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.

With each progressive stage the animation becomes further locked down into the final timings, but this is a collaborative process in which a lot of things will change. Animators will find that certain actions take more or less time than you've given in an animatic, and additional moments will be added to embellish characterisation under the supervision of the director.


1. Layout

Layout is the process in which the shot is set up. Larger scale productions will have layout artists who specialise in this, smaller productions will have it as the first stage of animation. Assets (e.g. locations, characters, props) are collated, and the camera angle plus any moves are plotted.

The shots exported should be imported into the edit timeline so that they can be compared in sequence with audio. Shots next to each other which are too similar in angle and/or size can be altered or merged together to form just one shot. As no animation has been done, it is unlikely that the timing of shots will need altering at this stage, although seeing the shots in a different form can help to identify any remaining issues from the animatic stage.


2. Blocking

Blocking is extremely rough animation, in which key poses are set while the character is placed at the correct point within the environment at the corresponding time within the shot. This may require a new pose every 5 frames or every 50, depending on the requirements of the shot such as range of movement and internal pacing. Usually there is no interpolation between poses and the shot appears to be composed of a series of still images, much like the animatic upon which it is based. It's at this stage that the general pace and energy of a scene should start to emerge. 

As blocking incorporates the internal timing of a shot, it is again necessary to view this stage within the edit timeline to see how well the shots flow together. Cuts between shots following a moving object may reveal different apparent speeds which could cause the edit to jar. It may become apparent that not enough time has been left to realistically get a character from point A to point B - a difficult thing to judge before you're working within a 3D environment, and the shot length should be altered accordingly. Animators often request this, sometimes with timing differences to their guide audio (requiring a new export). It is important to correct any obvious problems with the edit at this point, before a great deal more work is put into animating the shots.


3. Animation

This is where the characters come to life. The missing ("in-between") poses are filled in to give more fluid actions, eye-lines are set up, and extra flourishes are added. Some animators choose to focus on getting the physical characteristics of the characters fixed before adding lip-sync, others do it as part of the same process.

As there is a lot more detail than before, this is a key stage in editing. But as well as altering the cuts (and, really, that happens at any time in the process), the shots themselves can still be altered. Perhaps a start of a head turn at the end of a shot will ease the cut into the next shot. Maybe an item hasn't quite left the edge of the frame within the allotted time for the shot, and it should be allowed extra time to do so. There may be more going on within a shot than it appeared during earlier stages, and a little more breathing room is required. During animation is the time to do that.

Decisions may also have been made to play a scene with a different emotion (e.g. more sympathetically), or to add in a line to clarify something that hasn't fully been expressed visually, and alternative readings may be selected and exported for the animators to sync to - or temp voice recorded for the actors to later ADR** so that the lip-sync can still be completed***.


4. Amends

At this stage, we usually do a new export of the entire episode for feedback from all parties, to check that all previous fixes have worked, and that everything's come together as intended. Notes are added, points discussed, and sometimes notes for the lighting and FX are added - such as time of day, a certain look or feel of an effect, or a continuity note to bear in mind. Although there is significantly more detail than there was in the animatic, major elements which are key to the story may still not be visible, or have only placeholders.  Time is scheduled in the animation schedule for amends, but it's really for fixes when something just isn't working than adjustments for personal taste.

At every stage in the edit, the considerations from previous stages should be taken into account. Blocking or animation may reveal problems with a camera angle (set during layout), while animation can fix or break the relationships between characters and objects. Ideas come forward about how to better relay a thought, and timing needs adjusting or dialogue needs replacing which was set during the animatic stage. As with all creative processes, especially those so heavily collaborative, flexibility is key.


COMING UP IN PART 3: lighting, FX, renders, picture lock, exports, imports, music, mixing, online. Usually more or less in that order.



*3D within animation and VFX will always mean a 3D environment, in which characters can move left, right, backwards, forwards, up, and down - as opposed to a 2D environment in which there is only left, right, up, and down - plus hints at depth from shading. If we're discussing "3D" that is screened at a cinema, then that's "stereoscopic 3D", "3D stereo", or "s3D".
**ADR - additional dialogue recording - dialogue recorded to sync with picture. In drama, an actor will sync to their own performance on camera to replace their dialogue. In animation, they are given the image plus the temp audio.
*** I have occasionally had to do my best Joanna Page impression, as she voices one of our characters. It cannot have been flattering - Welsh accents have a tendency to add syllables to certain words and elongate them, but that's an important thing to have if you're trying to do lip-sync for the character.