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Posted 05.01.16

Animation students working with Studio Ghibli software

By Phillip Buchan

Studio Ghibli's Spirited Away

Our BA (Hons) Animation programme recently invested in the industry-leading 2D animation software Toonz Harlequin, famously used by and developed in collaboration with Studio Ghibli, producers of award-winning animated films such as 'Spirited Away' and 'Princess Mononoke'.

Billed as "the meeting point of the traditional and paperless animation production workflows", Toonz Harlequin has an interface that focuses on the simplicity of traditional line drawings and integrates seamlessly with digital animation, making the learning journey intuitive for new learners and powerful enough to be used by some of the world’s leading animation studios.

Eight of Studio Ghibli's films are among the 15 highest-grossing animated films made in Japan and the studio has won numerous international awards for the quality of its animation. 'Spirited Away', which grossed over US $274 million worldwide, was made using Toonz Harlequin.

We sat down with Toonz Product Specialist Valentina Amico as she visited the college from Rome to talk about the benefits of the new software.

What is it that makes your software so suited to 2D animation?

Toonz was founded in 1993 because we wanted to develop software specifically for 2D animations, based very closely on the working style of traditional animators. We wanted to offer a workflow that would improve productivity but at the same to capture the artistic idiosyncrasies of each individual animator.

Over time we developed an algorithm that can acquire drawings and process them for animation without losing the quality of the lines or the unique marks made by an animator, marks that are often lost in digital processes.

Toonz Harlequin was most recently used on the French feature Phantom Boy

So does that mean that Toonz Harlequin won’t suit animators that only want to work digitally?

No, the opposite in fact. When we started out we focused on a very traditional workflow that begins with physical drawings, but the software has evolved now to allow paperless animation.

Depending on your preferred working method you can begin with with a drawing on paper and then enhance that digitally, in a traditional way within the software, you could animate vectors or you could combine any of these elements in the way that works best for you.

The facilities at Plymouth College of Art really are world class – if you study Animation at the college, you’re going to graduate with experience of using the same software used by animators on big budget feature-length animations. — Valentina Amico

It’s a very versatile system, aimed at simplifying the process for animators, not complicating it. The learning curve of Toonz Harlequin is so smooth that users can concentrate on their vision of what they want to appear on-screen, without worrying about the limitations of the tools they’re using.

Is Toonz Harlequin widely used by professional animators?

Very much so. It’s a particularly powerful tool to use for feature length animations. The first animated films completed using Toonz Harlequin were 'Balto' and the Don Bluth musical 'Anastasia' and the most recent film to be released was the French animation 'Phantom Boy'.

I think that we’re most famous for our work with Studio Ghibli, because we’ve been developing very specific software features for them since they first used Toonz Harlequin on 'Spirited Away', but we’re also used for long-running television series such as 'Futurama'.

Toonz Harlequin was also used on long-running animated series Futurama

If you could give one piece of advice to people studying Animation with us, what would it be?

There was a time when people said that traditional animation was dead and that 3D was the future of animation, but like all things, now that the novelty has worn off we see that the two can exist side-by-side and don’t have to compete.

The facilities at Plymouth College of Art really are world class – if you study Animation at the college, you’re going to graduate with experience of using the same software used by animators on big budget feature-length animations. These are the kind of practical skills that animation studios look for when they’re recruiting.

Animation students have already started exploring uses for the software.

BA (Hons) Animation Programme Leader Tony Smith said "The traditions of animation shouldn’t be thrown away. Without the traditions of the people that came before us, we lose so many valuable skills.

"Traditional light boxes, scanners and exposure sheets all help to teach timing and subtle nuances that bring animations to life. Anybody not trained in these skills is missing out in a grounding in the principles of animation.

The learning curve of Toonz Harlequin is so smooth that users can concentrate on their vision of what they want to appear on-screen, without worrying about the limitations of the tools they’re using. — Valentina Amico

"The acquisition of Toonz Harlequin represents an investment in the future of animation at the college. Our graduate animators will be equipped with the skills necessary to seamlessly integrate 2D and 3D processes."

"Toonz Harlequin lends itself well to use on tablets," Tony said, "and will increase the turnaround from conception to finished animation. This is world-leading software, developed in collaboration with Studio Ghibli. When you’re using Toonz Harlequin, there’ll be nothing stopping you from creating animations of the same quality as Hayao Miyazaki. The only limit is your imagination."
 

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