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Traditional Animation and Orchestral Music in the Banner Saga

December 18, 2014

Banner Saga

To achieve the old Disney “Sleeping Beauty” feel and due to a “deep-seated love of classic animation“, the studio decided to pursue the traditional 2D animation route in the age where many animated films are developed with 3D animation techniques. The end result feels like you are participating an animated film.

Rotoscoping aided the animation process. This should not be confused with the tracing of the live film frames – each frame is still drawn from scratch by hand. You can think of it as a guide akin to an anatomy book or a model. Most human characters in Disney animated films where rotoscoped, including Briar from Sleeping Beauty.

The fluctuation of the linework and imperfection in the transitions gives the traditional animation a certain warm wabi-sabi feel.

The animation for the Banner Saga was done by the Powerhouse Animation Studios. Here is the animation process they employed.

“For the cinemas we’ve created, we are following the traditional animation pipeline which has not changed much since the 30’s. The main difference being that we now draw on Cintiqs directly into Flash (for this job we were solid Adobe: Flash, Photoshop, and After Effects).”

Step 1: Storyboards and Animatics: Arnie supplied us with some rough boards and we turned that into an animatic. An animatic is storyboards timed to audio. For each second we have to do 12-24+ drawings depending on the amount of characters and backgrounds. Therefore, we worked really hard with Stoic to nail down the cuts and timing in the animatic.

Step 2: Rough Animation: After the animatic was locked we moved forward with rough animation, which is exactly what it sounds like. Animators like Patrick Stannard would work on roughing out the scenes.

Step 3: Backgrounds: While animation is being done, artists work on backgrounds from the animatic layouts. The backgrounds in this piece were meticulously digitally painted in Photoshop, and we tried to live up to the standards set by the Stoic Team.

Step 4: Inbetweens and Clean-up: The rough scenes are passed to clean-up artists to be colored and “inked.” It takes a steady and patient hand to make sure that designs like these stay on model and stay true to the designs. Sometimes our animators do their own in-betweens and sometimes more are added by our skilled clean-up artists.

Step 5: Composition/Post: Everything is assembled in After Effects. SWFS of Flash scenes, and Photoshop-based painting are combined, and effects (snow, lighting, color correction) are added to get everything to its final place. This is the result–go back and watch the rough scene and you can see how much is added in this process.

Further Reading: The Banner Saga animation process

The music for the game was composed by Austin Wintory who has composed scores for films and video games. His music for Journey won several awards and was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media, the first ever for a video game. The music was performed by the Dallas Wind Symphony, a Grammy-nominated ensemble, led by the incredible conductor Jerry Junkin.

The following tracks are some of my favorite:

Cut with a Keen-Edged Sword

Of Our Bones, The Hills

Onward

We are all Guests upon the Land. This amazing song and perfectly matching visuals of the ending left me in tears…

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