Skip to main content

Resident Dragon: Christmas List - Behind the Scenes on TET's 2D Animated Christmas Short Made with Reallusion's Cartoon Animator 5

Elf speaking to Santa on the phone in Santa's Workshop.
A scene from Christmas List
a short by TET.

I released my end of year holiday short, Resident Dragon: Christmas List, staring my avatar, TET, Red the Dragon, Cool Froyd the Cat, and Grrr Dog. You will be seeing more of these original characters in the future as I'm developing a six part series. Watch the holiday short below.

Since it's been a while since I've done a behind the scenes deep dive into one of my own productions, I thought this animated short would be ideal to share some of my takeaways for what I learned or did that I think may help you in your own animated projects.

Resident Dragon: Christmas List was completed over the space of around three weeks, working mostly a couple of hours in the evenings, then maybe 4-5 hours over the weekends. Here are my thoughts on the process.

Writing the Script

Excerpt from one of  AI Storywriter's Generations.
Excerpt from one of 
AI Storywriter's Generations.

I've been experimenting a lot with AI for writing scripts and I've come to the conclusion AI doesn't really understand how to write short, punchy comedy. Having said that, if you didn't find my animation funny, I imagine you're thinking I don't either... but I feel I have a better grasp than AI all the same.

Putting my premise (TET goes to the North Pole to Confront Santa about his previous year's Christmas list) into an AI Storywriter app I kept getting lengthy morality stories about the true meaning of Christmas. That said, it was the AI that came up with adding Jesus into the mix as a carpenter/toy maker so, as I've written previously, AI's can be good for bouncing ideas off.

I wrote my final script from scratch, incorporating some of the ideas, from the AI and removing all the sweet sentiment and heart... in favor of streamlined dialogue and a focus on the funnier ideas.

Setting Up the Scenes

If you've followed my work for a long time you'll know I use Reallusion's Cartoon Animator 5 to do all my animation. 

This production only has two scenes. The first, outdoor snow scene in front of Santa's house, is virtually off the shelf with very few changes. It's almost entirely a single backdrop image with snow drifts, and shadows added from other packs. Santa, Rudolph, and Frosty the Snowman come from the same pack.

The interior workshop scene is more typical of my approach where I gather backgrounds and props across multiple packs to build a scene (making it impossible to individually attribute all the developers to their creations). You'll notice a mix of outlined and non outlined props. I wrote an entire post with Tips on How to Create Background Scenes in Reallusion's Cartoon Animator Using Your Content Library

Elf and Jesus in Santa's Workshop.
Santa's workshop scene is more typical of how I mix and match elements
from my content library. Usually I wouldn't mix outlined characters with
non outlined but I thought with Jesus being a more 'other worldly' character
the contrast of styles would be fine.

One thing of note is the phone the Elf uses. Initially the handset was not removable but I exported it as a PSD prop and separated it out. The cord you see in the animation is not part of the phone prop. It's a microphone cable from one of Garry Pye's packs that I had to animate so it would move with the handset.

Usually I'll have an idea of where all my characters will be standing in each scene and build around that, making sure nothing in the background distracts you from them.

Animating the Camera and Characters

I always add my character dialogue first to get the timing correct. Next I'll plan and key frame all my camera shots within the scene for two reasons. The first is that it creates an animatic of the scene. Essentially a motion comic with just the lip sync and framing. The second is, it shows me what actually will be on camera and needs animating - there's no point animating a character if they're not actually in the shot.

Animate the Lead Characters

It makes sense to spend the most time animating the lead (or speaking) characters. In my first scene TET and Santa are the lead characters.

To animate them I start by adding template face expressions that align with what they are saying using the Face Key Editor. These expressions will blend into each other so you need to place a key frame where the expression starts and where you want it to end so that the expression is held for that duration.

Using the Face Key Template editor to animate my characters.
Using the Face Key Editor Face template expressions.

Next I'll animate the bodies using pre-made motions that kind of match what the character is doing. In the timeline I'll remove sections of the motions that don't work, and shift other sections around to better match what the character is doing. I'll then use the blend handle at the start of the motion to blend everything together.

If you have characters with sprite hands these, are often animated as part of predefined motions, but I will go through and change the various hand sprites for more fluid transitions between positions or just to get a sprite that better matches with what the character is saying.

Finally I'll open up the Face Puppet Editor and do I live recording to add pupil movement, eyeblinks, and subtle head movement. All of this helps to make the character feel more alive and less like a robot.

If you'd like a more detailed insight into my character animation workflow I wrote about it in my post, The Lazy Animator Versus Garry Pye - Comparing Character Animation Workflow in Cartoon Animator.

Animating the Minor Characters

All the other characters in my first scene are only there to make the scene more interesting than just TET and Santa talking outside in the snow.

The Resident Dragon Cast because having at least Red the Dragon there implies that maybe TET got to the North Pole by riding Red. Froyd and Grrr Dog are just along for the ride.

Obviously Rudolph and Frosty the Snowman help give you the idea this is Santa's place and TET hasn't just bumped into Santa somewhere randomly.

For Rudolph, I simply applied a pre-made stand idle motion that loops for the whole animation with eye blinks etc. puppeted in.

Red the Dragon had to have a sitting idle motion key framed from scratch, which I then looped for the whole animation, then I added puppeted head movement and eyeblinks etc.

Grrr Dog uses a quadruped template so I was able to string together some pre-made dog motions. I have to do some customization on them though as he's almost literally a one sprite character, and his stubby legs distort his body horribly if you put him in a sitting position.

Grrr Dog's Timeline showing the use of pre-made motions with modified keys
to correct his sitting position.

Froyd the cat I simply saved all his animation, where he sits around meowing, from my previous production, Resident Dragon: Charred Breakfast, as a perform motion, and dropped it right into this one. All I had to do was split it up to match when he was in shot.

Video Editor and Additional Audio

Once all the animation was done I exported both animated scenes as MP4 files and brought them into ShotCut (the free, open source video editor).

Aside from adding titles to the beginning and end the only other visual editing I really did was to add a radial gradient blend filter to make the edges of each scene darker and to focus more light on the speaking characters.

The finished edit in Shotcut. A simple gradient filter darkens the edge of the image.
The Green tracks show just how little audio I added to the mix.

My audio mix was simple too, keeping the audio of the voices from CTA, adding soft wind noise for the exterior, some sawing noises in the workshop, and then Christmas music from YouTube's music library.

---o ---o--- o---

Hopefully you found this behind the scenes look interesting and maybe picked up at least one tip along the way. 


Popular posts from this blog

Inochi2D - Free Open Source 2D VTuber Avatar Rigging and Puppeteering Software (Part 1)

Inochi2D Creator - Free Open Source VTuber Software. If you've been looking for a way to live perform as a 2D cartoon avatar on camera, whether it be for a live stream or for pre-recorded content like educational videos, then VTuber software is a low cost (or even no cost) option worth looking into. In my previous post, How to Become a VTuber - 2D and 3D Software for Creating and Controlling Your Avatar , I took a brief look at the relatively new but completely free and open source Inochi2D  which I thought showed great potential for my own needs of creating a live performance character rig for my own TET Avatar that I use for all my promotional materials. While it is possible to live perform my character using Cartoon Animator itself, Reallusion's MotionLive2D capture system isn't great - with lip sync in particular. More importantly though, I can't exactly teach people how to use Cartoon Animator if I'm using Cartoon Animator to control my Avatar. What is Inochi2D

Moho 14 Released - Still the Best 2D Animation Software for Indy Animators on a Budget

Moho 14 Released. Regular readers know I am a Reallusion, Cartoon Animator advocate through and through. Hands down I would recommend Cartoon Animator 5 first over Lost Marble's Moho 14 to anyone who is just starting in 2D animation, is a team of one, or just needs to animate as quickly as possible. However, feature for feature, Moho is, arguably, the best 2D animation software for the rest of us who can't justify a Toon Boom Harmony , or Adobe Creative Cloud subscription (and even with their applications Moho is very competitive on features). You can get started with Moho Debut for just USD$59.99 which is a cut down version of Moho Pro but it still has the most essential features needed for 2D animation. While Moho Pro is a whopping USD$399.99 (Cartoon Animator, which only has one version, is just USD$149.00) upgrades to new version numbers come down to a quarter of the price at USD$99.00. Even though Reallusion just released features like Motion Pilot Puppet Animation and

Start Your 2D Animation Side Hustle - Sell Your Cartoon Animator Characters, Props, Scenes, and Motion Files in the Reallusion 2D/3D Marketplace

Have you thought about starting a side hustle selling your original Cartoon Animator assets in the Reallusion 2D/3D Marketplace ? In this article, the first in a series on selling in the marketplace, I'll give you an overview of what's involved, why you should give it some thought, and whether you can earn enough to quit your day job (or at least have a worthwhile side hustle). If you're an artist with any kind of drawing skills, and you're creating your own original characters, props, scenes, and even motion files for your Cartoon Animator projects, then setting up your own store in the Reallusion Marketplace should be a no brainer. You're making content already, it doesn't cost you anything to set up, and Reallusion only takes a 30% commission from each item sold. (If you think that's a lot, I'll address that further down). Don't be put off if you think your art skills aren't up to professional standards. There are plenty of artists with naïve

Wonder Unit Storyboarder - Free Storyboarding Software for People Who Can (or Can't) Draw

Wonder Unit Storyboarder.  As an independent and solo animator I'm always tempted to try and skip storyboarding my animated shorts because they're usually only single scene sketch comedy type jokes. As a result I have many unfinished projects that kind of petered out due to having no clear finishing line. Storyboarding your productions, no matter how small, gives you a step by step guide of every shot that needs to be completed (no planning shots as you animate). It also allows you to create an animatic that gives you a rough preview of the finished production. In short, you shouldn't skip storyboards as they, generally, increase the chance of the project being completed. Disclaimer - I'm Not a Fan of Storyboarder Upfront, Wonder Unit's Storyboarder  is not my preferred storyboarding software. However it's completely free, has a number of very compelling featu

Can You Learn Reallusion's Cartoon Animator 5 for Free Using Their 137 Official YouTube Video Tutorials Sorted Into a Logical Learning Order?

Or you could just buy The Lazy Animator Beginner's Guide to Cartoon Animator . While Reallusion's Cartoon Animator is one of the easiest 2D animation studios to get up and running with quickly, learning it from all of the official, free, video tutorials can be more overwhelming than helpful. With more than 137 videos totaling more than 28 and a half hours of tutorials, spread across three generations of the software (Cartoon Animator 3 through 5) it's hard to know if what you're learning is a current or legacy feature that you either need to know or can be skipped. Many of the official tutorials only teach specific features of the software and don't relate at all to previous or later tutorials. As a result there are many features either not mentioned or are hard to find. To make your learning easier, on this page, I've collected together all of the essential, official, free video tutorials and sorted them into a learning order that makes sense. Simply start at

2D Animation Side Hustle - How to Find a Niche Market Selling Digital Characters, Props, and Background Art in the Reallusion 2D Marketplace

C ontinuing my series on your 2D Animation Side Hustle, Selling in the Reallusion 2D Marketplace , in this article I'm going to take a look at niches and why they're important to becoming a successful seller. I'll also look at some indicators, specific to the Reallusion Marketplace, that can help point you in the right direction of finding niches that are in demand. What is a Niche and Why Are They Important? In marketing terms a niche is kind of like a sub category or a section of a subject that you want to focus on. It's not the big idea with wide appeal that everybody loves, it's a smaller, more specific section of the idea that fewer people really connect with. For example, in the Reallusion 2D Marketplace, Characters are the biggest sellers. Everybody loves and wants to buy characters. They're great! That's all you need to know, characters sell the best, go make some! There are currently 4413 characters for sale in the marketplace. How will people find

Artbreeder - Using AI created Character and Background Content in your Animations

A selection of User/AI generated images from Artbreeder. If you're looking for an endless supply of 2D character and background images for your animations then Artbreeder , an online Artificial Intelligence (AI) that generates image mash-ups you can tweak as much as you like, could be the ultimate content library. What is Artbreeder? Artbreeder is free to use though there are various paid plans, that give you additional features, such as higher resolution download images or more settings to play with. All images created on the site are Public Domain (CC0 License) and can be used in commercial projects. Using Artbreeder's online app you can generate head shot portraits, full body characters, landscapes, and other scenes simply by choosing two or more existing images to mash together then, using a series of sliders, to select which traits from each image you wish to lean toward in the final image. Photo Comparison - Top is my original uploaded photo. Bottom is Artbreeder's ap