FOX’s Son of Zorn is a fresh take on the classic fish out of water story — if that story follows a Barbarian cartoon character (Zorn voiced by actor Jason Sudeikis) as he leaves his war torn home to reconnect with his human son in real world suburbia. The hybrid animation/live action comedy concept is one of the many projects the wonderful and wacky Titmouse works on out of their three studio locations in Los Angeles, New York, and Vancouver.
Titmouse is a full service animation studio that means it. Titmouse does it all. Writing, storyboarding, design, animation, composite, and editorial for TV, feature films, and commercials. Their clients and projects run the gamut from edgy humor to more traditional animation, including Adult Swim’s Venture Bros and China, IL; Dreamworks/Netflix Home and Turbo FAST; and Comedy Central’s Moonbeam City to name a few. Plus, they wrapped up their first independent feature film Nerdland this year that is set to be released in December, and are creating interactive Virtual Art cartoons for the VR realm. Phew!
“Son of Zorn has been the first Titmouse project to integrate mocha Pro heavily into our compositing pipeline,” says Jennifer Ray, Producer for Titmouse and Animation Producer on Son of Zorn. The timeline to create a single episode of Son of Zorn is staggering and shows the depth of Titmouse’s resources and know-how. It takes around 25 weeks, which includes storyboard, editorial, animation, comp, and post-production, after the live action shoot to finish an episode. Titmouse delivers one episode every one to two weeks. “Son of Zorn has a production pipeline that hasn’t really been done before, particularly in the context of television,” continues Ray. “The complexity of the character design and live-action interaction, and the use of Animate (formerly Adobe Flash). This leaves the door open for a lot of ingenuity, as well as potential for inefficiency, so I’m always looking for ways to protect Titmouse’s pipeline and crew and help them be as efficient as possible. The use of mocha, for example, helps our compositors save much needed time.”
“We’ve been using mocha AE for a little over a year and mocha Pro was introduced into the pipeline in September 2016,” states Barry J. Kelly, Animation Director for Titmouse and On-Set Animation Supervisor for Son of Zorn. “mocha is pretty easy to learn. Overall we’ve liked the plug-in option. It’s been great to be able to do all of the work within After Effects.” In general, most shots require tracking.
“mocha is able to track areas that have no tracking markers and areas that are blurry with relative ease. And it is very helpful with handheld shots.”
mocha’s planar tracking and roto tools are used extensively for masking and combining the animation with live action footage. “mocha has been particularly useful for time-savings: speeding up output when rotoscoping live action actors and mattes for the animated characters when compositing all the elements for each shot,” says Kelly. In addition to everyday tracking and rotoscoping tasks, Titmouse uses mocha Proon difficult removal shots. Recently, they turned to the Remove Module for a camera pull out shot. The built-in AE camera tracker was unable to clean it. “We put a tracking marker in post to mark the spot where Zorn would be standing,” expresses Kelly. “Since it was not a motion capture camera move, we had no clean plates. But we were able to create 3 plates in Photoshop and it worked seamlessly.”
Son of Zorn succeeds because the world is believable. “The notion that there are animated characters that come from an animated land is not exactly headline news for this version of Orange County,” ends Ray. “That creates an interesting, albeit, high bar of expectation from an animation/compositing standpoint. We must convince the viewer that Zorn is integrated so well that there’s nothing overly extraordinary about it, especially alongside the live action characters he’s playing against.”