Anja Shu on animating with watercolour effects and textures

To showcase all of the features in Toon Boom Harmony 20, we invited seven artists and teams to produce a demo video, each contributing scenes inspired by a short prompt. These teams were drawn from both the Toon Boom Ambassador Program and our international community, and were given total creative freedom on their scenes.

Anja Shu is a 2D animator from Kyiv, who has contributed to a number of animated feature films, shorts, series, commercials and games — and was selected to be a Toon Boom Ambassador for 2020. The aesthetic style of her frame-by-frame animation is directly inspired by traditional art materials. We interviewed Anja about the scene she contributed to the demo pack for Harmony 20 as well as her advice for experimenting with textures and watercolour effects in animation.


What was the prompt that you were given, and how did you interpret it for this project?

The whole project is about discovering creative sides of personality. My line was, “You can sing, you can dance,” and I had this idea of an opera singer character being creative both at work and at home.

I wanted these two sides to be contrasting, so at work our character is wearing an elegant dress, a wig and red lipstick. She’s on stage, her gestures are wide and she’s putting her heart into the signing. The background is in warm tones, there’s gold and candles around. When she’s at home, everything is all the way around — she’s wearing simple clothes, no make-up or updo, the background is in cool tones and candles turn into simple electric lights. But she’s not losing her creativity and she’s doing a dance in front of the mirror.

We noticed that every element in the transition between the opera and the singer’s home moves. What did that process of planning out this transition look like?

I think of the background as a live character as well. Backgrounds should always serve the story and the actions of characters in the scene. So I carefully plan the transition — I have the lines and the colors move separately, warm candle lights turn into cool electric lights, and the chandelier on the ceiling becomes a simple lamp. But I also wanted some elements to stay the same and unite the two contrasting settings, like the roses that fall on stage later come together in a vase.

Also the curtains — at first it’s a red stage curtain and later it’s a curtain on the window.

Layout Image for You Can Sing from the Harmony 20 demo video by Anja Shu.

What was the most technically or artistically challenging element of your scene? What are you most proud of?

I believe that little details are very important, even though sometimes we may not notice them in the scene. In this project, I’ve spent a lot of time on glowing candles and little reflected lights dancing on the singer’s face and clothes.

I used the overlay blending mode and a glow effect node, and I’m very happy with how it turned out.

We enjoy your visual style and design sense. What are some sources that you draw inspiration from in your work?

To enjoy more of watercolour design in animation, I suggest watching: Ernest and Celestine directed by

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