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I'm a computer graphics programmer who occasionally still makes art.

Dave Pagurek @Pahgawk

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Vancouver, Canada

Joined on 2/8/09

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What does the animation software of the future look like?

Posted by Pahgawk - March 15th, 2019

What do you want to improve in your animation workflow?

Hello Newgrounds! It's been a while. I've been focusing on programming for a while now, and I've recently accepted an offer to start grad school at the University of British Columbia in the fall. While I haven't been actively making animations any more, I've kind of come full circle, and my work in computer science is now directly related to animation again. Specifically, I'm interested in how better software can help individual, independent artists make the higher quality animations, and I want to get some of your ideas to help guide this research!

To give a sense of the sorts of things I've been looking into, let me talk a bit about my undergrad thesis. It's about procedural modelling, which is when you make a program of some kind that generates 3D models with random variations. This is useful when you want to make something that would be too tedious to do entirely by hand, like a forest or a cityscape. The idea is that you can just specify the pattern, and the computer can make a bunch of examples following the pattern. If making a program to solve this problem sounds like it's still a lot of effort, you're right! It is! And I've been trying to make incremental progress towards lowering that effort.

It's hard to describe a procedure that creates random instances of an object (such as a tree) without sometimes generating ones that look really bad (imagine one with all the branches off to one side.) It's easier to have a more relaxed generating program, but then search through the models it can make to find the good ones. My project lets artists sketch some rough curves that they want their model to look like, and a 3D model following the curves is picked in almost real time. Here's what it feels like to use:


I wrote a longer article about this if you're curious about how procedural modelling works and where this fits in. Granted, writing the program to generate tree models still isn't the easiest thing in the world, but at least once you have one, I hope a tool like this would let you tweak and sculpt in a more natural way with the immediate feedback you've come to expect from your creative tools.

So I want to know what parts of your animation workflow, both in 2D and 3D, you think could use better software. Here's a dump of ideas I have so far:

From my own experience in 2D, the most time consuming part is just drawing every frame of character animation, but that's also the most fun part and maybe the part that gives the medium its characteristic feel, so I'm not sure that automatic in-betweening is the best use of my effort. Coming in second place is perhaps colouring and shading. Filling in outlines quickly isn't super flashy, but it's the sort of thing that could be automated and would probably save people a lot of time. Going beyond that, though, we could maybe do more than just flat shading. Flat shading and cel shading, while both respectable styles, were both introduced because they're efficient for humans to do. When we aren't using a human, we have the opportunity introduce more intelligent fill tools that explore different styles, possibly aware of lighting, or automatically texturing based on some examples you provide. Maybe the computer could also help add details like fabric wrinkles, so you can just focus on drawing the broader shapes. In all cases, this wouldn't replace a human artist, but would instead be another tool in the artist's toolbox. I think things like this are the most useful when you can tweak and interact with the results and you aren't just handed a final copy from some AI.

A lot of the things I focus on in 3D tend to be related to modelling of complex scenes, because that's something I find myself slowed down on compared to 2D. I wish I had more ways to quickly sketch and lay out a scene. My undergrad work might be helpful, but it still takes a lot of effort to create model generating programs, so perhaps another area of focus could be in creating a model generator based on a few hand created examples.

What do you you all think? Let's discuss in the comments! (Also if you're in the Vancouver region in the fall and feel like testing out stuff related to this, let me know!)

Life updates

Thanks for reading this far! I've been away from Newgrounds for a while, so if you're curious, here's what I've been up to.

Last summer, for a computer graphics class, I made a short animation based on a Debussy piano piece. I didn't upload it here because it's really just a small, unassuming video. The thing that took up all my time was the fact that it's actually just a C++ program I wrote that rendered the whole thing. This means that any keyframed animation had to be typed out without an interface, effects like water ripples had to be calculated mathematically, and the movement and bounces of light reaching the virtual camera had to be programmed. I also didn't have as much time to optimize it as more mature renderers have had, so to cut down on render time, it's not full HD and it's only 12fps. I've written about the more technical aspects if you want to learn more.

I spent some time recently working at Figma on some projects like the smart selection tool so that working with designs with grids and lists can be a little easier. I'm back in school again for a while now, but I find I've just been using Figma in place of Illustrator these days. The rate of improvement is great and also it's free for students! Maybe check it out if you ever find yourself needing to design something.

I run this thing at the University of Waterloo called Terriblehack where we work on shitty projects. It just happened this past Sunday. I made a little space simulator, but where the Earth is flat.

I also have a "band" that consists of me and whoever I live with at the time, and we record shitty cover songs. We're called Don't Cross Me and our gang sign in the cross product right-hand rule. We've got a SoundCloud if you want to experience our music. We're hoping to maybe do another song this weekend (Boulevard of Broken Dreams, anyone?)


Comments (7)

What about VR animation? Like Mindshow VR. There is huge potential there as a replacement perhaps for mocap or is it too basic to do that?

Another idea, what if there was a marketplace of sorts, sort of like Splice, where you pay a monthly fee, and in return you can drag and drop animation sequences straight into your project?

That would be interesting for sure and speed up workflow!

There's definitely a lot that can be done in VR! At SIGGRAPH last summer I saw a music video for Thriller that was drawn and animated all in VR. it's a new domain with lots of room for experimentation. Actually, one project out of the lab I'll be joining in the fall involves doing 3d modelling in VR by painting a shell of a shape with "ribbons", which are then converted into a proper watertight mesh suitable for stuff like 3d printing.

The submerged cathedral render is actually really impressive, considering the route you took to achieve it :)


Procedural modelling hmm... sounds a bit like the next level of motion tweens huh? :) Don't animate nearly enough to contribute a good answer here, and it's mostly all FBF when I do, but this was an interesting read. Cool Cathedral too. Something so atmospheric about pretty much any kind of architecture submerged like that.

Good Luck on that offer! Sounds like good things all over.

Haha essentially! Computer assisted stuff is always sort of hard because so much of the time, it stands out for having such a different feel from the handmade parts. I think I aspire to integrate things as well as Studio Ghibli does -- the black spaghettilike texture of the monster in Princess Mononoke is an example of procedural generation and a particle system integrated really well. Maybe the thing that computers excel at is in repeating a handmade pattern at a large scale so that you can add way more detail than you'd be able to do manually, or where it looks better than if you just used copy-and-pasting.

have you ever done an animation on power point
that's the future

Ah, interesting, I thought Studio Gibli in particular really stuck with the traditional methods, but it's been a while since I saw some of their work. Might not have been as perceptive when I did...

In a lot of anime you see that kind of stuff NOT working well with the handmade bits at all. :) Especially around the millennium shift. It's improved to the point I don't mind it as much now, even though you usually do make the distinction. The latest episodes of One Piece, for example, seem to work with models for ships and basically any kind of vehicle in motion, whereas characters and other backgrounds all follow the traditional style. Fluid substances like water sometimes seem computer generated, and fighting sequences are becoming a bit of a mixture. It's pretty cool to follow.

Must admit I'm a pretty die hard fan of the everything-manual approach, though. :) But definately useful technological advances. Would be pretty cool to see some AI in regard to animation too, one that'd be able to emulate the traditional methods in a more automated way. Both a bit scared (that it'd be better than we can ever make ourselves) and intrigued to see what that could accomplish.

dave! been too long.

i’ve been getting into programming, ai, and vr over the past few years with a focus in automation. my vote for most important automation in traditional 2d - and probably the most interesting from a programming standpoint - has to be cleanup.

seems like the solution would be an interesting mix of pose estimation, segmentation, and sketch simplification - all of which have quite a few fantastic papers to reference as a starting point.

for coloring - i imagine a generative cnn could learn to loosely apply the lighting of a 3d reference image to a 2d scene, essentially a style transfer. once you’ve applied lighting to a 2d scene, you could then do a second style transfer on top of that to create a textured/hand drawn/painted look. could be a fun thing to experiment with.

anyways, stay in touch - congrats on grad school!

Right, agreed! One of the projects that came out of the lab I'll be going to starts tackling the sketch cleanup problem actually: https://www.cs.ubc.ca/labs/imager/tr/2018/StrokeAggregator/ There's a lot of work on things like this that look primarily at static images, so I'd like to take a look at what else it can do when it's got a sequence. If it can pick out poses over time, that can be really useful for making sure your motion curves are smooth.

Where are you at these days? It's been forever!

@Pahgawk i almost want to think that image sequences should make for an easier solution. a sequence would help to both separate noise from art and should help flesh out a truer representation of what the artist is going for.

the problem i run into in a lot of my single-image based solutions is that artists are rarely consistent in the amount of detail in a given frame of animation - some frames will have a fully constructed character and some are pretty much just loose scribbles. being able to input several frames together - or better yet pass in some type of character model reference - would hopefully allow for a better cleanup.

i'm over at titmouse in LA! doing a mix of everything from vr to traditional animation.