Completely new or switching to 3D
Completely new to animation? First off – welcome! Weather you are all green in animating for 3d or completely new to animation in general we are here to take good care of you and guide you through the first steps! You are in good hands and together we are about to discover and show you a whole new world! De-mystifying and getting comfortable with a skillset like animation is a great journey! It can take years to master but luckily its a wonderful life you are moving towards!
It is true that rcent years have have proven the standards needed for entering the industry has gotten higher but rest assure that there will always be space for talented hardworking fresh creative minds such as yourself. Most importantly to be said is you do not have to be a master in your field to enter the industry all companies are in need of juniors so keep working and trust there is a spot for you out there!
“If you want it then stay focused and work with a smile, because if you do what you love you become good at it! And if you are good at something you will easily overcome and pass the obstacles!” – Kasper Larsson, CEO Manoanim Aps
New to animation continued. In a very brief overview animated movies and feature films are being made in the same order going roughly through the same stages. All these levels are key if you are going to succeed realising your film project and even though no picture has ever been created completely linearly the basics are mentioned below in 9 main points and will be defined singularly further afterwards! Keep reading, you are learning the first steps in film making!
Idea – story/script – storyboard/concept design – animatic (previs) – Asset Creation – animation/technical animation – vfx – lighting / compositing – Final grading – delivery. Specially for live action.
Filming actors for a live-action film will be Editing runs on the side during the whole process and will be explained last. Now we are going to break down the 10 basic stages explaining why they are essential to moving the movie forward.
1. Idea Everything starts with an idea. Writers and directors will sometimes write and re-write, get feedback from trusted friends or professionals changing plots, characters and plots for years before sending their scripts to producers or film studios.
2. Story/script While the writer or director can in many cases be the same person or team it is not always the case. The scripts will usually go to producers who reads them and decides if they want to start connecting the right people do the rough budgeting and try to sell it to a film distributer. If the project is possible the first art people will be hired. The project will get a base to start hiring visual development. It is good for the director to see if his vision of the script makes sense in a visual appealing way before too much practical work is done.
3. Storyboards/concept When the story has been pitched and read to the art department their storyboarders and concept artists will begin to roughly sketch out sequences that are certain to go in to the film. Their jobs will from time to time demand them to travel to destinations to gather information about environments Designs and culture. Examples could be the Pixar team going to countries like Scotland and Norway for reference to make Brave or reef diving in Hawaii to explore corals and exotic fish for their mega success Finding Nemo. This might sound like a luxury excuses to go on adventure but is essentials to make consistency to the visual development. These guys will usually work wil a ton of different medias to get their desired results. Everything from crayons, pencil, chuckle to finger paint, traditional painting or photoshop etc. Meanwhile the concept artists are developing locations and characters the storyboard artists are working with cinematography and timing. When they are done with a panel it is cut into pieces and fitted into the digital edit where the editor will apply sounds and timing. This is when everyone can start getting a feeling if punchlines, story plots or twists needs changing, development or in many cases head to the trashcan. Programs like Avids are often used but for cheaper solutions Adope Premierer is often times a great alternative.
4. Now let the pre visualisation begin. As the first sequence for the movie is about to be finished on the storyboards the first 3D starts. This is the stage of pre visualisation or known as previs. The previs artists makes rough blocking animation that fit the storyboards.Previs animators will make the basic movement of characters, vehicles and cameras that the 3D asset builders create with the concepts from the art department. Asset builders in previs are typically generalists in rigging, modelling and texturing for both environment and characters while a previs animator is called a shot creator because they animate both characters, hardsurface objects and make cameras and match compositions. It is not the previs teams ideal goal to make the final movie but to block in the overall shot mood and movement so the production down the pipeline can replace previs work with the final high detail work, its done to give an early look at what the movie is gonna look like. Without previs tons of money gets lost because no time is wasted on working out details that will be removed anyways. Because previs is fast and dirty it is easy to replace and try new things, it gives the director freedom. When a sequence is roughed out in 3D the work will replace the storyboard shots in the edit. This way the edit is constantly updated with latest work in the process.
5. Asset creation is the first part in the production that will make it in to the final cinema picture. In many cases the modeller will pick up the previs models because a lot of overall measurement has been done at this stage. They will add the necessary and final detail that fits the concept in every way – sometimes with tremendous polygon counts. The final model for the movie Elysium had a breathtaking 5 trillion polygons on the space station alone. Films like Avatar, Gravity and Disneys Big Hero 6 have made records in their own ways by overcoming insane object counts as well and we will see more of this in the future guaranteed. Usually a modeller will sculpt details in Zbrush or mudbox, retopoligise in programs like 3D Coat or Topogun, and work out the overall model in autodesk Maya. Once the modeller is done the texture artists takes over and paint everything. WETA’s Mari (bought later by The Foundry), Pixologic’s Zbrush and Mudbox are used to apply the high resolution texturemaps that can justify and support the models to shine even more. Good texture artists are hard to come by because they are demanded to have a stunning eye for very subtle detail in every little crack or crease of a model. As the model finishes up and the texture artist starts and so does the rigger. In rigging the skeleton is being made for the character. In live action films muscle systems are added for realism, this also goes for some animated films but they are often times left out or simplified to keep the cartoony style. Things like squash and stretching, bendy limbs are more down the animation movie list than the Live action path. All riggers must sent their rigs back and forth to their animators so they can build all the controls needed to give the the animators the most freedom to do their work.
6. Animation and technical animation. Typically the guys in production who works the closest to the director are animators. It is in everyones interest that the characters and creatures have the right mood and feel needed in every shot of the film. Animation has like every other stage of feature film making tons iterations and from time to time even more. Animation it self is not a technical challenging task there are fairly few tools needed to make a basic good animation. it relies much more on the animators artistic view then technicalities. When animation is done a technical animator will take over the shot and set up simulations, this goes for cloth, hair, muscle system tweaks and at times big rigid body simulations such as chains, jewellery or long braids of hair that will often times be driven by blocks of cubes to fasten up the simulations. The technical animators also known as techanims will pass their work down to the lighters together with the animators animations.
7. FX can be handled in many ways, mostly an FX artist s job will include, smoke, flame, explosions, dust, shattering glass, sand, and so on, in some pipelines the bigger simulations can be done by the tech animators an example would be if the Hulk smashes through a wall techanim will make all the big bricks as rigid body simulations and the FX artists will add the dust and the smaller particle work, other times its entirely up to the FX guys. Most FX today is done in the program Houdini which has slowly over the last few years developed to become the industry standard. Few companies like ILM have their own simulation engine in their case its called Zeno, for smaller studios Autodesk Maya is a good foundation where plugins like Real Flow can be added to increase complexity.
8. Lighting and compositing happens once the animation, technical animation and FX is done. Disney have switched to their own render engine called Hyperion, Visual effects houses like Framestore, MPC and Double Negative are known for previously having used V-ray, mental ray but most of them have switched to Arnold over the latest project due to Arnold’s power to deal with huge amount of polygons. The lighting will usually be done for visual effects with an environment lighting ball of pictures taken from either the shoot or a real environment that is looking like the shot and then tweaked with individual lights. As lighting renders out their frames the compositors will take over. Lighting passes compositors different render layers. Some maps would be ambient and occlusion, specular, diffuse, shadow pass maps and so on, depending on the light artist the list of layers can be long or short. The compositor take the pictures and correct each layer while added them back on top of each other.
9. Final grading is being done once the shots have been finished by the compositor. Usually one full movie will have one grading artist and an assistant grader. They compare full sequences and make sure that all are 100% following a consistent grading that supports the visual language of the film. Lighting compositing and color grading are massive players on delivering a project that will invite the viewer in, a company like Disney have been masters at it for decades. Take Big Hero 6 as an example, here they knew that lighting in green makes an unpleasant atmosphere and was used to the first encounter of the bad guy on the harbor, see the movie and notice how bright the whole movie is until this sequence, its a schoolbook example on how environment can play along as a character on its own in a film.
10. Once all shots have been finished and delivered the final sound is added and the last approved frames will be adjusted to fit the edit. Credits are added and the movie goes to the client who will decide on the delivery dates. Mostly films will air almost right after delivery so they can start making the money back they have costed. In some rare occasions a movie will change after delivery, it is know that a movie like Transformers was released in Asia first but had minor modifications when it hit the american market. This is rare mostly because of financial reasons but has been known to happen from time to time.
Conclusion. So! This was not a giant deep explanation but an overview of how films are made! We hoped it clarified some questions and helped you to under stand better how massive block buster projects comes to life. We have obviously only been touching the surface and as mentioned above in several phrases this is the very basics of a film pipeline. Also keep in mind that every studio is different and will have their own take on the workflow they find fit for making their shots, but as an over all explanation you should now be much wiser then you were before reading this text.