Not a lot is written about directing animation - especially for shorter forms like TV commercials, motion graphics, explainer videos and social media videos. Whatever the medium or duration the goal for the animation director is the same - to tell a good story.
Unlike the film director who can shoot a lot of takes, B-roll, and even invent unscripted shots on the fly, there's no such luxury in animation. The animation director gets one take, exact duration, no B-roll, no optional shots. Arguably the animation director's job is harder than the film director because she has to get it right the first time. Here's a brief look at what's involved for the short form animation director:
Script editing - what ends up on the screen is the director's responsibility, so if the director thinks the script needs adjustments, then better to make them here, before it goes any further into the production pipeline. This is not a reflection on the writer - who has already done the amazing job of creating something from nothing. All scripts are flawed - they are after all not a final work - but an unfinished film - the final draft is the one that ends up on the screen. The director might continue to make script adjustments at every step of the animation production process.
Visual Style - Sometimes the visual style may already be established in a previous film or dictated by a style guide. Other times the director in collaboration with the designer will arrive at a visual style. The director will pitch the visual style to the client, and when approved will oversee the asset build to make sure it stays on-design.
Storyboard - In animation, this is where most of the directing happens. Good storyboard artists are not just good at drawing, they understand the language of film and are really directors in their own right. However, sometimes in shorter animation forms like TV commercials and web videos, storyboard artists may not always be across film language or story. These artists might need direction to interpret the script - they may even need a thumbnail storyboard from the director. Board artists for example who mostly work on TVC's are sometimes not across narrative storyboarding as well as TV series board artists. The storyboard is where you find out what's wrong with the script - unforeseen problems usually emerge at storyboard stage and so refinement of the story is on-going as the film gets closer to the screen.
Vocal casting - the project may need to have vocal actors or voice over artists cast. The director will usually be involved in the selection of vocal talent, and will make recommendations to the client. Sometimes the project has vocal talent already assigned - perhaps from a previous film or commercial. In case you haven't already discovered this - voice over artists are usually not actors - so don't expect they will be able to perform a character, just because they have a voice. Characters need vocal actors.
Animatic - The animatic (sometimes call a leica reel or story reel) is where the director finds out what's wrong with the storyboard. Sequencing the storyboard panels on a timeline is a quick (cheap) way for the director to see if the transitions, timing, staging and continuity are all working seamlessly to tell the story in the best way possible. Skip the animatic stage at your peril - finding and fixing problems here is way, way easier than fixing them in animation.
Animation - If the pre-production process has been thorough, the animation stage is simply execution. The story heavy lifting is mostly done by this stage and the director should be mostly focussed on performance (or in the case of motion graphics - the choreography). It's not really the director's job to be looking at technical details like lip sync, turns or walk cycles - an animator should already be across these skills, or in a larger studio an animation lead will guide less experienced artists before presentation to the director. But if there are technical mistakes present, the director will find them and ask for a retake. The director will be mostly looking at the animator's interpretation of the performance - is it on-brief, on-character, optimal for the story. The director may identify some late improvements to the story as the process nears the finish line - hold a shot longer, adjust a camera angle, remove a shot, insert a new one, and so on.
Sound - the director will usually make the final calls on music choices, sound design and the sound mix, before presentation to the client.
Self-directing animators - often in a smaller studio, artists might play multiple roles - the storyboard artist might also be the animator for example, or the writer or producer might also be the director. Some animators self-direct, some don't. A self-directing animator will never say "…but I was just following the storyboard". Instead he will fix the issue or bring it to the director's attention. Animators in smaller studios are often self-directing because they might be the sole animator on a project, and may not have a director, so they have to be across the whole story. Unlike animators in a large studio, who are only focussed on the shots allocated to them, and probably don't even know the full story.
All animation projects - no matter how big or small, need a person to take creative ownership of it - to take it from script to screen, and to be responsible for making the story or message as good as it can be.
Unless you've been living under a rock, you would know that consumption of video on mobile devices is the new normal. Latest stats show that *70% of YouTube audiences and **98% of Facebook users are on mobile devices. So if you're creating video or animated content for audiences on mobile devices, you should be designing your content for the medium. Here some of the main considerations:
1. Aspect Ratio
A question that some clients are still not expecting is "What aspect ratio do you want to make your video in". Here's a few popular flavours:
But a viewer can turn their screen sideways to view 16:9 right? Wrong - by default we hold mobile devices vertically with one hand - and a *recent study found that only 17.5% of users will actually turn their device sideways to view a landscape format video.
Clearly the full 9:16 vertical occupies the most screen real estate. But the full frame vertical format can be tricky to design for, and won't suit all content. If you're on the fence 1:1 square is a good compromise. If you have a dual requirement for mobile and traditional (16:9) audiences - then ask your supplier if they can provide your content in 2 formats - say square and 16:9 - they might say yes.
Videos that appear in the newsfeed of Facebook, Linkedin and Instagram are mute by default - unless the user switches the sound on. How do we design for this?
The safest assumption is that the entire video will be viewed mute - which means your film should be designed to be understood without sound (deja vu - the silent film era - have we gone full circle?).
If your message relies on dialog, add subtitles to the mobile version. Trouble with subtitles is they're not pretty, and may cover important parts of the image. So keep the lower third empty if you know sub's are being added later. Alternatively design it as a kinetic text piece - where the text becomes a part of the design, instead of an add-on.
*Recent studies have shown that text support in videos can increase view time up to 30%. Lets face it - text plastered over the screen is the new normal in mobile video - so design for it, rather than stick it on top as an afterthought.
To make your soundtrack pop out of a crappy mobile speaker system, don't use a track that relies on bass - cuz it may not be heard. Use a track that emphasises the mid-range so that the highs and lows are not lost if viewed in a noisy environment.
Optimum duration will depend on the social media platform your content is going out on. *Facebook states that to capture attention, branded content should be only 6 to 15 seconds duration! Facebook also cites the 3-second rule - that the first three seconds is how long it takes for people to decide to continue watching or not (it wasn't that long a go this was the 10-second rule - how quickly things change!). Facebook also recommends to present your brand in the first 1-2 seconds - if you are making branded content - which is totally contrary to TV commercial mentality where your couch potato audience is presented the logo at the end.
Instagram and Snapchat audiences have similar concentration spans! Linkedin audiences on the other hand have a little more patience and are more likely to persevere for longer durations of a minute or more. YouTube audiences are the champions when it comes to viewing staying power - with *average viewing times of around 14 minutes.
One thing is for sure across all social media channels - you gotta create a killer intro with a solid hook in the first few seconds to keep people around.
The challenge is to tell a story in short duration - which done well can be awesome. With this in mind - perhaps the new story paradigm for say a 15 second social media video might look like this:
ACT 1 - 1-3 seconds - the killer intro - the most compelling part of the story. Hook the audience here or it's likely you'll lose them. Better give them a whiff of the brand here too - in case they decide not to stick around.
ACT 2 - 4-11 seconds - the body of the story - more context - reveals, twists - live up to the expectations of the killer intro. 10 seconds is the big threshold - if you can get a viewer to commit to ten seconds - it's likely they'll stay 'till the end.
ACT 3 - 12 - 15 seconds - the climax - the film leads to it's exciting conclusion, Don't disappoint - pull the rug out from under your audience - surprise them, shock them, make them laugh, or cry.
5. Camera angles
Gone are the big beautiful wide establishing shots that languish on the screen for 6 or 7 lazy seconds. Instead it’s a quick full shot or medium shot to establish. Or maybe skip the establishing shot altogether and go straight to the action. Keep your scenes uncluttered cuz the more in the shot the longer the audience needs to take it in - and time is something it seems small screen audiences don't want to commit to any more.
Sources: *Scientiamobile **Statista
Here's an older post that still gets a lot of views - thought it was time to polish it a bit and put it on top of the pile.
The agency likes what you do - that's why they've called you in to take a brief, but they need to be confident your vision for their TV commercial is aligned with what they want. They might ask you to write a Treatment. A Treatment is a pitch - a selling document to win across the agency and client to your vision for their ad. It's your opportunity to show that you totally understand the advertiser's requirement and that you are able to deliver it in the most compelling way.
1. Listen up
Ask a lot of questions so that the brief is crystal clear. Try to gauge how flexible the agency is about the story and visual style. This is important - the amount of creative freedom you have on a TVC can vary. Some briefs will be very specific, with little room for additional creative input. While at the other extreme the agency will have one of those "no idea" briefs that's gonna rely on your creative chops to flesh it out and make them look awesome. Understand who your audience is. Find out what the client likes - and doesn't. Find out if it's gonna roll out on social media as well - this may influence your storytelling.
2. Is the ad Story or Spectacle?
If it's story then it should have a beginning, middle and end, with at least one character. The objective of story is to engage the audience with a plot that resolves at the end with the advertiser's message embedded. If it's spectacle there is no story - the ad is eye candy that relies on attracting the audience's attention with appealing visuals and sounds. In a spectacle the audience is a spectator, unlike story where the audience is a participant. Story doesn't need visual extravagance to engage the audience - but if you're not telling a story then each shot has to be more interesting than the previous one to keep your audience on board.
3. Get your story essentials in place
All stories must have a CHARACTER that the audience can identify with. The character should have a GOAL - he/she/it wants something. Finally there should be CONFLICT - an obstacle to the character getting what she wants, which must be overcome. STRUCTURE is equally important. The beginning is where the character is introduced and the setting is established. Then a problem or incident moves the story to the middle part, where obstacles are overcome. Finally the story resolves and the character is much happier now that (thanks to the product) the problem is solved. Cue the logo and park it for the last second. If your TV commercial has these basic story elements in place, you're in good shape.
Ask yourself these questions - will it fit into the duration you have to work with? Can it be funnier/scarier/more dramatic/whatever? Can I withhold some information from the audience until the end to give them a surprise? Is the main character appealing enough? Raise the stakes - what will happen if he can't get what he wants? Will the audience connect with him/her/it? Could I add a prop or setting that makes the story more interesting? What about the technique and visual style - how can I make it look original/quirky/retro/ whatever. Search for images and videos for inspiration. Identify a theme - a single word that embodies what the story is really about - this can be a useful guide to keep you on track.
5. Getting it down
Start with a brief recap of the objective of the commercial, and how your treatment will get the desired result. Reassure the client how this commercial will integrate with existing content and branding. Give the impression you know the product and what it stands for - but don't over analyse this - the client knows their product way better than you do. Write with confidence and with intention to influence - make it a good read - inject it with your personality - don't be too formal.
Next take the reader through the story beat-by-beat (a beat is the smallest element of a story). Write in such a way that the reader can visualise it. Don't get technical with descriptions of camera angles or visual effects - just tell the story as it is. If your treatment is a spectacle, then keep the description brief because a MOOD BOARD (see next point) will better describe what you want to say.
Write about how your proposed visual style will give the commercial a unique look, and make it stand out. Mention the colour palette - the three main colours that will dominate the commercial to give it a certain look or mood, and how it fits with the brand. If there's a special technique you are proposing, this could be the place to get a little technical (don't overdo it) about something unique you are bringing to the spot that's going to make it special.
Write about the sound. Is there a VO (voice over)? Why - and what kind of voice? Will there be music - what kind? Will the music drive the commercial or will it be used subtly, as sound design, to accent story moments? How will the sound and the visuals integrate to work together?
Explain how it will also work across social media - if that's part of the media plan.
There should be only one main message in a TV commercial. Your client might insist on trying to squeeze 10 product benefits into 30 seconds - this never ends well. An agency worth their salt will back you up on this one. And keep it brief - one or two pages.
Finally, close with a short summary to wrap up your treatment and drive home that you and your team are going to make this commercial a hit.
6. Make a Mood Board
A Mood Board is a montage of images you have borrowed from the internet, that create an impression of the visual style, colour scheme and brand values that you want to bring to the commercial. Your mood board might be one or more full pages of your PDF document. It might be projected at a pre-production meeting. The design of the document itself is a statement about the aesthetic you are bringing to the project - so make it look good.
Author: Steve Bristow lectures in Story and Screen Language, has screen credits as a Director, Creator and Story Editor, and has produced or directed hundreds of TV commercials and web videos.
Here’s a handy list I put together originally for the Malaysian artists on the Saladin TV series, then later expanded and updated for the animation teams on the Sherazade TV series - who were spread across India. With so many animators of different backgrounds and skill levels spread across the country - we had to get them on the same page when it came to facial animation.
STAGE EXPRESSIONS CLEARLY
1. Make strong poses (expressions) - animated character expressions are more exaggerated than human expressions.
2. Hold the pose - allow it to change in intensity if the dialog or situation calls for it, but don't change the pose until it is time to go to the next pose.
3. Don't overdo movement on the face - keep the expressions clear and simple. Once you have created an expression hold it while the mouth moves for the dialog.
4. Make sure the poses are different enough to notice the change of expression - the poses should contrast to show the character's thought process at work.
5. Make sure the audience notices the change of expression - don't change an expression during a fast body movement, change it just before or just after the movement.
6. Be careful not to hide expressions behind a big nose, moustache or unfavourable orientation to the camera.
7. Do not let the expression conflict with the dialog. The expression must reflect the emotion in the dialog.
8. Have you created the optimum expression - are all parts of the face working together to relate this one thought - the brows, eyes, eyelids and mouth?
9. Generally avoid symmetrical expressions. A character's personality will come across better with asymmetrical expression quirks such as a curled lip or a raised eyebrow.
10. Remember the face is only one part of the whole - the expression must be captured throughout the whole body.
11. Tilting the head is powerful way to make a pose stronger. Tilting to one side will improve a questioning or curious expression. Tilting forward will improve a stern or serious expression. Tilting back will improve a surprised expression.
12. Tilting the head the wrong way will weaken a pose. For example avoid looking up for a frown. A slight tilt down will make a frown more powerful. A head that tilts down during a smile will change the meaning from a friendly smile to a sinister smile.
13. The duration of an expression change is important - an excitable fast-talking character will change expressions quickly. A sinister devious character might change expressions slowly.
14. The duration of an eye blink is an indicator of emotion. An excited character will blink quickly, a tired or sinister character will blink slower.
15. The thought is slightly ahead of the dialog. So actions (manifestation of thought) will generally precede dialog by a few frames. For example a head-turn will precede accompanying dialog…
16. …and eyeballs move as fast as thoughts - so an eyeball turn will precede the accompanying head turn by a few frames. Eyeballs always lead any change in expression.
THE EYES ARE THE WINDOW TO THE SOUL
17. Use eye blinks on the expression changes, eye direction changes and head turns.
18. Ensure eye direction is accurate. In 3D animation, constraining the eyeballs to the target with a locator may not necessarily give the best result. Use what looks right rather than what is geometrically correct.
19. Eye direction can indicate the thought process: Eyes looking up and to the left or right indicate remembering an event or trying to recall an image or incident.
20. Eyes looking to the left or right indicate recalling something that was said or trying to think of something to say.
21. Eyes looking down to the left or right indicate some internal dialog where an emotion is being held inside, such as embarrassment, sadness or shyness.
22. Eyeball scanning is another way to indicate thinking (life!). When eyeballs look in a direction they seldom stay still for long. Eyeballs will subconsciously scan their subject with a quick small movement to a new position, stop for a while then move again, and so on. Some animators call these 'eye darts'.
23. An exception to the scanning eyeball is for a character who is focussed, driven or in concentration. It is better to hold a stare for this character to create more intensity.
24. The mouth, as well as performing dialog is also an indicator of emotion. Anger, disgust, fear, joy, sadness and surprise can all be expressed with the mouth. Avoid symmetrical timing and poses - let one side of the mouth lead the other to resolve to an asymmetrical pose for a more natural look.
25. The position of the brows probably convey more information about an emotion than any other part of the face. Utilise them fully to extract the most emotion out of your character. Avoid symmetry in timing and posing.
EVERYONE IS AN EXPRESSION EXPERT
We humans naturally understand and communicate with expressions. Since we were children we learned to associate certain emotions with certain expressions. In our daily lives as adults we are engaged in a continual dialog of communications of which expressions form an integral part. We are all experts in interpreting expressions. For this reason, even the slightest discrepancy in your facial animation will be noticed by your intuitively expert audience, diminishing the performance. Your own face is the very best resource for experimenting with expressions before committing them into key poses in an animation. Use a mirror to rehearse and try different expressions when working with your dialog track.
By Steve Bristow
Image from Sherazade The Untold Stories, initially developed by Hahn Film.
©2017 Hahn Film | Chocolate Liberation Front | Toonz Entertainment
Is there a missing 13th principle of animation? Why does this fundamental truth about animation fly so much under the radar? Let me explain…
The animator's goal is to make a connection with the audience - a connection so strong that the audience with empathise with - or share the feelings and thoughts of a character. Wait a minute…thoughts?…feelings?…only living things can think, right? So that means before any serious entertainment can take place, the audience must believe the character is alive.
Okay so what is it specifically that animated characters do that makes an audience believe they are alive? Is it the quality of the motion - will an audience 'connect' with a perfectly crafted walk cycle? Is it a compelling pose - will an audience empathise with a well executed expression? No - and here's the thing - a character is only truly 'alive' and therefore able to connect to an audience when it thinks, or at least…when the audience believes the character is thinking
And don't take my word for it - Ollie Johnston said in his famous book "It is the thinking that gives the illusion of life". While the overall performance is important - the face is the most powerful indicator of what a character is thinking or feeling. A strong facial expression in itself can convey an emotion, but not thinking. So here's my proposed 13th principle - the thing that conveys that a character is thinking is…
CHANGE OF EXPRESSION
The central concept of facial animation is that for each single thought there is one expression, and while it can change in intensity it will not change in feeling. When a character gets a new thought or has a realisation about something, she will change to a new expression, indicating that thinking has taken place. So...change of expression = thinking = life!
Here's the essentials to make thinking (and therefore life) happen…
1. KNOW THE CHARACTER
Before you can make a character think, you must know her. If you thoroughly understand the personality of the character, then you will know how she thinks, and combined with the emotional cues within the dialog you will be able to make decisions about what those changes of expression could look like.
2. STRONG POSES
In the same way that animators create strong poses for characters, and the changes from key pose to key pose propel the audience through the character's performance, the face must also move through strong poses or expressions.
3. BREAK DOWN THE SCENE TO FIND THE EXPRESSION CHANGES
If there's dialog, listen to the track. A typical scene might be a few seconds long. During those few seconds identify the thoughts driving the dialog. Ask yourself these two questions - how many thoughts are there in the dialog, and where are the changes of thought? These are the places where the expression will change.
Maybe you already do this intuitively. So look for opportunities to show a change of expression when you are storyboarding or animating, and your characters will come alive.
By Steve Bristow
Images from Sherazade The Untold Stories, initially developed by Hahn Film.
©2017 Hahn Film | Chocolate Liberation Front | Toonz Entertainment
Lip sync can make or break your character animation - done well it can take your character's performance to another level - done badly it can turn your shot into a train wreck. This post is for the animator who submitted the offending shot, and the producer or director who can see that it's not working but aren't sure what's wrong with it.
1. The dialog seems too early or late
I've seen it happen more than once where the dialog has accidentally been nudged along the timeline a few frames - so my first take on this would be to slip the dialog track back and forth on the timeline and see if it falls back into sync.
Offsetting the lip sync can actually help - sometimes the mouth shapes may be accurately timed to the dialog sounds, but it still doesn't seem to be in sync when played back. Try offsetting the mouth key poses a frame or two earlier than the corresponding sound - this can improve the readability of lip sync. The exception is the closed mouth sounds B, M and P, which should fall right on the closed mouth pose.
2. The mouth shapes are too big
If the character's mouth moves through BIG shapes for open mouth sounds like A, E and O - this can look pretty grotesque. An animator tackling lip sync for the first time might have referenced a mouth shape chart like Preston Blair's famous 'DIALOGUE' page and created key mouth poses that are oversized. Lip sync mouth shape charts often show exaggerated poses - to make the point, rather than to be followed verbatim. Scale down the size of the extremes of the mouth shape and try it again.
BTW - that single page was the only published document on lip-sync pre-internet days, and a generation of animators owe a debt of gratitude to Preston Blair (RIP) for getting them out of trouble.
3. Too many mouth shapes
If the mouth is moving through too many shapes in the dialog it will looks jittery and unnatural. It's a common mistake to try to hit every single phoneme with a key mouth pose. Identify the important shapes that define the word, and skip over the lesser ones.
Generally you should try to create lip sync with as few mouths shapes as you need to make it convincing - real speech is like that - the mouth doesn't move all that much. An extreme is anime - whose limited animation style typically achieves lip sync with two mouth shapes - open and shut (millions of anime fans never complained about this).
The best way to check what's really going on with speech is to rehearse it in a mirror - and all good animators have one on their desk - right?
4. The wrong mouth shapes
If the mouth is open when it should be closed or wide when it should be narrow, it should be pretty clear that the wrong mouth pose is being used. I know it sounds obvious, but I've seen it many times and unless it was somehow accidental - there's really no excuse for it. As a supervising director once told me - animators who do this should be publicly flogged. That might be a little harsh - but you get my drift.
5. No follow through
It's not a good look when a mouth slams shut - back to the default closed position at the end of a word. Unless the word ends on a closed mouth shape, the last shape of the spoken word should hold for a while.
The final word is that there are no hard and fast rules for lip sync. What works for one character design or animation style, won't necessarily work for another. It may seem bewildering at first, but once you nail it - it's magic. And lip sync is just a subset of facial animation - which is another blog post.
Sherazade The Untold Stories (2017) is an animated TV series initially developed by Hahn Film. Images are from season 1 episode 10 and episode 17, directed by Steve Bristow.
Here's a link to the storm sequence from episode 17
Got any more lips sync tips and tricks? Post 'em as a comment.
Motion Capture (mocap) is the process where actor performances are captured as motion data, then applied to computer generated characters. An 'optical' mocap stage is a large room lined with infrared cameras, which track markers on actors wearing black body suits.
Choice of mocap for an animated TV series
During pre-production of Saladin: The Animated Series the big question was whether to use mocap or to keyframe the animation manually. After much deliberation - it was decided to use mocap. Reasons were - the character designs were humanoid, it was an action genre that would require a lot of complex performance animation. After a lot of consideration and research, we concluded that mocap would be a time and cost effective solution for the volume of animation needed to make 26 x 24 minute episodes.
Bye bye cartoon physics
The decision to use mocap meant we would have to forego those appealing cartoony qualities like squash, stretch, anticipation, exaggeration and snap. Instead the animated characters would move with realistic human motion. While it's true that mocap'd motion can be edited, in practice it's not that easy to manipulate mocap motion curves (think spaghetti), and in a busy TV series pipeline where artists are under the pump to meet daily quotas, not a practical option. It was a big decision stylistically, that set the tone for the look of the show.
Casting for actors
Not all actors are interested in playing mocap characters. While they will get a screen credit, their face will never be seen, and their voice never heard. Actors will be acting on an empty stage and will often be acting parts alone - unable to play off other actors.
Generally actors will need to be pretty athletic, with good physical performance skills, and if they have other abilities such as martial arts or dance then they may be able to double up and play other characters as well.
Actors are essential - they are trained in performance. And the same goes for stunt performers and dancers - so don't skimp on your mocap talent.
Directing mocap actors
Directing mocap actors is more about choreographing movements in time and space, than extracting authentic emotional performances. With the task of capturing thousands of shots for a TV series - it's a production line.
Before performing a sequence - play the animatic to the actors. Brief them on what's happening in the story at that moment, the emotion in the scene and your vision for the scene. Rehearse the shot. Let the actor interpret your instruction - allow them to have input. Help to locate their starting and ending positions on the stage. Rehearse the shot until you and the actor are ready to go for a take.
Timing of actions is critical - the animatic should have already been cut and timed to dialog recordings before starting any mocap - or at bare minimum the storyboard completed. Sequences are therefore in effect pre-edited - so if a storyboarded shot has the actor taking three steps, turning left and jumping - in three and a half seconds - then that's what has to be performed. There's little room for improvisation - the actors are essentially performing what's already been storyboarded and voiced by vocal actors.
When the mocap technician is ready, she will call 'standby' then 'recording'. Like a film director, the mocap director calls 'action' and 'cut'. This protocol might vary from one studio to the next.
The mocap technician will review each take first. If the take was technically good - without corrupt data caused by occlusion (explained later) or other system limitations, then it will be reviewed by the director and actor to assess whether it's a keeper or not. If not, subsequent takes will be made until a good performance with clean data is achieved. Sometimes a continuous sequence of several shots with different camera angles may be captured in one take, and later in the animation department, the shot cut up into the different camera angles.
Mocap stages will have some basic props and performance aids such as platforms and boxes to simulate stepping or climbing motions; mats for actors to fall or tumble on, and other props such as weapons (typically simple non-reflective wooden or plastic proxies).
The active area of the stage is a performance limitation - actions in the storyboard that need more space than the stage can provide will need to have workarounds figured out - such as cycling a running action or capturing big actions in parts.
Occlusion (in optical mocap systems) is when a marker is obscured from the cameras. Markers need to be visible by at least two cameras to triangulate their location in 3D space. Whether it's self-occlusion or occlusion by other players or props, the result is bad data and retakes. Generally, the more cameras and the fewer players on the stage, the less chance of occlusion. Unless you're on a Hollywood budget, you may be working in a small mocap stage with 12 cameras or less, in which case you can probably put only one or two actors on the stage at a time.
On a mocap stage there is no physical camera to compose the shot, and the actor/s may have no awareness of camera placement or shot composition. So the director has to imagine the performance as it will finally appear on the screen.
However, a well equipped mocap stage will have a virtual camera - a small hand held screen that acts as a viewfinder for the director to frame the shot. The scene is rendered in the screen in real time - and may also include virtual props and set. The director can use the virtual camera to get real time feedback and make composition, staging and lensing decisions. The virtual camera also has markers so it's position and movement can be recorded.
Mocap directors must understand screen direction and continuity if they are capturing scenes for continuity cutting. When all the shots are conformed in the animation timeline later, they must be continuous, otherwise it's back to the mocap stage for a retake, which means time and money (and an anxious producer).
Selected mocap takes are sent for 'clean up' before they can be added to the animation pipeline. Autodesk Motion Builder is the standard app for cleaning mocap data. If you're lucky your data will be pretty clean, if not there will be jerks and bumps caused by occlusion, reflections or other system glitches that need to be smoothed out.
Mocap vs keyframe - conclusion
So did mocap make it easier or faster to make 26 half hours of animation? Well... no. Mocap added a whole other layer of complexity where things could go wrong. The time taken to capture 8,000 shots and the cost of the mocap stage, technicians, stage hands, actors, clean up artists, mocap directors could arguably have been better spent on more animators, resulting in a more traditional animated motion and simpler pipeline. End of the day the realistic motion didn't look out of place on the stylised human characters and the co-production partners were pleased with the outcome.
I'd love to hear about your experience with or thoughts about mocap - leave a comment.
Steve Bristow is an animation producer/director based in Melbourne Australia.
Melbourne Feb. 2016. Paleontologists are excited about the discovery of a Mickey Mouse fossil that dates to the Early Cretaceous period, and may be up to 115 million years old. The fossil was discovered coincidentally by animation director Steve Bristow on a remote stretch of coastline near Cape Otway in Victoria, Australia. The site of the discovery is near "Dinosaur Cove", Cape Otway, where scientists in the 1970s and '80s, unearthed the richest diversity of animal fossil samples ever found in Australia.
The age of the fossil predates the Disney creation by around 115 million years, which would therefore put Mickey Mouse in the public domain, which may have serious legal implications for the House of Mouse.
Paleontologists surmise the prehistoric mouse came to grief in what was then a warm tropical muddy swamp, which over millions of years formed into the sedimentary rocks that are a feature of this particular stretch of coastline.
Condensing a complicated message into a minute or so of compelling web video is a tricky business. Here's some tips that will have you writing like a pro.
1. Write for your audience
Who are you talking to? Plumbers, students, migrants, accountants…whatever. The "voice" you use will depend on your audience. Always try to put yourself in the shoes of the audience - what are they really interested in? How can you help them to get what they want / solve their problem / save them time or money? Don't write stuff your audience can't relate to or are not interested in.
2. The first ten seconds must be killer
That's about how long it takes for online audiences to decide whether to abandon your video or not. It's the hardest part of the script, so write and re-write the first ten seconds until you're sure you are making a connection with your audience. Say something shocking, interesting, emotive, funny, clever or empathetic. If you still have them beyond ten seconds, chances of them hanging around for a while is good.
3. Don't write literature
It's a visual medium - so write for the screen. As you write, always think "what will the audience be seeing when I say this?" Also ask yourself "do I even need to say this - maybe I can show it." Don't say it if you can show it - exploit the medium for what it's best at - showing stuff. Remember - you don't want to tell the whole story anyway - you just want to tell the essence, enough for your audience to "get it". Long flowery descriptions are for your brochure, not your video.
4. Brevity is King
Studies show that online video abandonment is directly related to duration. More people will sit through a 60 seconder, than a 120 seconder. So the briefer the message, the larger your audience. Research by Wistia shows that audiences will even abandon a video just because of the length of the timeline - regardless of the content! Detach yourself emotionally from the script - keep only the really important stuff - be ruthless.
5. Structure it
Since the beginning of storytelling, stories happen in three acts. Web videos are no different. The first act will set the scene, introduce characters, give context to what follows. The second scene is where the story unfolds and the audience gets all the information they need to understand the message. If there is a character, this is the part where she overcomes obstacles on her journey to get what she wants. The third act is where the story wraps up, the character has evolved (thanks to the product), and the message is driven home.
6. The ideal explainer video duration is 60 seconds
OK I said it. Now I know you're thinking "there's no way I can say all this in 60 seconds." Yes online videos come in all shapes and sizes, and often 60 seconds is really not long enough. I'm just saying if you want maximum viewer retention; you want to get across one strong message with say three key benefits; you want the viewer to stay all the way to the end where your big finish and call to action is, then 60 seconds is the way to go. Most explainer videos run for 90 seconds - okay that's doable but not ideal. Beyond 2 minutes and most of your audience have moved on or are comatose. BTW - the writer's rule of thumb - about 150 words gets you a screen minute.
7. Say it with animation
Animation is awesome. It crosses cultural, age, gender and whatever barriers with ease, and is the medium of choice for explainer video makers. Animation can show whatever the mind can conceive - I think Walt Disney said that. Animation can make even the most dull or complex subject matter look cheerful and easy-peasy.
8. Use Video Script format
Pro's write in the Video Script format, so write like a pro and impress your video production company. Video Script format is a portrait-oriented page divided into two vertical columns (Google "video script" to see hundreds of examples). The left column is headed Audio, the right column is headed Video. Write the Voice Over (VO) in the left column, write the corresponding video description in the right. Separate each scene with a horizontal line. Only write one idea per scene.
9. Read it out loud
I love this tip. If you read it out load you will discover things that sound clunky or long-winded. You will discover the mood of the script. You will discover places where you need to add a word for emphasis, or delete a whole line. You will discover that it's dry and doesn't sound like "talk". You will also discover (because you have your stopwatch running) that it's too long and needs to be shorter and more punchy.
10. Forget everything you just read
Just start writing - don't worry about the grammar, the tone, the structure, the word count or format. Just get it all out - let it flow - however it comes. Then leave it for a couple of days. Come back with fresh eyes and discover how long, dry, repetitive, and horrible your first draft is. But hey, you have a first draft - congratulations! Now the writing can really begin because script writing is about re-writing….and re-writing…and re-writing. Now you can use this 10-point checklist to transform that first draft into a beautiful thing.
Author: Steve Bristow lectures in Screenwriting at JMC Academy Melbourne, has screen credits as a script editor, has written scripts for corporate videos, TV commercials and web explainer videos.
TV commercials – love ‘em or hate ‘em, they keep a lot of animators in jobs. That 30 animated seconds that just flashed past on your TV was the result of weeks or months of meetings, brainstorms, blood sweat and tears. A typical pre-production meeting might have 20 people present in the agency boardroom - so it's useful to know what they all do, and which ones are important. Here's how it usually works:
The Client is the advertiser. They have a product they want to sell. The product may be great (or it might be crap), but it doesn't matter how good it is, if nobody knows about it then they can't sell it. The person with the responsibility to make sure their product moves off shelves is called the Marketing Director. The Marketing Director considers herself the "guardian of the brand" and makes sure the "brand values" are upheld during the advertising process. Marketing Directors may delegate responsibility to their Marketing or Brand Managers, who in turn may delegate to fresh-faced young Marketing Executives.
As a general rule when making an animated TV commercial, the Client is always correct (after all they are paying the bill), no matter how absurd their suggestions or requests might be. Bear in mind that the Client is not an animation person, and is more concerned about how much screen time their product gets in the 30 seconds they are paying squillions for, than squash and stretch. Be very nice to them, and don't talk in animation jargon - they won't get it.
The Client appoints an Advertising Agency to work out a strategy to create desire in consumers to buy their product. The Client sets aside a good part of their money for their advertising budget, which can run into big $$$'s and can involve multiple media such as TV, Cinema, Outdoor, Social, Radio, Print and so on. The Client places trust in the Agency to cook up the best way to tackle this. This can be a very creative process, and so the Agency employs a lot of creative people ("Creatives") to come up with these ideas, and they also employ a lot of executive types ("Suits") to take briefs, strategize, plan and generally act as the interface between the Client and the agency Creatives.
Coming back to the commercial - there will be a reason why animation has been chosen by the Client or Agency as the most appropriate medium. It’s often because they want to appeal to children for products such as snack foods, toys or breakfast cereals. It could also be because the product is associated with a cartoon mascot (such as Michelin Man, the Raid mosquito or the Trix Rabbit). It could be it’s because animation is just plain awesome and appealing. Whatever it is, remember that the particular segment of the audience the Agency wants to influence is called the Target Audience, or in agency speak the "demographic". Animators and Animation Directors need to be mindful of the demographic of the commercial they are creating, as this will influence the design and the discussion during pre-production.
The Agency will have a whole gaggle of people on the project. Here's the people you will likely meet on a TV commercial production:
The Creative Director (CD) is the creative whiz who sits in the big office with the view and dreams up ideas to advertise the product. The CD mostly wants to make sure the commercial meets or exceeds aesthetic expectations, while simultaneously meeting the Client's marketing requirements. Basically he's holding the hand of the client through the mysterious creative process. He's a seasoned pro, can talk your language and is usually pretty easy-going to work with.
The Art Director is the person tasked with fleshing out the CD's ideas into artwork, storyboards and sketches. In some agencies, the CD is very hands on and gets actively involved in the creation process. In others the CD might take more of a back seat, giving the Art Director a lot of leeway in developing ideas. Art Directors can sometimes be more pedantic that their boss as they climb the ladder to creative advertising awesomeness - but be nice to them because one day they're gonna be a CD, calling the shots on which animation studio to use.
Keeping a close eye on all proceedings will be the Agency Producer, who's on a mission to get the job done on schedule, on budget, with as little grief as possible. She's the go-to person for everything and won't stand for any nonsense that gets in the way of her mission. She has a phone permanently glued to her ear as she co-ordinates her five other projects, so don't give her any grief of you might never work with that agency again. By the way, if you do want to bring up any problems or gripes, don’t do it in front of the Client, who at all times must have the impression that the job is totally under control.
Agency Creatives usually look cooler and more hip than their suited cousins, the Account Service people, nicknamed Suits, who are, from the top down:
The Account Director - She's the one who has to schmooze the client, keeping them as happy as possible, while making sure the Creatives don't go off on a tangent with the Client's brief. The Account Director has been in advertising for years and knows the drill inside out. Be nice to the Account Director, because she's close with the client and good to have on your side if the road gets rocky during production - which it sometimes does.
The Account Manager - He's an aspiring Account Director working his way up through the account servicing ranks. On some productions, you might only see the Account Director at important meetings, and be dealing with the Account Manager most of the time. They are sometimes jumpy and nervous, as they try hard to keep their client happy. Be nice to them, in fact just be nice to everybody.
The Account Executive - That’s the person who when the Client says "jump", they ask "how high". They are entry-level account servicing general dogsbodies who probably work harder than anybody else in the room. Be nice to them - pity them. I've known eager young Account Exec's to sometimes get creative and pipe up with a bizarre suggestion during creative discussions - curve balls can come from places least expected.
Suits are generally doing whatever it takes to keep the client happy, are often worried and nervous about the slightest hiccup in a production, because it will be their ass that's first kicked with a multi-million dollar account at stake. Because of this the servicing people don't always see eye to eye with their creative counterparts, especially when their creative ideas are perceived as a bit risky or straying from the brief into "I want to win an award" territory.
What's all this "Account" stuff? Well it has nothing to do with accountants or accounting. An "Account" is agency speak for the contractual relationship they have with a Client.
OK are we all clear on that stuff? Had to get that out of the way before I talk more about writing a Treatment in the next post.