The pre-production stage in the 3D pipeline production is the phase in which you come up with all of your ideas for the project and plan a general overview of the end result. Typically, the pre-production is made up of a few important processes which include designing, storyboarding, and creating an animatic. This serves as the foundation of the project and helps to develop a sense of direction for the final result. This stage involves brainstorming ideas, synthesising them, and refining them to achieve a clear indication of the way in which the story will pan out. Characters, landscapes, setting, genre, and the storyline are some of the aspects that are thought out during this phase.
Storyboarding is an important part of pre-production as it serves as a general overview on how your project will look and play out. This is generally a good place to start as it forms the rough outline of your project and allows you to visualise how the finished project may look. The storyboard is used to detail key events or scene changes in the animation. From the storyboard you can decide on the characters, the lighting, and the camera angles that you’ll need. Sometimes multiple storyboards will be made during this phase to refine specific ideas to see which one will work the best.
Later on the production stage, the storyboard becomes a crucial guide to refer back to as it assists with timing, camera angles and music placement.
A big part of pre-production is made up designing the project, from the characters, to the story itself. This is where a lot of concept art and character charts are made. A lot of quick sketching and drawing is done, and from these the best ones are chosen as a reference point for the near final look of the models in the project. When designing and coming up with different concepts, you aren’t looking to create detailed or finished drawings, but to draw down a lot of different ideas. This goes for other aspects as well, such as creating the story. Initially you’ll come up with lots of different ideas that aren’t necessarily fully planned out. From these you can chop and change ideas before finally picking the combination of ideas that suits the best.
An animatic is usually one of the final stages in pre-production. It is the animated version of your storyboard and helps to work out timing of specific movements and the soundtrack. The animatic is also a good way to experience how the final project might look and feel, and allow you the chance to change certain parts before beginning production. A good example of an animatic: The Gorillaz – Feel Good Inc (Animatic) and how it compares to the finished product.
Once you have discussed and agreed on the different aspects in the pre-production phase and are happy with the direction in which the project is headed, you can begin to enter the production phase.
Modelling is one of the first steps in the production phase. Once you have finished pre-production and know the direction in which your story is headed and have a clear view of what characters and objects that will be required for your story, you can begin modelling them. This involves taking concept art and sketches from the pre-production stage and turning them into 3D models. There are many types of modelling methods, however, the most common method is polygon modelling.This is accomplished by using the vertices, edges, and faces of polygons to form shapes in order to sculpt your models. For games especially, the fewer amount of polygons that you use in your model, the better this will be. More complex polygon models require more space and can slow down the overall framerate and are much more difficult to UV unwrap.
Once you’ve finishing modelling your character or object, the next step is to UV map it. This process is generally one of the more annoying tasks in the production of your project as it is both tedious and time consuming. Higher poly models can also become very confusing to UV map and if not done correctly, can lead to complications with texturing.
Essentially when you are creating a UV map for your model, you are ‘unwrapping’ it as if you were folding out all of the sides to make a flat 2D image. The reason for this is so you can export the map into a program such as Photoshop, which works on a 2D basis, so you can then apply a texture to it. when unwrapping, it’s best to do each part of the model separately to avoid texture distortion and stretching.
Once you have the UV map unwrapped correctly and exported, you can move on to adding textures and shading.
Texturing and shading:
After successfully UV mapping your models, you can begin texturing them. Texturing is used to bring colour to your models and give them an aesthetic look. Using a program such as Photoshop, you take the UV map of a model and begin painting your textures onto the different parts of the UV that correspond to the parts of your model. Taking the UV map and painting over it, is useful for accurately applying textures to each individual part of the model to achieve the desired look.
Once you have the base colours of your texture down, you can begin to add more depth to your model. By adding more layers such as shading, highlights, and normal maps, you can make the models seem more realistic, even achieving bumps and dents without adding more polygons to your model. After you are happy with your textured and shaded models, you can then move onto rigging and animating them.
3D rigging is the process of creating a skeleton for a 3D model so it can move. If a model doesn’t have some sort of rig, they can’t be animated, or at least animated well. There are lots of different rigging methods, the most common being joint and facial rigging. Like a real skeleton, rigging is made up of the joints, and each joint acts as a pivot point in the rig. When you animate a rigged character, your animations will be dependant on the joints as they act as a “handle” which allows you to bend your models. The more detail you put into rigging a model, the higher complexity of animations you will be able to create. This is especially important when striving for realism in your models. However, highly complex rigs can take up to weeks to create, so its best to keep it simple. It is important to test your rig by doing some quick animations, this ensures that you have correctly rigged your model and are happy that all of the joints have been successfully rigged. Once you are happy with your rigged models, you can move to animating them.
After rigging the models, you will be able to animate them. In this stage you are looking to essentially bring the models to life by giving them movement and specific actions or gestures. This process is done through the use of numerous key frames which when complied together, create the animation. Some animations can be taken even further to seem more realistic or convincing, which can be achieved using the curve editor. This allows you to change things such as timing, where, at a certain point in the animation you could have a rapid increase in the curve to represent what might be a faster drop. By doing this, you can add more realistic attributes to your animations. Animating can be the most enjoyable part of the production process as you watch your models come to life.
Lighting involves bringing brightness into your project and can be used to help simulate different moods within your project. For example, adding a dim light in an old house can give off an eerie feeling, whereas adding a bright light into a house can make it feel like a safe environment. Lighting is a great way to enhance your scene and add depth to your models. Done right, lighting can make the difference between a good and an amazing project. Although lighting can be simulated, often it will be baked into the textures of your models, which is called a light map. This is useful if you want better performance.
Rendering is the process of taking the various components and animations within your project and building a final viewable result. It involves translating the 3D environment into a finalised array of 2D images. When rendering for higher quality, this process can take a long time to complete. To save time whilst rendering you would be doing so at the expense of the overall quality.
The final stage in the production of your project is compositing. “Compositing is used to combine multiple layers of images to render a final still or moving image.” (Margaret. Compositing). This is where you can include adding after effects on scenes that you’ve rendered in order to improve the overall aesthetic look of your project. Usually when filming cinematics or movies, a green screen or blue screen will be used in this process.
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- The Animation Production Process, Part 1 – Preproduction: You’re never writing alone. (2010). gorillamydreamz: Canimation. https://canimation.wordpress.com/2010/02/12/you-are-never-writing-alone-%E2%80%93-learning-the-animation-process/
- What is Rigging? (2016). Justin Slick. https://www.lifewire.com/what-is-rigging-2095
- Beane, A. (2012). 3D Animation Essentials. NA: Sybex http://au.wiley.com/WileyCDA/WileyTitle/productCd-1118147480.html
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- In computer animation, what is rendering? (2017). Adrian-Luc Sanders. https://www.thoughtco.com/computer-animation-what-is-rendering-140509