Movie Making Manual/Character Animation

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This Module is part of the Movie Making Manual

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This is a Digital Puppet
created in DAZ Studio
using the Victoria model
which are both free until the end of 2006.

There are two kinds of animation used in the making of a motion picture. Animated movies have a special procedure and the animation is done in Production. This section covers the procedure for creating an animated movie.

Animation is also done in Post Production as part of visual effects. For visual effects, go to Animation for Visual Effects.

Overall Procedure of an Animated Motion Picture[edit]

An animated motion picture starts out like any other motion picture. Pre-production is the same and that includes storyboarding. The only difference is that, storyboarding for an animated motion picture is much more intense. In live action filming, the storyboards are only an approximation. In an animated motion picture, the storyboards eventually become the keyframes of the animation.

Dialogue Recording[edit]

All text books on making an animated motion picture explain that before the animation can begin, the dialog of the script must be recorded by the actors. The textbooks say that only after the actor's dialog has been recorded does work begin on the animation.

The problem is, this method does not work. Actors have too much trouble visualizing who they are and their surroundings in an animated movie. Their performance is terrific when they can see the animation but not good when they cannot see anything.

Therefore, in almost all cases, the dialog must be recorded a second time after the animation is finished. To see that this is true, go through the "making of the movie" articles for all the successful animated movies and you will learn that they recorded the dialog a second time while the actors watch the animation.

Dialog Recording vs. ADR Session
To keep the two recording sessions separate, I will call the first recording of the dialog, the "Dialog Recording". And the second recording of the dialog after the movie is almost finished, the "ADR Session" since the second recording of the dialog is very much like a normal ADR session with a few exceptions.

Dialogue Recording Procedure[edit]

There are two different ways to record the initial dialog for an animated motion picture.

One Actor at a Time
The first way is the easy way. This is to bring in each actor, one at a time, and record that persons dialog. This recording session is with the director who will coach the actor by either reading the other character's dialog or will explain each scene to the actor.
Multiple Actors
This is much more difficult. Two or more actors are brought into the recording studio and if possible, put into separate (isolated) recording booths connected to the same recording console. The actors can hear each other as they record their dialog together. This way, the two actors interact with each other but their voices are recorded on separate tracks.
If the two actors are in the same recording booth, and if the actors happen to be speaking at the same time (as people often do in a heated conversation), this becomes locked into the dialog recording. There can be no adjustment during the editing of the movie.
Therefore, recording each actor on a separate track is preferable.

The other Steps of Making the Animated Movie[edit]

Here are the steps for creating the animated movie once the dialog has been recorded.

Animatic Creation Procedure[edit]

Using the still images from the storyboard, an animatic is created using the recorded dialog. Another way to explain this is the movie is made using just still pictures along with the dialog as well as with a temp film score and rough sound effects.

Timing Procedure[edit]

Once the dialog is recorded and the animatic completed, the dialog must be timed. For each scene, each syllable of the dialog must be timed from the beginning of the scene. This is needed for the animators to create the animation and rough lip sync.

Animation Procedure[edit]

Once the timing of each scene is complete the animation is started. For 3D animation, each shot is rendered just like a motion picture shot on film with live actors. Then these shots are edited together.

This is very different from 2D animation where each frame is carefully planned out and no extra frames are created. In 3D animation, about 10% of the rendered frames are removed (trimmed off the two ends of the shot) during editing.

If ADR will be used, the actual lip sync can still be very rough or not at all.

Editing Procedure[edit]

For 3D animation, a regular digital video editing program (such as Final Cut Pro or Adobe Premeire) is used to edit the movie. The sound effects and the musical score are added now. The musical score might even have been created before the editing so that the movie will be edited to match the film score.

Dialogue Recording Procedure[edit]

Once the animation is done and the movie has been edited, all the actors return, one at a time, to an ADR session where the actors see everything that is happening on the screen and they react to it.

Lip Sync Timing Procedure[edit]

Now the final timing of the lip sync is calculated. Then the animation for the mouth movements is done to match the timing. Some animation software have faster ways to do this. This is the last step in the animation process.

Types Of Animation[edit]

There are two kinds of 3D character animation.

General Purpose 3D Animation Programs
This is done with programs such as Maya, LightWave, and 3D Studio Max. In this case, all characters in the movie are custom made. All the movie sets and the scenery are created from scratch.
Special Purpose 3D Animation Programs
This is done with specialized programs such as Poser and DAZ Studio. In this case, most all the characters are purchased off the shelf from companies such as RuntimeDNA. Frequently, specialized programs are also used to create the movie set. These programs are Vue and Bryce. For low budget animation, the movie sets will be rendered as multi-layered still images which are composited with the character animation and (at the same time) animated with Adobe AfterEffects.
  • Examples of animation motion pictures created with general purpose 3D animation program are Polar Express and Aero-Troopers. Polar Express uses realistic human figures while Aero-Troopers uses cartoon-like characters which are easier to animate.
  • Examples of animation motion pictures created with special purpose 3D animation program can be seen overseas in television dramas.

More Info[edit]

For more information on creating motion picture with special purpose 3D programs, see the section on Digital Puppets (coming soon!).