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Brendan Lyons

Question about how to blend/composite digitally painted hand drawn animation against a hand painted background

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Hi there,

I have a question about how to composite/blend hand drawn animation against a painted background for a short animated film that I want to make. 
Although it may be unusual, I have chosen to use the videogame "Cuphead" to explain in detail what exactly I'm asking. Cuphead contains hand drawn animated with hand painted back drops and the way it was made is very similar to how hand drawn films were made in the past. 
I'm just wondering how were the makers of Cuphead able to blend/composite hand drawn animation that has been digitally painted in Photoshop against a water coloured background without the digitally painted animation looking out of place.

The image shown below will explain what I mean:

As you can see in the image where I have traced and painted over the Big Flower character, the Flower looks out of place with the background (partly due to its fidelity compared to the background). This must have been what the animations would have looked like initially when they imported them in the game engine with the background art.  Note: Please disregard the hedge that is supposed to be in front of the bottom right of the Big Flower's body. That was a mistake on my part when tracing it in Photoshop.
My gut instinct is that they may have used compositing software such as After Effects or something along those lines in order to blend the animations against the background but I'm not sure how exactly they went about doing it.

Here is a video of the animation process for Cuphead if anyone is interested which shows how the hand drawn animations are imported into Photoshop for the colouring process: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CXpvF9Z2gG8


Any helpful information that could be provided regarding my question would be much appreciated.

Kind regards,


Edited by Brendan Lyons
Included Youtube Link

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This is kind of an odd question to be asking here, as it's more of a pure compositing thing vs. a cinematography thing. Nevertheless...

Here's my cel animation reel, which is comprised of a few commercial/PSA pieces and some stuff done mostly for fun. I used to animate on paper and shoot it directly on film. Now I animate on paper, erase the backgrounds in Photoshop, and comp in AE:

Webster Colcord 2018 Cel Animation Reel

What you're looking at with the great Cuphead stuff is just compositing tricks (but done in a game engine) to emulate the artifacts of actually shooting real animation cels. It looks to me like they are blurring the character layer slightly and multiplying that on top by 30% or so, and I think there's a chromatic aberration added which you would see with old lenses - if you look carefully at the black lines against a light background, they seem to have a bit of a chromatic aberration fringe.  Then there's a subtle lens vignetting, and an added grain pass over everything to marry it together (I'm not sure about the grain pass, but in-game they definitely have a scratchy/blotchy film pass on top of everything). Also in old cartoons there is often a slight shadow from the cels onto the bg, and they may be adding a sort of drop shadow to emulate that.

In the creation of actual cel animation in the old days, you would have some of the same issues with trying to marry the look of clean, flat colors on plastic cels over watercolor/guache backgrounds. That's why a lot of it comes down to the art itself - the shadows that are painted into the characters, the animated cast shadows, the motion lines. They would sometimes use rouge drybrushed on top of the cels for blushing cheeks.

Uli Meyer is sometimes active on this site, he's a cel animation master and might have a better answer than I.

- Webster

Edited by Webster C

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Try slightly blurring the layer/track of the digital hand drawings,
in AE or whatever you are using for compositing.

Also slightly desaturate the track till it matches the background.

Maybe raise the black levels?

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