8Bit Pixel Animation for Vice – 8Chan Doccie

Did 2 x 8bit animated pixel inserts for a Vice documentary on 8Chan. They both appear in the first 5 mins of the documentary.

Job through Cartuna in the US. More info on Vice’s site: https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/3kxde9/how-8chan-was-born-and-became-the-worst-place-on-the-internet

For this project, I had 2 inserts, which each had voice tracks and had a running time, so I first discussed with Adam at Cartuna by email and text, my initial ideas I had from the brief. I cut my bits of video out from the rough cut of the doccie, brought them into Premiere and Toon Boom Storyboard Pro, and then started scamping the rough boards in a variety of Photoshop, Toon Boom, and Procreate on my iPad (I spend a fair amount of time at coffee shops working on my iPad if I can, to get some sun and get out my home studio a bit). Once I’d roughed out the run of each section and timed it out, and had some back and forth with Adam, I had a pretty tight idea of what I was going to do with the pixel sections. If you lay my animatic video out next to my finished animation, the timing’s pretty much exactly the same. So, that’s useful to work to, to have some kind of ‘North Star’ as I work. For the Sonic section, luckily there are resources online where people have ripped the actual sprites from videogames, so I was able to get the whole first stage and cut it up in chunks to match what I had planned in the animatic. Likewise, I built an ONLINE image to match the SEGA title screen based off a font I found online, and rebuilt the Sonic Title screen and edited Sonic to say ‘Fredrick’, and then bit by bit, analyzed a video of someone playing through the actual Sonic 1 game to rebuild the first stage, and get the timings of everything right to look just like the game. I analyzed the source footage pretty closely, saw how long certain elements stay on screen, how long some of the background animations are, figured out how the Sonic 1 camera worked (looks like the camera moves when Sonic reaches the middle of the screen) and added the rings one by one, edited the UI to say Fredrick, etc… got the parallax of the background working. I built everything in Toon Boom Harmony Premium, and amazingly, it renders pixels at the native pixel size without aliasing them. I think even Toon Boom was surprised to discover this, that it’s pretty suitable for pixel animation. I also figured out how to make a custom pixel brush in Photoshop to be able to draw pixel art in Toon Boom – again, I think the Toon Boom team were surprised this works. Anyways, I used what Sonic sprites I could, and used Pixaki, an app on the iPad, to create some of the custom pixel content. For the Gameboy section, I used Pixaki to generate almost everything. The benefit of working on an iPad is I don’t need to be stuck behind my office desk. I used Photoshop for some stuff but did what I could on the iPad and Pencil. For the Gameboy section, I found an open-source tileset that I based the levels on, and edited them quite a bit to build the levels. I think tiles were 16 x 16 pixels. The characters I created to match the look and feel, but like the Sonic section, I had the timings and layout down early on – was keen to spend decent time on the animatic to make sure I knew where I was heading with all of this. And then cleaned things up a bit for file naming and such in Photoshop, before bringing into Toon Boom Harmony to move stuff around, sequence the sprites, add a camera etc. Then, for final, I export each shot as a TGA sequence for maximum quality, piece the various shots together in Premiere Pro, and render out to final vid. I’m using an old Macbook Pro 2013 in a Henge dock, and a big Wacom Cintiq 22″ HD with an Ergotron arm, in my little home studio. I hired a British pixel artist from France, Christopher Kelsall, to work up the rough 2 more realistic shots, into pixels. He did a great job getting young Fredrick’s likeness, and we discussed using separate layers for the wide shot to get some nice multiplane parallax going with a soft camera dolly in to get a subtle 3D effect. I added some bloom to the scenes to get a soft light effect and put some twinkling dust particles in on 2 planes slowly moving up.
For the Sonic falling shot, it was one big layer of a mass of sprites pieced together from various Sonic games, and then I put a couple of those flipped vertically and horizontally at different depths, to simulate Sonic/Fredrick falling into an unknown ‘new underworld level’.
For inspirations and references, Paul Robertson, pixel artist extraordinaire, was a big influence for the more realistic 2 shots in the Gameboy piece. For the Sonic piece, I worked directly from the source material, Sonic 1 game start and Green Hill Zone 1. For the boss, it’s the Death Egg Robot from Sonic 2. I downloaded a vid and studied it to get the movements right. I wanted to make sure that if there were any big Sonic fans watching, I was doing the game justice 🙂 I never had a Game Boy, so I used a Gameboy palette for the platforming sections and looked at some reference material, though I’m familiar with the genre. I’ve been doing a fair amount of pixel work, so this kind of work is a real treat when I can get my teeth stuck into something for a couple weeks. Luckily I’m a huge Sonic fan, used to be obsessed with the game when I was young. I remember seeing Sonic 1 being demoed at a shopping center, and like a powerful drug I was immediately hooked. I had a Master System, and would often go to a local games store and ask an employee if I could swap it for a Mega-Drive/Genesis. Of course, he said no. But young me (I was probably like 10 or so) kept persisting, and one day he had a faraway look in his eye, and he said I should bring in all my Master System games, and he let me swap it for a Mega-Drive with Sonic 1. I remember that guy. What a kind man. The shop closed soon shortly afterwards. Anyways, I’ve been obsessed with Sonic ever since.
Great gig, had enough time to do all the work, this kind of thing is right up my alley, was very pleased to be contacted by Cartuna for this, the doccie came out great and I’m very familiar with Vice too, so – what a win.

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