Cardiff-based Cloth Cat Animation is just finishing up the 52-episode animated children’s television series, Toot the Tiny Tugboat. Throughout production, the studio relied on ftrack, a cloud-based collaboration and production tracking platform, to organize its assets and animatic approvals, keep track of loads of files and versions and make sure it could meet its tight broadcast deadlines.
“Animation series are run very methodically and with very definite targets,” said Cloth Cat Animation’s managing director, Jon Rennie. “With 52 episodes to complete in just over a year, any delay or slip in the schedule can be disastrous for the budget.”
The studio began using ftrack from the start of production, and found it especially useful thanks to its easy integration with The Foundry’s HIERO and Thinkbox Software’s Deadline.
Toot the Tiny Tugboat is an animated adaptation of Toot and Pop!, a popular children’s book published in 2012 by author Sebastien Braun. As the title suggests, the series follows Toot, a lovable tugboat who spends his days helping other ships around the harbor.
Lupus Films began developing the show in 2012, and Cloth Cat was brought in the following year to form a partnership that also involved Channel 5, Twofour Rights and Boom Kids.
The studio specializes in 2D animation, having worked on other series like Boj and Wildernuts. Cloth Cat uses CelAction2D to produce much of the animation for Toot.
The Toot team at Cloth Cat is about 30 people, spread between animation, production, editing, layout, and rigging, and when running at full steam, the group can finish its primary load of work on a full episode each week. But there’s always overlap, which means multiple legs of the project are moving through various departments at any given time.
“We render and review hundreds of shots a day, and the edit is constantly being updated with new material,” explained Rennie. “Layout is, at the same time, producing new material ready to begin animation on the next episodes, so there is always something at each stage of production.”
“The main selling point for us with ftrack was that it enabled animators to focus on what they do best – animating – and less on the administration side of production,” said Rennie. “This means we can achieve a higher quality level of animation for the same production time, which gives us an edge in a very competitive market.”
Due to the tight pre-production process, Cloth Cat had to get ftrack integrated and fully operational in a relatively quick time frame to use it on Toot, which meant bringing in a developer to integrate the software before the project got fully underway. However, according to Rennie, that process “proved straightforward with the API, and we used a number of custom scripts to allow us to track the versions and the exports of the shots. We use HIERO to import the edits and then build the episode database ready to assign tasks to artists. The web interface then opens CelAction with the correct project file, and then tracks when a render is submitted. This allows us to automatically create preview movies for approval and then import back into Hiero, so that we’re always working with the most recent renders in the edit.”
But now that the team has used ftrack for the bulk of the project, they plan to expand its usage over several future projects. In particular, they intend to dig deeper into the client review features, thus allowing directors and animators to interact directly even when in remote locations.
“A lot of our productions have used spreadsheets and basic tracking in the past, but the investment in ftrack has allowed us to manage our productions with greater efficiency,” Rennie said. “In particular, removing the administration burden from animators means there are less mistakes and they can spend much more of their day actually animating and receiving clear, dedicated feedback.”