Editing Animation (The Final Stages)

Previous parts of this series:
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.


DISCLAIMER: as with the previous posts, I'm referring heavily to the workflow and conventions employed on my most recent work on the series Q Pootle 5, so as to allow a little more detail in certain areas rather than staying vague. Each job will always have a different set of requirements and focus points.


1. Lighting, FX, Compositing

(I'm collating these parts together (and skipping others entirely) because of their influence on the edit, rather than an attempt to gloss over them!)

This is where the final image gets put together. Up until now, the edit has been put together with playblasts: lower quality, polygonal representations of the assets - lacking a lot of detail in the way of textures, lighting, occasionally background assets, and non-pivotal effects. Where the detail is key to the story or the composition of the shot, the effect may be temped in; or a render with more detail output.


2. Picture Lock

(This stage is placed here for television series work with its tighter schedule and set run-time; in features it may well be later.)

Working with renders which include all of the final elements, we can now lock picture. Being able to see exactly what's going to be in frame (and when it enters/ leaves) is a pretty important element when fine-tuning an edit! 

On Q Pootle 5, for example, we had a lot of shots in which space ships would be flying out of frame - but because of their design, they each had trails from the boosters. These trails, largely based on flame and gas and smoke elements, were not included in the animation playblasts; and if it was necessary for a character in their ship to clear the frame before the cut, it was usually necessary for their ship's trail to also leave.

On Pootle, I would typically trim an episode to approximately the pace that felt right... and then see how close it was to the 10 minutes runtime that we needed. Some episodes were a lot closer than others. By the time the episode's director and the series director came in to do the lock, I would ideally have a version of the episode which ran to the exact duration. Sometimes we'd stay with that version, mostly we'd discuss a few trims - always with the concept of having to add back in any frames which were taken off (and vice versa).

I wrote in the animatic section about liking to have an extra 15 seconds at that stage. During the animation process; extra movements will be added on, removed, walks extended or shortened, visual humour added... the upshot of which is that episodes can end up between about 90 seconds under or over the runtime after the first edit pass. Some would underrun, and need parts re-lengthened (it helps to remember where the major trims were), and some were over length and need either a second pass or a lengthy discussion about which lines and sections we could stand to lose.


3. Fixes

In drama, what goes into the camera usually represents the physical reality of the scene fairly well. There are continuity errors and all sorts of things that get documented in the 'goofs' on IMDb, but typically any given shot makes sense.

In animation and VFX, there are a huge number of things that can go wrong... and once your mind's trained to spot them, it's difficult to let go. Here are some of the things we like to look for:


  • missing character - the character just isn't there at all.
  • missing shadows - from one or all characters/ objects.
  • missing/ inconsistent objects and props - an object is missing from one or more shots.
  • incorrect layering - a background object appears closer to the camera than a foreground object, overlapping and/or obscuring it.
  • objects hovering or intersecting - because shots are usually animated at a lower resolution, the curved edges of all elements can be approximated, making it difficult or impossible to spot before the shot is rendered.
  • depth of field - should match for all elements, and fit into the general tone of the scene
  • focus pulls - notes on timings given, with visual reference where possible to indicate the important elements.
  • distractions - anything which takes the eye to the wrong place in frame which has suddenly appeared in the full details of the shot. I've asked on several occasions for certain things to be made dimmer (or removed) so as to keep the action clear.


A particular favourite of mine, and one especially telling of the animation process, is where an object appears to have come from nowhere - or only appeared at the start of a shot. Dust or vapour trails which originate at the point where the shot started, footprints made by characters walking through a shot, but none to get them to their starting point. Things which aren't necessarily animated because they're not part of the action of the shot - but need to have some additional animation for the vfx elements to work, and for the shot to be real.

Sometimes we could fix things in the Avid. A rogue shadow appearing on the wrong side of a solid door could be fixed with a quick animatte effect so long as we had a frame where it looked right. A few times we re-timed two separate elements when they didn't intersect. And a lot of the time we resized an image up to a certain scale, or added a small 2D zoom with basic keyframes.


4. Sound and Music

As soon as we get the picture locked down, copies are sent to our sound post company and the composer. Updates with the fixes follow.

Our sound post company for Q Pootle 5 were Tamborine Productions, who removed all of the temp sound that we used during the edit and replaced it with their own library and foley - as well as building up all of the sounds for each environment, spaceship, and props. I sent them notes on any client feedback we'd had on temp sound that may be relevant, plus anything else that we'd explored and had thoughts on (the episode with the pogo sticks 'springs' to mind). Whilst not all visual fixes would be done in time for the mix, the production manager and I would ensure we had all of the 'sound relevant' fixes done - anything where timing of effects was vital to appear in the correct place. 

A lot of the episodes had musical elements to them - and any songs or band arrangements which had characters singing or playing instruments had music provided ahead of time. At other times, temp music was used to get the right feeling for a sequence and help it to gel together. I'd typically provide our composer, David Schweitzer, with a QuickTime with all of the music; and another QuickTime with no music at all apart from singing with matching burnt in timecode. He could then send the final music to Tamborine.

At the mix, a lot of things could change. Our series director made a point of being at the mix so that he could give the go-ahead or not on some issues which may need fresh animation but could enhance the episode overall. We'd then get the stereo, m&e, and 5.1 mixes sent over when everything was finished.


5. Online

For us, this is where the titles, end credits, and finalising took place. Most of our colour grading (timing) would happen in-house, but changes could be made at the online. Any shots which had moves added in the Avid could be re-done with the producers in the room.

The episode could then be exported in the various formats required for delivery, with all technical checks.


6. Broadcast

It happened! It worked! And.... the channel put their own logo over a corner of the screen. Looks like we didn't need to dim that tree after all.