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Cloth Cat Keeps 2D Animation Pipeline on Track with ftrack

Cloth Cat Animation in Cardiff, Wales, completed 52 episodes of the children’s television series ‘Toot the Tiny Tugboat’ in just over a year. The show is a 2D animated adaptation of ‘Toot and Pop!’, a children’s book by author Sebastien Braun about Toot, a tugboat who spends his days helping other ships around the harbour. Although he is inclined to put having fun above duty, he always gets his priorities sorted out in time to get the job done, teaching kids a useful lesson as well as entertaining them.
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Cloth Cat specializes in 2D animation with a team of 35 artists, having worked on other series like ‘Boj’ in Australia for the ABC and ‘Wildernuts’ for RTEjr in Ireland. The team produces most of the animation for Toot with CelAction2D software, which the team has used for about 10 years on shows for various production studios. Their studio now runs the world’s largest installation of CelAction2D. The software is used with a large, local render to help balance demand as required.

Cloth Cat’s team working on Toot comprises about 30 people divided between animation, production, editing, layout and rigging. When running at full capacity, the group can finish the primary work for a full episode each week. However, the tasks are organised with overlaps, which means the different sections of the project are moving through various departments at any given time.

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52 Episodes

“We render and review hundreds of shots a day, and the edit is constantly being updated with new material. At the same time, layout is producing new shots ready to begin animation on the next episodes, so we always have something at each stage of production,” said the company’s managing director Jon Rennie. “The production is fixed on tight deadlines, and keeping up is a challenge. Animation series are run very methodically and with very definite targets. With 52 episodes to complete, any delay or slip in the schedule can be disastrous for the budget.”  

Cloth Cat Animation started using the ftrack cloud-based collaboration and production tracking platform for the first time on the ‘Toot’ project. Jon said, “ftrack’s main advantage for us is that the animators can put less effort into the administration side of production and can achieve a higher quality of animation for the same production time, which gives us an edge in a very competitive market.”

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A further advantage has been ftrack’s ability to integrate with other types of management software the company uses such as Deadline render farm automation from Thinkbox Software, which the main members of the team have used successfully for several years to manage rendering processes. “Also, we use Tweak Software’s RV to review shots and check that the edit points are consistent,” he said. “It’s always difficult for animators working on individual shots to maintain a wider sense of the edit and how their work will fit with other shots they haven’t been involved with.”  

Integration Time

Creating an ideal workflow with CelAction, ftrack, Deadline, RV and The Foundry’s HIERO meant hiring a developer to integrate the software before the project got fully underway. However, by using ftrack’s API and a number of custom scripts, Jon said the process proved straightforward and as a result they can track shots as different versions are created and exported.

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“We use HIERO to import the edits and then build the episode database ready to assign tasks to artists. The ftrack web interface then opens CelAction with the correct project file, and then tracks renders as they are submitted,” he said. “This allows us to automatically create preview movies for approval and then import material back into HIERO so that we’re always working with the most recent renders in the edit. 

In effect, ftrack compliments these products by working as an asset management and tracking system. Here, Cloth Cat is using HIERO to conform the project from the EDL, and RV is their review tool. ftrack’s developers make as many external tools as possible integrate with ftrack so that users can design the workflow that works best for them. “The ftrack workflow allows us to see shots in context very quickly and reduce the number of revisions we have to do. This means that animators can spend more time finessing a shot, knowing that it will merge with the editor without too many issues.”

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Ftrack Expansion

Cloth Cat Animation is completing its animation work for ‘Toot the Tiny Tugboat’ in May 2015, and fully finishing and delivering the series by mid-year. Beyond the show’s current run in the UK, it’s also been licensed internationally, which means the studio’s attractive, rendered work will be seen by kids around the world.

Due to the tight preproduction schedule, Cloth Cat did have to get ftrack integrated and fully operational in a relatively quick time to use it on ‘Toot’. But now that the team has used it for the bulk of the project, they plan to expand its use over several future projects. They intend to make further use of the client review functions especially, allowing directors and animators to interact directly when in remote locations.

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“A lot of our productions have used spreadsheets and basic tracking in the past, but ftrack has made management more efficient. In particular, removing the administration burden from animators means they make fewer mistakes and can spend much more of their day actually animating and receiving clear, dedicated feedback.”

Getting into Actions

Actions are a part of ftrack that form a platform for developers to extend its functionality with a native Python API. Users can tightly integrate processes like generating reports, automating repetitive tasks, or creating file system structures. Their Actions appear directly in the ftrack web interface, making them quite easy to access and use. For example, Actions are what launches CelAction2D with the correct project file, mentioned above.

The team also uses them to automate common tasks like generating thumbnails and setting up reviews. “We use Actions to manage the filing systems, so that artists don’t have to dig through layers of versions and folders to find the scene they need to work on,” said Jon. Because permissions and roles can be set, Actions are also context aware - users only see the Actions and functions they need to work with, and that are most useful at any given time.   www.ftrack.com