The Making Of
The following is an article that explains how Rugrats In Paris is made. In most parts, most animated features follow this same process.
Pre- or Post-Production? Animating 'Rugrats in Paris'
By Abby Schneider
(From PostIndustry, February 15, 2000; © 2000 by PostIndustry; presented here without permission.)
Feature animation productions include most of the production elements generally found in live action, but processes typically done during post-production for live action features -- such as editing, composing, sound design and CG effects -- begin in the pre-production phase of the animated feature. For Klasky Csupo's Rugrats in Paris, these processes were overseen by line producer Sean Lurie and unit production manager Patrick Stapleton.
Like live action, the first process in creating an animated feature is to complete a script; however, the lines are blurred for most production processes that take place after script approval. With animation, this would be the point at which the dialogue is recorded and edited into a "radio play," which is a running version of the movie dialogue. Additionally, songs will be recorded. The animators and artists are then given the songs and the "radio play" on a cassette, and they begin drawing storyboard panels that will then be inserted into a Leica reel, or animatic. For many animation productions, the first pass of the Leica reel has little animation of the storyboard drawings, but in the case of Klasky Csupo, some time is spent doing basic animation on key sequences to more completely demonstrate to Nickelodeon and Paramount what the final animation will look like.
Three versions of the Leica reel will be completed during this "pre-production" phase of the project. With the first pass, the production team hopes to have approval on 40% of the movie so they are able to begin production. After the first pass is completed, screened and reviewed, Klasky Csupo spends approximately eight weeks making revisions and additions, and then again screens the Leica reel, this time seeking approval of another 30% of the film. Finally, Klasky Csupo takes another five weeks to complete the third pass of the Leica reel, with which they seek approval on the remainder of the movie.
The Leica reel will include temp foley, temp music and temp sound effects, and will actually go to a full mixing session before each pass is screened for the producers and studio executives.
As the animation production begins, there are several design teams that work in parallel to produce animation tests, character walk cycle tests, backgrounds and character designs, props and color palettes. Although Rugrats is comprised primarily of 2D animation, certain objects are modeled and animated with 3D software tools such as Maya. The movie's producers and directors determine which objects are more easily created and which camera movements are easiest to make with a 3D tool as opposed to in traditional 2D animation. "We work hard to make sure we're strategic in CGI and that we're utilizing CGI as a tool to help us save time on things that will be consistent during the movie, and we need to animate in perspective," Sean Lurie said. "Vehicles are really an obvious candidate because they drive and turn corners and it saves a lot of time not having to animate that traditionally."
To keep the 3D elements from looking out of place in the cel animation world, the modelers do not do any texture mapping or lighting. Rather, the wireframe images are treated as line drawings just like any 2D drawing that must then be cleaned up and painted. "We don't fully render color," Lurie said. "We don't set lighting or shading on the actual CGI elements. We do a hidden-line render which is an outline of what the CG model is, and we'll paint it in a traditional way using digital ink and paint. Then we'll hand draw tones and highlights and that's what helps anchor it in the style of the show."
Because Klasky Csupo works on a fairly tight production schedule compared to animated features created by Disney or Warner Brothers, they are forced to outsource much of the work to animation companies located in Korea. First, the sequence directors must determine and "pitch" to the producers those scenes that should be considered "key scenes."
"These are sequences that are poignant or sentinmental moments, either from an acting or singing standpoint," said Stapleton. "They're the key moments in the movie that are heavily acting-driven, or moments where there might be heavy action whether it be chasing or dancing."
All character layouts, posing, key animation sequences and "breakdowns" (every pose in between a key pose of action) for key sequences are done in Los Angeles by artists and animators at Klasky Csupo, but "in-betweening" (filling in animation between key poses) and "cleanup" (cleaning up the lines of the pencil drawings so all the lines are closed off) is done in Korea. According to Stapleton, "The reason we'll do those key breakdown sequences here is because in Korea, the position of assistant animator and in-betweener are clumped into one. So while that works for most of the scenes in the movie, there are certain situations where that part of the process might get lost."
A unique aspect of animation production is that the entire movie is created and edited using the Leica reel as a template. As animation sequences are animated, cleaned up and digitally inked and painted, they are inserted into the edit (done on an Avid), replacing the temporary animatic versions. In that sense, the feature is edited before production begins, but the editor works throughout the duration of the production inserting and replacing sequences and modifying timing of animation sequences and scenes.
Klasky Csupo uses US Animation software by Toonboom to create exposure sheets and composite scene layers. Exposure sheets are used to generate track reading of dialogue (splitting up the dialogue phonetics for each frame of animation and defining specific mouth poses for each vowel and consonant sound); define timing of animation (not simply durations of sequences but actual frame-by-frame breakdowns of specific motions such as a character raising her arm, flicking her wrist, and returning her arm to her side); and provide instructions to animators regarding such details as visual effects, character acting, backgrounds and camera movements for animation sequences. Leveling (the layering of overlay or foreground, underlay and background elements with regard to their positioning related to the camera) instructions also are outlined in the exposure sheet.
In live action, the director will have several cameras on a shoot to cover various angles of the same scene with the same acting and same dialogue. Then the editor is able to select from these different versions to create the final edit. This is definitely not the case with animation, primarily because of time and budgetary limitations. "We try to define as closely as we can in the beginning exactly how long every shot is and what the camera angle will be," said Lurie.
After all the animation is completed and inserted into the Avid and digital files are transferred to film, the process is basically the same as for live action: the film is processed, the negative is cut and the work print is created. The locked picture is given to the composer, sound designer and foley artists to create music and sound effects, and the final mix is then done to picture at a mixing stage.
So, while processes such as editing, creating visual effects, compositing, doing foley, sound design and composing music are aspects of the animation process, they take place during the various stages of pre-production, production and post-production.
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