Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Preparing yourself for an animated film

I'm an animation senior about to graduate SVA named Carly Crawford.
I’m creating a series of tutorials primarily for my undergraduate classmates of School of Visual Arts that have to do their thesis films for next year. I think it will definitely help others as well though. I found that the preparations I made benefited me greatly for a nice stream line way to work. I will be showing the tools I have gathered for minimal costs and how to be self sufficient if you don’t live in the dorms of your school.

So what are the basic needs of an animation?
Animation disk and table
Pencil tester
Hole puncher
Animation paper
Field guide
Film bible

Substitutes that are not as expensive:
Light box (that angles for comfort) with a taped on pegbar. (I highly recommend the Aluminum Acme bar and several plastic bars around)
Ordinary hole puncher (if you do this, you will need lightfoot pegbars)
MiniDV camcorder with either a tripod or the Cam stand http://www.photocopystand.com/
Printer paper
Paper print out of field guide

Digital process.
A tablet enabled computer (I use Toshiba M7 tablet PC)
External hard drive (mine is NTSF)
USB data stick (mine is FAT32) [makes for file sharing with Macs]

Misc. stuff
Laptop stand (Xbrand 360° Height Adjustable Laptop Stand)
Air conditioner or fan

Programs I use:
Celtx (Free)
Sketchbook pro
Photoshop CS4
After Effects CS4
Final cut pro (Mac only)
Monkey Jam (Free, PC only)

I’ll make future installments about the substitutes for basic animation. In this installment, it’s more about when you are getting it on the computer.

RULE #1 BACK UP EVERYTHING. I really hate having to say what others have said but it’s true: Save frequently, back up your things. Trust me. When it comes to movies, EVERYTHING GOES WRONG at one point or another and thus you have to be prepared for any stupidity.

Ways to prevent losing your data and wanting to kill yourself:
1. DON’T SAVE ON YOUR DESKTOP/LAPTOP’S HARDDRIVE! You will lose it! And it will bog down the performance of your computer because the files you will create will be huge.

2. DON’T USE THE EXTERNAL HARDDRIVE YOU HAVE BEEN FOR GOD KNOWS HOW LONG! Buy a whole new one that is compact and sturdy. A good 280 Gig should be enough. I personally use the Maxtor Onetouch 4 mini. I like it because there is a space I can put a stick for labeling. It’s also very easy for travel with. My other external hard drive did die on me around January.

3. DO USE AN FTP SERVER. I’m serious. Buy or bum off a friend an FTP server, hook up Version Cue/Adobe drive to it and back your stuff up on it. That or download Smartftp to access your ftp server. The nice thing about an FTP server is that if you have people helping you, they could download your files to their computers, work on it and resubmit it in a separate folder that a second screen name has limited access to, thus preventing people from saving over or deleting original files.

RULE #2 UPDATE YOUR EQUIPMENT, INCREASE PERFORMANCE. Really, honestly. You’re making a movie. You will need more then 2 gigs of RAM and 80 gigs of space. For the longest time I was working on my PC laptop that was so slow and often gave me error messages of not being powerful enough to render. I thought this was weird because I had up my RAM to 4 Gigs just before the year started. Turned out my hard drive was failing and needed to be replaced. So when I took it to the shop and they told me of the signs of death it was giving, I replaced my hard drive from 80 gigs to 160 gigs. With all of the other repairs (DVD replace, Wifi button fixed, keyboard replace) I got a sweet deal and with out warranty! Also I came into some money shortly after and I had to update my Flash program for class. I ended up buying the Adobe production suite with the student discount. With all the programs it was well worth it.

With an updated computer, you are less likely to freeze and programs to close on you. A nice place to go to check your computer's performance is PC Pitstop . Be good to your machine :3

RULE #3 SAVE SAVE SAVE!!!! Save every time you do a major change! Set After Effects to save every 15 minutes! (It's in the preference under file) Photoshop doesn't have an auto save, so save save save!

Managing your files and documents: ORGANIZATION IS KEY

Know where everything is. A movie is way too complicated for someone to go in without a plan.

Celtx is helpful because it can keep all of your documents together and help you create for film bible. Its primary function is script writing. How ever you can create a storyboard document in which you can print out thumbnails for your film bible. Also you can store information on your characters, your voice actors with contact info, production calendar and other important documents. You can even import other documents and files in which it will create a quick link so you don’t have to look for it. I’ll write about film bibles later. What’s also nice about Celtx is that it has its own FTP site for you to upload to.

The categories for my folders
Animated Scenes
Colored Animated Scenes
Resource pictures
Inspiration pictures
Title and credits

Animated scenes are later, but this is where you would put PSD files and AE files of uncolored but fully animated stuff. For color people, I like to name the files in this format : SceneXcharacternames that way I know what color pallet I need.

Colored Animated scenes are for the colored. I’ll explain what to do with these later in relation to the uncolored work. These files should retain the same document name and layer names as their predecessors of the animated scene files. This is because in AE, you would be replacing the uncolored with the colored.

Characters- Character sheets and master color pallets.

Elements- maybe extra things like minor ensemble characters, stars, special effects.

Resource pictures- If you don’t know how to draw something, for god sake look for photo refs and save them.

Inspiration pictures- These are illustrations you create to figure out the color scheme and feel of your film. In no way does it have to be anatomically correct or life-like, but give you an idea of the visual direction of your film.

Monkeyjam- needs its own folder. When you take pictures with it, it likes to splay all the pictures on your desktop. Use this folder to keep them all together and for future ref.

Separates- I thought you guys would probably be going Huh? What? This is another form of protection your data. Instead of just storing all of your animated layers in one Photoshop document, separate them all into individual jpeg files. It’s easier then it sounds because Photoshop has a script in which it can export its layers into individual bits. 9.9 I didn’t do it for scene 6 and lost my lip-sync. Had to do it over. Luckily I had rendered a video with the lip-sync on it and imported the video to Photoshop. I spliced it out until I could redo the lip-sync later. It’s good practice to create separate folders for each scene.

Storyboards - I love using Sketchbook pro for my storyboards, especially because it’s so easy to “flip pages” as it was an actual book. Makes reading very easy. When creating a storyboard, it’s best to take a template resave is as the title of your film. After you finish drawing the first page, hit SAVE AS and it will create a title name with the title of your fillm0001. Each time you need a new page, open up the template and hit SAVE AS before you start working. Doing this allows Sketchbook to know that these are a sequence and to treat it as a book.
Within this folder you should have a subfolder of separates in which you use Photoshop to slice each panel up so that it’s easy for you to composite in After Effects and Celtx. More on that later.

Layouts - Layouts are your guides to the final product of your animated films. This folder has to be separate from animated files. A major reason is scanning. That pegbar you put on your scanner is bound to move at one point or another unless it’s glued on. Also unless you scanned the entire page, you will not create the same selected area. It isn’t happening. Plus, you leave this up so that when you need to go back and look at your layout file, After Effects can find it all.

Title and credits- was the last folder I made. One note I can make besides the obvious: When creating your credits, create two Photoshop versions. One that editable with everything separated, and a second one with them all merged together so that AE doesn’t have a hard time with placement. Be careful and mindful when using this method. Edit in the editable one and SAVE AS to the second one.

Videos - You are going to be rendering films up to the wazoo with After Effects and possibly MonkeyJam. Be sure that when you save these videos that you give a name and add the date. For example: My AE file is called Roughmater. Each of the videos I render are called Roughmater2.23.09 or Roughmaster02.22.09. If you make more then one in one day, you could render over the first one or just rename it with the same date.

After Effects is your friend when you ORGANIZE ORGANIZE ORGANIZE!!!

Everyone knows the project window. It’s a force to be reckoned with because it’s so damn hard to keep organized. Yes, there is an internal search engine, but if you have to rely on it excessively… You have a problem. Not to mention, if have too many things in the project window, the computer starts to slow down… So I have a system: Break it down :3

1. Create each scene in its own separate AE file. You already know how long the scene is supposed to be. You know the frame rate, you know the size aspect. In this way all your computer has to think about are the elements of that one scene.
2. Create a file in which you would string all of these files together. After Effects can import other project files. Which is good because when you import them, they create folders will all of their goodies in them. Use this file to ONLY do minor edits on individual scenes. Such as shortening and lengthen sequences. If you need to do more intensive work, just open that particular AE file.
WARNING: When importing project files, make sure no other folder is selected at the time of import or the new project will appear inside of the selected one. This can be troublesome when folders are collapsed.
3. If the computer is getting stuck on a really large scene, which they do, open the original scene and render out a QuickTime of that scene and replace project file in master file with the movie.

When final rough cut is done and coloring begins:

4. Create duplicates of uncolored AE files into the colored files. If you are having trouble commanding AE to replace whole files with the new colored one:
A. Import new files.
B. Select desired composition where files need to be replaced.
C. Select the file you want to replace within the timeline
D. Drag file you want to replace with while holding the ALT key. This will not only replace the file but also give the new file the same attributes as the former one.

5. Since you have the exact timing now because the rough cut is done, it is safe to create an uncompressed QuickTime without sound of each scene to be imported to the new Final master AE. This will create a small and manageable file for additional editing. Of course these files can also be imported to Premier CS4 or Final Cut Pro for final sound edits and printing to video.

As a major tip:

Get a laptop stand. If you are using a laptop. Why? Because it keeps your laptop off the table so it doesn’t overheat as quickly. Also with angling abilities, it’s less stress on your back and neck. Animators are prone to back problems, we don’t need the computer to add to that! It’s also a lot easier on you when you are using a tablet PC like mine for the same reason. This way the screen is angled comfortably for me to get in there and draw.

When rendering out a really large file in AE, It’s a good idea to prop your laptop to a large fan or small air conditioner. Why? Because it will cook itself, and suddenly forget what it’s doing and crash on you!!! OH TEH NOES! It’s like… having your computer concentrate less on it’s cooling system. Makes for a happier, healthier and faster computer :3 I’ve saved my computer from freezing on me by doing that. It came back once it cooled down.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Carly it was really nice meeting you at the ASIFA panel discussion today. I just got back from the bar and am EXHAUSTED, but wanted to wish you luck on your senior thesis film screening. Hope you post it on youtube. Good luck!