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Animation Process

Thank you for your interest in Assembly Animators
If you are considering a 3D animation for your business needs, 3D animated assembly instructions, animations for a product you are marketing or animations for training video, maybe you need to recreate an accident sequence for a courtroom presentation. Whatever your animation needs, this page is intended to give you an overview of the process we would use to create your animation. With this knowledge, you can make informed decisions during each phase of the project and ensure a successful result.

Animation creation areas: Playback, Research, and Storyboarding

Playback
Determine the form of playback you will need .You should consider one or more of these delivery formats:
Format Resolution (pixels) Frames per Second
DVD 720 x 480 29.97
Web 480 x 320 24
CD-ROM 640 x 480 24
HDTV (1080i) 1920 x1080 30
HDTV (720p) 1280 x 720 30
PowerPoint Video 800 x 600 24-30
Print image (8.5” x 11”) 2550 x 3300 N/A

RESEARCH
Before we start design and creative portion of a project, we research the subject matter of the animation. It is at this point we gather reference material for storyboarding. Examples of these materials are Photographs, illustrations, and video footage

  • Supporting marketing content, such as brochures or presentations
  • Written narration scripts or prerecorded voice tracks
  • Interviews with experts
  • Court documents

If a complex animation, requiring high accuracy and realism is needed, additional video or photographs may be required.

STORYBOARDING
Once the technical requirements have been defined, the next step is to begin the storyboarding process to determine what the animation will look like. Storyboards will show the key visual elements at various points in the animation. A storyboard is an invaluable tool during the design and production process, it is used to generate lists of models and assets required for the animation. You should use the storyboard to make sure that all of your requirements will be met by the final animation. It is important to set an estimated budget for the project prior to storyboarding. Design decisions can be made during the storyboarding process to avoid particularly difficult shots. For example, if animating a seal sliding down a slide into a pool, a decision could be made not to show the seal hitting the water to avoid a complex fluids simulation for the water splash, thus reducing the overall cost of the animation.

Pricing
Only after the storyboard has been created can a firm quote be given for the project. One factor in pricing is the running length of the animation, where longer animations cost more. However, there are many other factors that can affect the cost more than running length. These include:

Video resolution: High-definition footage increases the required level of detail in the models and materials and increases rendering times.

  • Scene complexity: How many animated objects are in the scene? Are there characters or other organic subjects that will be featured? How many different scenes are there in the animation?
  • Compositing: Will the animation be integrated with live action (video) footage?
  • CAD models: Do accurate CAD models exist that could be leveraged in the animation?
  • Audio: Do you already have a prerecorded narration or rights to music that you would like to use, or will we be responsible for the audio portion as well?

Each animation project is unique in its content and requirements, so the best way to get an accurate estimate on your project would be to contact us to discuss your plans in detail. Animation projects generally have costs ranging between $1,000 and $8,000 per animation. This price range speaks to the vastly different requirements of each project. Be sure to check out our suggestions for maximizing the value of your animation at the end of the document.

Production: 3D Animation from A to Z
MODELING
With an approved storyboard, the project enters the production phase. Our current workflow for 3D animation and modeling is based on Autodesk 3D Max 8, one of the most popular tools used in visual effects and gaming companies worldwide. During the modeling phase, assets for the animation are drawn or modeled in two or three dimensions. Some pre-built models may be purchased for a project, but most models are created from scratch, either in 3ds max or in a separate CAD package, such as Autodesk Inventor or AutoCAD. We can generate 3D models from existing 2D or 3D engineering CAD data, which can speed up the modeling process, but some CAD models, may need rework if they are not detailed or contain surfacing flaws. In the end, 3D models define the topology of the objects that will eventually be animated. The level of detail required for a given model is driven by the resolution of the final image as well as how close the camera gets to a model in the final animation.

MATERIALS
3D models must have materials applied to define their surface appearance. Materials specify properties like shininess, transparency, translucency, reflectivity, texture, and color. Proper materials allow viewers to identify objects in the animation as being made of a particular material, such as glass, metal, concrete, water, plastic, or fabric. This is important for animated product demonstrations or forensic animation such as accident reconstruction. High quality texture maps add details to the surface and can deliver very high levels of realism in the final animation. These high quality maps may be created from digital photographs or created by hand, but will likely be manipulated using a graphics editing program.

LIGHTING AND EFFECTS
When models have all necessary materials defined, the next step is to add lights and cameras to the 3d scene. A major factor controlling the appearance of models and materials, lighting is important for creating realism and an appealing image. Lighting allows us to control the appearance of shadows and highlights, and cameras can be added to capture a specific point of view. Visual effects can be added as required, including glows, fire effects, fog, and lens flares. For example, if animating a chemical reaction that gives off energy, adding a glow to the scene as molecules interact will help convey the concept.

ANIMATION
Animation is often the most iterative and time consuming part of the production process. For character animation, it is timing, fluidity of motion, and expressiveness that are most crucial. For forensic or product animations, the goal is precision of motion or technical accuracy. Our toolset offers many different animation techniques, which can yield a variety of results, from soft body deformation to rigid, linear motions. Think of a simple bouncing ball, and how the animation for that ball bouncing would change if it were made of stainless steel, glass, rubber, concrete, or peanut butter.

SIMULATION
Your project may require simulation of some phenomenon. Our current simulation tools allow us to achieve realistic fluid, cloth, and hair effects. We also use particle systems to animate everything from steam and smoke to most recently, an entire array of surface-to-air missiles. We use a physics simulation package to accurately reproduce elastic and inelastic collisions. All of these procedural animation techniques require some simulation of real world physics, fluid mechanics, or dynamics, and can be very computation intensive and difficult to set up. However, when used properly, they can create some impressive results.

 

RENDERING
Rendering takes all of our work thus far and calculates the individual pixels for each frame, based on models, materials, lighting, and effects. Different rendering algorithms can create different results, ranging from photo realistic results to even a cartoon illustrated look. Rendering is very CPU intensive and complex animations can take days to render, even when spreading the work over multiple computers. Consider a 60-second DVD animation where each frame takes 15 seconds to render: A 60 second animation for DVD (at 30 frames per second) requires 1,800 frames, which will take over 7 hours to render! The rendering process can become a bottleneck and requires the use of the latest computer hardware, with fast dual-core processors and large amounts of memory.

DESIGN REVIEWS
It is important that you review progress during all phases of development to incorporate your feedback and minimize rework. For any of our projects, work in progress images or animations will be posted on our web site, typically in a password-protected area. You will be able to access that page and review JPEG images or animations as Quick Time or Windows Media video files, downloading the files for detailed reviews. We typically receive feedback via phone calls or email form, but some clients have had success printing out stills from an animation, marking them up, and faxing them back to us. Whatever the process, it is critical that you, the client, is active and involved during the production process.

 

PUBLISHING
The final step of our process takes the uncompressed video out of editing/compositing and converts this video to the intended format for delivery. Here is a list of various target delivery methods and their respective video formats.
Delivery Method File Formats
PowerPoint Presentation Windows Media, Windows AVI
Web Video Flash Video, Windows Media, QuickTime
CD-ROM Presentations QuickTime, Flash Video
Web Site Images GIF, JPEG, PNG
Digital Signage Flash Video, QuickTime
Video Compositing PNG, RPF, or Open EXR image sequence
Vector (Toon) Outputs AI, EPS, SWF
Print image TIFF, Targa, PSD
Note that some of these delivery methods will have special requirements, as Flash Video needs to be published from the Flash authoring tool, and digital signage applications typically have special formatting requirements with respect to image size and pixel aspect ratio. We have the capabilities to take your animation from concept to storyboard, through production to publish in any format. We offer web site design and hosting services, as well as interactive media development services so that we can offer you a single source solution for all phases of your animation production.

MAXIMIZE THE VALUE OF YOUR ANIMATION PROJECT
To be sure, that you get the most Benefits from your animation project, it is crucial to publish to multiple formats for use across an organization or marketing campaign. For example, an animation project might be commissioned for the launch of a new power saw, with the focus of the animation being to show how the saw cuts a variety of materials. The animation may be intended primarily for inclusion on the campaign’s broadcast TV commercials. However, to maximize the value of the animation, hi-resolution print images could be rendered for print advertisements or product packaging. Low-resolution images or Flash video could be created for the product web site or an interactive banner ad campaign. Windows Media video files could be published for inclusion in PowerPoint presentations in the sales channel. Even hi-definition content could be rendered later on, as the commercials are included on HDTV channels and sets. Because most of the work (and subsequently the cost) are included in the production portion of the
Process, it is very easy to generate many different outputs from the same 3D models, materials, and animation. Therefore, it is important to include multiple output formats as part of your ROI calculations for the project.

Contact us for a quote

 

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