Animation today can seem magical, the product of arcane and high-tech wizardry. But anyone who has seen behind the scenes will be familiar with the meticulous, frame-by-frame approach and range of specialist techniques needed. Here is an overview of the process for BRILLIANA's 3D computer animation The Lost Romance of Elizabeth Linley:
As in any creative project, we start with the concept, developing it through brainstorming and research. At this stage, we also consider the film's purpose: why are we making it, who is it for and how will we reach them?
Because this is primarily a visual project, we then work on the storyboard, which is complemented by the written script. Detailed production design follows, all with traditional materials like pencil and paper. We also set the timing with a 2D animatic, which involves animating the storyboard panels and composing the first draft of the soundtrack.
Once we're happy, we move to the computer, building shot-ready virtual assets. Modelling creates the base form, inside which the rig is built. This virtual skeleton allows the model to be animated. Mathematical shaders dictate how the model reacts to virtual light and a texture map adds the surface colour. Every aspect of the scene must be built, but the distant background is likely to be a flat image, acting as a theatrical backdrop.
At the same time, place-holder assets will be used to create a 3D animatic, testing the edit and confirming what is in shot and what is superfluous. We then workshop the acting with professional actors, providing us with nuanced references for our character animation.
With all the assets built, we are ready for production. Using the 3D animatic as a starting point, the virtual film set is built: place holders are replaced with shot-ready assets, the camera animation is refined and virtual lights are positioned. And of course, the characters are animated.
We can now introduce the procedural animation: secondary movement, including cloth, hair and leaves, which is driven by mathematical algorithms. Some visual effects will also be created in the production phase and refined in post-production.
Finally, the production is ready for rendering. This is when the computers process everything to produce sequences of images for compositing (see below). Each frame could take an average of five minutes to process, which means a three-minute film will take about 16 days to render. Rendering is the most time-consuming aspect of production.
Post-production starts with compositing, when the various image sequences are combined. Colour grading and other adjustments enhance the mood and final look. Further assets are added, including dust, light rays and particles, as well as 2D visual effects, from morphing to datamoshing.
The film is rendered again and brought into the final piece of software for editing. The music is added and the edit is refined for a final time. Sound effects (foley) are added and a final quick render creates the finished film.