Iterations For Developing a Pipeline and Nailing the Moments (Hybrid Animation-Integrating 2D and 3D Assets) Part 2

How Many do You Need?

For a film that poses few technical challenges, you would be free to pick any strong emotional moments. For a 2D/3D film, you will need to pick something that is strong emotionally but also highlights any of the pipeline or technical challenges that you are going to have to answer.

A completed moment used as a team promotion.

FIGURE 2.5 A completed moment used as a team promotion.

In the previous topic, we created a story with an eight-panel storyboard. In a longer film, obviously, there would be a hundred times more panels, at least. Even in a short student film, you will have amassed large sum of panels.

In a longer film comprised of an exposition, conflict, climax, and resolution, there will be a certain defining story point. Perhaps it is the moment that Indy victoriously replaces a golden idol on its stand with a bag of sand. For just one moment, maybe half a second, he is convinced that he has beaten the booby traps.

You are also looking for shots that show the multiple media together. You want to firmly establish how those media are going to fit together seamlessly as early as possible in your production.

The following technical pipeline issues need to be addressed:

1.    Style matching

2.    Registration

3.    Frame rate

4.    Timing

5.    Image sizes

Image by Jason Walling, 2008, SCAD, Digital Cel

FIGURE 2.6 Image by Jason Walling, 2008, SCAD, Digital Cel

Example of art elements in a scene.

FIGURE 2.7 Example of art elements in a scene.

Emotional and Technical Moments

Because 2D/3D films have more than one medium, we are also looking to address pipeline and technical issues, not just the emotional moment. This can be tricky because we stray into technical areas. Remember, “iteration" is the key word. The more you can go through at this problem-solving stage, the more likely you are to uncover a better pipeline to create your image. Do not settle on your first try. The first try is probably only your most comfortable, easy method. It might not create the best aesthetic nor be the fastest. This is not to say that you can’t have it look good and be fast. What’s that quote? “You can have it: fast, cheap, and great looking. Pick two."

Moments can be made using any software program(s)—at first. Aim high. The goal is to capture the style and test out possible technical pipelines. Don’t be concerned at first if the technical aspect is too slow or not developed enough: the “exactly how we do it" comes later. It might even be decided that the effect can’t be done. However, you might find that what you thought would be an improbable way of creating the image is doable with a few tweaks and you still get the great image at the end! It is a test; failure is okay. From that failure you may uncover another way to approach the problem. We make a safe place to fail by only using one frame or one scene. By testing the technical pipelines in a safe environment of one shot or one frame, it allows the filmmakers to try things that they normally would have avoided. They might have not included a certain aspect of a story or a character design because they thought, “No, we can’t do that, because …." It becomes especially necessary to have this process in a 2D/3D pipeline when it might be that no processes or pipelines have been established. This puts the production team into a high-risk category. The process of creating moments helps flush out those technical issues early while keeping focused on the overall aesthetic of the piece. Most important, do not stop a test with the roadblock of “We can’t do that, because .." Just as in the rules of brainstorming, if you stop a test from happening, you also stop any branches of knowledge or problem solving that might have come from that test. Even if the experiment was going to be a failure, its branches might have led to a success.

Once when I was a student, a professor stopped a student’s story idea that had sand in it by interjecting, “We can’t do sand." The story pitch stopped, the student blinked a few times, sat down, and that was the end of it. It bothered me at the time for a reason I couldn’t articulate. Now I understand. Sometimes it is the “we can’t do" situations that spawn great ideas. Instead of “we can’t do," you can ask, “How could we achieve the same look?" So to keep creativity from being stopped by “we can’t do its," we allow ourselves this step of testing and iterating to get a final image.

Students often are subject to many hours of art history classes. Animation students should make sure that they are receiving cinema study classes as well. In these studies they will find that these topics are core concepts in filmmaking. So that at that same cocktail party where animators are discussing Acting with a capital A, they should also be discussing Filmmaking with a capital F.

As soon as the film-maker loses sight of this essence [emotional center] the means ossifies into lifeless literary symbolism and stylistic mannerism.

—Sergei Eisenstein [2]

Hands-on Examples

Now we will go through the process of picking what is a good moment and discussing how to proceed with the pipeline tests to create that moment. Let’s take a look at the story we created in the first topic and find the high emotional moments. We will use these moments to discuss the technical challenges each shot illustrates as well the best medium to use for the art assets. In this example, we will not generate the art; the techniques for that will be covered in Part Two of this topic. We are focusing on the method of selecting the correct shots to begin with and how to analyze them.

Picking the Moments

Our storybeads were the following:

Shot 1 It is a lovely night.

Shot 2 There are two people, in the city, in love.

Shot 3 Character A thinks that now is the right time.

Shot 4 On bended knee, character A asks the big question by presenting the ring.

Shot 5 Character B thinks over the question.

Shot 6 Character A waits for the answer.

Shot 7 Character B rejects the offer.

Shot 8 Character A is rejected in the city as the rain begins to fall.

We could argue about what are the highest emotional points in these eight storybeats, and at first blush it might be hard to discern which have the highest emotional intensity. They all are important shots and we would have a hard time cutting any. But some shots could be cut out. That thought can help us weed out what is not a high emotional point. What could you cut out and still be left with the same story?

Shot 2 A couple is in the city, in love.

Shot 4 Character A asks the big question.

Shot 5 Character B thinks over the question.

Shot 7 Character B rejects the offer.

Shot 8 Character A is rejected in the city as the rain begins to fall.

Some might be tempted to take out shot 5 and shot 8, the thinking and the resolution. It is possible. In my opinion, making those cuts would cause the scene to lose a lot of the overall emotional impact and empathy that the audience gains by the thinking and the aftermath.

Now we have been able to cut out some of the possible candidates for what shots to make moments of. Let’s do another pass at this to weed down the scene even further.

Incidentally, this is a great idea I picked up at Electronic Arts: do not try to cut everything in one pass. Instead, try multiple passes. You end up getting where you wanted to be with less angst. Parallel ideas can be found in object-oriented programming (OOP) and, gosh, everywhere. There generally is logic to the suggestions I put forth here, but this approach is not the only way. Feel free to add and subtract as your methods develop, then tell us about your ideas on the forum

To help, we can look at our storybeats and how they correspond to the visual rules we have set up. Then look for where the largest intensity should be. That can help us see where to focus our attention.

Shot 2 (a couple in love) is an establishing shot and really not that high on the emotional chart. Shot 5 (thinking it over) is a good shot but still not high on the intensity chart. With shot 6, cut out of our simplified sequence, the highest visual and emotional intensity is where the crux of this story is: the question (shot 4) and the answer (shot 7). At minimum, those are the two moments that I would push through first.

The two other bookend shots, even though they are not high on our intensity chart, do set and finish the mood: shot 2 (a couple is in love) and shot 8 (the final shot). For me, the first and last shots are very important. The opening shot should be the exposition of the film and tell what the story is going to be about. The last shot should tell the audience how they should feel about the story. (Of course, there are times to deviate from these types of thoughts. Not all stories need this type of visual setup.)

Using our analysis tools, we have picked the emotional moments from our small film. Because I have chosen two moments based on their intensity and importance to the film and two based on my ideas of opening and closing shots being important, I will label them as high and medium, respectively. I would work on the high shots first, before the medium shots. If I ran out of time, I could skip this process on the medium shots, but I wouldn’t be happy about it.

Shot 2 A couple is in the city, in love (medium).

Shot 4 Character A asks the big question (high).

Shot 7 Character B rejects the offer (high).

Shot 8 Character A is rejected in the city as the rain begins to fall (medium).

Style Frame

The art director of the film (in this case, us) has gone off, looked at plenty of reference material, and created concept art depicting the visual style we would like to have. We will use this concept art as inspiration as we go through the two-step process of creating moments.

For your own productions you would have pages and pages of reference art and concept art. Please refer to the companion website.

We chose to use space:

deep space = love flat space = rejection

From looking at the concept art and reference images I’ve added in a color visual rule as well:

red = hope for love black and white = rejected

With those visual rules set, we’ll work on the first step of creating our moments: creating the style frame. These images are created using any software. What we are going for is more the look than the actual production method. In our case, the Frank Miller style that we have chosen is very flat with plays of dark and light.

This goes in line with our storybeats and the queuing of the rain during the rejection and final shot. (In your experience, doesn’t it always rain when you are sad?) Figure 2.8 shows us the correlation between the storybeats, the visual intensity chart, and the visual targets we have created. By now, it should be clear how these are developed together. We are missing shot 6, which earlier in this topic we decided was going to be an ambiguous space shot. As the chart in Figure 2.8 shows, an off setting shot should cause the visual intensity to go up before we sharply return to flat space. You now have something to put into a work reel (edited together at the expected length of shot duration); add a scratch reel and soundtrack and you can see how the story plays out. Of course,this all looks cut and dried with charts. At some point you can start to bend or break the rules as your intuition tells you.

Visual storytelling component chart.

FIGURE 2.8 Visual storytelling component chart.

If this were a film in one medium, we would have already established a pipeline and would merely push these shots through the pipeline (assuming character design and so forth had been completed). However, our technically challenging film requires more diligence and development to establish the pipelines. The good news is that the more problems we solve and the more pipelines we work out, the easier it will be as the project goes along.

Pipeline Test Using the Style Frame as Your Guide

With those style frames posted on our wall, passed out to our team, and tattooed on our foreheads, we can begin the second portion of creating a moment—pipeline tests. The question we ask for pipeline tests is, “How the heck are we going to match that look?"

What types of shots are we going to create? It looks like we mostly have flat and deep space shots. Let’s add something to what we have, because we are early in the story stage and we won’t lose anything. What a great time to add things! Certainly, we don’t want to pull these types of stunts later! (Tattoo that on your producer’s forearm for me.) Let’s add a sense of dread into shot 6, where character A is waiting for the answer. Instead of having it stay in flat space, let’s change it to be ambiguous space.

Shot 2 A couple is in the city, in love (flat space).

Shot 4 Character A asks the big question (deep space).

Shot 6 Character A waits for the answer (ambiguous space).

Shot 7 Character B rejects the offer (flat space).

Shot 8 Character A is rejected in the city (flat space).

The second portion of this topic is dedicated to going through common patterns of pipelines used for combining 2D and 3D elements. Software will come and go; buttons will change; some processes will streamline; some won’t. However, at the core, the workflows will stay similar. It is important to not let changing software get in the way of solving the problem. To do that, you need to be able to ask the correct questions. We’ll end this topic by looking at an example of those questions before we begin with the button clicking.

Because we have established a visual storytelling component to emphasize our emotional intensity in the story outlined earlier, that should be the focus of our main question.

How do we Best Display Our Visual Storytelling Component: Space?

Flat space shots

Looks like our characters will best match the visual style we have chosen, if done in 2D. Should we use traditional pencil or digital vector line to achieve a smooth line look to match our visual target? How will that match up with any deep space shot?

Deep space shots

To get a good parallax of movement in this shot should we use compositing only to create the space or use 3D? If the camera moves, how close will we get to the 2D artwork? What is the best way to make sure the characters maintain resolution and we get the deepest parallax?

Ambiguous space shot

How will we best achieve that? We’ll have to get someone started on that shot right away so we have time for multiple tests on that until we get the best technique decided that fits in with the other shots and it brings a sense of limbo. Would this be a zolly shot, an interesting camera angle, or vantage point?

Another question that we can focus on for our testing is the art assets themselves as they relate to the types of space we have set up for each shot.


Ring Box

The ring box could be a complicated box. We’ll want to push the perspective of that since it shows up in a deep space shot. That seems like a candidate for a 3D object. We’ll need to do cartoon (“toon") line rendering tests to match the 2D style.


Shot 2 with the couple in love in the city has a cityscape. Even though that is a flat space shot and we won’t have a lot of perspective to deal with, there still is a lot of line mileage in the buildings. Perhaps this could be a 3D asset?

This topic has been created to help you, the reader, through the beginning stages of isolating a “moment" in a short film. That moment is picked due to its visual intensity in the story. Since the creating of a 2D/3D film can be overwhelmingly technical and leave behind the emotional core of the story, we learned to create a style frame in any means necessary to keep our artistic goal high. Using that style frame we then begin to ask questions that need to be answered in our pipeline tests. The bulk of this topic will take us through the answering of those technical questions.



Choose a sequence from a 2D/3D film of your choice. Find the shots that you would have chosen as “moments." This is a shot or shots that depict the highest visual intensity and emotional intensity for the chosen sequence. Also look to find the shot(s) that is an example of the largest technical issues in the film. This may be in addition to the highest visual and emotionally intense scenes. It is also helpful if it displays the main character and main environment.

Identify the art assets that are in the shot and what methods could have been used to create them. Also highlight what an important problem was that had to be overcome. Something that might have taken away from the moment: contact points, shadows, registered movement between 2D and 3D characters, and so on.

For students: present to the class a PowerPoint, keynote, html page, or otherwise visual presentation of your findings. Utilize DVD players on the PC that do image grabs, or use a Mac.

You are assessed on the following skills:

1.    Problem solving (getting image, putting the presentation together, testing that the presentation works properly)

2.    Analytical abilities (depth of analysis, proper application of topics learned, use of glossary)

3.    Aesthetic appreciation (ability to visualize art assets)

4.    Technical forethought (ability to conceptualize what methods might be have been used in creating the shots)

View the companion website for this topic to see examples of presentations by the students below: www.hybridanimation. com.

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