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3D Animator Uses Puts the Artistry in Athletics with Pen Tablet Precision

3D Animator Uses Puts the Artistry in Athletics with Pen Tablet Precision

3D Animator Nathan Chojnacki’s job is to get the crowd on its feet. He does it without a ball, or a t-shirt gun for that matter. Instead, Chojnacki keeps a Wacom pen tablet, Cinema 4D, Adobe After Effects, Photoshop and Premiere in his digital toolbox. He has kept excitement flowing with animated arena graphics for sports events such as the Cleveland Cavaliers basketball games, US Open Tennis Tournament and the upcoming 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.

Cinema 4d Preferences

Cinema 4d tablet settings

Because Chojnacki’s images will be seen by thousands on the big screen, he sought out a tool that would speed up his workflow with customization and that would give him the precision he needs to correct details as small as a strand of the players hair.

Customizing Apps to Suit Workflow

“Now that I have a pen tablet, I can take advantage of a lot more functionality within the software I’m using,” said Chojnacki.

Chojnacki uses the Customize Commands menu in Cinema 4D to map nearly any menu item in the software to a specific keystroke, and then he opens the Preferences Utility in his Wacom pen tablet to map the keystroke to a button. Using this feature, Chojnacki is able to turn 3D snapping on and off with the press of a button, which he says is a valuable time-saver when moving objects around a big scene.

Cinema 4d custom commands

Cinema 4d custom commands

Steadying the Camera with a Stylus

When working in 3D space, things can get complicated quickly, so you need an intuitive way to move around within a scene and see things from all angles. This is typically done by flying a virtual "camera" around the scene. Smooth navigation in 3D space is something Chojnacki says his tablet provides organically.

“If you can't move around within your scene, it’s going to make everything harder,”  he says “Having natural way to control the camera is crucial, and it speeds up everything I do.”

Applying Finesse to the Details

While much of his work involves manipulating shapes in 3D space, Chojnacki also has to tackle the finer points of graphics and compositing: removing errant hairs around a basketball player’s headshot, or painting out an unwanted logo in the background of a highlight.

“When it’s up on the big screen, you have to be even more precise than usual,” he says.

Details like color and texture are also essential to Chojnacki’s work. In Cinema 4D, the Body Paint feature is taken to a new level with the pen tablet. Chojnacki loads a 3D model into Cinema 4D as a mesh, and with the click of a button, the mesh flattens out. He can paint in 2D on a flat surface or switch to 3D mode, which inserts a virtual pen into the image, allowing Chojnacki to take full advantage of the pen tablet.

“It’s just more intuitive to paint with an actual pen,” Chojnacki says.

Bringing a Book to Life

These days, Chojnacki is hard at work using his pen tablet to develop a 2D animated holiday card for Wacom. Though 2D animation has not historically been his bread and butter, Chojnacki was excited about the opportunity to work with Susie Schick-Pierce, Wendy Wallin Malinow and Muffin Drake, the creative team behind A Bit of Applause for Mrs. Claus.

“2D animation is different for me because it revolves around a more traditional drawing approach,” he says. “I couldn't even attempt this drawing-based approach without a tablet. The details and movement need to enhance the characters and add to the overall experience without distracting from the story.” 

To build the animated 2D card, Chojnacki used his pen tablet do any modifications to the illustrations in Photoshop. He then put a 3D spin on traditional 2D animation by building and animating the scene in 3D using Adobe After Effects. Finally, Chojnacki “flew” his 3D camera through the scene to make the card come to life.

Whether it’s getting the crowd moving, or celebrating the season, Nathan Chojnacki’s art must quickly convey an emotion. His artist arsenal contains not only his varied experience with 3D and 2D art, but also his Wacom pen tablet.

Watch the video below to see how Chojnacki animated characters from A Bit of Applause for Mrs. Claus.

How did the Christmas card turn out? Check it out below.