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Principles of Process

Production Structure

After the story is set, the storyboards are done, and the art direction style is established, it's time to start production. Production is the process of turning all the preliminary development, story, and art direction into real, usable visual assets. Understanding a production's basic organization creates the framework for your creativity.

The owners of the studio I work in, Creative Capers Entertainment, come from a feature film animation and production background. Consequently, our production process is similar to the process used in feature films. An entire movie usually has three acts comprised of 15–25 sequences per act with 10–50 scenes in each sequence. Those scenes might be further divided into hundreds of individual shots.

TheEnd.avi is an eight-second shot, which would be referred to in the organizational structure of an entire production like this: Act 3 - Seq-20, SC- 45, SHOT 101- The End. This organizational convention and variations of it are the standard in most studios. Without this, it would be impossible to stay organized and keep track of all that has to be done.

Shot Elements

The shot TheEnd.avi is divided into these basic elements: camera, animation, set elements, atmospherics, lighting, and special effects.

  • Camera—This shot uses one stationary target camera

  • Animation—Elements are the water, the sewer water from the pipes, fire, fog, fireflies, and the Bug

  • Set Elements—Elements are the background sky, the moon, the background pyramid, the middle-ground buildings, the middle-ground pylons and lantern, and the foreground pylon

  • Atmospherics—These include the water and fog

  • Lighting—The elements used are the omni lights using volumetric effects

  • Special effects—These include the fire, water and the glow effects used on the fire, the fireflies, and the bug

All these shot elements combine to create the whole shot. If you were to try to do all this in one big file, it would take forever to create the balance among all the elements and the rendering of each individual frame would take too long. To remedy this, you can split the scene into individual layers.

Layer Division and Structure

All the elements of an individual shot are grouped by where they sit in the depth planes or layers of the image. There are three depth-plane layers used to organize the elements in TheEnd.avi: foreground, middle ground, and background.

The sky, moon, and pyramid are part of the background layer. The buildings, fire, water, fog, and fireflies belong to the middle ground. The bug and his group of pylons are in the foreground. With minor variations, the elements of CGI scenes produced today will be divided in a similar fashion. These depth planes are divided further into individual images. When those images are combined, the result is a complete scene such as the one in our workshop.

TheEnd.avi was created from eight individually rendered sets of still images and one sound layer. Most of those eight sets of images are comprised of 240 individual frames. Using discrete layers such as this creates two notable advantages.

  • As an artist, the layer structure gives you the freedom to isolate and modify individual elements of a scene without impacting the animation or lighting of the surrounding elements.

  • In the production process, the layer structure allows cooperative team workflow and reduces the risk of producing mistakes in the final imagery. This means that if something is wrong with an image, individual layers can be revised and rerendered in a fraction of the time it would take to do the same with nonlayered imagery.

Use the Asset Manager to find and view the contents of the Final Layer folder on the companion CD. This will show you the 10 layers that you will be creating to make TheEnd.avi.

Now that you have some understanding of how you are going to organize the structure of the shot, I'd like you to try your hand at a storyboard.

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