Animation is when a series of images are played back, frame by frame, to produce movement. When animation is produced digitally the frames are often interpolated between “key frames” automatically. As a result, to move a box across the screen in a linear movement only the start and end frames need to be set and the rest are calculated by the software. This makes digital animation much quicker than traditional cel or stop-motion animation but still a time consuming process.
Moving a single object in a linear fashion can be considered relatively simple. Moving a single object in a believable manner, such as a bouncing ball, requires more expertise. The reason for this is because movement is rarely linear, objects speed up as they fall, slow down as they reach the peak of a bounce, they squash and stretch, rotate and wobble.
Mechanical objects often consist of multiple parts which react to each other. Consider a robot arm which rotates along multiple axis and pivots at multiple points. Some automation of those parts is possible which can speed up the animation process but additional time is required to set up the automation in the first place.
Organic objects, such as the human body, have many joints that behave and react in different ways, just like the robot arm. Further to the complex nature of the human skeleton it is wrapped in organic matter which distorts, stretches, compresses, folds, hangs, bounces and wobbles. The further that a character moves away from stylised and towards realistic the more complex the animation process becomes. Not least because we are so used to seeing real humans and feel uncomfortable when they dip into uncanny valley.
Believable vs Realistic
Producing CGI and animation is always a balancing act between realistic and believable. The characters in Pixar movies are not realistic but their movements, personalities and emotions are believable. In contrast many modern movies have attempted to create CG humans or bring back actors from the grave with CG doubles and failed to make the realistic faces feel real.
When producing an architectural visual for example, we want to produce an idealised version of the real world. The grass is neatly cut, the sky is dramatic, the glass is crystal clear, the driveway is clean, the road is free from dirt, cracks and potholes.
When producing animation we need to consider these things. Within the budget what is possible to make the scene look its best? What will make the scene believable and engaging? Where is the line between realistic and believable?
Each frame of animation is a flattened 2D image which has been rendered by the 3D software or compositing package. Rendering is the process of calculating the light, shadows, movement, reflections and anything else within a scene and producing an image. When producing animation a number of images need to be created for every second of video – usually 24, 25 or 30. Rendering can be a slow process, taking minutes or hours per frame, so this time needs to be considered when producing animated content.
In order to provide the best service, deliver the best product and keep costs to a minimum it is important to plan an animation project thoroughly. If possible specify the project budget and timescale as that will determine what is possible to produce. Do not be scared of using animation because of the potential costs, great things can be done on modest budgets – similarly terrible things can be done on massive budgets if the project isn’t planned thoroughly!
Determine what you need rather than what you want
It’s great to have a detailed brief if you’re prepared to pay for it or wait for it. If you have a restrictive budget or timescale then it’s important to know what the aim of the animation is so that we can work together to find a solution. If you are restricted by budget or time then your need is more important than your want.
You won’t get Avatar for less than $230m but you can get a blue cat flying a dragon for considerably less.