Creating 2D and 3D Hybrid Animation with a Uniquely Pasifika Story

Creating 2D and 3D Hybrid Animation with a Uniquely Pasifika Story

A team of three passionate animators, Carmel, Jesse, and Orphia, collaborated on a heartfelt story exploring the emotional journey of a young Samoan man leaving his homeland, inspired by personal experiences. This project marked their capstone endeavour during their final year at Yoobee Colleges.

Our main character, Fetu.

In the world of animation, a team of three passionate individuals—Carmel, Jesse, and Orphia—came together to bring forth a heartfelt story. This narrative delves into the emotional journey of a young Samoan man as he departs from his homeland, drawing inspiration from the personal experiences of one of their team members who underwent a similar adventure. This remarkable project served as their capstone endeavour during the final year of their bachelor's degree in animation at Yoobee Colleges.


Our first script draft was very different from the final and was called "A Second Home". The script explored the loss of our main character’s Father and the emotional bond they once had. It focused on how Samoa was where our main character was happiest. We decided to keep editing the script until it was focused on the essence of leaving home and moving to a foreign land.

In the Samoan culture, family is very important to us and we try to achieve well academically so that we can travel overseas to have brighter futures than our parents had. We are motivated by our parent’s sacrifices to not be made in vain, and so we leave all that we knew and grew up with by travelling to a foreign land for better prospects for our family. This can be nerve-wracking and scary, especially if you don't have relatives living in that certain country.

Our storyboard

The process of creating the animatic was one of the longest parts of the pre-production phase. We spent a lot of time making directorial decisions such as changing the timing of shots, adding or removing shots, etc. Once we finally finished this phase we were into production. There were many many iterations.

People are often surprised by the crowds of people with fish heads in our film. We wanted to create a world in which the audience is disorientated to reflect our main characters' experiences.

Due to time constraints and our small group the pipeline became disorganised. We would arrive at certain places in production and realise that we didn't have any finished colour concepts to inform the 3D texturing, nor did we have any colour concepts to apply to the 2D animated characters.

Making a short film with a small team can mean the pipeline isn’t so linear. For example, the 3D backgrounds were finished much later in the project due to jobs like 3D Layout taking priority over 3D modelling and texturing.

Our colour script
A colour key for the airport scenes.


How the 2D and 3D were combined

The animatic was vital in matching the perspective of the 2D animatic into a 3D environment. We would open the animatic shot as an image frame in Maya and match the perspective by changing the camera lens properties and the camera position. A very basic block-in of the 3D set was used.

Cards of the characters were then added in the layout phase.

Cards of 2D animated characters in a 3D scene.

The cards were then animated in Adobe Animate. In hindsight, utilising the blender grease pencil would have created a much smoother integration, as the 2D animator can animate in 3D space. Due to our project files being hosted on our slow university servers and google drive, this meant we spent a lot of time downloading and uploading large image sequences.

Another downside of the method we used made it difficult for the animator to animate a character moving through the 3D world. They had just a screenshot of the layout to work from, which meant some of the character movements feel awkward.

Process of creating animation in Maya

Only a few fish people in the crowd scenes are unique, most are instanced and set to be animated along different pathways in the 3D scene. We created a rig for the fish so that we could easily update the entire crowd when we needed to.

There were times when we had to animate frame by frame when moving 2D characters in the 3D world. This was to match the foot placements so that the character wasn't “sliding”. Regrettably, this would have been avoidable if we had used something like Blender’s grease pencil.

How the backgrounds were created

For the backgrounds, we used an NPR (non-photorealistic rendering) pipeline. Firstly we baked a directional light into a texture map in Maya. The model was taken into Adobe Substance 3D Painter and the texture could be painted upon. We chose this method because we felt a photorealistic approach would have been dissonant with the style of the character design.

One of the difficulties of working in this pipeline is that it is hard for characters to feel like they are really in a scene without a shadow pass. To remedy this we added directional lights into the scenes and rendered a layer of shadows cast from the cards. We added these shadows into the shot during post-production. Sadly due to how small our team was, we didn’t have time to create a 2D shadow pass on the characters.

Closing thoughts

One of the greatest challenges of this project was trying to reach our deadlines with such a small team. Fetu was incredibly ambitious, but we are immensely proud of our work. Our team members all had specific things we wanted to learn and we managed to pack that into a cohesive project.

You can catch the animation at our Rookies entry!