The Animation Production Process, Part 2- The Visual Stream
Writer’s Blockhead 02:
Knowing what everyone who works from your script
down the line needs keeps you from being Production Enemy #1!
In part one of our overview of the traditional 2D animation process, The Animation Production Process, Part 1 – Preproduction: You are never writing alone, we discussed the importance of understanding the extensive animation production process to get the most out of your scripts and protect them from avoidable changes down the line.
Insert story of insulted writer shaking his or her fist at the heavens as the vile animators who destroyed their precious script here.
For simplicity’s sake, we are focusing on a traditionally animated, 2D show. Most productions follow a similar course with some variations. We’ll define where 2D and 3D separate in a later post. This is going to be complicated enough as it is!
We learned that development is ruled by two collaborative streams: DESIGN and WRITING.
DESIGN creates the visual look of a series to give it a sense of life and action, and hopefully makes it visually appealing in general. The WRITING works to breath life into the characters so the audience knows what makes them tick, define the world they live in and set-up the driving narrative of the show that will keep viewers tuning in week after week. Surprisingly, just being funny or goofy isn’t enough to encourage multiple viewing. The viewer needs to care about who they’re watching.
We then discussed the PRODUCTION PROCESS up to STORYBOARDS and revealed that STORYBOARDS are the VISUAL MAP of the show. This is one of the key steps in animation because from here on in, everyone will be using it for their baseline reference.
This map, or illustrated instruction manual, tells everyone how things are supposed to fit together so that even when departments are in different countries, they can all be working toward the same final product.
Once the STORYBOARD is complete several streams of production happen concurrently. They tend to follow along two streams: VISUAL and AUDIO.
The VISUAL STREAM:
If a STORYBOARD is a MAP of the production, LAYOUT prepares the BLUEPRINTS for CONSTRUCTION.
LAYOUT also prepares the BACKGROUNDS, using the angles each shot will require along with all the various levels of animation. Foreground, mid-ground and background figures all must be on different levels so they can be moved or placed independently of the other elements while seeing to be in the same place.
Even a single character may have several layers to them. For example, if one element of a character has to move – say, the arms or the mouth as it speaks – but the rest of the body can stay put, the moving portion is placed on one level so it can be drawn once, while the animated portion is placed on separate levels over top.
LAYOUT is where they make sure the every element of the environment will be in place through the process. It defines the pieces that have to be made and how they will fit together. Kind of like the directions on IKEA furniture only much clearer.
The LAYOUT DEPARTMENT is also in charge of POSING the characters. Essentially, the POSING ARTIST draws the main poses of the character to get as sense of their movement in frame and their ACTING or PERFORMANCE.
The VISUAL EFFECTS Department marks every instance where animated effects will be required and design how they will be created. This includes weather effects like snow, rain or fog, fire, flashlight beams, steam from a kettle, the water ripple on the surface of a pond, smoke when a character’s vehicle VROOMS past.
They also handle “special” effects like ray gun beams, a character who shoots electricity from their eyes or some kind of time-space distortion your characters are being pulled into as they try to save the universe from the diabolical Quantum Thief, who is in fact their school principal Ms. Mindyourbeeswax!!!…
Well, you get the idea.
Once the LAYOUTS are ready, they are shot over to the ANIMATORS, who at last add movement to the proceedings.
KEY FRAMES – A HEAD ANIMATOR draws the KEY FRAMES of the characters movements in a given shot. KEY FRAMES are a small number of guide poses that define the sweep of a character’s complete movement. If you only saw those key poses, you would know everything you need from the movement – what they’re doing and how they’re doing it. KEY FRAME has a similar but broader meaning in the 3D digital animation world, but we’ll get to that down the road.
IN-BETWEENING – IN-BETWEENERS are animators as well, often more junior than the directors and key animators. These artists fill in all the drawings in between the KEY FRAMES to make a complete, animated movement. A TIMING SHEET (which we’ll discuss later) tells the IN-BETWEENER exactly how many poses they will need to fill the spaces in between and they draw the movement accordingly.
And that completes the raw animation. But we’re not done yet!
Next, we’ll discuss how the raw animation is turned into a finished product! Then we’ll discuss the AUDIO stream and see how the AUDIO and VIDEO streams meet in POST-PRODUCTION to create the sumptuous extravaganzas we see on our various screens.
Suffice to say, there are a ton of elements that have to work together in animation. And every step has legitimate needs and challenges to make something work. Understanding those needs will help you anticipate what can and cannot be done in your script… and why.