Andry "Dedouze" explained how he deals with hand-drawn animations in Blender using Grease Pencil and other tools.
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Hi, I am Andry, but I use the name Dedouze for my artworks. I am a self-taught illustration and animation hobbyist who became a freelancer recently. I didn’t study art actually - in the past, I was a web developer and I just made drawings in my spare time for myself and for people who followed my social profile pages.
I’ve always been interested in art, in all its forms, from paintings to computer graphic animation. However, I started drawing more seriously only a few years ago and, as a result, got noticed by some professionals in music, TV and movie industries who commissioned me for little illustrations, storyboards, and animations. As more and more tasks came, I thought that I could try drawing as my full-time job. I quit my previous job a year ago, and now I am trying to develop my own art outside of commissions so that I could one day make a living out of my own art projects.
Blender for Animation
I’ve always wanted to make animations but never found the right tool to do it. I really love the look of traditional 2D animations we can see in Japanese animes from the 90s and Ghibli movies. I am a tech enthusiast and I have some background knowledge of 3D from experiments I did during high school and in my spare time after graduation, in 3ds Max and Cinema 4D. Then, last year, I saw the trailer of the “Hero” movie made by the Blender team for the upcoming Blender 2.8 version and Grease Pencil which allowed mixing 2D and 3D in the same software. That’s when I knew I found was the perfect tool to create what I wanted.
I started using Blender experimental builds and creating short animations, even for production projects even though the Blender team clearly advised not to do that! But even the buggy experimental version of blender 2.8 was already better than any other software to combine 2D and 3D animation in one single file.
Start of a Project
I always start with the final look of the scene. I try to draw the final scene, not in the exact shape, but the right proportions for each element, the composition, lighting, and color palette. It is important for me to have a clear art direction from the beginning so that I am sure if it is worth creating the scene or not.
I make the draft on a flat 2D screen, sometimes on paper. I add colors digitally, most of the time with another software like Clip Studio Paint. I could make the draft in Blender directly, but my computer is too slow and it is important to work most smoothly in the concept part. Once I am satisfied with the draft, I import it into Blender as a background image on the active camera and start redrawing it with Grease Pencil and 3D objects that I model myself.
Advantages of Grease Pencil
The usual process of mixing 2D and 3D animations involves preparing the 3D scene in one software and the 2D one in another. You have to export the images in a PNG sequence from one software and import them into the other software, - and if you need to make changes, you have to switch between the two programs you're working in.
Blender's Grease Pencil allows you drawing directly in the 3D scene, so everything stays in one place. You can either draw on flat planes that represent your canvas and then attach them to animated objects or draw directly on the surface of complex 3D models. I did that for the environment of my animated train station. I modeled the stairs, the houses, walls, and the whole train, and then drew over everything with Grease Pencil.
The result looks really different from a texture made in Photoshop or other software - you can tell by looking at the animation that the pencil strokes are really physically there, in the scene, and not just in JPG textures on flat planes.
Also, they are animated! All the lines can be animated, so you can draw little things like moving grass blades or posters on a wall that are being moved by the wind.
For the animation part, there is also a very cool tool to edit multiple frames at the same time. If you're working on an animation of, for example, a whole tree that is moving in the wind, and you see that the top of the tree moves too fast or too much on one side, you can just deform the tree in a single frame, and the modification will be proportionally applied to the whole timeline.
I won’t say that I have strict rules for colors, but lately, I’ve been obsessed with one particular color palette that I use for all my drawings. My palette includes blue, pink, purple, and yellow - nothing else. It has become something like a challenge for me to try and create something new in each drawing under the restrictions of the same color palette. Though I allow myself some variations sometimes, like tints of green in the blue or shifts from yellow to orange.
The most important thing for me is making sure that the final look has an interesting composition and light balance. I have reference pictures from everyday life or movies and series I watch, but they only provide global ideas that I memorize and mix in my own creations. For example, when I see a scene that I like, I just take notes for the structure and global idea... the main character on the left, the light comes for the right, very dark background but with a bright element on the horizon, very cool composition - I must try it!
Transitions between Frames
I draw the keyframes or main poses in 2D, frame by frame, and then decide if I should create in-between images too or use the interpolation tools in Blender - there is auto interpolation to make a smooth transition between 2 frames. However, auto interpolation produces good results only if you are just making a translation/rotation and small deformations of an object. You can’t use it for the whole character that changes its pose.
Let's take the scene of two characters talking, for example. The girl raises her arms to her face, with hands closed at first and then unclenched. The part where the arms are being raised is made with auto interpolation, but for the opening of the hands, I drew 3 frames manually.
There are a lot of resources on the internet for each specific part of the creation process, but I've never found one that covers the whole workflow with all the possibilities of the software. But that seems impossible because there are so many features! At the moment, I am preparing my own tutorials in which I'll try to cover most of the tools, but it takes a lot of time.
For now, I'd recommend checking the sources below which helped me to learn some specific features: