Brazen Animation on being tapped to animate Magic: The Gathering’s Bloomburrow

Brazen Animation‘s dedication to storytelling shines through in their well-crafted promotional trailer for Magic: The Gathering’s Bloomburrow. Each member of their talented team brings a unique skill set to the table, allowing them to seamlessly blend 2D with high-fidelity 3D and mixed media. Watching the result recalls the excitement of unwrapping shiny foil cards.

With a focus on tiny woodland heroes, the team at Brazen has meticulously made a world where blades of grass become towering trees and every detail is imbued with life. Their commitment to their craft is evident in every frame, ensuring each element of their work is as captivating as the original art form Wizards of the Coast’s famous Magic: The Gathering card game.

Using Toon Boom Harmony, the team was able to achieve fluid, expressive character animation. The software’s robust toolset allowed for a streamlined workflow, making it easier to make quick creative decisions and maintain the high quality of animation Brazen is known for. We were lucky enough to speak with the team about the creative process, challenges, and triumphs that brought the Bloomburrow trailer to life. From the detailed character designs to the magical 2DFX. 

Read on to uncover the secrets behind this enchanting project with Bryan Engram (Brazen Animation CEO and Chief Creative), Chris Osbrink (Director), Bill Haller (Animation Director), Josh Lee (Art Director), and Trea Bailey (Lead Character Designer).

Brazen Animation’s hand drawn animated trailer for Magic: The Gathering’s Bloomburrow, a setting of “tiny tails, big adventure.”

Please introduce yourself and the team at Brazen who worked on the fantastic trailer…

Bryan: I’m Bryan Engram, the CEO and Chief Creative at Brazen Animation.

Bill: I’m Bill Haller the Animation Director at Brazen Animation.

Josh: Hello! This is Josh Lee, Art Director at Brazen Animation for Bloomburrow. 

Trea: I’m Trea Bailey, the Lead Character Designer on Bloomburrow. But I wore many hats on this one from animator to clean-up artist as well. I’m a Visual Development artist at Brazen. 

Chris: I’m Chris Osbrink, the Director on the Bloomburrow project and Head of Creative at Brazen.

Brazen Animation is an animation studio made up of multidisciplinary creators. Every in-house employee is skilled with one ‘major’ skill they are phenomenal at and a couple of ‘minors’ they are good at. We want the team to be both great and flexible with their artistic and technical talent. Because of our team, we can confidently execute on any project; from 2D to high fidelity 3D to mixed media. We have a strong focus on story, collaboration and innovation; meaning the whole crew is encouraged to shout out if they have a better idea. 

Story is king; so long as you keep the audience in mind there are many ways to tell it. 

Magic: The Gathering’s Bloomburrow features larger-than-life heroes inhabiting a small world.

What was the biggest challenge you had to overcome in the creation of the trailer?

Chris: Constantly reinforcing the idea of scale, character movement and nuance. Showing off the macro and subsurface details that would be the norm to these tiny heroes. To them blades of grass are trees, trees are mountains. For that reason, we lit the trees and wrapped them in atmosphere the same way that mountains would read to human eyes – making sure that we were constantly looking at shots through their perspectives.

Similarly, using detail accordingly, the wolf needed more detail overall when close up because he took up that much more frame space. It would be strange to show a hillside upclose without detailing the grass. Also, reminding animators to remain subtle until the right moments. Everyone involved was so excited to be part of a hand-drawn project like this. So much so that everyone wanted to blow their individual shots out. So restraint became a regular part of the conversation. It was more important to keep the characters real, so that when heightened danger took place, their heroics would be impactful.

I’ve worked with our head of 2DFX for several years now and he’s a wizard. My favorite moments of FX in this piece are the ones that support the animation. Like the smoke that wraps around the wolf’s head as he pushes through. And the fire that surges like a furnace as he lunges to attack.

2DFX transmutes a forest scene into epic fantasy in Brazen Animation’s Bloomburrow promo.

Any fun stories to share from the making of the trailer?

Chris: Finding the correct movement of the characters was fun. I’ve seen a lot of tests where people try to use mocap to bring anthropomorphised animals to life. And it always seems a bit… off. We wanted our characters to have the minds of people, but to still move like animals. Because of this, there’s quite a bit of embarrassing reference footage of us scurrying on all fours, intercut with real animals. 

What does working on an IP like Magic: The Gathering mean to you and the team?

Chris: When it comes to making stories, I don’t think people can weave a spell unless they’ve been under one. That’s a poetic way of saying I believe people need to truly understand and love something in order to share it with others in an authentic way that resonates with fans. A story doesn’t truly land until people forget they’re being told one in the first place. That’s the goal. That’s how the alchemy works. 

I’m a lifelong fan of all things Wizards of the Coast. My friends and I have been playing D&D since elementary school and Magic not long after. Getting a chance to bring this material was a dream project for myself, along with most of the team. I think it shows in the final product. 

A shot comparison from Brazen Animation’s Bloomburrow promo, featuring boards, cleanup, colour and the final production image.

Which tools in Toon Boom Harmony were helpful during the production process?

Bill: For animating genuine performances in Bloomburrow, we decided to tell our story from the vantage point of our very small woodland animals. Toon Boom Harmony gave us a vast and flexible toolset in order to handle all of our creative choices and performance requirements which our young heroes faced in the film during their journey.

Josh: Harmony had been integrated in multiple steps of production. This allowed us the ability to make quick creative decisions for best artistic and story driven direction in a streamlined workflow, which was ideal for the ambitious and fast turnaround.

Trea: In my experience, the interface and tools — particularly Harmony’s ever-growing toolset for hand-drawn animation — make it quite intuitive for artists. A lot of times software gets in the way of the joy of drawing, but from where it was many years ago to now, it’s refined itself into giving the artist an enjoyable creative experience without sacrificing practical tools.

There were many features of Harmony that were extremely helpful. Namely the export flexibility and extensive options offered for nodes and scene setups. Most of the time we were concerned about how to make the software work for us and our somewhat unorthodox scene setups. However, those concerns were always alleviated after some light digging into customization settings. 

On the artistic side, the flexibility of the pencil tool was so nice. We didn’t have an extensive look development period, so being able to do it on the fly and change things like prop colors and line quality was an absolute luxury. Early on we settled on a particular textured line. However, we noticed that on some shots, later in production, that it wasn’t playing nicely for close-ups and some medium shots. It was no problem for our production schedule, because we were able to keep moving through footage and modify or altogether change the line texture with a few clicks.

If Brazen Animation Studio was a Magic: The Gathering card, what would its special ability be?

Chris: We’re so adaptable, I feel like we’d be one of those maddening late game cards that allow you to rob the other player’s deck and instantly refill your hand. Like a high powered Phyrexian that you would want to go to a ballgame with. And doesn’t’ look like something out of a fever dream. 

A shot comparison from Brazen Animation’s Bloomburrow promo, featuring boards, cleanup, colour and the final production image.

Are you able to discuss a shot comparison between boards, roughs, cleanup and compositing?

Chris: This shot has four characters, water FX, keep alive on the background, shades and tones, interactive comp and partial volumetric lighting. And if you compare the early boards to the final frame, you can see the iterative process we went through on character design. 

What I really like about this shot is that you get a sense of each kid’s character instantly. The brother is soulful golden boy who wears his feelings, the frog is a happy go-lucky hippy waterbender, the otter is the broey-jock who doesn’t know he’s a good person yet. Then Mable enters, the Aragorn of their world (post Sauron show-down), a living legend that literally makes them drop their jaws in passing.

What’s coming next from Brazen Animation?

Bryan: At Brazen we not only constantly bring new and fresh ideas to the intellectual properties we are currently developing, but we do it with artistic styles and approaches that utilize the best of what 2D and 3D provide. Brazen has always been known for our ability to mix the various mediums, but our upcoming IP takes it to another level. We are excited to show audiences and followers of Brazen what we have in store.

  • Interested in learning more about Magic The Gathering: Bloomburrow? Visit the official website for the new set at Wizards of the Coast.
  • Want to connect with the team at Brazen Animation? Be sure to visit the studio’s website.
  • Is your mana untapped for your next project? Artists can download a free 21-day trial of Toon Boom Harmony.

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