Wrestling With a Blur Effect in Toon Boom

For some time now Toon Boom animators have been crying out for a proper blur effect to add to their arsenal. If similar vector-based applications like Flash can manage to create bitmapped blur effects certainly Toon Boom can emulate that success?

Toon Boom Studio 4 sought to bridge this missing feature with a feathering tool. Unfortunately, the limitations of this new tool were quickly uncovered.

  • Cannot be applied to pegs or multiple elements

  • Cannot be modified over time
  • Cannot be applied to more than one cell
  • Even at the highest settings the clarity of the feathering is not especially attractive

While working on a new cartoon last week I thought I had found a temporary workaround. The goal was a basic depth-of-field effect, where the camera changes focus based on the distance the subject is from the camera. After exporting a screenshot into Photoshop I applied a basic Gaussian blur to the image, then imported that back into Toon Boom.

Everything was going fine until I reached what I expect the Toon Boom engineers are going through. Toon Boom properly exported the animation to .mov format. From there, however no program could properly change the dimensions, something that should have been quite simple. The problem is that the transformed file would play just fine until it reached the first frame that had the bitmapped blur image imported. The video playback would freeze while the audio playback continued.

The solution was convoluted, and involved exporting the movie from Quicktime as individual images, importing those images back into a new movie in Quicktime, then reimporting that movie into GarageBand to reapply the sound and music.

The point being that there are a lot of behind-the-scenes technical limitations to applying a bitmap blur effect to a vector images. As an animator there’s nothing I want to see more than a blur effect in Toon Boom (and Wall-E). As a programmer, I realize that there are many hurdles for the engineers to overcome as they strive to create this utility.

The final product will no doubt be worth the wait, and I’ll be first in line to purchase it.

5 Responses to “Wrestling With a Blur Effect in Toon Boom”

  1. Renato Says:

    I haven’t tried any blurring in Toon Boom. I’m quite used to them in Flash, so I was pretty disapointed when I found out Toon Boom didn’t have it. Considering, relatively cheaper and less advertised products (like AnimeStudioPro) do have it. I was wondering, but I don’t know if this would be a RAM eater, what if you exported the character sequence into photoshop, then applied the gaussian blur there, reimport into TBS but instead of leaving them as bitmaps, vectorize them, and see what comes out? I don’t know, just a thought.

  2. Renato Says:

    Hey, what do you know? It does work. I reimported the blurred png, resized to save up on resources, and vectorized it as texture (not black and white) upon import. Works like a charm. Size does go up a bit, so you must tweak the compression and export settings afterwards with the “.mov” file. Added a sound file to see if it got screwed up. I think it works. I’d be careful with it though. It can melt your computer. :-P

    CHECK OUT THE SWF.
    http://www.freewebs.com/rindolphus/Animations/blurswf.html

    RIGHT CLICK AND SAVE TARGET FILE (.MOV and close to 4M)
    http://www.freewebs.com/rindolphus/Animations/blur6.mov

  3. Will Says:

    @Renato, very cool man. I think you’re right about not overdoing it, the file size could really get out of control and there has to be a threshold where Toon Boom will just yark all over itself.

    Blurring itself is useful, but an important skill for me is the ability to fade in/out of a blur, thus creating the depth of field effect. To do that I added the blur to a color transform layer and adjusted its alpha over time. The sample you posted on the Toon Boom forum might benefit from such a treatment (it looks awesome already, but if you want to play around with it): at the beginning of the shot the front-most row of houses would be crisp while the middle houses are blurred, with the third row very blurry. As the camera pulls in closer the middle would become crisp, while the first row become blurry and the third row becomes less blurry.

    Of course, all of this would be a ton easier if it was a simple slider in a transform effect directly in Toon Boom. I suppose that was the point of this article though.

  4. Christopher Says:

    Still no real blur option in version 5. I was going to upgrade to animate but decided I’d get even more done (and cheaper) and move over to animate studio pro.

  5. oswaldo Says:

    i am a pro at anime studio 8 pro, and i am making a cartoon sieries with it,but then i got toon boom studio 4.0.i have been trying to learn it and it is harder to learn than anime studio,but it can (i think) maybe do more.it is what they use for the simpsons,so yea, i just want them to have an eisier way to blur.