Short Animated Film Brings Hand-Drawn Comics to Life with Adobe Character Animator CC

Illustration by Pat Moriarity and animation by Seth Zeichner.

The dynamic relationship between design and technology continues to push creatives to new heights, with each element feeding off the other to present artists with new opportunities. The trend is obvious in digital animation, where content is perpetually disrupted by fresh minds and novel tools.

One shining example of this comes from two veterans of the animation and comics fields, Seth Zeichner and Pat Moriarity. The duo are working on an 8-minute short film titled The Realm Beyond Reason that brings hand-drawn comic illustrations to life using Adobe Character Animator, producing a distinctly unique aesthetic and feel.

Illustration by Pat Moriarity and animation by Seth Zeichner.

The artists at work

Pat, an award-winning designer, cartoonist, and illustrator has created hundreds of CD, 45 record and LP covers going back to the late 1980s for labels like Twin/Tone, Columbia, Subpop, and more. In the 1990s he was an art director for Seattle-based comic book publisher Fantagraphics Books, contributed to many well-known comics, and produced comics and illustrations for Nickelodeon, National Geographic Kids Magazine, and HIGHLIGHTS. In 2005, he created animation for the documentary Derailroaded.

He always maintained his stature in the underground comics scene as contributor and art director for Mineshaft magazine, and was eventually recruited to teach storyboarding at both the Seattle Art Institute and Seattle Film Institute.

Seth aspired to be a cartoonist when he started his studies at the New York City School of Visual Arts but fell in love with animation while there. He went on to work for the popular Nickelodeon Kids television show Blue’s Clues, which was one of the first shows to use Adobe After Effects, giving him even steadier footing in his profession.

After years or working with a range of companies such as Boeing and Microsoft, Seth too went on to teach at Seattle Art Institute, which is ultimately where he and Pat met.

“One day I was talking to Seth about an animation project I was working on with a Dublin based comedy writer named Garret Shanley,” says Pat. “We needed an animator and after seeing my storyboards and artwork he said, ‘Let’s finish it’.”

Blending traditional comic book style with modern animation

Seth and Pat storyboarded with paper and pencil to plan out the short film. The dark comedy is cut from the same cloth as legendary classics like The Twilight Zone and Outer Limits—and is even in black and white—but comes with a few different spins, including the groundbreaking animation that begins with paper-and-pen illustrations.

Illustration by Pat Moriarity and animation by Seth Zeichner.

“Because I’m a comic book artist and illustrator, I insisted on drawing everything on paper with nibs because I wanted the cartoon to look as much like a hand-drawn comic as possible,” says Pat. “There’s all kinds of crazy cross hatching and stuff that you don’t typically see in animated cartoons.”

Although Pat still draws a few extra frames here and there, almost everything is completed in Character Animator. After scanning the drawing in, trigger workflows, automatic lip sync, motion tracking, and walk cycles put the scenes and characters in motion.

“In the pantheon of animation, we’d never see anything like this without Character Animator because artists had to create the styles for the animation so that you can make them over and over again,” says Seth. “With this technology, we’re able to try out some really interesting animations.”

Illustration by Pat Moriarity and animation by Seth Zeichner.

Seth and Pat have worked closely with the Adobe Character Animator team throughout the film production, and are excited to have contributed to the product’s development along the way. “We’d show the Character Animator team a scene and say, ‘Here’s what we want to do,’ and they’d run with it,” says Seth. “Lots of really innovative tools within Character Animator have already come from this project.”

Getting it right

As two experts in their respective fields, Seth and Pat continue to tweak the project in hopes of perfecting it before releasing the full film to the public.

“As we’ve gone through it, we thought we were done a couple times, but keep getting more granular,” says Seth. “There are four scenes, and we go through each one and make updates until they are all at the same level, so at any point we can call it done. It’s taken a lot of work, but we’ve come a long way.”

Pat did all three record covers for Black Irish Texas, so he recruited them to do the music for the film as a favor. John Keister, comedian and former host of Seattle’s Almost Live did the main character’s voice and John Paulsen, from the Twin Peaks reboot and Sci-Fi channel’s Bigfoot did the other voices.

“I basically manipulated all my friends into helping me do this,” says Pat.

They will be shopping the short to film festivals, and hope that it will perform well given the fact that it’s Avant Garde, playing with new technologies and animation styles. Seth and Pat also want the project to raise awareness about Character Animator.

“I want to stamp on it somehow and in some big way that this was made with Character Animator,” says Seth. “There really hasn’t been a film at any film festival made with this technology yet.”

Catch Seth and Pat at Comic-Con

Seth and Pat will be speaking at the “Turn Comic Illustrations into Animation” at San Diego Comic-Con. The panel will include plenty of discussion about how the duo transformed hand-drawn illustrations into a breakthrough animated film, and will be moderated by Erica Schisler of Adobe. Also at Comic-Con, Adobe’s Dan Ramirez will provide a tutorial of Character Animator, as well as a preview of Project Puppetron.

Here’s where else to find us at SD Comic-Con:

Swing by our booth (4313) to meet the team, listen to our users discuss their latest projects, and get your hands on Adobe’s creative tools.

Stay tuned to Adobe CC Video Facebook and Adobe CC Video Twitter for the latest on the ground at Comic-Con, including special surprises!