Rationalising and structuring production of a short, feature or series well in advance by setting in place a precise workflow or graphic bible… pre-production is an often neglected, but essential, step in the process of creating a film or a series. This conference will show just how essential it is to anticipate and make more fluid both production and post-animation.
Director of Operations
Executive Toon Alliance
pre-production, post-animation, production chain, workflow, pipeline, art bible, main pack, workbook, colour script, spot keys, pre-scene planning, scene planning, Annecy conferences, animated film
Before beginning the session, the moderator wanted to give her view of pre-production, the phase in the creation of a work which is often forgotten and which nevertheless is essential: "it is a question of making a contribution to a stage in the production process of a series or film, listening to the teams, discussing and at the same time taking on all the challenges of productivity". She also said that the term post-animation concerned everything which came before the image edit. The session was therefore split into two parts corresponding to these two phases.
Match-up and communication for HLC
Florent Heitz and Thomas Dorval set up HLC Production eight years ago, as service providers for animation studios: their activity is to operate "very early on in the production process, to set up a workflow which is as fluid as possible", stated Florent Heitz, "with the creation of an art bible (or 'main pack') to structure the production phase as best as possible". Using their joint experience of having worked at Bulles de Com/Bulles de Prod, they pointed out the "inherent friction which arises between production staff and technicians, the consequence being such things as poor communication or schedule overshoots, adding to other problems". For Florent Heitz, you mustn’t lose sight of the fact that a team is made up of artists and technicians and you must manage both personalities: "we have observed that productions have had problems of technicians not fully understanding the artistic side and of artists not fully understanding the technical side".
Thomas Dorval explained that concretely pre-production means making, categorising and archiving all the elements necessary to make a series. He also pointed out that "26 x 26’ series means 13 hours of images; we are a genuine industry even if there is still a strong artistic connotation". He considered that only experienced artists, with a great deal of creativity, should be involved during this phase. The idea of validation is essential in continuing production, but it must, in this case, involve a certain diplomacy to avoid frictions arising very (too?) early. "A problem in pre-production is multiplied a hundredfold during the production itself".
For HLC, the key to success lies in "the right choice of artists to work on setting up the pack, correctly and constantly judging quantity and style, matching the elements produced with the series concept, being aware of all the constraints… And above all, maintaining constant communication between all those involved".
Andy Blazdell, who created CelAction software for 2D animation in 1997, can count more than 20 important animation series that have used CelAction, which is currently in version 3. This experience has enabled him to bring out some strong ideas which, in his opinion, should be applied for a production succeed. Among these he pointed out the fact of knowing "how to prepare assets properly, and also knowing how to re-use them". The list includes drawings – like the skeletons in the rigging department in a CGI production, animation, backgrounds and certain effects. Naturally, the skill is for the re-use not to be seen: "it’s all in the strength of the composition".
It is also necessary to decide when to re-use a given element. In Andy Blazdell’s opinion, the decision can be made when doing the character and/or set design, the script and storyboard – "as both are intrinsically linked" – and animation. "Walk cycles, for instance, if they are combined intelligently, are a precious timesaving device". He also added, concerning effects lighting and shadows: "the advantage of re-use is that any changes to be made become easier after animation on the one hand, and on the other, it is easier to re-use animation for other media, such as in transmedia projects".
As an example, he mentioned the series Humf (78 x 7’), which has three main characters, three secondary characters, around 1 500 drawings per character for an overall average of 10 000 drawings for all of them. In all, no less than 819 000 frames were shown in the series. At first sight, re-use can hardly be seen, and nevertheless, the next season of the series, for that part at least, will be "absolutely free, because everything has already been created". It is all a question of preparation: "the more you invest in preproduction, the more savings you will make later in full production itself".
Completing this, Marie-Pierre Journet talked of "an ideal world where it is more comfortable to begin work on a series with half of the scripts validated or, in the case of a feature, to simply have the screenplay validated".
Good re-use is invisible
Echoing what the founder of CelAction said, Arnaud Réguillet (Executive Toon Services – ETS) confirmed "that intelligent re-use is re-use that cannot be seen". Production manager of Toon Alliance, which groups together under one umbrella several studios with complementary skills (Caribara for pre-production and digital animation; TTK for 2D and 3D animation; Mac Guff for 3D; Ramses2 for sound and image postproduction), he said that "our idea, within Toon Alliance, is to provide all or part of the production chain for a producer. The earlier we join the production process, as early as the writing stage is best, the better positioned we are to rationalise the pipeline."
There are some key stages, which are often trivial, but which are rarely adopted: recruiting the right team, finding the critical size, "which helps in communications", and finally having a good grasp of the budget to know "where to produce".
Finding production supervision services is also an asset, and Arnaud Réguillet mentioned Toon Manager, from TTK, a member of Toon Alliance.
Anticipation is essential
"The key point in a successful production chain is fluidity", said Bruno Gaumétou in his preamble. "You need to know how to take the right decisions and have methodologies in place for this, because the more you take care of the detail of these methodologies, the more fluid the transmission of creativity and associated documents will be". All the speakers agreed that even though it is difficult to set up, this methodology phase is essential.
Bruno Gaumétou highlighted several essential documents for good preparation:
As he explained, "all these tasks are fundamental, even the most minor of them. Anticipation is essential".
Arnaud Réguillet summed up what post-animation is: "after animation, this is the convergence phase, where you feel the coherence of the production chain".
For Thomas Dorval, this step can be managed by a select team which "finalises on site, when part of production is delocated to Asia or elsewhere".
Animation veteran Bruno Gaumétou gave a list of what he considers gives good post-animation, and more broadly good post-production. 12 criteria complete this stage:
The retakes phase often takes up a great deal of time, and is intrinsically subjective, but can be relativized, and, once again, it is part of the fluid whole, based on the idea of validation.
According to Bruno Gaumétou to avoid problems it is necessary, "to hire the ‘right’ people, and to have carried out a number of tests beforehand". Thomas Dorval talked of using DAM (Digital Asset Management) tools, such as SPI Production, from 3Dclic. He explained that "retakes are part of the business". Andy Blazdell was more cautious about the use of such solutions: "there is a danger of over-complicating the pipeline process. A management tool can be useful, but above it is best to keep the human factor in the production chain"
Several production management tools exist in the marketplace. Tools named included: Damas, HoBSoft, etc. but, as the speakers said, "everything depends on the production and its needs". On the question of it was better to integrate such a solution early on in production, or whether implementation later on in the production process is possible, Marie-Pierre Journet gave the example of Titeuf, where thirteen studios took part in the production instead of the five initially planned. All integrated SPI Production during production, totally fluidly. Bruno Gaumétou concluded on this point: "the increase in the number of studios doesn't change the structure. You have to anticipate as much as possible, rationalise, plan for overshoots and use solid methodologies, combined or not with production monitoring solutions".
There was also agreement on another point: you need to know how to say "no" to the commissioners, and they must understand that not everything is possible. "Unless they put up the money", noted Andy Blazdell and Arnaud Réguillet. "It is also up to the service provider to find back-up solutions, so that everyone can progress without any clashes".