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How Netflix's 'Klaus' Made 2D Animation Look 3D | Movies Insider

May 31, 2021
When the

animation

process for Netflix's "Klaus" began, it

look

ed something like this. Over time it started to

look

like a pretty impressive 2D movie. But then the animators went a step further and created a movie that looked like this. Suddenly the characters seemed three-dimensional. But unlike most animated films today, the characters in "Klaus" are not CGI and cannot even be considered 3D. It's all just a trick of the light. About 300 people, including 40 animators, worked on the film "Klaus," which took more than two years to make. And it was completed secretly, just a month before its premiere on Netflix.
how netflix s klaus made 2d animation look 3d movies insider
So why did it take so many people and so much time? To understand it, we have to go back to 2010, long before "Klaus" was nominated for an Oscar, when director Sergio Pablos came up with the idea. Since his story was about the origin of Santa Claus, he appealed to nostalgia. And he thought that a nostalgic 2D

animation

style, like what we saw in Disney

movies

from the '90s, would fit the story better. But he also wanted to improve the look, so his team at SPA Studios in Madrid added some crucial new steps to the animation process.
how netflix s klaus made 2d animation look 3d movies insider

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how netflix s klaus made 2d animation look 3d movies insider...

Sergio Pablos: I never saw 3D as an evolution of 2D. I saw it as a division, as if there was now a new way of doing animation. Narrator: First, they storyboarded the script and

made

a cut using temporary voices for the characters. They swapped them later once the actual cast was recorded. The next step was design, where the team designed the backgrounds and determined the placement of the cameras. The animation of the characters and the color of the backgrounds were done simultaneously. The ultimate goal was for the two to merge seamlessly and look like part of the same world.
how netflix s klaus made 2d animation look 3d movies insider
All of the characters were drawn by hand using digital tablets and a program called Harmony by Toon Boom. The animators used reference videos of themselves in live action as a guide. The initial sketches were very rough, as you can see here. But there was a cleanup stage in which artists refined the drawings with sharp, bold lines. Then they painted the characters with basic flat colors. Everything here still looks very 2D, but they will soon bring the characters to life with a very important addition normally reserved for 3D animation: lighting. His team tested a new method for lighting 2D characters and launched a two-minute, 30-second long proof of concept in 2015.
how netflix s klaus made 2d animation look 3d movies insider
The proof of concept looked good and secured them a deal with Netflix, but the process was too labor-intensive. construction site. So they partnered with a French company called Les Films du Poisson Rouge to help advance the technology, which they called KLaS, short for Klaus Light and Shadow. Poisson Rouge was able to make the tool much more efficient and easier for artists to work with. The KLaS tool allows artists to paint with light using different types of lighting in various combinations such as "key light" and "ambient light". With 3D CGI, light is automatically added to objects, but it's more complicated with 2D.
Pablos: Well, with the lines, with the drawings, the computer needs a certain level of AI to even understand that this line corresponds to this line and this hand is also this hand. Narrator: The software tracks the movement of the characters so that the light and shadows move with it. The program requires a very educated guess, but it's not 100% accurate, so artists can go in and fine-tune it by hand. Painting with light allowed artists to be creative with details down to the smallest reflection in their eyes, as you can see here. The team used lighting not only to make the characters look more real, but also to help tell the story.
For example, when Jesper hands out roles to the children as a drug dealer, he is always standing in the dark to illustrate his shady behavior. And when his father exposes him at the end of the film, he is the only one standing in the light, while the others are in the dark. Inspiration for detailed lighting techniques came from

movies

and television shows, such as using just a single beam of light to illuminate a character similar to this scene from "Apocalypse Now." And this scene, when Jesper confronts the bully, was inspired by "Breaking Bad." It's important that the backgrounds also appear three-dimensional and follow the same lighting pattern as the characters, so they used "color cues" as a guide.
Pablos: They're quick scribbles, you know, they don't have a lot of details, but they tell you exactly what the direction of the light is and how it will affect both the characters and the background. Narrator: For example, these color cues show how Jesper and Alva will be backlit by the sun coming through the window. And this one shows a progression of how the light will change on Alva as she moves towards Jesper. To make the backgrounds pop and appear 3D like the characters, the animators used several different techniques, such as multiplanes, where you have layers on top of layers to give the illusion of depth.
The team created a total of 3,160 scenic designs for the film. After blending the characters with the backgrounds, they used a second important step that really gave the 3D characters that intricate detail to bring them to life: texture. Using another tracking tool, they used contouring, lighting, and motion to add various effects to specific parts of a character. Pablos: So now you could say, well, I don't want a lot of roughness in the skin, but I want the fur to feel rougher. Narrator: For example, you can make it look like an oil painting or a watercolor. These textures are subtle, but if you look closely, you can tell the difference.
In the end, the characters seemed much more three-dimensional and part of their surroundings, rather than looking like stickers on top of an elaborate painting. Pablos: And that's what baffles people when they say, "This is 3D," because it has volume, it moves, and it has texture. But it's actually a combination of light and texture that creates that illusion. Narrator: The final stage is the final composite, in which last-minute details, such as particles, are added to the image. While most of the film followed the 2D process, the animators used 3D models for some characters and objects and combined the two seamlessly.
And although they were created using CGI, they were lit the same way as 2D characters: by hand. Pablos: There are things that benefit from being drawn because they feel more organic, and there are things that aren't supposed to look organic. There are things that are supposed to look solid, like cars, doors, and accessories, and it's very difficult to make them feel consistent and solid through drawing. Narrator: If you look closely, Jesper's car is 3D, as are some of the reindeer. Pablos: Every time the reindeer had to do something, it was particularly difficult for the 3D to get it to look good with the 2D.
We just animate the reindeer in 2D and sometimes we animate one reindeer in 2D and the rest in the 3D shot. Narrator: Scenes like this chase scene at the end of the film combine 2D and 3D elements so seamlessly that it can be difficult to tell which is which. Pablos: There was a shot where Jesper lifts up a plate cover at one point, and I commented on how good the integration of that 3D plate cover with the 2D actor looked, and they said, "Oh, no, no, that's it." It's actually 2D." "We just painted it to look like metal."

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