SHADOWS was produced using a combination of hand-drawn keyframe 2D and computer simulation 3D techniques by a small team of animators and artists based at the Earth Observatory of Singapore. The team also included a few student interns from New York University Tisch School of the Arts Asia, and Nanyang Polytechnic School of Interactive and Digital Media. The music and sound were created by our partners in Europe and North America.
The original idea was to produce a short that offered the expression that is typical of contemporary character animation along with the limited motion that defines traditional silhouette animation. The result is a new hybrid style of animation that looks simple on the surface but is in reality quite sophisticated. One of the main production and creative challenges was to retain some of the limited style of traditional silhouette animation while providing the animated characters with a wider range of acting. Achieving this balance between increased expression and limited animation was tricky because wide expression and limited motion are opposite forms of expression. We knew that this dual goal could be accomplished by how we designed our character and how we built the rig, or skeleton, that was used to animate them.
On a technical level the obvious enhancement to the 2D digital puppets, in comparison with the traditional wayang kulit puppets, is a larger number of joints per character. We decided to keep the facial expressions to a bare minimum so our puppets could have some of the traditional minimalist flavor. The 3D characters rendered to look like flat 2D silhouettes, such as the Little Forest Goddess for example, are one of the highlights of the SHADOWS hybrid style. These 3D characters also feature some highlights that hint to their dimensionality. The shape of their silhouette also shifts as the 3D characters moves in 3D space. The movement of the trees was achieved by running a variety of dynamics routines that simulate the effect of wind on branches and leaves. The forests were laboriously composited, one tree at a time.