Reanimating the Tooniverse | Backstage Toontown
Posted by The Toontown Team on February 20, 2018 at 2:00 PM
Hey there, and welcome to the latest edition of Toontown's Backstage column, where we get a look at everything that goes on behind-the-scenes here on the Toontown Team. Today, we're going to take a look at our new pipeline for Toon animation.
My name is Andrew (but you can call me Ziggy), and I've been a 3D Artist and Technical Artist for Toontown Rewritten since 2014. My job is to bridge the gap between art and programming. Heads up: This post may be more technical than our typical Backstage columns.
The Character Rig Rigmarole
A couple years ago, we started working on a project that’d give animators the wonderful ability to create new Toon animation for Toontown Rewritten. What made this an even bigger challenge, however, is that we needed it to work with the existing animation as well! We called this project: Toontown Rerigged!
This original pipeline update, which you can read about in my previous Backstage post, was achieved by setting the Toon’s character rig to function exactly as Toontown Online’s would have.
"What’s a character rig?" Good question! It’s kind of like a puppet. A puppet's strings allow the puppeteer to control its movement. Similarly, a character rig gives animators to control a character's movement. As Toons come in many shapes and sizes, we built six of these character rigs to cover our bases. Seven, if you include our ToonFest mascot, Riggy Marole.
Speaking of which, have you spotted Riggy Marole recently? Congratulations! You caught a glimpse of what Toontown Rerigged could do for you. (Boy, the strings that we gave him!)
However, as we continued to research Toontown Online's character rig and animation, an assortment of problems gradually unveiled themselves to us. These rigs had many underlying issues that we didn't quite anticipate. Issues that limited the true potential of our fellow Toons like you or I.
Starting from Scratch
To trace the source of these problems, we needed to take a look at the game's history. Back in 2010, the Toontown Online team was in the process of transitioning their character rigs from the now defunct Softimage to a more updated piece of software called Autodesk Maya.
From our analysis, the goal seemed not too different from ours: They wanted to allow their artists to add to and polish their decade old library of 1,000+ animation files. Unfortunately, their ambitious goals were cut short, and we are left with an incomplete remnant of what may have been.
With this in mind, we have rebuilt our entire Rerigged pipeline from scratch in order to fulfill the Toontown Online team's original task. The new bodies are heavily based on the pre-2010 versions, as well as taking advantage of changes made post-2010. We wanted to use the added knowledge our team has gained to produce the most faithful representation and best quality animation we can deliver, continuing the vision that the Toontown Online team had over 8 years ago.
To fix the problems with Toontown Online's character rigs and animation, we decided that it was best to revamp the whole thing. This meant building new character rigs, transfer every existing animation currently available, and polishing them up. That was a monumental task! We knew, however, that the end result would be worth it.
With all this effort being put into redoing things, the project needed a new name! And thus, we called the new project... Toontown Re-Rerigged! (Or, for simplicity's sake, Rerigged 2.0.)
Our Make-a-Toon Tool
Let’s be honest: We would much rather be working on the more creative elements of the game, rather than spending all of our time creating new character rigs for every Toon in Toontown and manually transferring their old animation. To solve that dilemma, we built a custom tool that does all of the hard work for us!
This tool is designed to make Toon character rigging quick and painless. This allows our team to go straight into the animation process, rather than spending heaps of time manually creating the same character rig for every type of Toon.
The new character rigs also feature some new quality-of-life improvements over our previous ones. For instance, hands are easier than ever to move fluidly, which saves our animators a lot of headache and makes for more natural movement. Animating a hula dance? We gotcha covered with automatic skirt and shadow controls!
We also built tools that worked through the 1,000+ existing animation files and applied them onto our new character rigs. Now, just as the Toontown Online team attempted all those years ago, we can improve upon a decades worth of existing animation. We're already getting started on making use of the technology, and you'll be sure to see it on display with our upcoming content for 2018.
Putting It Into Practice
I hope that you're as excited as I am to see Toons come to life in new ways! These character rigs will be hitting Toontown soon, which will fix some of the broken animation we've shown you in this post. Keep your eyes peeled for other ways we'll be making use of these character rigs in future updates. If you spot a Toon animation that isn’t quite goofy, extraordinary silly, or (worst of all!) can’t make you laugh -- let us know so we can make it better.
If you found this post interesting and would like to contribute to our quest to Reanimate the Tooniverse, check out our Application Page with the new Character Rigger application! With your help, we can bring life to the wacky world of Toontown as it was meant to be.