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3D Animation Process Frame work
Posted on April 1, 2012 at 08:00am IST
One of the first decisions in the preproduction phase is to determine the various forms of playback the animation will need to meet. You should consider one or more of these delivery formats
Preproduction: Requirements, Research, and Storyboarding
One of the first decisions in the preproduction phase is to determine the various forms of playback the animation will need to meet. You should consider one or more of these delivery formats:
As you can see, different formats have very different resolution requirements. As for other project requirements, we would need any absolute schedule dates and a working budget range. We obviously want to be sure that we can deliver a quality product within your schedule deadlines, and
we can make design decisions to target your budget range during storyboarding. (You can read more about animation costs later in this section.)
Prior to the design and creative effort, we thoroughly research the subject of the animation. It iscrucial to gather reference material prior to storyboarding. Some reference sources that can be invaluable in the process:
Photographs, illustrations, and video footage
Supporting marketing content, such as brochures or PowerPoint presentations
Written narration scripts or prerecorded voice tracks
Interviews with experts
In many cases, it is necessary to take additional photographs or shoot video footage during the research phase, particularly for complex processes or animations that require a high degree of accuracy or realism.
Once the technical requirements have been defined, the next step is to begin the storyboarding process to determine what theanimation will look like. Storyboards come in many different forms, from napkin sketches to detailed drawings, and will show the key visual elements at various points in the animation. A storyboard is an invaluable tool during the design and production process, as it is used to generate lists of all models and assets required for the animation. You should use the storyboard to make sure that all of your requirements will be met by the final animation. It is important to set an estimated budget for the project prior to storyboarding. Design decisions can be made during the storyboarding process to avoid particularlydifficult (read expensive) shots. For example, if animating a polar bear sliding down a slide into a pool, a decision could be made not to show the polar bear hit the water to avoid a complex fluids simulation for the water splash, thus reducing the overall cost of the animation.
Only after the storyboard has been created can a firm quote be given for the project. We know of animation companies that will quote a fixed price per running minute/second of animation. With this pricing method, we find the client either pays far too much for a simple animation, or gets a low quality result because the required shots were too complex for the budget. One universal factor in pricing an animation is the running length of the animation, where longer animations obviously cost more. However, there are many other factors that can affect the cost more than running length. To list just a few:
Video resolution: High-definition footage increases the required level of detail in themodels and materials and increases rendering times.
Scene complexity: How many animated objects are in the scene? Are there characters or other organic subjects that will be featured? How many different scenes are there in the animation?
Compositing: Will the animation be integrated with live action (video) footage?
CAD models: Do accurate CAD models exist that could be leveraged in the animation?
Audio: Do you already have a prerecorded narration or rights to music that you would like
to use, or will we be responsible for the audio portion as well?
Each animation project is unique in its content and requirements, so the best way to get an accurate estimate on your project would be to contact us to discuss your plans in detail. Our recent animation projects have had costs ranging between $1,000 and $8,000 per animation, with clients often placing orders for multiple animations. This wide price range speaks to the vastly different requirements of each project.
Production: 3D Animation from A to Z
With an approved storyboard, the project enters the production phase. Our current workflow for 3d animation and modeling is based on Autodesk 3ds max, one of the most popular tools used in visual effects and gaming companies worldwide. During the modeling phase, assets for the animation are drawn or modeled in two or three dimensions. Some pre-built models may be purchased for a project, but most models are created from scratch, either in 3ds max or in a separate CAD package, such as SolidWorks. We can generate 3d models from existing 2d or 3d engineering CAD data, which can speed up the modeling process, but some CAD models may need rework if they are not detailed or contain surfacing flaws. In the end, 3d models define the topology of the objects that will eventually be animated. The level of detail required for a given model is driven by the resolution of the final image as well as how close the camera gets to a model in the final animation.
3d models must have materials applied to define their surface appearance. Materials specify properties like
shininess, transparency, translucency, reflectivity, texture, and of course, color. Proper materials allow viewers to identify objects in the animation as being made of a particular material, such as glass, metal, concrete, water, plastic, or fabric. This is important for animated product demonstrations or forensic animation such as accident reconstruction. High quality texture maps add details to the surface and can deliver very high levels of realism in the final animation. These high quality maps may be created from digital photographs or created by hand, but will likely be manipulated using Adobe Photoshop.
LIGHTING AND EFFECTS
The models now have all necessary materials defined, so our next step is to add lights and cameras to our 3d scene. A major factor controlling the appearance of models and materials, lighting is important for creating realism and an appealing image.Lighting allows us to control the appearance of shadows and highlights, and cameras can be added to capture a specific point of view. Visual effects can be added as
required, including glows, fire effects, fog, and lens flares. For example, if animating a chemical reaction that gives off energy, adding a glow to the scene as molecules interact will help convey the concept.
All of this work and we havent animated anything yet! Animation is often the most iterative and time consuming part of the production process. For character animation, it is timing, fluidity of motion, and expessiveness that are most crucial. For forensic or product animations, the goal is precision of motion or technical accuracy. Our toolset offers many different animation techniques, which can yield a variety of results, from soft body deformation to rigid, linear motions. Think of asimple bouncing ball, and how the animation for that ball bouncing would change if it were made ofstainless steel, glass, rubber, concrete, or grape jelly.
Depending upon your storyboard, your project may require simulation of some phenomenon. Our currentsimulation tools allow us to achieve realistic fluid, cloth,and hair effects. We also use particle systems toanimate everything from steam and smoke to most recently, an entire array of surface-to-air missiles. Weuse a physics simulation package to accurately reproduce elastic and inelastic collisions. All of theseprocedural animation techniques require some simulation of real world physics, fluid mechanics, or dynamics, and can be very computation intensive and difficult to set up. However, when used properly, theycan create some really impressive results.
Rendering takes all of our work thus far and calculates the individual pixels for each frame, based on models, materials, lighting, and effects. Different rendering algorithms can create different results, ranging from photorealistic results to even a cartoon illustrated look. Rendering is very CPU intensive and complex animations can take days to render, even when spreading the work over multiple computers. Consider a 60 second DVD animation where each frame takes 15 seconds to render:A 60 second animation for DVD (at 30 frames per second) requires 1,800 frames, which will take over 7 hours to render! The rendering process can become a bottleneck and requires theuse of the latest computer hardware, with fast dual-core processors and large amounts of memory.
It is important that you review progress during all phases of development to incorporate your feedback and minimize rework. For any of our projects, work in progress images or animations will be posted on our web site, typically in a password-protected area. You will be able to access that page and review JPEG images or animations as QuickTime or Windows Media video files, downloading the files for detailed reviews. We typically receive feedback via phone calls or emailform, but some clients have had success printing out stills from an animation, marking them up,and faxing them back to us. Whatever the process, it is critical that you, the client, is active and involved during the production process.
Postproduction: The Finishing Touches
With our animation fully rendered, we are essentially finished with the production portion of the process, and logically move into the postproduction phase. Depending upon the needs of your project, we may include one or more of the following steps:
EDITING AND COMPOSITING
It is often necessary to change the sequence of shots or trim the shot durations of a given animation. This is often done to synchronize the visuals with a voiceover or to improve the timing of an animation. Editing becomes increasingly important as the length of the animation increases, as it is
important to balance the pace the information being delivered to keep viewers interested without moving too fast and overwhelming them.
Compositing is simply the process of combining multiple video inputs into a single video track. This can be achieved in varying techniques, from simple overlays of titles and logos to advanced bluescreen or greenscreen keying that allows live action footage to be integrated with computer generated video. During this phase of production we also add special effects, including 2d particles and blur effects for both motion and depth of field. Other functions that are handled by our compositing tools include color correction and preparing video for output to specific formats.
The final step of our process takes the uncompressed video out of editing/compositing and converts this video to the intended format for delivery. Here is a list of various target deliverymethods and their respective video formats.
Note that some of these delivery methods will have special requirements, as Flash Video needs to be published from the Flash authoring tool, and digital signage applications typically have special formatting requirements with respect to image size and pixel aspect ratio. We have the capabilities to take your animation from concept to storyboard, through production to publish in any format. We offer web site design and hosting services, as well as interactive media development services sothat we can offer you a single source solution for all phases of your animation production.
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