Postchat: Animation and the Post Process

Postchat is a weekly discussion on issues surrounding post-production amongst the Twitter community of which I am a part.

This week I was asked to be featured during a discussion on animation editing. I've summarised the proceedings before and tried to link questions and answers together - although at the time a lot of conversations were occurring in parallel, with diversions - and I went back a few times to questions asked earlier. For a full transcript, see this Storify.

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Editing Animation: a roundup

In drama, it's said that you write a film 3 times: in the script, during filming, and in the edit room.

In animation, there's less filming ("performance" being shared between the voice actors and the animators)... but the editing is constant. The bulk of the editing happens at the start with the animatic, to find the structure of the film in order to eliminate as much unnecessary animation as possible - but as additional detail is added, the edit must be revisited again and again.

The easiest way to illustrate this is to show you two simple sequences from Q Pootle 5, the preschool series I've just finished editing. Even though we used Redboard for the storyboard and the scenes were set up in 3D space with representative backgrounds, things can still change significantly. And, of course, it's still incredibly basic when compared to an animated shot.

Each video shows the animatic more or less as it went into the animation stage (albeit with notes from the producers), a playblast of the animation stage before it went to lighting, and the final version. I've included the full length of each shot from each phase, so there are black sections where there is no video to cover that part of the shot for that stage.

 

N.B. The animation stage shown is the trimmed version that was sent for animation approval - not the full length of each shot worked up which may have had overlapping actions or excess frames. It matches closely to the final version in terms of action, but the difference lies in the level of detail and any additional fine cutting. A useful additional stage would have been the blocking or early animation - but this wasn't available when I came to put this blog post together.

 

Example 1: from "Pootle's New Spaceship"

 

Pootle's New Spaceship - stage comparison from Judith Allen on Vimeo.

 

Upper left: Animatic, Lower left: Animation (playblast), Lower right: Final version (as broadcast)

Audio left: Final (as broadcast), Audio right: Temp for animatic

 

0:00 - Change of angle, changed early in the animation process to better view both characters

0:11 - Action changed to Ray (the bird) closing the nose cone rather than appearing, but the 'beat' of the action remains the same.

0:12 - In the animatic, I wobbled the image to indicate Pootle (green) and Stella (brown) climbing in to the spaceship. This action was eventually replaced by Ray's reaction and the sound effect.

0:23 - Engine start time decided in animation, but the false start matches timing. 

0:24 - Pootle's blustering was cut down in response to animatic feedback from the producers. The shot duration changed accordingly.

0:30 - Hugely different angle, hence different duration. The new angle allowed the point of the shot to be conveyed a lot more quickly.

0:36 - Filling in the animation and letting the animator work the shot as they wished resulted in different timing for this shot, with a more tentative lift-off.

0:40 - A much more cinematic feel for this shot than depicted in the board. Lovely - and a brilliant case for collaboration and encouraging everyone to not be afraid to try things out that are different to what's already there.

0:50 - It was decided after the animatic that Pootle should feel less hesitant about the instructions he's been given, and we shouldn't draw quite so much attention to how bizarre it all seems (in case he doesn't seem in control of the vehicle - preschool audiences aren't as appreciative of mild peril as older children!)

1.01 - End of scene trimmed. The starts and ends of scenes are easy places to add or lose time when cutting to an exact duration.

 

Angles changing between animatic and animation is a common thing - if there's time and it's a big enough change, new boards will be drawn up to illustrate the intended shot; but often it's quicker and easier for the director to just get it worked up in layout and changed to their specification.


 Example 2: from "The Cosmic Whipple"

 

Cosmic Whipple - stage comparison from Judith Allen on Vimeo.

 

Upper right: Animatic, Lower left: Animation (playblast), Lower right: Final version (as broadcast)

Audio left: Final (as broadcast), Audio right: Temp for animatic

 

0:04 - Adding the rock in the middle of the crater for Oopsy to climb up was a late addition, but added some action to the shot, and was a good opportunity for our most hyperactive character to expend some energy. Of course, this changed the framing a lot from the animatic. And the timing.

0:08 - Blink and you'll miss it: a minor trim to the final at a late stage. A massage of an earlier trim.

0:13 - Shot extended for new action. 

0:20 - There were several shots boarded for this short section of varying duration, but I ended up resizing them in the animatic and merging them at that stage. This accounts for the variation in line thickness and framing.

0:24 - Dead space cleaned up in the fine cut

 

 

Often, I would adapt a storyboard to use in an animatic, if it had an element I wanted. This could mean re-sizing, or using a part of a board to replace a part of another board to clarify timing. This often meant a note was added for animatic approval - but I kept my timeline organised to show that it was all part of the same shot, and the metadata reflected that. Sometimes an animatic would end up being the best approximation of the framing from the available boards - I'd put priority on the composition in terms of whether it was a 2-shot, wide, close-up etc.

 

 

For additional information on the stages noted above, please refer to my previous blog posts on editing animation:

Part 1: Editing an Animatic

Part 2: Editing Animation

Part 3: Editing Animation (the final stages) 

Editing Animation (The Final Stages)

Part 1: Editing an Animatic

Part 2: Editing Animation

 

If you've read the previous parts of this series, this is the part which has the least 'editing' involved - and also the stage where most of the raw materials for the action are together and now fully staged and animated - basically the part where for drama, the editor would start.

However, because we don't have multiple readings from multiple angles and very little in the way of handles, the creative job's basically over. However, there's still work to be done - and elements to be added which will affect the optimal cut point of any two shots.

 

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Animation Studio - by Helen Piercy

Among the people I know from the National Film and Television School is Helen Piercy - with whom I have previously worked on an animated sonnet by Shakespeare voiced by Alan Rickman, and various school projects.

Helen is currently doing a lot of work with children and young adults in the form of animation workshops across the UK, and as a result was approached last year to write a book/ kit to help children make their own animations.

This book has now been released, and it's fantastic. I have a copy in my edit suite, and it's a big hit with the animators (and others) at the studio. The age guide is ages 8+, but there have already been reviews from much younger children starting to make their own films using the book and kit as a guide.

The kit includes several sets, characters, and props - plus a "director's handbook" which gives an introduction to animation and different styles, as well as hints and tips on making your own films. Find out more at the webpage on Helen's site, or by watching the trailer below:

 

 

Animation Studio is available at Amazon (UK), Amazon (US), and various bookshops.

On Character Creation

I'm currently reading The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon on my Kindle for the half hour or so I spend each way on the underground to and from work. I'd put it off for quite a while (in fact, I think I have the paperback somewhere), but I'm glad I've finally gotten around to it.

I just had to share this excerpt*, which shows a wonderful set of ideas in the creation of a comic book super hero and the setting up of backstory and motivation to make the character feel more real. The importance of this process cannot be understated if you're looking to create something truly special, and I think that the way it's been written as a discussion amongst friends (in themselves working through the setup to the core of the story) is wonderful.

 

 

“My guy flies,” said Davy O’Dowd. “That I know.”

Joe shot a look at Sammy, who clapped a hand to his forehead.

“Oy,” he said.

“What?”

“He flies, huh?”

“Something wrong with that? Frank says this is all about wishful figments.”

“Huh?”

“Wishful figments. You know, like it’s all what some little kid wishes he could do. Like for you, hey, you don’t want to have a gimpy leg no more. So, boom, you give your guy a magic key and he can walk.”

“Huh.” Sammy had not chosen to look at the process of character creation in quite so stark a manner. He wondered what other wishes he might have subsumed unknowingly into the character of lame Tom Mayflower.

“I always wished I could fly,” Davy said. “I guess a lot of guys must have wished that.”

“It’s a common fantasy, yeah.” “It seems to me that makes it something you can’t have too many of,” Jerry Glovsky put in.

“All right, then, so he can fly.” Sammy looked at Joe. “Joe?”

Joe glanced up briefly from his work. “Why.

“Why?” Sammy nodded. “Why can he fly? Why does he want to? And how come he uses his power of flight to fight crime? Why doesn’t he just become the world’s best second-story man?”

Davy rolled his eyes. “What is this, comic book catechism? I don’t know.”

“Take one thing at a time. How does he do it?”

“I don’t know.”

“Stop saying you don’t know.”

“He has big wings.”

“Think of something else. A rocket pack? Antigravity boots? An autogyro hat? Mythological powers of the winds? Interstellar dust? Blood transfusion from a bee? Hydrogen in his veins?”

“Slow down, slow down,” Davy said. “Jesus, Sam.”

“I’m good at this shit. Are you scared?”

“Just embarrassed for you.” “Take a number. Okay, it’s a fluid. An antigravity fluid in his veins, he has this little machine he wears on his chest that pumps the stuff into him.”

“He does.”

“Yeah, he needs the stuff to stay alive, see? The flying part is just a, like an unexpected side benefit. He’s a scientist. A doctor. He was working on some kind of, say, artificial blood. For the battlefield, you know. Synth-O-Blood, it’s called. Maybe it’s, shit, I don’t know, maybe it’s made out of ground-up iron meteorites from outer space. Because blood is iron-based. Whatever. But then some criminal types, no, some enemy spies, they break into his laboratory and try to steal it. When he won’t let them, they shoot him and his girl and leave them for dead. It’s too late for the girl, okay, how sad, but our guy manages to get himself hooked up to this pump thing just before he dies. I mean, he does die, medically speaking, but this stuff, this liquid meteorite, it brings him back from the very brink. And when he comes to—”

“He can fly!” Davy looked happily around the room.

“He can fly, and he goes after the spies that killed his girl, and now he can really do what he always wanted to, which was help the forces of democracy and peace. But he can never forget that he has a weakness, that without his Synth-O-Blood pump, he’s a dead man. He can never stop being … being …” Sammy snapped his fingers, searching for a name.

“Almost Dead Flying Guy,” suggested Jerry.

“Blood Man,” said Julie.

“The Swift,” Marty Gold said. “Fastest bird in the world.”

“I draw really nice wings,” said Davy O’Dowd. “Nice and feathery.”

“Oh, all right, damn it,” Sammy said. “They can just be there for show. We’ll call him the Swift.”

“I like it.”

“He can never stop being the Swift,” Sammy said. “Not for one goddamned minute of the day.” He stopped and rubbed his mouth with the back of his hand. His throat was sore and his lips were dry and he felt as if he had been talking for a week. Jerry, Marty, and Davy all looked at one another, and then Jerry got down from his stool and went into his bedroom. When he came out, he was carrying an old Remington typewriter.

“When you’re done with Davy’s, do mine,” he said.

 


 *represents a tiny percentage of the book, reproduced with the intent of educational purpose and discussion.

Editing animation

This is part 2 of 3 detailling my processes as an editor on an animated series - for part one see "Editing an Animatic".

As in the previous post, the following notes relate to my specific experiences - mainly as editor on a 52 x 11 minute animation series. Review stages and timings vary significantly for features and other forms, and in my experience by project too.

This workflow is based more on a CG workflow within a 3D* environment, although the principles of the early stages are similar to the previz processes we used on Pirates!


Whilst the bulk of the creative editing work is done in animatic, there are multiple stages during animation where the film is translated from the animatic in which there are decisions to be made - and an opportunity to correct and improve storytelling.

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Q Pootle 5 - UK broadcast from next week

A bit of self-promotion here: the series I've been editing for the last year... almost to the day, Q Pootle 5, is beginning transmission on Monday 29th July.

It's on the UK channel CBeebies (various worldwide deals are in place, so hopefully not too long before it reaches other territories),  at 8.15am weekdays. Further information on the CBeebies website (click the image to go there and view the opening titles and a short clip).

 

Q Pootle 5 - on CBeebies from 29th July 2013

It's all very exciting. And quite a few of my friends both in and outside of the industry have children in the exact target age range - so I'm looking forward to getting feedback from them.

 

Production continues apace - I'm currently on the 45th episode animatic, with another 7 to go after that - and then the workload starts to decrease. We just delivered episodes 23-26 this week, marking the half-way point... which means that on Monday I was responding to requests from people at various stages of animatic, layout, blocking, animation, amends, lighting, and compositing for 23 different episodes. At the rate of one episode per week, there are still 26 weeks to go until the series is complete - at which point there will be 520 minutes of animation across 52 episodes, not including titles and credits.

 Animation: it takes a long time.

Notes and Quotes from EditFest London

Yesterday - Saturday 29th June, was the first ever EditFest in London. The EditFest is a day's worth of talks organised by the American Cinema Editors - and has previously been held in Los Angeles and New York.

I took some notes and made some very ropey audio recordings, and would like to share some of the quotes from the day here. Each session was 90 minutes long, so what's below is only a very very small fraction of the insights shared during the day by the guests - and doesn't at all represent the more personal discussions that attendees were able to have with the panellists between sessions and during drinks afterwards.  

Overall it was an absolutely amazing day, and I hope they come back next year (as has been hinted).

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Editing an animatic

An animatic is the first stage of the edit in an animation. It's the combination of the storyboards, audio (possibly with temp voice acting), and timing. It's used as the base for the animation: animators will take the shot angle, durations, certain actions, and timings as a starting point for their work on each shot.


Animatics are also sometimes used in live-action films, in the same way as directors will storyboard certain sequences, and they may be the stage used prior to previz for VFX work on large action films.

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Awards season

 

The BAFTA Film nominations were yesterday. Unfortunately, Pirates not only failed to win - they were not even amongst the three animated features nominated in the relevant category.

However, this was more or less righted by the nomination in the 85th Academy Awards - announced earlier today. Pirates is one of five films nominated for Best Animated Feature, and one of three stop motion films within the category! So, fingers crossed for the 24th of February.

 

Another recently announced set of nominations that I eagerly browsed were those of the Visual Effects Society Awards - having been the previs/ VFX editor on Pirates, I was rather hoping to see a few nods in that area. Indeed, there's an Outstanding Animated Character in an Animated Feature Motion Picture - competing against Brave, Hotel Transylvania, and Wreck-It Ralph - all of which are fully CG. I personally attribute a large part of this (corrrectly or not) the seamless overlap between stop-motion and CG to a fair amount of confusion over the nature of the film and its effects. Not only amongst lay-people (although I have had to clarify on a few occasions that the water was indeed generated and yes - CG CAN do that these days), but also amongst VFX pros - for whom I answered several questions on Twitter about the production and stop motion, previs, vfx, CG animation, etc. at the time the film came out.

Pirates also has a Best Animated Feature nomination in the 40th Annie Awards, as well as Outstanding Achievement nominations in four categories: Character Animation in a Feature Production,  Production Design in an Animated Feature Production, Voice Acting in an Animated Feature Production, Writing in an Animated Feature Production. So... exciting times.

 

Working on Pirates was an amazing experience in its own right, especially as it was the first feature I ever worked on - but it's certainly amazing and fulfilling to see it get some outside recognition too, from people who didn't actually work on it - or who don't feel they have to say nice things because they know me.

 

It's been almost exactly a year now since VFX finished on the film, and it's immensely gratifying to see it still making its way out there. I really hope that it continues to get the same level of love and commitment from the rest of the world as those of us involved in its production put in.