One particular Blender Artist I take a lot of inspiration from is Andry Rasoahaingo. His use of vibrant environment dressing and pastel colors create hand-drawn spaces with depth and life. His work was actually once on the startup menu in Blender!
Taking a peek at a demo file, I decided that my first goal should be to understand and replicate the shader used in Bike Ride for personal use. After a few hours of figuring out the node system and some basic math (many thanks to CGMatter's tutorial videos), I came up with a system that, like Rasoahaingo's, takes specific red, green, and blue light sources to color the surfaces of 3D objects in a cartoonish way. This, along with the experience in basic keyframing taken from my initial experimental animation project, allowed me to make the gif in the first post of this blog:
On a roll, I then decided I wanted to expand into another common aspect of toon shading. You'll notice in video games and other things that every 3D object has a solid black outline; what if I could add on an outline to my objects?
After some googling and fiddling around in Blender, I found two different ways to achieve that effect. The first one involved using Blender's solidify modifier and inverting hulls. Generally this is called the inverted hull method (the video I linked to also features some particular node-based additions). Although there are some limitations to what it can do, I initially (wrongfully) thought it was kind of horrible to do anything with. It made my stuff look weird and blocky!
The blocky-ness came from how I didn't set Blender to shade smoothly, so really that was on me; other weird lighting issues came up because the inverted hull still was trying to cast shadows, so after tuning some alpha-related settings in the texture things came out much better in future projects.
Another method that I found was through the use of a specially-made node addition. I attempted to make a simplified Sword of The Creator (A Fire Emblem: Three Houses weapon) with the node, polishing up my toon-shader and adding a bit of noise to make it look more bony.
This one's particularly satisfying. Look at it wiggle! Look at everything wiggle around! Satisfied with this foundation (along with a heap of general knowledge on how to fiddle around with Blender), I safely concluded my particular focus on toon-shading, moving on to learn about particular systems I could make use of to create more interesting animations. There were two big things to think about:
1) "Oh boy! Actually creating the 3D models takes a lot of nontrivial work! That sword too me forever to make ugh."
2) "Alright everything in these animations is just wiggling. I want to make stuff EXPLODE! I want CLOUDS! I want WAVY WATER, I want GLOWY STUFF!"
I thought long and hard about those things, all right. We'll definitely see more of that in later posts.
P.S. I also found out about a third way to make outlines with Freestyling in Blender's compositing pipeline, but my laptop's speed made it incredibly difficult to generate anything nontrivial using it. Also, I really do not enjoy having to press "render image" every time I want to see what an actual output will look like, so I cast it aside.