PreProduction - Planning & Specification
1 Define Output Format: One of the first decisions in the preproduction phase is to determine the format of animation playback, for example HDTV, DVD, Web, PowerPoint Video, CD-ROM, Print images or iPhone movies. Different formats have very different resolution requirements, and knowing this up front is important.
2 Determine deliverable dates and budget range: Since we know that TIME + SCOPE = COST, we need to know your approximate budget and timeframe for delivery. Our sales staff arrange for a Scoping Call to talk through your basic requirements before investing a lot of time in storyboarding and bidding.
3 Collect Content and Scripts: In order to meet your needs with regard to technical accuracy, we thoroughly research the subject of the animation. We ask clients to supply photographs, illustrations, and video footage. Also supporting marketing content, such as brochures or PowerPoint presentations are very useful in helping us understand your product objectives. We prefer that written narration scripts are supplied by the client, as this is the first checkpoint in assuring that our client has gained approval from internal subject matter experts.
PreProduction - Storyboarding
4 Goal of the Storyboard: The storyboarding process determines the success of the project. Storyboards increase in complexity according to budget, and will show the key visual elements at various points in the animation. The storyboard is used to generate lists of all models and assets required for the animation. The client will sign off on the storyboard, asserting that the business requirements will be met by the final animation. Design decisions can be made during the storyboarding process to avoid particularly difficult (read expensive) shots. For example, if animating a human heart beating, a decision could be made not to show the blood streaming through the arteries, to avoid a complex fluids simulation, thus reducing the overall cost of the animation.
5 Determine deliverable dates and budget range: It is essential that we know your schedule dates and a working budget range, as TIME + SCOPE = COST. 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 creative storyboarding. We also perform a Return on Investment study of your proposed animation, to ensure that what we create for you meets your business needs.
6 Final Quote: 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. Interact uses simple factors to determine the cost of the animation:
- Custom modeling and unique objects:
If we have CAD models provided by the client we do not need to build these objects from scratch. Can we using 3D assets from our existing human anatomy libraries?
- Scene Complexity:
How many animated objects are in the scene? Are there multiple characters or other organic subjects that will be featured? How many different scenes are there in the animation? Will the animation be integrated with live action (video) footage?
- Audio Needs:
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?
- Render Quality:
Hollywood-quality visual effects like global illumination, light blooming, ambient occlusion and photo-realistic rendering can increase the cost.
Production - Modeling and Texturing
7 Modeling in 3D: With an approved storyboard, the project enters the production phase. Our current workflow for 3d animation and modeling is based on Autodesk Maya and 3ds Max, the most powerful tools used in visual effects 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. 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.
8 Applying surface textures and shaders: 3D models must have materials applied to define their surface appearance. Materials specify properties like shininess, transparency, translucency, reflectivity, texture, and of course, color. 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.
9 Test Renders for dimensional and surface accuracy: At this point in our process we usually supply some test renders of the static objects for client approval. We will show the objects and static scenes from different angles to ensure that our dimensions are correct. Although the textures might be applied, usually the objects will not look 100% final until the LIGHTING is applied.
Production - Animation
10 Roughing out animation timing: We will do an initial 'blocked out' rough animation called a PLAYBLAST. This early version of the animation will use untextured, low resolution objects using correct timing. It allows us to focus on getting the scenes, cameras, animations and object placements fine-tuned without expending unnecessary time on rendering high resolution movies.
11 Particles and Physics: If a project requires it, we will add particle effects like fluids, light beams, blood and other effects. Our current simulation tools allow us to achieve realistic cloth, flesh deformation and hair effects also. At this stage we will show tests of a few frames of these effects for a sense of overall aesthetic, but will not render the full detail until the end of the project. Instead will do an initiatial 'blocked out' rough animation with the first camera and motion test.
12 Animation Approval: At this point in our process we will ask the client to approve the shots and scenes with the completed animation, so that we can move in to the final phases of the project where the finished look will start to take effect.
Production - Lighting and Rendering
13 3D Scene Lighting: Lighting is important for creating realism and an appealing image. Lighting allows us to control the appearance of shadows and highlights. We place a number of lights around the scenes using proven Hollywood lighting techniques. Since correct color of real-life objects is often critical to our clients, we will ask for approval on lighting for key still frame shots. Also note that additional lighting adjustments will be done in POST, so this is an interim progress toward the final look of the animation; and we generally are asking for approval of object textures to ensure we are progressing in the right direction.
14 Rendering: 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 computing 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 the use of the latest computer hardware, with fast multi-core processors and large amounts of memory.
15 First Pass Rendering Approval: At this point in our process we will ask the client to approve at least some rendered segments, so that we can proceed to render all the final scenes, especially with large projects that take a long time to render. Also, some very complex animations that involve fluid dynamics and deformation of human tissue might need some early render checks to ensure that the geometry, textures and dynamic effects are working together.
16 Final Rendering Approval: All shots and scenes are rendered. We stitch all the scenes together, and usually sync to the voice narration at this point to ensure that timing for 3D scenes is correct. At this point all 3D Animation should be complete.
Post-Production - Motion Graphics
17 Placing 3D Renders onto a Timeline: We now switch software programs and import the rendered 3D image frames into Adobe After Effects. Each shot is placed on a master timeline. Transitions between shots are inserted if cross-fades and other effects are required. On high-end animations we import up to 3 layers of 3D renderings - the main color layer, an occlusion layer (soft shadows), and a depth pass layer (to control regions of focus, blurring and distance effects).
18 Addition of text layers, titles and visual overlays: Additional graphic and text layers are positioned over the 3D renderings. We insert various animated overlay effects, like text flying on and off the screen, content panels, charts and graphs. We also add lens flares, dynamic lighting effects, punched or desaturated color effects, and additional lighting or particle effects as needed.
19 Audio sweetening: Voice narration and music soundtracks are added. It is sometimes 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.
20 Final Animation Approval: The final 3D Animation is rendered. Generally this takes about 3 passes to correct all visual errors, while also approving text spelling, lighting.
21 Publishing: The final step of our process takes the uncompressed video out of editing/compositing and converts this video to the intended format for delivery. We can output to Windows Media, Windows AVI, Web-based Flash Video, QuickTime, iPhone, Print image TIFF, and DVD deliveries with full menu control.