Monday, March 21, 2011

Jake & The Neverland Pirates

Admittedly, most of what I've had to say lately regarding animation coming out of Disney has been pretty critical. I make no apology for that, as I feel they should not be above criticism when I feel it's warranted. However, a couple days ago I came across something that I suspected I wouldn't care for, yet imagine my surprise when I actually found it to be quite charming!

It's a new TV series called Jake and the Neverland Pirates, which apparently has recently premiered on the Disney Junior block on the Disney Channel in the U.S. Several episodes have been posted on YouTube for viewing, and I must say that from a visual standpoint anyway, the show looks very impressive. I'm actually aghast at how good the animation looks, both appealingly designed and fluidly animated. In short, it looks better than most TV animation and almost approaches (but not quite) feature quality, though that quality is somewhat deceptive in that it is still being done using a type of "symbol" animation (I believe), yet in a far more sophisticated manner that mimics full keyframe animation. According to this site, someone named Clint who would appear to be involved in its production, claims that the animation technique is created through a combination of using ToonBoom Harmony and Maya software. What's incredible to me is how much it resembles traditional handdrawn animation, while apparently not utilizing that process at all! Additionally, the series boasts some intelligent art direction, with pleasing visual design in a colour palette that is rich without being gaudy.

I was also pleasantly surprised to learn that this series has been produced at Mercury Filmworks, back in my hometown of Ottawa. Although the series is certainly aimed at the pre-school set, there's some fun, cartoony characterization, and, while they've been redesigned in a less threatening, kid-friendly style, I surprisingly don't even have any major objection to the way that Captain Hook and Mr. Smee are portrayed in the show. The voice work is very true to the original characters and, despite their makeover, I think the integrity of their personalities has remained intact. All in all, I think this is a nice little series that I can see young kids quite enjoying. For me, it's a big step up from the CGI look of Mickey and friends in Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, a show that I frankly find hard to look at. With Jake, it seems like Disney is trying to be more faithful to its traditional animation roots, even if it's been simulated through the use of new technology.

So, a big congrats to all involved in creating each episode of Jake and the Neverland Pirates - it looks great!

By the way, if anybody from Mercury would like to give more background to the production process, please feel free to do so in the comments section. Thanks!


Boris M. said...

Hey Pete,
Amanda and I actually did a 3 day test at Mercury and worked a little with the character from the show. As far as I know the character stuff is done in ToonBoom and other elements like their pirate ship is 3D. They have super sophisticated 360 degree character rotations within ToonBoom which is why they can get a lot of fluidity and stronger poses because they're not limited to only a couple views.

There are a bunch of Sheridan grads that are working on it though, so I'm sure they'll chime in as well and tell you more!

Pete Emslie said...

Thanks for that info, Boris. I wondered whether Maya was being used on the characters as well, enabling that full rotation capability. I didn't know that ToonBoom itself allowed for that. I must say, even though I'm ever the traditionalist, I'm much more impressed with what I'm seeing being done with ToonBoom than I ever was with Flash. I'm not a fan of symbol-based animation, so the less the final product looks like that, the happier I am!

Unknown said...

Too bad I'm not a pre-schooler. This is some of the best looking animation I've seen lately.

Mark Heng said...

Too right about Mickey's Clubhouse, which has become the bane of my life thanks to my 3 yr old daughter's indoctrination into the cult of the mouse...It's actually deeply mysterious to me why the good people at Disney would choose to put out something so horrible looking while clearly there are easy solutions out there as evidenced by most of the CGI shows on CBeebies (Britain's baby channel).

Hopefully this new pirate show will be a return to form, although I don't see why the ol' Silly Symphony format can't be revived...

Robin said...

Both Braden Poirier and Jenn Tisdale worked on this.

Personally I think Mercury has -the- best ToonBoom animation out there.

You should really check out Fish Hooks, that's my favourite show that they've come out with recently. But everything they've done in the past few years has been top notch, from Jimmy Two Shoes to Toot and Puddle.

Jonathan Coit said...

Hey Pete,

Quite a few of your previous students are currently animating and background painting on this show. Myself included.

As far as I know, Maya is not used on the character builds except on very specific shots. It is all symbol based with very little drawing required during the animation process. I am not sure how much I can say about the builds within NDA besides that they're quite impressive.

Adam Pockaj said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pete Emslie said...

I'm glad to hear that there are a number of you Sheridan grads working on this show. I've seen a bit of "Toot and Puddle" some time ago, and it was quite impressive and charming too. Keep on doing us proud!

kurtwil said...

Thanks for the info, Peter! Congrats to Mercury for a nicely made show and getting Toon Boom's technology to do some amazing things, especially dimensional character turnarounds which has always been a difficult problem to solve in 2D animation. Perhaps Toon Toom's morph technology helps Mercury's proprietary approach, but in any event it looks great! Hopefully the business won't burn Mercury out as it did the company I worked for, and more great things will come from them!

BTW, did Mercury have any involvement with LITTLE EINSTEINS?

Mitchel Kennedy said...

A lot of my talented east coast pals are there too. They seem to dig it.

Pokey said...

Of course, even 2-D animation is onl;y the technique, as, of course, there has to be more to it than just be handdrawn..this looks like a Nickelodeon clone of "DiegO [think male Dora the Explorer :)].

Jenn about Disney she related to Ashley Tisdale? Not making fun, by the way.:)

Greetings from a clay animated horse..:)

Jonathan Coit said...


Jake does follow the same formula as Dora and Diego. There is no denying that! I'd like to think Jake looks a little nicer, especially the cartoony animation on Hook and Smee.

Ashley Tisdale does have a sister name Jennifer Tisdale and Jenn (who does BG painting on Jake) gets Facebook messages and friend requests from people who think she is Ashley's sister.

Thad said...

Mercury is sure shaping into quite a powerhouse in the dead city of Ottawa. The legendary Bob Jaques is working as director there now, and I'm excited to see his work again after too long a hiatus from the air.

Robin said...

Man, if Jen had a dime for every time someone asked her if she was related to Ashley Tisdale, haha! She'd have people adding her on facebook because of her name!

No relation at all, though. The only reason I know is because she'd rant about it every so often while I worked with her :)

SteveLambe said... a few others said earlier, the characters are all done in Harmony while the ship and some background elements is 3d.

Mercury has an amazing builds dept. that allows for some really full character animation.

In the end, I would say it's more Mercury that's trying to be faithful to animation's traditional roots....and Disney was smart enough to recognize it and use it for Jake (and Kick Buttowski & Fish Hooks)

Ricardo De Los Angeles said...

Really cool show...the animation is so good and the expressions have such a Disney look.

I totally agree with you Pete..Disney has no excuse to churn out crappy animated shows, glad this one is honoring the hand-drawn tradition.

X said...

That's probably the best symbol animation I've ever seen. Definitely a cut above standard TV animation.