This Week in Animation is a weekly series for the Toon Boom blog, rounding up the most buzzed about animation stories from the past seven days.Source: Netflix. Read more »
Bitey is back! The return of Brackenwood - Adam Phillips' animated obsession
Adam Phillips is well known in the Toon Boom community. He's an expert animator from Australia who literally wrote the book on Harmony. Adam is often found sharing his expertise (with a large dose of humor) on Twitch, Patreon and at BiteyCastle.com where he offers online animation courses. But there is more to Adam……an entire fantasy universe called Brackenwood lives in his head and it is not to be ignored.
Adam, please tell us about the major Brackenwood announcement you made today!
Brackenwood has been growing in my head since sometime around 1999. I first imagined the story of "an idiot in a perfect world" and in 2002 I created the first Brackenwood movie, "Bingbong of Brackenwood". Building on the world, I designed a nemesis for Bingbong named Bitey, who turned out to be so appealing that the story soon shifted to revolve around him. There were Bitey movies almost every year thereafter. Two movies in 2004 (Bitey of Brackenwood, then Prowlies at the River), 2005 (littleFoot), 2006 (the Yuyu), 2007 (Waterlollies) and 2009 (The Last of the Dashkin).
It's been really difficult to keep the secret for the past few months, but March 12, 2017 I finally made a live announcement on my Twitch channel that a new Bitey game is officially in full-time development.
It's also a new, bigger story and of course, all new art and animation will be done in Harmony.
You worked long and hard on a Brackenwood game previously but eventually cancelled it. What's different this time?
Fans of Brackenwood will know that I worked on a game called Dashkin between 2010 and 2015. All of my art and animation was done with Harmony which was then imported into Adobe Flash for programming. Unfortunately, that project slowed to a crawl, collapsed in the dirt and died. It could not be revived.
This new game (originally codenamed Quicksand) is also called Dashkin, but it's not that we're finishing the old game. We're not even rebooting the old game. Dashkin is now a completely new and original project built from the ground up.
Everything's different. First, it's a much bigger game in a 2.5D style (2D animation in hand painted 3D environments). Secondly it's a brand new collaboration with a new developer. Third, we're using a reliable, proven AAA game engine (Unreal Engine 4) and are free from the constraints of Flash. It's also a new, bigger story and of course, all new art and animation will be done in Harmony. Most exciting is that we've been in full time development for almost 4 months now and we're looking at finishing by Q4 2017.
Who you are working with on the new Dashkin project?
My collaborator is Kirk Sexton. We worked together briefly at EA2D (a Flash/social games division of Electronic Arts/BioWare) in 2010. Over the years we talked occasionally on Facebook and recently we reconnected to talk about game development. I was helping Kirk out with some FX for one of his personal projects when he read about the cancellation of Dashkin and offered to help.
Kirk has this incredible depth of technical experience managing large teams, big budgets, server systems and AAA game engines. So within a couple of days of downloading the Harmony Premium trial, he'd brought himself up to speed with Harmony's scripting, then wrote export scripts for me to generate sprite sheets, collision data and light shaders from my frame-by-frame animation. I can export all this with one click, ready for import into Unreal Engine 4 as sequenced character animation states. Harmony's gaming pipeline currently has a focus on Unity, so I believe Kirk's tools are the first to aim Harmony at UE4 game development.
Incidentally, for his personal projects Kirk had been using Adobe Flash. Since I introduced him to Toon Boom though, he's decided to switch to Harmony for 2D game development going forward.
How important have your fans been to bringing back Brackenwood?
At the end of 2015 when I cancelled the first game, it had been six years since the last Brackenwood movie in 2009 (The Last of the Dashkin). I wondered whether anyone would remember Bitey at all. So I decided to put out some feelers and released an image of Bitey leaving with the caption 'Into the Void'. To my surprise there was a loud response. People still remembered Bitey and wanted to see more of him. I then made a couple of new teaser images before launching a Brackenwood Patreon campaign to help me continue working on the series. The response was overwhelming! So to answer your question, the fans have been incredible. Had it not been for that loyal support base, Bitey may not have survived.
As part of the Patreon campaign, I've been creating a lot of new Brackenwood art every month, including ink sketches on cards, which I send to my Twitch viewers and patrons. The video below is a time lapse of a card inking session.
It's been an incredibly hot summer in Australia, how did this affect your work on the game?
Yes, we had a crazy couple of weeks with consecutive heat waves. Some places in Central Australia recorded temperatures close to 50C (122F). We rarely have high temps in the mountains where I live so we don't have AC. On the hottest days during the heat waves it was around 38C (100F) in my office, but true professional that I am, I managed to work through it with a desk fan blasting into my face while eating ice.
Do sea monsters actually exist?
It's easy to go through life trusting your reality, comfortable in what you think you know of the world. But one night I saw something that made me question my reality. In that moment, everything I thought I knew suddenly shrunk into a speck. So when you ask me whether sea monsters actually exist, all I can do is stare into the middle distance, shake my head and whisper, "I just. Don't. Know".