Animation is a complex process that can be further complicated or simplified by the programs and techniques you use. But no matter what, 3D animation is a time-consuming job with a long list of requirements. With a long list of tasks to complete, diverse hardware requirements, and a wide variety of software to utilize, pain points are commonplace. That’s why a good production workflow is required to keep the process operating smoothly and economically.
There are six major phases of creating 3D animation:
- Storyboarding – creating the concept, plot, and direction your 3D animation will take.
- Modeling – the process of creating all the 3D objects in an animation scene,
- Texturing – the creation of stylized or natural textures and materials that are then applied to 3D models and environments,
- Rigging – constructing a skeleton for a 3D object so that it can properly move
- Layout and animation – the process of how objects are positioned and animated within a scene
- Rendering – the process in which a computer compiles all of the information together in order to create the final animated product.
We’ll be breaking down all of these phases and highlighting the most effective ways to tackle them to avoid any frustrations.
Storyboarding & Conceptualization Phase
A storyboard is a collection of sketches that serve as a basic outline for the 3D animation. A storyboard, like a rough draft, aids in the planning of a scene or animated movement. The storyboard’s fundamental premise will then be refined during the project’s duration.
The initial concept phase is all about planning out your animation and letting your creativity run free. But this doesn’t mean just throwing your ideas on a whiteboard. Organizing your thoughts and ideas will pay massive dividends throughout the animation process. Try creating a detailed timeline with a good amount of information, so when you’re looking at your concepts a month later you can actually remember what you were thinking.
After the storyboard has been approved, the process of creating objects, environments, and characters begins. Modeling is the process of transforming a shape into a finished three-dimensional mesh. The most common method of producing a 3D model is to extend or “grow” a simple object, known as a primitive, into a shape that may be modified and developed. A single point (called a vertex), a two-dimensional line (called an edge), a curve (called a spline), and three-dimensional objects are all examples of primitives (faces or polygons).
One of the toughest issues beginners and novices have with 3D modeling is getting used to spatial awareness and the perception it requires. Working in a 3D space is much more difficult than 2D space because it adds an additional dimension to work in, adding further detail and calculations.
Building 3D perception takes time and perseverance. Watching tutorials on some of the popular programs like Blender can help expedite the process. Additionally, Youtube has thousands of tutorials on every aspect of the animation process, so take some time to study and learn and then jump in and practice-practice-practice!
The default color for objects developed in the 3D modeling component of the 3D pipeline is usually flat gray. Wrapping a 2D image around a 3D object and determining how light would affect it is what 3D texturing means. The overall goal of 3D texturing is to match the surface of the model to its concept art design or real-world counterpart.
For example, if the model is designed to represent a brick wall, the texture artist’s job is to ensure that when rendered, the 3D brick wall has the same color and surface qualities as a real-world brick wall.
Texturing can be quite an in-depth process depending on the complexity of the scene and environment. To make the process as simple as possible, be sure to take into account the lighting, shading, and general feel of the scene. This will help to avoid mismatching textures, which can really throw off an environment.
Rigging is a skeleton animation technique that uses a network of interconnected digital bones to represent a 3D character model. Rigging, in this context, refers to the process of generating a 3D model’s bone structure. This bone structure is used to bring the model to life by manipulating it like a puppet. After the creation of a 3D model, a set of bones representing the skeletal structure is formed. There could be a group of backbones, a spine, and head bones in a character, for example. These bones could be manipulated with digital animation software, which allows them to change their position, rotation, and scale.
Animations can be created by capturing these properties of the bones along a timeline. A process is known as keyframing, which we already talked about in our previous blog. A simple setup could take a few hours or less, whereas a sophisticated movie rig could take days.
When talking about the pain points of rigging, there are A LOT. For one, the rigging process itself can be incredibly tedious and long. This might explain why Mixamo’s auto-rigging feature is so popular. By supplying a quick and easy way to automatically rig your character, Mixamo drastically decreases the amount of time you spend on rigging.
Rigging is difficult because you are creating a structure that will essentially define the movement of a character. If the setup is off, then your character’s movement can seem very unrealistic and clunky. Prior to rigging, be sure to have a good understanding of the actions your character will need to take. This will give you a good idea of what kind of flexibility the character will need.
Additionally, try to put joints in anatomical locations that make sense. For human characters, this can be pretty straightforward, but when dealing with creatures it can get more complex and require some planning and design.
There’s a lot to take into account when it comes to rigging, and when starting from scratch it can be a considerable amount of work. That’s why platforms like Pixcap have begun gaining popularity. By offering easy-to-use character rigs, these services can save animators countless hours of frustration. Which can end up paying dividends when all you have to do is a little fine-tuning and you are good to go.
The process of making a 3D object move is known as animation. There are several types of animation. There’s keyframe animation, which is akin to ancient hand-drawn cartoons in that the animator manipulates the objects, frame by frame. Placing objects on splines and configuring them to follow the course of the curve, or downloading motion capture data and applying it to a character rig, are two other ways to animate.
There are a lot of different techniques used to bring those rigs and models to life. But the animation phase can still take quite a long time. Ensuring your characters move and appear realistic can be a difficult task, because it’s rather dependent on the other phases, especially rigging.
Keyframe animation was the go-to technique for a long time, but it was incredibly time-consuming because of the number of poses and frames needed. Motion capture was introduced as another way to expedite the process, and while it helps, conventional mocap is expensive and impractical for medium to small projects.
That might just be why AI motion capture is starting to capture on with platforms like Pixcap. AI mocap utilizes videos and images to extrapolate animation and record it for use with your characters. This can expedite the animation process significantly, just leaving some cleanup and fine-tuning before the character is ready.
Another issue is the difficulty in collaborating on animation. Most of the time, the animation isn’t just a one-person show. There may be other animators, designers, and programmers to work with as well. Services like Autodesk Shotgun allow you to collaborate and organize your projects with ease, making working with other people a breeze. Share animation, models, rigs, and more, and get a full view of the overall animation pipeline.
Rendering animation is usually the last phase in the 3D production pipeline, and it’s also the most crucial. Computer specifications often go a long way in determining the rendering speed of an animation. The processing power available to us now, with multi-core processors and RAM capabilities, is tens of thousands of times more than it was 30 years ago. But, picture format output and quality standards, as well as viewer expectations, have increased. Rendering time is aided by CPU speed. If your system is capable of utilizing GPUs for rendering, the type and number of GPUs also matter. In general, the higher the computer specifications, the faster the rendering will be.
Rending pain points are primarily related to a long time it takes to finalize your hard work. This often comes down to computer performance and hardware. Having a good graphics card, CPU, and adequate amount of RAM is integral to keeping your rendering time to a minimum.
But no matter how fast your computer is, if you have to render your project for every little change, all of your time will get eaten up. One way to avoid this is by using a web publishing feature. This allows you to store your project online for easy access and commenting by your client and/or team. Services like Pixcap offer a way to store all of your project details in the cloud, so you can access it anywhere and can even share it with whoever needs to see it.
Avoiding Pain Points
Animation is a time-consuming and complex process, but it can be extremely rewarding both monetarily and mentally. Seeing your characters come to life is an incredible feeling, and undoubtedly an amazing accomplishment.
But the animation process is slowly getting easier and more simple as new platforms and products are released. Services like Mixamo and Pixcap provide animators with more freedom by offering many different solutions to the many pain points that plague new and veteran animators.
So if you’re looking for ways to simplify and expedite your workload, remember that Youtube is an excellent free resource with some great information. But if you are willing to spend a little money to save a lot in the end, definitely take a look at the services mentioned in this article. Because of the amount of time they can save you might just pay for itself.