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Sardine and Gamerizon Develop Series in Harmony

Tags: Storyboard Pro Animation Television Harmony Trends Games

Animation production for an episodic series and a game are two different things, but the benefits of sharing content across these two formats are real when the opportunity arises. In Montreal, Sardine Productions and Gamerizon are sharing animation assets between their separate Harmony-based pipelines to maximize production efficiency and crossover screen appeal for Chop Chop Ninja (the episodic series) and Chop Chop Ninja Academy Defense (the web game).

It Started as a Game

The story begins in 2009 with the success of the Chop Chop Ninja mobile game franchise from Gamerizon Studio Inc., a Montreal-based game developer. The series has been a huge hit with approximately 20 million downloads since the first game was launched. Each of the original Chop Chop Ninja games delivered a furious pace of jumps, spins and wild martial arts moves controlled by a simple and intuitive one-touch interface.

Source: Sardine Productions

Meanwhile, a Montreal studio called Sardine Productions was making its presence known quickly on the local and international animation scene as an episodic content producer with exceptional focus. In 2012, Sardine was approached by Gamerizon to bring Chop Chop Ninja to the television screen. An initial development deal was signed with Teletoon Canada for 40x1.5 minute episodes called Chop Chop Ninja Challenge.

The Game Becomes a TV Series

"Going from a game environment to a television concept required adaptation, while preserving the strong identity of the popular and established brand of Chop Chop Ninja," explained Ghislain Cyr, founder and president of Sardine Productions.

Pre-production on Chop Chop Ninja Challenge had Sardine in charge of concept development, scripts, storyboarding, animatics and rigged assets, while Gamerizon was in charge of the character design and artistic direction.

Source: Sardine Productions

Sardine had an established pipeline for episodic animation based on Storyboard Pro and Harmony. Following pre-production, animatics were imported into Toon Boom Harmony for use by a team of seven animators, a compositor/scene planner, a design layout artist, a rigger plus an animation supervisor and production director.

Episodic production allowed for much higher production value than game development. Scenes in Chop Chop Ninja Challenge had between 500 and 1000 layers which were infinitely more complex than in the original games.

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Source: Sardine Productions\

Longer Form Series and Web-based Game

With Chop Chop Ninja Challenge on the air in over 100 territories around the globe, a longer form project called Chop Chop Ninja was greenlit by Teletoon Canada for 40x11 minute episodes plus development of a new, web-based game to maximize multi-screen appeal. "The idea is for these two formats to truly complement and strengthen each other," explains Ghislain Cyr.

"Using Toon Boom Harmony is not only more simple and efficient, it also allows for higher fidelity between the series and the game."

Martin Lizée, Chief Creative Officer at Gamerizon.

The long form episodic series is currently in production by Sardine and its oversea servicing animation studio, Feitong Cartoon, in China, who also uses Harmony. "We send clean vectorized assets like characters and props to Feitong. Following our recipe, they create the rigs, adding pegs, deformers and cutters as needed. They also use posing references and animation templates completed by our team at Sardine for guidance during animation production. The animated shots are then brought back to our in-house animation and compositing team who do final touch ups. There is a lot of import and export going on, and so using the Harmony database makes it easy to manage all of the back and forth," notes Maxime Vallières, Co-Director of the Chop Chop Ninja series.

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Source: Sardine Productions

At the same time, the companion Chop Chop Academy Defense web-based game is simultaneously in production at Gamerizon. When the original mobile games were built, Gamerizon authored them using Maya for animation and Unity as the game engine. "We decided we needed a new pipeline that would permit efficient content exchange and also allow us to deploy our game over the web for the most popular web browsers using 100% HTML5," explains Martin Lizée, Chief Creative Officer at Gamerizon.

The new animation production pipeline at Gamerizon is based on Toon Boom Harmony. "We wrote custom code to import high quality Harmony characters and animation cycles from the episodic production into the game, " notes Martin Lizée. The vector-based exchange process nicely preserves fidelity and gives animators at Gamerizon the flexibility to re-use or modify animation built for the television series.

A big advantage of using vector-based characters from Harmony in the new game is the reduced use of memory-intensive sprite sheets. Characters are animated in the new game using skeletal animations, imparting maximum fluidity to the animation without taxing memory space. "Sharing Harmony content from the episodic project is not only efficient for production, it is key to us having efficient game play," says Martin. "For instance, a 1024x1024 image used to contain a sprite sheet with just a few cycles of animation. The same resolution image is now more than enough memory to contain all the parts of a cut-out character plus all its animations."

chopchopNinjaCHallenge_Webgame (1).jpg
Source: Sardine Productions

Synergy Between Game and Episodic Production

The cooperation between Sardine and Gamerizon has evolved over the years. Initially, their production pipelines were so different that character and background design were the main areas of synergy. Today, with both dual pipelines based on Harmony, the production process includes transfer of data from the episodic production into the game.

"We are still finding new ways to share tools and techniques between episodic production and game development. Learning from each other is key. Using Toon Boom Harmony is not only simpler and more efficient, it allows for higher fidelity between the series and the game. Since they share the same designs and animations, Gamerizon is able to work with original assets which virtually eliminates the quality control step to maintain the look and feel of the brand. To not have to modify or adapt the production designs is a big step up for both quality and productivity," explains Nicolas Dalpé, Production Manager at Sardine.