Dream It, Film It, Then ToonIt!

If you’re a movie fanatic, there’s a chance you’ve heard of “A Scanner Darkly” or “Walking Life.” What made these movies special from a visual point of view, is the fact that they turned the movies into cartoons. I’ve even heard of people trying to emulate the look of the film using any tool they have available. However, that’s proven to be rather difficult and time consuming.

This is where ToonIt! can make your life a lot easier. ToonIt! is a plug-in that lets you take any real-life footage and turn it into a cartoon without much effort. It runs in AfterEffects, Premiere Pro, Avid and Final Cut. However, I’ll be focusing on the AfterEffects version from now on.

There are different tools inside ToonIt! The main tool is the Roto Toon, which allows you to get the desired toon effect. However, there are three other tools that you can use to give your footage a sketch look (Outlines only), a “glowing outline” look (Backlight edge) or a three-tone look called “Goth.” As you can imagine, the last three are meant to be more of “artistic styles” rather than actual toon shading, and you’ll end up using them depending on your requirements, while the Roto Toon will surely be the one you’ll use the most. 

The Roto Toon plug-in itself is easy to use, and depending on your source material it will yield a very decent result. You can use from two different roto techniques: one outputs a nearly completely flat image, and the other outputs a more detailed image (there’s also the option to turn off rotoscoping completely, resulting in an image very similar to the original). 

Also, inside the Roto Toon you can generate your outlines. There are “soft” outlines as well as “comic” hand-drawn outlines. However, the plug-in allows you to use both of them at the same time if you want, which means that you’re not limited to use only one of them at a given time.

The Outlines Only filter has pretty much the same parameters as the “soft” and “comic” outlines found in the Roto Toon filter. The main difference is the fact that you can have a dedicated outline-generator for your footage, which is useful in case you are after a pencil-drawn sketch look. 

The last two filters are the Backlight Edge filter and the Goth filter. As I said before, these are more suitable for “artistic expression” rather than toon shading, and it may be easier to understand them by looking at the sample images below. 

As soon as you begin using these plug-ins, you will notice that they are not “blazing fast”. Depending on the size of your frame, it may take a few seconds to process the image and show the result (the original photograph of the couple, featured on the second image of this article, is 2600x2000 pixels, and Roto Toon took from 3 to 4 seconds to process it).

The quality of your toon shading greatly depends on your footage. If you’ve had any experience with toon rendering using any 3D application, you may have noticed that you have to light and render your characters in certain way to make them look nice. The same applies to filmed footage.


ToonIt! test
This is a test that I made with the ToonIt! plug-in for AfterEffects.
The original video was shot by me during SIGGRAPH 2008

For the toon shading to actually look like toon shading, you will need to have very noticeable terminators and light/shadow ratios. If the light source is directly behind the camera’s point of view, your toon shading will look flat. Nevertheless, sometimes you can lessen the impact by using a Brightness/Contrast filter, as seen in the picture below. 

By the time I wrote this article, Red Giant Software had recently acquired ToonIt! (it was previously owned by Digital Anarchy). As a result, the support pages available at Red Giant’s website didn’t include any topics or tutorials related to this specific plug-in. In the meantime, Digital Anarchy still offers some tutorials that will help you get started. I hope Red Giant Software will offer those tutorials on their website soon.

Even if ToonIt! may be easy to use, it will take some experimentation to find the optimal shooting configuration. However, when you learn this set of rules, you won’t have much trouble turning your live action footage into a living cartoon with ToonIt!

For more information and pricing, please visit Red Giant Software.


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Animation Alley is a regular featured column with Renderosity Staff Columnist Sergio Rosa [nemirc]. Sergio discusses on computer graphics software, animation techniques, and technology. He also hosts interviews with professionals in the animation and cinematography fields.

November 10, 2008

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Member Opinions:
By: Qualien on 11/13/08
I had never heard of this software, this was an informative review.


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