Sunday, March 30, 2008

A Peek into Process

This is my final post on investigating the various methodologies of Flash animation. At least for the next week or so;) But seriously, I appreciate anyone who has taken the time to pour over what I'm admittedly calling a series of rants.

My mind has been spinning all weekend on animation processes. I've been tinkering around in Flash, in preparation for new shorts I'm thinking of for FVTV. And I recalled the Comcast commercial John K. and his team produced last summer...specifically because I remembered it was created in Flash. I dug up this interview from ColdHardFlash, which I found especially enlightening. It's a goldmine of insight into production. Say what you will of John K, but at least the guy is open to sharing his ideas on process. And remember, he was one of the pioneers of Flash animation. In this interview, they also bring in members of his production crew. This one in particular struck a chord:
AARON: Does this type of animation differ from a TV series?
ERIC: Totally. On the TV series that I’ve worked on, everything is stock digital puppets with a few special poses here and there. On the Comcast commercial nothing is stock - John drew layouts for everything. I enjoy working with layouts a lot more, the poses tend to be stronger and more organic. Working with stock it’s always a matter of trying to Frankenstein a pose together, like getting the correct hand from the library to fit the pose, “eh, it’s the wrong angle, hopefully no one will notice.” However, for me, working with layouts makes the turnaround time much longer; maybe I’m just not accustomed to that kind of process anymore. From my experiences working with both layout and stock pipelines in Flash, working with stock is the best way of going about making a TV series. Layouts require too much clean up and rigging that would most likely bottleneck somewhere in the production. Though the quality is better with layouts, it is just not economical for the demands of the studios with tight budgets and tighter schedules, especially when competing with overseas shops. But for a short, like the Comcast commercial, it’s totally the way to go. What was the question again?

So, it would appear that we're not the only one's debating a "stock" approach versus a "layout" approach. Stock, I guess being the industry term for Library, Layout meaning shot for shot. And then this other quote:

AARON: What type of direction did John give you before you animated?
ERIC: John’s main goal was to make this commercial not look ‘Flashy’ but still be smooth. He didn’t want too many overshoots, even timed tweens, or over distorted drawings using the transform tool. Most of the revisions he gave me were to substitute overshoots with slow ins to eliminate the jerky animation we often see in Flash cartoons.

Lots of jargon there. Fun to figure out what it all means. Elsewhere in the interview John K. states that this 1:15 spot took about a month to create with 15 people (voices included). Which he says is 10 times faster than any other commercial he's made for TV. But that still sounds like a heck of a lot of time to me with so many resources (we don't know if they were working fulltime, of course). I'm realizing more and more that the quality of animation I personally want to achieve is not as easy as it sounds, though definitely possible. Reality is kicking in :)

I find that we're in a unique position in the animation community, because few of us are actually trained in animation. We're all trying to figure out best methods to get the job done. But there's something nice about that, because we don't have the weight of convention holding us down.

My personal learning journey has been something like this: I look at the animation I like and try to figure out how it works. Which is where biases come in, because we all have our tastes. But as a company, we should be open with our ideas. So that we can all learn from each other. Too often, process boils down to budgets and results. And while I think all that has tons of merit, I want to make sure we're just as focused on pushing the artform as far as it can go. We've built an environment at FableVision that is a friend to creativity, and we should take advantage of that every day.

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