Animation Analysis – Laura’s Star (2004)

2D animation, 3D, Animation, Research, U3_U53, U_5

Laura’s Star is an animated family feature film that was made in 2004 by Rothkirch Cartoon-Film in partnership with Warner Bros Entertainment and is based off of the book series by Klaus Baumgart. The film tells the tale of a young girl named Laura who comes across a fallen star in her new and unfamiliar home, and forms a special friendship with him as Laura tries to reunite the star with his home back in the sky.

Seeing as Laura’s Star was made only nine years after the first 3D animated feature film Toy Story (1995), it’s no surprise to see parts of this predominantly 2D animated film incorporate some 3D animation too.  The main characters such as Laura, her younger brother Tommy, her new neighbour Max and her little star are all digitally 2D animated. Although I am not particularly familiar with the animation programs they use in Berlin, software such as ToonBoom Studio and TVPaint Pro could have been a possibility. The original children’s books were all illustrated in a very simplistic and friendly art style with colourful watercolours to compliment it. Despite the fact that the studio was more well-known for its 2D animation back then, I think was also a good decision to keep the characters 2D animated because it ties in nicely with the charm of the original art. Many of the backgrounds throughout the film were very carefully water coloured and blend in beautifully with the animation. They were probably specially scanned in and edited on the computer in Photoshop before being saved as a .jpeg to be imported into the animation compositing.

However, some of the more novelty characters such as the robo-cat, the Sun and the Moon are animated in 3D, probably in a program of such as 3D Studio Max or Cinema4D. Judging by the simplicity of the 3D models themselves, I doubt that they were animated and created in Maya. However that could be a possibility seeing as Maya is very much industry standard. Other elements such as cars, doors and props are animated in 3D and you can tell. There was no way that Rothkirch was going to get away with seamlessly blending 2D and 3D animation together perfectly. But even with the smooth movement and contours of the 3D components occasionally standing out a little more than it should have (with it set to 24 fps), the masterfully smooth 2D animation certainly did not fall behind. Both techniques were applied effectively and appropriately throughout the film, and arguably might have added to the charm of the movie. The most noticeable part of the animation where you can see the difference would most definitely be the scene where Laura is conversing with the theatre Sun and Moon props. The faces on these drama props as they shine and float around Laura are most definitely 3D rendered. Having it placed right alongside Laura and Max’s facial expressions does give a bit of an odd feeling, but to be fair this scene is the only one where this issue between 3D and 2D animation is most prominent. The lighting effects in this special scene makes up for the contrast in animation aesthetics though, as the Sun and Moon radiate bright rays of sparkling light as they bring Laura’s star back to life. This would have been done in a program such as After Effects, using the CG Light Rays effect and colouring them.

One of the other related animation effects that’s worth mentioning in this movie are the shiny particles that (for the most part) are constantly emulating from Laura’s little star. I’m not sure exactly how they managed to create this effect, but it would probably be feasible to recreate in a software like After Effects using various layers to create a sense of depth. Either that or perhaps the star itself could have had an effect applied to it in a 3D program such as Cinema4D. However, in some cases the light particles interact with the characters and with themselves – so rather than generating a random animation for all of the particles, some of them must have been particularly animated to move in a certain way. This could have been done by using the stop-start positioning method in After Effects.

As a whole, Laura’s Star achieves a strong visual imagery for its production and conveys a good sense of visual communication and narrative through its varied approach to animation techniques. With its appropriate and mostly fitting combination of 2D and 3D animation mixed in with some enchanting stardust particles, it’s a lovely example of the animation of its time with a timeless children’s art style to boot.

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