Microsoft Research, together with the University of Hong Kong and the University of Tokyo, have created a new technology that promises to automate the business of "in-betweening", the tedious hand-drawn process that smooths out the motion of 2D Animation.
The new technology has the snappy (not) title of "Autocomplete Hand Drawn Animations." The big question for 2D animators is....does it work, and if so, where can we buy it?
In-betweens are the boring bit of the hand-drawn 2D animation process. My first ever job in the animation industry was an an in-betweener, on the movie "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?", back in 1987. It was an entry-level job, full of drudgery, but which allowed the novice to learn from experienced animators.
I worked alongside other in-betweeners who learned our craft together - and were soon promoted. Among the newbies was the now legendary DreamWorks animator James Baxter, whose prodigious talent was soon recognised by the producers on the film. James didn't stay an in-betweener for long.
But isn't 2D Hand-drawn animation dead?
Not quite. Hand-drawn animation still survives today, clinging on by its graphite-stained fingertips. But few studios still use actual pencils and paper; most have gravitated towards new technology like TV Paint which allows animators to draw digitally, and then play back the animation in real time - no need to shoot a video pencil test like we had to do back in 1987.
But TV Paint won't do the in-betweens for you; these still have to be done manually, which takes a long time.
How does Autocomplete Hand Drawn Animations change things?
The new software unveiled at the Siggraph Asia conference offers the chance to automate the process of in-betweens. Watch the video above as an animator draws a fish and then, after drawing a single line for the next frame, the software suggests an in-between.
The computer voice is a bit weird - it's like having Stephen Hawking explain animation to you.
Of course, other tech companies are Disney are trying the same tricks. Disney pioneered a new technology called Meander to do in-betweens for their Oscar-winning short, Paperman.
Here at Escape Studios we welcome any technology that takes the drudgery out of animation, and helps animators to realise their work faster and more efficiently.