Costing animation: good ideas with a good stories win

Da_n_flowersThe art of budget animation is much like the art of budget live action movies. Can we create something compelling with a small cast of characters in a single location? The answer is of course ‘yes we can’ given a good idea and a good script.

With animation I find there are three categories of cost

  • Cost to plan
  • Cost per asset
  • Cost per shot

Cost to plan

  • Script
  • mood boards and concept art.
  • storyboards
  • Management and scheduling

Cost per asset

(per character , per environment , per prop )

  • Modelling
  • Rigging ( connecting the model to a skeleton for animation
  • texturing ( The colour of the surface )
  • material shaders ( how the surface responds to light … is reflective, dusty, matte transparent etc… )

Cost per shot

  • Animation time
  • special FX expositions etc
  • Lighting and rendering
  • Compositing (layering different images and movies together to create the final shot )
  • Sound design
  • Music
  • Editing

For a fully CG animation literally every blade off grass must be made and placed in our virtual world, and every hair on a characters head must be combed into place. We must be virtual makeup artists, carpenters, hairdresser, tailors, photographers etc.. All the jobs of a liveaction movie are recreated virtually.

Photoreal CG is a lot of work. Costs will add up into thousands of pounds per character and per shot. With games costing many millions to create there are huge marketing budgets, and we have been wowed by many epic animations costing hundreds of thousands.

So the art of budget animation is to minimise the number of locations and the size of the cast. But With animation we also have the advantage of creating simplified styles (like southpark or monty pythons cutout animation ) and this can greatly reduce costs.

We have a range of styles to chose from. Here they are in order of cost

  • Stills with sound and music ( like a moving comic )
  • 2d Animated Cartoon Cutouts
  • 3d Animation in a cartoon style
  • 3d Characters composited into photographed environments
  • 3d characters in fully 3d worlds

… good ideas with a good stories win

With a good script all of these styles can deliver a compelling story. We can blind our audience with stunning visual FX. But a good idea with a good story will do the job just as well, and we can get the message across  for considerably less money.

On the flip side holes in the script only get worse as the production develops. Its very hard to fix a bad story in post…

A good production methodology helps.

The deeper into the production we get the longer everything takes. There’s no point polishing a shot if it’s not needed. Good story boards and previs will save time in the long run.

This process is beautiful described in this short  The story of animation

 

Words of wisdom from Neil Gaimen

‘When people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.’ ( Neil Gaimen )

I found this quote in the guardians article ten rules for writing fiction. In it several well known authors listed their personal do’s and don’ts for writing in a few paragraphs. There are some gems of wisdom for any artist. Philip Pullman simply says.

‘My main rule is to say no to things like this, which tempt me away from my proper work.’

Which is kind of a cheeky way of saying don’t get distracted. For him it’s about rhythm. He writes 3 pages a day, no more, no less, and keeps going until it’s done. As an animator I appreciate this point of view.

VFX Post-production tips.

These are our top tips for managing the post-production process. Essentially we’re trying to control these truisms.

  • How do we check everyone imagines the same thing?
  • Stuff never turns out quite the way we imagined it.

Continue reading

Simple file naming for VFX

Information is always lost as stuff is passed around different studios during post-production.  A good naming convention can help prevent confusion.

  • i means input (input to VFX system)
  • HDP is the project name.
  • 010 is the vfx shot number.
  • BG the plate name.
  • v01 is the version.
  • 000021 the frame number
  • dpx is the file type

So how is this used?
Continue reading

Timecode formula for spreadsheets

Like it or not spreadsheets are just too useful. Having the right formula to hand can really make things easier. Plus for me writing a bit of code serves to alleviate the tedium of data entry.

This expression will calculate the difference between two timecodes and spit out the answer in frames. Each cell must written using 11 characters in the standard timecode format. e.g.    10:23:07:24

This version works at 25 FPS and will subtract the IN point cell ‘G4’ from the OUT point cell ‘H4’.

((MID(H4;1;2)*3600+MID(H4;4;2)*60+MID(H4;7;2))*25+MID(H4;10;2))-((MID(G4;1;2)*3600+MID(G4;4;2)*60+MID(G4;7;2))*25+MID(G4;10;2))

You can change the frame-rate by swapping the 25 for a different number.

How it works

The MID function simply grabs individual characters from a cell.

MID(H4;7;2)

Will grab 2 characters from cell H4 starting with the 7th character in the string.
E.g. It will grab 07 from 10:23:07:24

MID(H4;7;2))*25

07 seconds * 25 fps = 175 frames