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Author Topic: The Dragon Prince  (Read 905 times)

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FartsOfNeil

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The Dragon Prince
« on: October 04, 2018, 12:57:50 AM »

Let's get the pre-requisites outta the way first:

The Dragon Prince is a new animated show being released for netflix co-created by Aaron Ehasz, the head writer of Avatar: The Last Airbender...and I just saw it.  It's alright.  Yeah, it didn't grab me full up, but its solid for the most part.  Honestly, there's a lot to unpack about what does and does not work with the show and when trying to parse it out...which I'm not going to do here.  Nope, what I want to do is talk about the production and more specifically: the art direction.  Actually, it'd be more accurate to say the art decision...  I e'splain.

When the trailer first popped up for the series, immediate reactions were mixed, with a lot of people commenting on the shows very...uh...'unique' animation style.  In technical terms, the show's 3d character animation didn't include in-betweens, which are frames of animation created by the computer between the poses that are created by the animators.  Without those in-betweens, computer animation can feel choppy or even incomplete, but it does have certain artistic merits as pointed out in this video.  Thing is, I'm not really going to talk about the animation...I'm going to talk about the rendering, which is actually completely different, but often conflated with animation to the laymen.  Again...I e'splain.



This is a character from the show from multiple angles.  If it isn't obvious, it's a 3d computer model rendered to look like a 2d drawing in a process called 'cel shading' or 'toon shading'.  Now this rendering technique has been around for a good long while and for good reason.  Since it renders images out to flat colors rather than shaded ones, it's much quicker for the computer to spit out the image, which saves time and therefore money, so it's a veeeeery popular technique for tv budgeted animation...but there is a cost.  If you look closely at the image above, you might notice how the chin seems much sharper and more pointed in the first two images than in the third one despite it being a 3d model which should give it a uniform shape.  That's because by rendering a 3d model to replicate a flat 2d drawing, you remove the shading that defines the shape of that 3d image, making the characters rendered this way feel oddly misshapen.  It's an issue that becomes exponentially more pronounced when in motion.



"But what about something like The Walking Dead?" I might hear you object, "Doesn't it use toon shading too?"  No.  No, it actually doesn't.  The telltale games still used traditional lighting and rendering for its series, the difference is they use different textures that mimic comic book artwork.  The actual shapes of the 3d models is still being preserved through shading.  This also goes for the examples used in the video I linked to above.  He was talking about animation specifically, but the point still stands.

The end result of all this is that the show...well it doesn't look bad, but the characters do consistently feel...undefined and blob-ish throughout.  Which is a shame, because otherwise, the show looks gorgeous and it's just a shame it doesn't look as good as it could have...especially since it might have hid the shows other flaws better by such distracting good looks.
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Loopy

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Re: The Dragon Prince
« Reply #1 on: October 11, 2018, 07:47:04 PM »

Nice info. I haven't watched yet, but this is the kind of thing that would confuse me when talking about "animation."

That third image is a little bit horrific. Is that effect the type of thing that can vary depending on the software used for the process, or is it a fairly universal problem?
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FartsOfNeil

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Re: The Dragon Prince
« Reply #2 on: October 12, 2018, 12:24:30 AM »

It's inherent to the nature of that style of rendering.  The whole goal is to mimic a 2d drawing using a 3d model, but there's a baseline incompatibility that cannot be rectified.  A 3d model is a solid object that cannot be...adjusted to fit the angle of the camera the way a 2d drawing can*.  The computer will draw it in 3d space as is no matter how it looks, where as a person can adjust as needed when making the drawing.  When rendering using more traditional methods, this isn't an issue because the shape of the image is clearly defined through how the light hits it.



Those are 3d characters I created back when I had ambitions of being an animator.  Consider the boy facing directly towards the camera.  The shading is what's defining where his chin is.  There's no clear 'line' to delineate it from the neck.  Using toon shading would completely eliminate that definition and replace it with a binary on/off shadow.  Even the best programmed shaders wouldn't match the level of definition created by more traditional rendering methods.  There'd be a noticeable reduction in definition of the shape regardless of quality and that reduction would be amplified by the inclusion of motion.

No matter how good you make it, flat 2d shading is fundamentally incompatible with 3d, but that's not to say you can't mitigate it if you know what you're doing.  The best example I can think of is a recent anime called Land of the Lustrous:



The show doesn't so much solve the issue as design around it.  The characters are designed with clear, concise shapes and silhouettes and given a very limited color palette.  This focus on simplicity and clarity allows for a lot more compatibility with toon shading.  The naturally simplistic and 'sharper' style of anime in general - the pointed chins for example - also helps a lot.  There's also story elements that are used to hand wave any issues but that's not really relevant to the discussion.  But even with the focus they put on making it compatible, if you watch the show - or even just the trailer linked - there are moments, small though they be, where it just...doesn't...quite...work.  Lips and the mouth shapes in general tend to be big problem areas, especially with how toon shaders render their shadows.

If you want to see how this issue can look at its worst though, check out any clip from Season 1 of RWBY.  I mean, that show is trash regardless of how it looks but...whew does the animation carpet match the writing drapes in that first season!

*Technically it can if you have the time (read: money) to do so.  But when talking in the context of a tv/streaming budget...ha ha! Nope.
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Loopy

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Re: The Dragon Prince
« Reply #3 on: October 12, 2018, 07:02:12 PM »

I tried the first season of RWBY. I told myself I could stomach the animation if the story was any good, but, well... I think I got to the end of episode 2 before I quit? :D

Thanks for the explanation!
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Re: The Dragon Prince
« Reply #4 on: February 28, 2019, 10:48:41 AM »

Finally got around to watching this last weekend.  I love the show.  I just wish they'd decide whether they're going for a 2-D or a 3-D look.  The sudden drops in framerate are pretty jarring.  But the story is a lot of fun.  My daughter and I compared TDP to Korra and we're pretty sure we've figured out what, in ATLA, was Aaron's handy work and what was Mike and Bryan's.
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Loopy

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Re: The Dragon Prince
« Reply #5 on: March 02, 2019, 12:17:31 AM »

I've heard that Season 2 has somehow taken what was a Generic YA Fantasy and brought it to a new level? If true, I might have to increase the priority on my Watch List.
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Re: The Dragon Prince
« Reply #6 on: March 02, 2019, 10:33:19 AM »

I'm gonna rec it just because of Jack De Sena.  Like...  Hearing Sokka's voice again is awesome!  But I'm not going to pretend it isn't a generic fantasy with some weird art and wonky animation.  It's not that deep, either.  It's not trying to be anything more than an adventure story.  But I love those characters.  They are so sweet and there is a great emphasis on love and friendship and loyalty.  The backgrounds are quite lovely and the music is decent.  Also, they've had some good fight scenes.  But--and this is important--Koh's VA is in it! :D
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FartsOfNeil

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Re: The Dragon Prince
« Reply #7 on: March 07, 2019, 12:08:27 AM »

That's funny, because I was flip-flopping on whether I should actually post my thoughts on the Season 1 itself and one of the things I would've mentioned is how it...yeah, it ends up becoming a fairly generic adventure, but it's clear they were trying for something more ambitious and...harmlessly failed?

I lost my Netflix access (was leaching off a mutual, natch) so I haven't seen S2, but S1 was trying and trying hard for a Game of Thrones sense of character-based drama, then seemed to kinda give up and just do what it could to get the main characters physically moving to give the thing the illusion of progression.  There's so much focus on the main bad guy and what seems to be an attempt to give the guy nuance grinds up hard against the need for this children's show to have a clear antagonist making clearly not-okay decisions and it just comes off as muddled instead.  His S1 ending scene could be them just giving up on the idea entirely from here on out.  I'm not sure.  Like I said: muddled.

Had it succeeded, I think the show would've been made a much bigger impact, but as it is, it just comes off as wasted time.  The rest of the story is the main cast on their adventure, and it light and largely inconsequential fluff, but it's done well enough and the characters are fun to watch.  It really took me by surprise just how much DeSena's voice hasn't changed...like, at all.  Then again...freaking Dante Basco, so...
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Re: The Dragon Prince
« Reply #8 on: March 10, 2019, 11:44:55 AM »

No show that quotes memes is taking itself that seriously.
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