We get the 3D animatic (pre-visualisation) signed off by the client before we start with production-quality modelling, texturing, lighting, animation and rendering for our animated video. Once the animatic is signed off, it locks the timeline and pipeline, and the audio production can also begin. We work with a very solid pipeline and I don’t know where we would be without it. Naming conventions and folder structures can make or break it. In our small studio, one artist has to wear many hats, so generally this is how tasks are broken down and passed along for each shot.
One artist has a master scene with the shot’s camera and is responsible for the composition of everything, including lighting, animation and always keeping an eye on the size of the scene. The more complex the scene becomes, the slower the computers are. So this makes the artist a director, lighting technician and animator. Another artist does modelling, laying out UVs and texturing assets. Often they will get specific requests from the first artist, such as “this prop will be very close to the camera, so the textures need to be X-tra large and the model needs to be high poly”, or “This will be very far away from the camera and needs to be duplicated a few time, so keep the textures super small as and the model as low poly as it can go” – these responsibilities make this artist a modelling and texturing artist.
Anything that will be animated needs to be rigged first. A rigger is generally a pipeline manager and programmer who also creates custom tools to make the workflow for everyone faster. They are also responsible for plotting ways to make render time as efficient as possible, being the master of pipeline structures and naming conventions. Having said that, on average our productions have between 10 to 25 shots, so we all have a certain amount of master scenes which we are responsible for, and a certain amount of duties to help realise the master scene of our co-artists. (Just writing that makes me dizzy). But the whole point is that everything that is made should circulate among the artists. This avoids the tunnel vision one can get, and keeps us all improving the quality of each others work and naming conventions.
Render time is always under estimated and when that time comes, the pressure is on! At that moment, we all have to become rendering artists, and after months of work, we see everything in full HD for the first time. For complex scenes, waiting 10 days for a two-second shot to render, whilst the deadline is tick- tocking nearer and nearer, adds a fair amount of stress, particularly when you find out that you have to re-render that shot again! This could be for something simple, such as one of the textures are flickering. Software and hardware settings and performance are much relied upon. We stay up late and become night owls, living with the loud sound of the servers, like a jet engine, and learning about all the places that sell food at 4 am close to the office. Looking back at those times, they are indeed the most stressful, but they also are the times that we, as a team, become close.
As each shot is rendered, we check that all the layers, masks, passes and naming conventions are intact before sending it to the compositing artist who is responsible for compositing all the renders and passes. The compositing artist has the power to bring objects into or out of focus, as well as manipulating the specular qualities, colour, shadows (and much more) of an asset and master scene. At the end of the production there is the director’s timeline in a video editing software. All the visual content comes back from the compositing artist as individual files, one for each shot. One file from the audio artist will contain the sound effects, backing track, and, if relevant, voiceovers. The video and audio are rendered into a format which can be played on any device. And that’s it really!
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