Understanding The Animation Process
With this feature we want to explain to you the steps involved in our process.
From concept to the finished product there are numerous steps involved. The following overview should help to make sure that everybody knows where we stand at any given point of the production, and so that you understand when and where it's important to make certain decisions.
In the Pitch we develop ideas and images which will be the base to continue with the project. Usually we create a Director's Interpretation / Treatment and a couple of Styleframes which illustrate how we envision the finished film. If there's the time and resources, occasionally we create Motion Tests to further illustrate our ideas.
In Pre-Production we create refined ideas from what was created in the Pitch. A Production Schedule / Timing is created and together with the Client we follow up on ideas and designs and push them further towards the polished goal. We create the first animated proof of concepts and the film gets its core structure. With help of an Animatic, followed up by a more refined version called a Previz, we create the individual shots and overall paste of the film.
At the same time a core team of designers, animators and technicians works on the specific challenges of the project. The so called R&D (Research And Development) process clears out the technical challenges or develops new tools, specific to the project.
This is it. The time when we forget to reply to emails or ignore the phone because we're immersed in our tasks. Everything will start to look prettier by the day and we cherish our focus on creating the details that make up the final film. In this phase we deliver the WIP (Work In Progress) which we set in our initial Timing / Production Schedule.
Based on the Previz we fuse the R&D with the finished designs. Everything will be created in 3D and animated to create the fully detailed animation. Now we come to the most enjoyable part of this process - the Lighting and Shading of the 3D scenes. This is when we finally stop seeing grey environments and dull looking animations. Followed by the Rendering and Compositing we need a final touch called Color Correction to make every shot look crisp and consistent.
After all this we have a finished Spot!
It is important to keep in mind that each step of this process has a very specific order and is heavily dependent on the ones that came before. It is critical that we work closely with both client and agency to ensure that every step is understood and signed during the production, as it's not often feasible to jump back and forth in production.
If possible we like to have one last meeting with the agency and client to watch the finished product together. Here we can also tweak details like slight color changes. Since our process differs widely from a conventional live action production there are no extra takes or additional footage. Due to the intensive process required to create this kind of hyper-detailed 3D animation, it's not possible to finalise scenes and afterwards decide which ones to use. That is why we are dependent on the Animatic and Previz to develop the final edit and then color it in.
Director's Interpretation / Treatment
The DI / Treatment is our first interpretation of the initial script. If there's no script beforehand this is also the place where we develop one. We describe how the film will look and how we want to approach it stylistically. The mentioned stylistic devices, animation styles and camera movements are the basis for all further steps.
This is the first point at which you can enter into a dialogue in order to agree on the various elements of the film. The ideas contained in the Treatment should be understood as a starting point for discussion; in the ideal case, all parties of this text have already agreed on the mood and the flow of the film.
Animation is a very visual, sometimes abstract medium. It is very useful and important to be able to talk as soon as possible about specific images. For this we develop styleframes. They can be seen as stills from the finished film before we even start developing the animation. Styleframes are also to be understood otherwise than merely Mood images, as they are not only specifying a general direction, but to be taken literally.
This makes the style frame a brilliant instrument for exchanging information on the visual elements of a movie before the elements have to be fully created in 3D. Only after all the details of the visual aspects have been agreed does the technical process of creating begin.
The animation step builds on the approved Previz. With the final camera animation as a basis, the individual elements of the film will be animated, and thus create the final movement.
WIP (Work In Progress)
During the Production we create WIPs (Playouts) which are defined in the overall Timing. In these intermediate versions some elements might have processed very far while other aspects of the film are not yet complete. To avoid confusion, we prepare a text for each transmitted version, detailing the advancement of various elements. Information about the areas still in development is given in terms of this guide and, of course, from the preceding steps as Previz and style frames visible.
The term describes the process of lighting the 3D set. Not unlike Live Action lights are placed in and around the scene which determine the mood of the virtual set. This step is based on the agreed upon style frames.
In compositing the elements generated in 3D will be merged into the finished image. Here it is also possible and often useful to combine real elements with the computer-generated elements to achieve a realistic appearance.
The storyboard explains the each shot of every sequence. The coarse camera settings are determined based on the storyboards for each shot. The frames are held in the form of sketches, to ensure the fastest possible turn around. Each scene is illustrated by means of a short explanatory text.
The animatic is the first step, in which the dimension of time comes into play. The frames of the storyboards are sequenced in the editing program. Based on the animatics you can very well get an impression of rough dynamics and speed of the spot.
In Previz - short for Pre-Visualization - we create the 3D environments and animation layouts as agreed by the animatic. Here the final camera movement and the rough arrangement of the objects in the scene are determined.
The Previz is deliberately kept very reduced, with no shading or lighting and everything in neutral grey. The purpose of the Previz phase is to focus solely on the camera setting and movements, so although it can look uncomfortable, it's a highly important stage in the production.
R&D (Research & Development)
Technical challenges will be addressed in the Research and Development, which takes place in parallel with the steps mentioned so far. Special items such as Visual Effects (fire, smoke, etc.) will be addressed in this step to find the best technical solutions. The results of this process are shared in the form of first test animations with agency and client together to determine the direction.
The term Shading is the process to integrate the materiality in the 3D world. The previously gray and functionally identical objects are coated with textures and material properties to generate the realism of the scene. This step is based on the agreed upon style frames.
Rendering is the process in which the finished 3D scenes are calculated by the computer. This step can take a long time to complete because it requires a huge computational effort to calculate the scenes in final quality. Therefore all we can do is wait at this stage. The scenes are divided during rendering into individual elements. Each scene consists of a number of different elements, the next step - when everything gets put back together - is called compositing. This process has the advantage that final detail corrections such as color correction can be carried out without the time consuming step of re-rendering.
In the color correction we ensure that all scenes fit together. Here a uniform look is created, and a color mood (Grading) that supports the message of the film.