Animation Tools of the Trade

You have been given 20 weeks and a team of 5 to create a 3 minute 3D animated music video. What tools do you need, how to you stay on time and achieve the vision?

This is the challenge a team of 5 AIE students faced when creating the music video for the song ‘Follow You’ as part of their major assignment in the second year of their Animation and VFX course.

Working with a music student from the Canberra Institute of Technology (CIT) who wrote the song, the team applied what they had learnt about the production pipeline during their course to deliver the finished music video in such a short period of time. The production pipeline consists of three stages. In it’s most simplest form you can think of the three stages in the following way;

  • Pre Production: Planning what needs to be achieved and who will be doing the tasks
  • Production: Creating all the assets that were discussed in Preproduction.
  • Post Production: Putting it all together and delivering to the client.

During the entire production pipeline, the team relied heavily on their suite of tools to help them achieve their vision. Below is a look at all the tools used to create the music video.

In preproduction the team created the concept for the music video, the storyboard so that they all knew what each shot involved and assigned each person a different task. The team also spent time researching techniques that could later be used in production.

  • Celtx – Script writing
  • Adobe Photoshop – concepting, storyboarding
  • Shotgun – Project management
Part of the storybard for 'Follow You'

During production is when the bulk of asset creation and animation takes place. The following tools were used in varying capacity to help create the required elements;

  • Maya – Animation, modelling, lighting, rigging, water effects, particles
  • ZBrush – Character sculpting
  • World Machine – Environment creation
  • RayFire for 3DS Max – Destruction simulation (Bridge collapse, flower breaking through ground)
  • Substance Painter – Texturing
  • xNormal – Converting textures
  • Agisoft PhotoScan – Photogrammetry

The team stayed on track using Shotgun, a production program that allows the team to submit their work for review and see what tasks had been assigned to them. Shotgun is setup during the preproduction stage.

Shotgun: used in the production planning

During the post production stage, the team used two compositing programs for different purposes:

  • After Effects – Motion graphic elements (Cyborg heads up display)
  • Nuke – Colour grading and compositing all the elements into final shots
  • Adobe Premiere – Editing
  • Deadline – Render farm management

When creating a finished shot is it rare that you would render the entire scene all at once. Instead, you would render out different elements separately; character, backgrounds VFX etc. This allows tweaks to be made to individual elements, or if there is an error during rendering they do not have to re-render the entire shot (which may take days) they can just focus on the element that needs to be changed.

This has been just a taste of what goes into creating a 3 minute music video but these same techniques, tools and principles are used the movie industries biggest blockbusters.