An Animation Editorial Workflow

I put this together pretty quickly for the internal project wiki at work as a basic overview of what goes in and out of my remit as editor on a 52 x 11 min animated series, where within the process sequence reviews typically happen, and where things come from/ go to.

It's not as entirely linear as this in practice (locks happen before all of the animation is done, for example - so that any extensions can be accommodated), a lot of things end up happening as simultaneously, and I'm typically working on anywhere between 5-26 episodes at a time... but this is the basic system.

I'm sharing it here because I get asked a lot where the editing happens in animation ("surely the work's all done by the time you arrive on the scene?"). Answer: everywhere. I haven't even included the script changes and pickups/ ADR here. They basically get added throughout, ideally less frequently as time goes on - the further we are in an episode; the more people are affected if something needs to be changed.

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Notes on syncing and slating from an editor

The film slate. It's one of the big symbols of film-making. But... there's a point to it. And that point is understood to a greater or lesser degree throughout the industry.

But for an editor, it can be essential communication. We're usually not on set (we're editing the previous day's shots), and the less time we need to spend figuring information out, the more time we can spend being creative. 

Here are some notes based on some past difficulties I've encountered when syncing video and audio. A lot of it isn't necessarily intuitive if you haven't spent any time ingesting dailies, so I thought I'd get some general thoughts written down. They essentially form my wishlist of what I'd like to see when I get a new set of dailies.

Other editors may disagree with some points or prefer other solutions, but this is what I am happiest with. Regional variations may apply; almost certainly in terminology.

 

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A note on notes (from Creativity Inc)

If you haven't read Creativity Inc, on the formation and rise of Pixar by Ed Catmull (one of its founders); you're missing out. As well as a business biography, there are a huge number of philosophical theories on how to best nurture creativity in the film-making process, and how to bring all employees together to make the best product possible.

My Kindle informs me that I've highlighted 35 sections in this book - for non-technical manuals, I usually will make around 2 maximum per book. So, it's fair to say that a lot of it struck a chord.

I'd like to share a short passage on giving meaningful feedback, which applies to many stages in the film-making process, and certainly not just animation. As an editor, I receive a lot of notes - and sometimes send them out, either on cuts I've made or on scripts and films that other people I know are working on.

A good note says what is wrong, what is missing, what isn’t clear, what makes no sense. A good note is offered at a timely moment, not too late to fix the problem. A good note doesn’t make demands; it doesn’t even have to include a proposed fix. But if it does, that fix is offered only to illustrate a potential solution, not to prescribe an answer. Most of all, though, a good note is specific. “I’m writhing with boredom,” is not a good note.

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"

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"

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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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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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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Jeff Ford on editing as music

It has rhythm, like music. When you are editing, you are creating a musical flow that the audience will get into while they're watching the movie. There's a visual rhythm, there's an auditory rhythm, and those two interact and create something that's a combination. And the ability of music to move people is huge. Anybody knows that, anyone who has had a human experience knows that music is incredibly significant and moving and emotional. But really it's just a collection of sound and rhythm, it's not anything magic - and yet it is magical.  And the difference is it's the organisation of those pieces. It's the length between beats. It's the pitch of the note. It's the frequency at which the notes come, and it's the structure and how that structure is repeated. All those things are editing. When you're editing you're really making music.

 

Jeff Ford - Editor of The Avengers, One Hour Photo, Iron Man 3

 

The above quote is from a recent episode of the Avid podcast, "The Rough Cut". The whole interview is truly inspirational. Jeff talks of how he got into the industry, the importance of assisting and learning from editors, acting, story, and collaboration. If you're an editor, an assistant, or work in the industry at all; listen to it. 

 

The above quote especially resonates with me as my teenage years were full of music - I played the oboe, and studied music theory. From this there are a lot of lessons in rhythm, structure, and collaboration which can be transferred to editing practice. 

A Sinister Character

Today I asked a difficult question at work. I asked whether any of the characters in our preschool-targeted animation series were left-handed. This may seem like a bit of an odd question to ask - especially for an editor. After all, we're not in the dark ages where we consider lefties to be the acquaintance of the devil, and although modern world languages seem little biased, it surely doesn't matter? As far as story goes, it's like asking what colour a character's eyes are, right?
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VFX Editor Interview - "The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists"

An interview I did for UK crewing website thecallsheet.co.uk is now online, at http://www.thecallsheet.co.uk/news/21052

 

Excerpt:

This film has a lot of Aardman firsts – it’s the first stop-motion feature for which they’ve used previs to guide the floor when setting their shots up. It’s the first time they’ve managed their VFX in-house, with a team of around 100 VFX artists up in Bristol working on the 1500+ shots which are in the film. Every single shot has some form of visual effect, some are entirely CG, and some have additional characters or buildings added in amongst what they shot on the floor. But it’s all entirely in-keeping with the Aardman style. I challenge anyone to tell me where the stop motion animation ends and the CG begins!

 

The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists is released in the UK on Wednesday 28th March 2012 (today).

 

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