unique ones that can be useful to animators out there.

Summary: There is still a lot to develop before EBSynth is ready for mainstream use, but the creative potential of this software is already exciting. It’s worth to take a look and see how it could improve your workflow when it comes to coloring your animations.

3 — Blender Grease Pencil

As a 2D animator, I have often hesitated to pick up 3D animation software. It was often fascinating, but the interfaces were utterly overwhelming and it seemed more technical than anything.

But in recent times I began to rethink my approach as 3D tools continue to become more accessible each year. A prime example is Blender, which free and open source. Since version 2.8 it received a complete user interface overhaul and became much more accessible and easy to learn.

But the most fascinating thing to me is actually the introduction of a new tool inside Blender, which is Grease Pencil.

It allows to draw and paint in 3D space. Combined with the awesome timeline, deformation tools, onion skinning and other things, Blender is becoming a serious competitor for 2D animation as well now.

2D animation with superpowers. Since you can animate your characters in 2D, but then have objects, vehicles and landscape in 3D.

It’s nothing new to have 2D animation combined with 3D animation, but having it in one application that is also free is the ground-breaking thing to me.

There are amazing things that have been created and that will probably come out in the next years created with the Grease Pencil tool in Blender.

Summary: The Blender Grease Pencil opens new and unique ways to combine 2D and 3D animation that is already producing interesting results in the indie animation community and should be explored by everyone interested in the idea to combine these fields of animation.

4 — Animation in VR (Quill)

The thing that got me most excited about animation and about Virtual Reality (VR) is the emerging animation tool Quill. It is a VR painting tool, that has developed into a really competent animation tool.

I used to think of traditional frame-by-frame 2D animation and the Pixar-like 3D animation as two completely separate things.

Frame-by-frame animation was something where you could see the hands of the creator speaking through that art to you in a personal way. The magic was transported through their interpretation of the movement in the world, one frame at a time.

3D animation seemed like a massive achievement created by large groups of people that is polished to a point that it’s perfect. They would be an amazing story production machine, but sometimes seemed to lack the imperfection, abstraction and expressions that make 2D animation so human and relatable.

That’s exactly where Quill as an animation tool came in to blow my mind and present a totally game-changing way to create animations. It allows creating frame-by-frame animation in 3D. And the results are amazing and range from rough expressionist pieces to fully polished animation short movies that still seem to have the charm of real handmade animation.

With that new workflow introduced it falls somewhere in the category between stop-motion and traditional animation, with the added benefit of being in 3D and in VR.

Some proficient artists in the VR space are showing the extreme speed with which you can create a full scene and bring it to life. Within minutes and hours, you can create worlds, that would have taken you days or weeks in traditional 3D tools.

And not only the tool itself is exciting, but the whole emerging new artform of VR storytelling is something of a new ground where a lot of innovation and invention is happening right now.

The cool thing is that you can also use VR to build 3D assets that you can re-use either in other 3D programs (like Blender) or even in game engines like Unity. Think about the possibilities.

Summary: The VR animation is the most exciting new invention in the past years and I am looking forward to diving deeper into that space and start creating my own scenes and stories within that medium.

Interesting Times

I think with those technologies we have some interesting creations ahead of us. As a creative, I am excited to have so many emerging tools at my disposal, and as a tech enthusiast, I like to tinker with those tools to see what can be achieved.

I am sure there are other emerging tools right now that are just as astonishing as those things I listed. I would like to hear your suggestions.

What are you most excited about as an animator or creative?

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