Many periods of human history later, as technological advances were made, inventors showed off their creativity with devices such as the magic lantern and the zoetrope. Not all inventions required hardware, so to speak, as John Barnes Linnett proved with his patented kineograph, otherwise known as the flip book, which doodlers across the world still utilize to pass the time.
Arguably the first hand-drawn animated film is James Blackton’s 1906 silent cartoon, Humorous Phases of Funny Faces.
Since then, many masters have contributed to the art form as it’s known and practiced today, but one of the most notable contributions came from Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, two of Disney’s Nine Old Men. Thomas and his best friend, Johnston, were legendary animators who created some of the most iconic characters in celluloid’s history.
Disney’s Nine Old Men pushed animation to capture the essence of realism in movement, and in doing so created the “12 Basic Principles of Animation.”
Frank and Ollie generously shared these 12 principles in their book, The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation. These principles are universal, and we still use them in all fields of animation, including themed entertainment, which challenges the limits of traditional animation and expands into previously unexplored realms.
Instead of being limited to the screen that’s in front of them, viewers are now given the freedom to dictate their own experiences by determining where they want to look, presenting the possibility of enjoying a different experience each time.
At Falcon’s, we are accustomed to creating custom content for a variety of experiences as well, including dark rides, simulators, domes, interactive experiences, augmented reality, virtual reality, and beyond.
While it is rare, we do occasionally develop animation for a traditional 16:9 film format. But, for the most part, our content is usually shown in immersive environments that envelop the audience.
These experience come in the form of U-shaped or arched screens, 360° domes, and even ceiling or floor projections.
In a lot of cases, the audience has to physically move their heads or turn around in order to follow the action on screen.
Such immersive environments are utilized to draw audiences into the world of the story. This liberates the viewer but also poses new challenges that animators have to solve.
It’s not the animation process that’s different from traditional films; we’re still following the 12 principles of animation. It’s the viewer and the venue that poses the various challenges because animators need to consider character scale on-screen and direct where the viewer is supposed to look.
Battle for Eire at Busch Gardens Williamsburg is a VR motion simulator experience that perfectly illustrates this point. Riders put on a VR headset that transports them to a virtual world where they can look all around and see a beautiful landscape. In front of them is their fairy guide, who performs closer to the camera in 3D, but behind them is a green forest with alluring lighting.
To the left is a massive waterfall; to the right is a dark, shadowed land. As an animator, we need to figure out how to capture and maintain the audience’s attention on that talking fairy and use her to draw people’s eyes so they don’t miss any important story points.
By choosing the latter, the audience can have a completely unique experience depending on where they’re looking. The decision we make creates a drastically different approach to how the animator will choreograph the action.
One of Falcon’s many 360° 3D projects, Hulk: Epsilon Base 3D at IMG Worlds of Adventure in Dubai, our first CircuMotion® Theater installation, showcases multiple points of interest by having Hulk and Iron Man fighting on opposite sides of the dome. Guests can ride once and watch Hulk, then go right back on and lock their focus on Iron Man. The choice is entirely up to the guest.
The average shot in an animated film is around 150 frames, or about 5 seconds. This is not the case with large screens or VR experiences. Our shots are often thousands of frames long, which equates to minutes. When you combine this with characters that are almost always on screen for the entire shot duration, you have a very imposing situation!
One way is to strategically hide the character behind something for a moment, thereby allowing us to switch to another animator’s content.
Another option is to line up the last pose in a shot with the first pose in the next shot. Think of each frame as a drawing or “pose.” Most commonly in our work, there are 30 frames per second, so it’s as “simple” as making sure the first pose and last pose are exactly the same; the hard part is maintaining the momentum and consistency of both animations that came from two different animators.
A great example of the latter technique in action is Falcon’s Digital Media’s work for the Jurassic Island superflume ride at Trans Studio Cibubur’s indoor theme park in Indonesia. The photorealistic, immersive VR film was formatted for a 270° screen and had zero camera cuts or hidden transitions. Shots often overlapped. For example, T. rexes and velociraptors sometimes had different end frames.
The two stars of the show presented the biggest challenge: two massive T. rexes that could not be hidden behind any objects. The shot was too long for a single animator to handle within the project schedule, so we split the work between three animators, then stitched each animator’s shots together into a single minute and a half-long shot.
Falcon’s Digital Media has demonstrated its capacity to solve challenges time and time again with projects for a wide variety of clients and venues, putting us in a leading position in the market. It’s an exciting frontier to blaze. When you’re in the trenches, you can feel the ground shift under your feet as you help pave a new path.
It’s thrilling to see a project come together and know we’re one of the few companies that can execute something like it. Every project at Falcon’s is different, but that’s what makes it so rewarding. We are often asked to achieve something extraordinary, to test our own limits as animators, but when you know that the general public has never seen anything like the end result, it makes all the hard work and extra effort worth every click of the mouse. We can almost see Disney’s pioneers smiling over that one.