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Friday, November 3, 2023

FEATURE POST - SFM Corner's "Princesses Know How to Kickflip" - Behind the Scenes

 Want to learn more about this amazing animation?

Check out an exclusive behind-the-scenes article below!

Amazingly animated and skillfully choreographed, Francis' new animation, "Princesses Know How to Kickflip", paints a unique and playful picture of Princess Celestia, just like many of his previous animations, but with a step up!

Go watch the animation, leave a comment, and then come take a look at what went into making such a masterpiece...

The Idea

So, how did Francis come up with such an interesting idea?

According to him, he was just playing Skate 3 late at night, went to sleep, and then had a dream about this animation. Literally.

afterwards, he made his own recordings of Skate 3 gameplay and watched all sorts of montages, tutorials and full breakdowns of different skateboarding techniques and tricks. Then he thought "Spiderverse is cool" and said "might as well do that."



One of the first things that Francis did was check his model galleries for the assets he'd use and made a list of everything he'd need. Once he figured out everything that he already had, needed to download, or needed to custom make, he proceeded with a rough draft of the animation.

Rather than try and guess what it would be like to skateboard, or going off of colloquial/stereotypical knowledge of it, Francis began extensive research into the art! Starting with just watching videos, he later opted to go to skateboarding games in order to learn more stylized ways of skating "because I'm doing a pretty pony doing, like, skateboard things, it's not super-realistic per se, right?"

With all of this research under his belt, he began developing the basic choreography and put together the first test animation, which you can see here.:

As you can see, it isn't until around 15 seconds in that you see the half-pipes and ramps. These were rough prototypes custom made for this animation by Francis himself!

Speaking of custom, let's talk about the Celestia model! Commissioned by Francis and developed by Arcy (AKA TwilighLot or Arcane Flame), the model features a plethora of important upgrades, namely:

>More hair bones
>Special keys to help prevent clipping with clothes
>Wave shapekeys to make the hair look like its in the wind
>Newest horn model with indented spiral
>New clothes with the ability to animate wind

>Reduced butt size


This model is not yet publicly available, as it was developed specifically for this and other animations by Francis. However, Francis may release it in the future, so make sure to subscribe.

On top of the Celestia model, the basketball textures (made to look like it's spinning) and the half-pipes had to be custom made as well! You can see them in the background of the first test video. Those models are rough drafts, and were later refined to what you see in the final animation.

Oh! And the Skateboard textures. I'm pretty certain those are custom. :P

From there, it was rather smooth sailing!

Animating on 2s

What is that?

Well, all videos are a series of images being quickly swapped from one to the next. Swapping these 30 or 60 times within one second is where you get "30 FPS" or "60 FPS" respectively.

Francis opted to go for a traditional 24 frames per second, yet he animated on "2s". What does that mean?

You see, unlike capturing the action in the real world by merely filming someone doing the motion, animation is manual. Traditionally, every single frame had to be meticulously hand drawn, and this takes a lot of time!

Some really cool peeps figured out that you didn't need to animate all 24 frames, and instead only had to animate what changed.

Then, some other cool peeps figured out that you could do this artistically, only changing the frame every 2, or 3, or 4 frames. This can make things feel snappy and impactful, or even feel slower, depending on the context of the motion around the animated object.

But, why is the beginning interpolated and not the rest? Simply because it would take way too long and over a month of work to complete!

Check out this comparison of animating on 2s (top) vs full interpolation (bottom):

Special Effects Breakdown

In the animation, there are actually several special effects, and some you may not have realized were, in fact, special! Let's break 'em all down:

Within the animation, there are lots of smears, and these comes in three major forms. 

First is a special colored/shaped mesh that will create a white streak, like you can see below:


Second is the use of doubles, that is, a duplicate of the model for only a few frames, allowing for a controlled version of frame-blending motion blur:

Model Doubling in the Hind Leg

And third is the usage of squash and stretch! Using a special plugin to scale objects in odd ways, Francis was able to make many things squash and stretch, from Celestia's hoof as she slaps Luna, to the basketball as it hits the ground:

Squash and Stretch

Did you see them? They're the little Pop! and Slap! that happen a few times. Inspired by Into the Spiderverse, these little things were drawn frame by frame by Francis! Go see if you can find them!


Celestial Rainboom
The Celestial Rainboom did not start out the way you would probably think. Originally, it was going to be made of speed lines and simple particles, as you can see here:

However, after seeing the rest of Francis' animation, I offered to try my hand at making a custom Sonic Rainboom effect for him, as I wanted every part of this animation to shine just as bright as a skateboarding sunbutt could!

So I first developed the Rainboom itself, in blender, by using a few masking textures and fancy material nodes:

(Psst, the shock wave images came from DucVu's Shockwave Texture Pack, a must have for cool vfx!)

The final Rainboom looks like so, utilizing noise and scrolling textures to achieve an organic fire effect:

But we're not done yet. How do you get this with the SFM models? Well, you can't. This would be too complex to reconstruct in SFM, so instead, Celestia was merely green-screened into the scene. The footage was then "view matched", which just means I parented the Celly footage to the camera and then moved the whole thing until it looked as if the Rainboom and sky were in the correct place. Then, I added a magic speed trail, lens flare, and the final is what you see in the video. Here is what some of that tomfoolery looks like:

And of course, here is the first Rainboom shot, which was actually done second:


According to Mr.Bronie, one of the script writers, Francis just said "I literally just need an excuse for them to be in the park." Within 10 minutes, Mr.Bronie had written it, but there was a part that was changed. Initially, Celestia was much more critical of Twilight being a bookworm who doesn't go outside. Celestia was also originally going to say that her "overindulgence in cake" was "not a problem", but this was rewritten to be more subtle.

The reason for the change, though, was that Francis preferred using a real conversation he had with his sister, where he told her that he just had "heavy bones" as the reason for his large physique (whether this is true or not, the world will never know...).

Something cool you can check out is the old Guide Layer, voiced by Francis and Mr.Bronie! This was made to help the voice actress understand the mood and emotions, and also help with pacing of the scene.

Sound Design and Music


"Princesses Know How to Kickflip" 

The music was initially going to be "A Tribe Called Quest - Check The Rhime", however Francis wanted something more original to avoid copyright issues. Actually made by a non brony, it was Francis' father who music'd the epic skatelestia tune! Going by JBO Music online, Francis went to him and asked if he wanted to do it, as JBO was wanting to experiment with different kinds of music!

About a day or two later, JBO told Francis he thought the beat was much too simple for this animation and wanted to do more. And thus, it went from hip-hop to punk rock.

But it was missing something: an epic guitar solo.
Enter Hernan Sam Batalla, an epic guitarist and friend of Francis who shredded out that awesome tune!

"The Talk"

This was unplanned and written by yours truly in order to add some flair to the conversation section.
The first part (that is, before Twilight makes Celly mad) is pretty basic, but the secondary part features an altered version of "The Failure Song" for Twilight's speaking part, and the "Daybreaker Motif" for Celestia.

Sound Design

Taking about a month or so due to life, Francis was very patient with my process. At first, I was worried I would have to use copyright protected sounds from a skater game, as I do not own a skateboard nor know how to skate! But thanks to, I found plenty of CC-0 skating samples to splice together.

You see, the job of the sound designer isn't always to make things from scratch. That can be done, but it is inefficient. The true job of the sound designer is to bring the animation to life in the sonic realm. As hearing is the second most utilized of the senses, yet literally unseen, most 'feel' when the sound design is bad, but cannot describe it. So I spent a lot of time polishing to make sure it was as good as this wonderful animation deserved!

On some specifics, there are absolutely no show sounds used. All of the magic effects you hear sound 'different' for a reason, and that is because they're custom made! Several of these sounds are even freely downloadable, like the magic aura loop/parts and the two teleport sounds. You can find those in Saphire's Sound Box!

As a little treat, have the Sonic Rainboom section with just the sound effects! This was a combination of various magic, explosion, and sci-fi sounds:

Special Thanks Breakdown

There are several people in the special thanks section! Most of these individuals are peeps who gave useful feedback on the animation as Francis went. Here are several that went above and beyond:

Lone Writer - Not only did Lone recommend animation additions that added flair, the 'wink' particle effect, and give lots of general feedback, but Lone was the one that introduced Francis to an appreciation for story and cinematography! During the Grafitii Wall scene, the small kirin writing on the wall is Ray Ray, a character from Lone's first-place winning story "Dreaming in Neon"!

TwilighLot - As mentioned before, Arcy did the modeling of Celestia, though not specifically for this animation!

Minty Root and Acrylic Shine - Minty and Acrylic gave very in-depth feedback on clipping issues, changes to make things flow better, rendering recommendations.

Maxwell - Helped with little sounds that Francis didn't want to bother me with, particularly those in the intro and outro sequences, except the magic effect (as these were made separately from the main animation).

KaoKraft - Recommended insightful lip-sync changes, making them more exaggerated and fluid.

Also, on the far right side of the Graffiti Wall, that list of names were Francis' old competitive gaming mentors!


In Conclusion

With 4-5 months of animation, a month of sound design, and a few weeks of editing/prep (including the writing of this article :P), this animation turned out to be an amazing and spectacular contribution to the brony fandom's SFM antics!

Do YOU want to see more content like this? Then you need to go subscribe, because Francis LOVES animating! When he wants to take a break from animating on one project, he goes and animates another, and gets both done in the process, so there is PLENTY more to come as long as the sun keeps shinin'!

So please, subscribe, share, and remember to leave an encouraging comment to all those who make the content you love!

Oh, and if you wanna see more articles like this, consider sharing our site with your friends, or even applying to help out here!

-Saphire Systrine
Edited by Magitronique