A Butterfly’s Dream
TLDR: Too short to study every detail, great animation, hair simulation is good, much more appealing than above series and movies.
I am really glad that I found this commercial on Vimeo. They’ve included a breakdown of a few scenes and I’ve studied them several times already. Since this is a commercial, there’s unfortunately not enough material to study as much as I’d like, such as lip-syncing.
To start it all off, you’ve got the main character who really likes yellow, so let’s just call her Yellow for now since I don’t know her real name. Her hair has yellow strands and she uses yellow nail polish. You get two other characters, but you only see them running down a hallway and chatting around Yellow while having lunch on a bench. Any other character in the commercial are only seen from the back in lab coats while Yellow gives a presentation, assumingly about butterflies.
The character animation for <i>A Butterfly’s Dream</i> is really well done. This is understandable since this is a commercial and they A) would want to advertise the school as best as they could since presentation is very important (notably in food at maid cafés were the appearance of the girls and the food matter more than the taste of the food), and B) are able to put more resources into a short project and make it look better than an animation studio trying to make a series out of 25 minute episodes. The walking/running animation is realistic, they added in extra gestures to make it look like they are really in a hurry or are just excited to get somewhere. This can be seen where Yellow starts off doing a skip backwards while telling her friends to hurry up. If you mute the scene, the same message comes through. The scene afterwards is great when they show something catching Yellow’s attention: She’s laughing towards her friend, only her eyes turn towards the camera, then her head and torso follow when her attention focuses. The scene in the library while she searches for a book is really well done. Her eyes are scanning the books, she looks at the next set before her head turns, then her eyes look up before her head tilts. Pretty much every scene that you see her in, she blinks, making her seem that much less robotic. Every other animation that I’ve listed above either has characters not blinking, or waiting too long between blinks. Granted, I know people can go for a long time without blinking, but it looks strange when every character lets their eyes dry out.
Facial animation is great. They do a good job of positioning the mouth when the camera is looking from an angle like how it would if it were done in 2D. This is not seen during the scenes when the camera is looking at the character from a ¾ view and then she turns her head to face the camera since that would look weird. Not much to look at in lip-syncing since she doesn’t talk for an extensive amount of time. I guess when she says “Ki-re-i” (so pretty) could count. However, the small gesture in her mouth in combination with her eyes work really well to show off what she is trying to do in the scene. Speaking of her eyes, they are just a texture, not an actual mesh. You can see this in the breakdown, or whenever she turns her head too far in one direction. Since Yellow never turns her head to where one eye comes in/out of view, this is passable.
When it comes to the backgrounds, texturing is good. However, I said earlier that environments aren’t my strong suit, so I’ll skip that. For the characters, there’s not too much texture going on with them that I haven’t mentioned already. Like I said, the eyes are a texture, clearly seen when Yellow is looking for books and the shadows on her face and eyes align perfectly. She blushes at least once in the story, so I guess that’s texturing, although I could be mistaken and they could be using something else for that.
I studied this animation mostly for the shadows. They managed to maintain the shape of the shadow, but that’s because the character never had to turn her head too much, or the position of the camera and the light source were put in places where the deformation wouldn’t be seen. My best example would be around one minute into the video when she turns her head towards the direction of the light. You can see a VERY subtle change in the shape of the shadow, but not enough break the crescent shape. Even during scenes where most of her face is covered in shadow, she never turns her head away from the source of light during the animation. However, I could be mistaken and all of those shadows were actually shadow maps that were manually edited in Photoshop afterwards. My next paragraph will explain why.
Her hair is very interesting. During most of the animation, her hair waves around a little bit with probably less weight than hair would actually have. Whenever the camera goes up close to her face and it is a windy scene (0:19, 0:22, and 1:00 in the video), her hair isn’t actually the mesh anymore. If you watch the breakdown, you’ll see how they did the 0:19 scene. The mesh actually doesn’t move around that much, so they used the mesh’s simulation as reference, and then created a more turbulent hair movement in Photoshop. Then they manually created the shadow map, lines and highlight (I don’t know the name for that map) and put it all together. One thing that you may notice is that on the right side of Yellow’s face (from viewer’s perspective) is that they removed the yellow streak of hair in the back and just made it brown. They did it as well in the other mentioned scenes, so that’s what tipped me off to those being manually redone in Photoshop, along with the shots being so close to their face.
Of course, as I mentioned earlier, I could be wrong about a lot of this. All of the shadows on the face could have been a manually created shadow map. It’s certainly possible, and they’re just really good at making it seamless. Those other scenes may or may not have had their hair redone manually, or there could be more scenes where the hair was redone manually. Doubtful since I don’t think they’d worry too much about shots where Yellow is too further away from the camera. Still, that’s a lot of effort into this commercial, and the end product is excellent because of it.