This post outlines the process, and the challenges we faced creating our four-minute animation made entirely of woodblock prints. To see an overview of the project, check out the case study.
The initial idea of a woodblock animation came from noticing a trend in contemporary digital animation to overlay a "printed" effect which would simulate grain and texture. This prompted us to explore the idea of producing genuine wood grain effects in an animation by actually printing with woodblocks.
We initially made a quick six frame animation, laser-cut it into some plywood and printed it on the floor in our studio, producing this proof of concept:
This was the first step in knowing that the process was possible. We then explored art style and the limitations of cutting with a laser cutter. We knew immediately that a minimal aesthetic would help with reducing cutting times, but we needed to test line weights, the optimum size of a frame and what inks to use.
Once we had our format and cutting process finalised we had to write our narrative for the film. As a jumping off point we referenced the traditional folk tales depicted in Edo Era Japanese woodcut prints, with recurring themes of transformation, curses and magic. These traditional stories also provided us with a name for the project — “Pictures of the floating world” being a direct translation of Ukiyo-e.
In order to simplify and automate part of the process we created a program that compared each frame in a digital scene and removed any frames that were held or repeated. This ensured we only cut the absolute minimum number of frames. The program also kept a log of any removed frames and where they were positioned on the contact sheet, so when it came time to reassemble the scene, the program knew where to re-insert removed frames.
Printing giant woodblocks was also a big ask of our friends at Slaughterhaus. They had never printed a woodblock this big before, and it took some trial and error to get an even pressure across the whole block to provide us with a uniform print.