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

 

Rendering with 3dsMAX on amazon EC2 cloud

I’m looking to boost my rendering power Amazon EC2 may be the way forward.

Hunting around the web I found Jud Pratt had made a bunch of videos on the subject of build your own render cloud. Alas Jud’s homepage seems to be down but here are the links to his Vimeo channel. Note that It has been some time since he made these videos, and some aspects of Amazon’s EC2 set-ups may have changed since then…

As well as creating your own virtual machines by hand you can also use an off the self solution from Thinkbox Software to manage it for you.
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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.

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The creative cycle.

Recently I was listening to a radio show. A panel of profession artists were talking about there work.

Asked about the creative process. She described it as:

Observe,Observe,Observe,Create.

There is a natural pattern to the way we tease solid ideas out of feelings and concepts. Many people have written about this.

I like to summarize my process as.

Consume, Collate, Copy, Create, Compare.

It reflects my first inspiration because consuming copying, and comparing are all ways of observing.

  1. Observe / Consume
  2. Collate
  3. Observe / Copy
  4. Create
  5. Observe / Compare.

Consume

First I consume the world around me. Actively collecting ideas from the books, galleys and Internet or passively noting things as I go around my daily life. My ideas germinate as I observe the world around me. I subconsciously absorb the information, and consciously seek out things that feel right.
Feeling right  is the key here. Our Brains are pattern matching trying to find things that fit new concept. I don’t need to justify the choices with too much reason. That will just get in the way. I need to promote the right frame of mind to help the subconscious process the information.

Soon I’ll have a pile of images which are a mixture of mood, style, overall design and interesting details.

Collate

Whilst I may like the feel of the ideas I’ve created. Not all of them are compatible. This may lead to different strands of design being developed. However if these two strands cannot be integrated a choice must soon be made over which route to follow. So while consuming I’m also sorting and categorizing.

UFO … example industrial vs alien

Copy

Eventually I start trying things.