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Design -> Animation workflow in a big mograph studio

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I'm a web designer and have done some motion graphics work for the web and a couple of broadcast things but strictly one-man stuff. I'm curious what the workflow is like in a motion graphics studio that uses bigger teams. A lot of my questions have to do with seeing this guy's comps http://www.nathanielhowe.com/

 

First of all, where do the assets generally come from when photographic material or live action footage is used? I would imagine you just comp things using FPO stock images but his comps look so polished and finished. Do you do rough comps before the shoot, then revise them with the final footage afterwords? Does a motion graphics shop ever put together a shoot in-house in the pitch stage just to have stuff to use in comps? Does a director or agency ever come to a studio with the live action footage already shot or is the mograph art director usually involved before and during the shoot?

 

Also, how much comping work is done directly in After Effects or in 3D? If you have a concept that relies on 3D, does the art director work together with a 3D artist during the comping stage, or do most of the designers do their own 3D work? Or do people do a lot of fake 3D work in photoshop just to get the idea out there? Is there a lot of back and forth between AE and photoshop, say if you want to add some little particle effect or something? Or do you mostly tend to pull pre-existing elements out of old projects to add things like particle effects, lens flares, 3D strokes, etc? Does anyone do their comps start to finish entirely in AE?

 

Related to that, how soon do you start working with animation? If you are doing something with a strong sense of 3D perspective do you actually put together a 3D scene and start playing with the camera position to come up with different layouts? Or do you generally just put things into perspective in a flat comp in photoshop and worry about the actual 3D later when the direction is signed off?

 

And finally, how soon do animators and 3D artists get involved in the process? Does an art director start out with the whole team at the beginning of the comping phase and get the 3D guy to start building any necessary models, get the AE guy to start experimenting with different effects or something, and then incorporate their work back into the flat comps? Or do the designers just work on their own and animators come in after comps have been approved?

 

Whew, sorry to be so long winded. I probably have tons of follow up questions should anyone care to answer but I'll leave it there for now. Thanks in advance for any insight!

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A lot of questions to address. While I'm still digesting all of that I'll try to offer the short answer. That being, it really all depends on the project. At least in my experience. Sometimes you have the luxury to know exactly what something's going to look like ahead of time and you are in control of producing all the elements. In this case you can really plan for the live action footage or whatever 3d or animation you're going to need. On the other hand you're sometimes given footage, stock, or other elements and it becomes your job to make those things fit. A lot of times it seems like my job is more creative problem solving than just visual creativity.

 

As for going from styleframes to final pieces; I think there've been several discussions on here regarding that and that also really depends on the people, the project, the budget, the schedule. Some projects have seen elements from the styleframes being brought directly into the final comps, but a lot of times the frames have just been a nice guide and many elements have to be reshot, recreated, or approximated. In my experience the best styleframes have been created without being overly concerned about actual execution in AE. If you know you're going to have to figure out how to recreate something in motion there is a temptation to pull your punches and go the easy way. I like getting frames from illustrators because they often have no idea what it's going to take to execute and usually looks much better as a result.

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Thanks for the response and sorry for the book! I'll search the forum for styleframes. I didn't know that's what people called them.

 

So you're saying that sometimes designers are hired to do these styleframes and they maybe have no hand in any of the animation work? They're just a good designer maybe from a print background or something and they do some pretty looking pictures and leave, then it moves onto the animators, etc. who have to translate that vision into the final piece?

 

That was going to be another one of my questions: did a lot of mograph designers start out as animators and move into to an art director postition, or are there many designers who know nothing about the technical side of things and they only work in flat 2D comps using photoshop and illustrator?

 

I got to thinking about this because that Nate Howe guy says he's a director & designer and he shows only static comps instead of a reel. And clearly a lot of those pieces are comps that never went into motion. So I was wondering if it was common for studios (or ad agencies? directors?) to hire a freelance designer like this who just does some kick ass visuals to set a mood and then has no hand in it later when it goes off to be animated?

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So you're saying that sometimes designers are hired to do these styleframes and they maybe have no hand in any of the animation work? They're just a good designer maybe from a print background or something and they do some pretty looking pictures and leave, then it moves onto the animators, etc. who have to translate that vision into the final piece?

Yes, it's common for studios to hire freelance designers to make storyboards/styleframes just to win a pitch. That's primarily how I make my living. Whether or not the designer continues to direct or animate the final product of a winning pitch is situation-dependent. Something that happens fairly often in my case is that when my boards win a pitch, the studio uses its in-house team to develop the project, and the final resemblance to the initial pitch generally depends on the ongoing discussions between that studio and its client.

 

Storyboards are meant to indicate not only what things look like at given points in the piece, but also what's happening, and that means that all kinds of care should be paid to constructing narrative, managing pacing, etc. Styleframes are usually single images and are a solution when an agency has a script or a fleshed-out idea and you're just working to make it look interesting.

 

did a lot of mograph designers start out as animators and move into to an art director postition, or are there many designers who know nothing about the technical side of things and they only work in flat 2D comps using photoshop and illustrator?

People come at this industry from all sorts of angles, and they fill all sorts of niches. I think most people who are successful are so because they are good generalists who also excel in a specialty. The studio: "Hey, I see you're really good at doing ______, can you come do that for us? (later on...) Oh, that worked out well, can you also help us make comps and animate and composite and pitch ideas for this next job?" Some people make a living in production by excelling on the technical side, but they're more valuable if they have some understanding of the material that they're working with (ie. they have some creative instincts).

 

Really, it just comes down to being able to make a living. Are you valuable? Is there someone else who can do what you do better? Or who can do what you do just as well, but has additionally valuable skills? There are lots of different strategies. Maybe no one else can do what you do and people want that often enough that you can survive on it. Maybe a thousand other people do what you do, but it's something everyone needs, so you can all make a living doing it.

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Thanks for your reply. To clarify, I'm not asking this from a "how do I break into the industry" sense so much as I'm trying to figure out how to improve my own workflow. I don't have a great feeling yet for when I should move from photoshop flats to AE or 3D, so I sort of flail around between all 3 as necessary.

 

I might waste a bunch of time trying to do some 3D thing only to realize later that I should have focused more on nailing the 2D comp first. I thought having a better understanding of how the process works for bigger studios might help me figure some of that out a little better.

 

I realize my questions are very broad, vague and wordy though so thanks again for the input!

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yowza. lots of questions, but I think we've all been there with curiosity keeping us up at night. I don't work at a major mograph house, but I've worked with some and done some of my own on occasion so I can only share a few perspectives on that.

 

I would guess that a 100 different houses are gonna have a 100 different workflows.

 

To the point of doing a shoot before the pitch boards or style frames is possible if it's an extremely simple case where they have a greenscreen setup in their studio and they knock out an easy ref for the boards. But I would tend to guess that a full shoot with full crew, lights, stage etc is not going to happen on spec. That's when you go from shooting some quick elements on a DV cam laying around the office to a 20-60k shoot on a stage with a good cam.

 

Me, The Monkey and a local artist named Deva did a mograph piece for SONY last June. I can rough out how we did that. I would have no idea if that workflow is typical though.

 

LINK:

http://sugarfilmproduction.com/oled-02.mov

 

The opening product rotation was done by a different company in the land of England. But we needed to track AE text to the product shot. We contacted them and one of the guys was helpful enough to send me a .ma file (they animate in Maya we're in C4D/AE). In that .ma file was simply a null for the base rotation of the product and a null that represented the center of the screen, and the maya render out cam. With a script they pointed me to, we got an AE camera to lock right up. The problem though was their animation was at 24fps and ours is at 30fps. We decided to simply play back their 24 renders at 30 instead of do a frame pulldown thing. Then crunched the resulting keyframes converted from maya to AE to match. Once that locked up, we could add AE text and it tracked around with the screen.

 

We started by having style frames drawn up (by Rothermel) and had the look cleared by SONY and to get their wishes and concerns. Then we needed to establish the camera moves and timings. So :

 

first we modeled the terrain in C4D to establish the world. Then laid out primitives that would represent different key objects. Then added temp text that showed the theme of the final text (while not actually being the final text).

 

Here is the C4D file of that animatic

 

Once the camera move was approved. I baked the Mocam camera into keys. Then used C4D to make an aec file for AE. Also baking the keys allowed me to see small hiccups in the cam paths that could be smoothed a little easier as keys. Gave that project to Señor Monkey and the AE project to Deva. Now we all just agreed on what elements we would each add. But whatever elements any of us added, they all matched because of shared cam data. All of it would be comped in AE. So it was a matter of just rendering out objects and their mattes from C4D or creating content in AE. We didn't do much splitting up of speculars or reflections or anything. More just things like flowers on one render, flower depth, fish, fish object IDs, sea plants, terrain, etc.

 

For the terrain, since it rendered fairly quick, I rendered it out with a handful of different textures on it. Some were Monkey's takes on it, some were mine. But it was easier to render each version and play with it in composite then decide for sure in C4D. So we gave those passes to Deva where he would mix and match them and add color grads to them.

 

In AE with the locked camera. Deva built all the sky and gaseous cloud layers. Then all the fireflies, sony molecules, airbubbles, waterfall flows were particular passes in AE.

 

I originally programmed TP node trees for the fireflies that I think looked a lot more realistic than the particular ones, however because dealing with opacity is such a bear with Xpresso. I bailed on it and just consigned it to Particular since it's way easier to get the fireflies to pulse. But I did animate a null in C4D that I used as a null in AE that Deva used as an emitter. Although it became a rough guide because we would change the movement as time went on.

 

hope this is one usable perspective.

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Wow thanks for the in depth breakdown! BTW, I feel like a total dope for not knowing the term styleboards. After searching for that I found lots of great info in the archives.

 

I think the mystery for me is still in this magical step here though. :rolleyes:

We started by having style frames drawn up (by Rothermel

 

Since the spot is entirely 3D I'm wondering what those style frames looked like? Stock photography of jellyfish, etc. treated in photoshop? Some rough 3D work already? 2D illustrations?

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Rothermel did a lot of hand drawn illustrations of fish and plant life, scanned them then treated them with a ton of color washes and what not in PS. There was a stock photo of a chick he used to represent the girl we ended up shooting. None of it was from 3D sources that I know of. If he sees this he can add in his own 2 cents.

 

But everyone was clear (including the client) that the style boards represented a color palette and overall "vibe" and not a representation of any single frame you would see in the final piece.

 

I did the animatic at the same time as he did boards. So it helps to show them the animatic and say, "imagine the style frame's look in this 3D world with this camera motion".

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Wow thanks for the in depth breakdown! BTW, I feel like a total dope for not knowing the term styleboards. After searching for that I found lots of great info in the archives.

 

I think the mystery for me is still in this magical step here though. :rolleyes:

 

 

Since the spot is entirely 3D I'm wondering what those style frames looked like? Stock photography of jellyfish, etc. treated in photoshop? Some rough 3D work already? 2D illustrations?

 

At the studio I'm at, the answer is: yes. All of those. I just finished two sets of styleframes for a project, in which I pulled together:

- Footage

- Rough 3D

- Stock photography

- Photos our photographer shot

- Photoshop work

 

That said, styleframes are far and away a Photoshop job. I know on graphics packages for a one-off, our styleframes tend to be closer to storyboards, just because it's not gonna get a lot of massaging. But on big series we've worked on, we'll have something more like mood boards which then get massaged by the animator.

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Sorry for all of the dumb questions. I know the real answer to all of these is "it depends" but you guys are giving interesting answers so I'm going to keep asking :P

 

Say you're doing a styleboard for a music video, do you use publicity photos of the artist, cut shots out of a previous music video, use stock images of somebody who looks vaguely similar?

 

Or say for these American Idol boards http://www.nathanielhowe.com/content/americanIDOL.jpg The compositions have a lot to do with the dynamic poses of the actors (models, "singers", whatev) and the color palette even draws from the costuming to a certain degree. I'm guessing some assets from previous seasons of the show were provided? Or the shoot was already done and the motion graphics package was built around footage that already existed? Or are these boards polished comps that were created later in the process and not really the kind of rough style boards you would use for an initial pitch? Yeah, I know "it depends" :) I'm just trying to get a feeling of how some different ways that people in the industry work.

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Ideally a project starts with black and white logo design, color design, mood boards, style-frames, animatic, 1st pass animation, revision, final render, color-correction and delivery.

 

At every stage you should bill and get approvals.

 

Real world is different, every client, production company, agency, studio is a different beast. Sometimes you can work with one underling and then they show their boss, then they show some other people, then they change the logo and every step from the "Ideal way" is a going to have to be redone the night before the original deadline. Pepper is a conference call or ten with some really nervous, panic stricken people and call from an editor. Once you get to the the delivery stage you may encounter the "we need this at HD now" because all the creative people on the front end of the job never know how it will finish. So now you have to reRender 3D, adjust frame-rates and goto the interpret dialog box several times. Did you have plans tonight? sorry. But don't worry it is all worth it once you get up on motiongrapher, "no one in the scene has seen this" you tell yourself. Then the phone rings and client changes everything, 3D gone, type can't read it now, the whole z-space camera moves lets get rid of those, okay, call again "it doesn't have the same feel, what happened?" Can we see soon test animation and 3 type options by the"A.M.?"

 

Is that the workflow you wanted to know about?

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Sorry for all of the dumb questions. I know the real answer to all of these is "it depends" but you guys are giving interesting answers so I'm going to keep asking :P

 

Say you're doing a styleboard for a music video, do you use publicity photos of the artist, cut shots out of a previous music video, use stock images of somebody who looks vaguely similar?

 

Or say for these American Idol boards http://www.nathanielhowe.com/content/americanIDOL.jpg The compositions have a lot to do with the dynamic poses of the actors (models, "singers", whatev) and the color palette even draws from the costuming to a certain degree. I'm guessing some assets from previous seasons of the show were provided? Or the shoot was already done and the motion graphics package was built around footage that already existed? Or are these boards polished comps that were created later in the process and not really the kind of rough style boards you would use for an initial pitch? Yeah, I know "it depends" :) I'm just trying to get a feeling of how some different ways that people in the industry work.

 

 

Hey Nog..

 

All of the performance photos in the American Idol frames were shot on white by FOX and Buster Design. This was done before the styleframes were created. The photos were given to designers to be used how each artist saw fit.. the frames went through tweaks and approvals etc then once signed off on were used to help create a shooting script for the live action shoot. we printed the frames and brought them to set where they are put up on big stands around the director/producers ... once we shoot a scene that covers a frame we cross it off.. we color correct and key the footage/ roto touch ups... meanwhile 2d animators are doing tests of the motion graphic elements. an editor is doing rough cuts to get the flow of the spot... client/producers/cds looking for music and approving and tweaking animation,edit,music.. once edit is locked the animators go nuts. approvals tweaks etc continue to the end then deliver.. (im sure i left a lot out but im jamming on some frames right now and gotta get back to it!!)

 

It varies on every single job though.

 

There is no set rules with frames... its all about a combo of these things: telling a story / defining the look / selling a concept/ conveying a message/ or just impressing a client with sick visuals that they vibe with.

 

right now i am super busy and dont have time to get as deep into your questions as i would like... I will try and get back on with some more info when i wrap this deadline.

 

Best,

Nate

Edited by nhowe

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Wow, thanks for the inside info Nate! Sorry to point to you personally like that but I saw your work and it raised a lot of questions for me and made me reevaluate how I work. There's so much amazing work in your portfolio but one thing that stands out (apart from the great ideas, use of color, compositions, range of your work, attention to detail, etc. ) is the strength of some of the source material you're working with.

 

I mean, you can't exactly come up with the concept "dudes hanging upside down in the air" and bang out great comps in a day. You actually need shots of dudes hanging upside down in the air! :rolleyes: And it occurred to me that I had no idea how all of this works within the process of a real motion graphics studio.

 

Like today I was working on some comps (really? in between all of this typing?) and I had a really good special shoot photo of an actor that kind of guided what I was doing and I was happy with the end result. But then I had to do a second comp using another actor and I only had some pretty weak unit photography to go off of and using the same treatment as the other photo, it just didn't work. It all kind of fell apart. But this problem is even worse when I attempt to do motion graphics stuff since I'm often trying to create everything from scratch and well... I suck. Anyway, I was just curious how the issue of assets works in the early stages of motion graphics comping and you guys are all giving me some great insight.

 

Is that the workflow you wanted to know about?

 

Ah, yes. Unfortunately that is a process that I'm all too familiar with. It's definitely not unique to motion graphics!

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