Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Better Late Than Never..!

"Which form of proverb do you prefer? Better late than never, or better never than late?" [Lewis Carroll]

OK, MiLK HaRE is a little behind on the production schedule, (well this is White Rabbit Animation afterall ;) But on a serious note, I thought it would be useful to jot down some of the reasons why the deadline has slipped for future reference:

Vector vs Bitmap
By trade, I'm a Flash animator/web designer, but I'd made the decision early on to produce the 2D sequences for MiLK HaRE in Adobe After Effects as this seemed to make more sense now I'm moving back into stop motion animation. I had assumed many similarities between the packages; both work on the concept of objects on a timeline, both support scripting languages based on Javascript and both are designed to deliver 2D animation. However a key point of departure between the two packages is their render engines. Flash is vector-based, designed to deliver content via the web and in real-time. After Effects, however, is bitmap-based, rasterising any vector-based artwork and requiring significant render time before content can be distributed (via video). Now, even though I understood this beforehand, I didn't fully appreciate the differences - or rather the implications of those differences - for production.

Two key issues emerged. First was the time it would take to render work, not just for final distribution, but also to accurately review amendments made during production. Having to render to preview changes wasn't something I had fully anticipated or factored time for (in Flash, review in the player is immediate). Second, I had become too accustomed to the benefits of vector artwork when it came to upscaling and downscaling images (to zoom in and zoom out, for example). Sure downsampling bitmap images results in no degradation, but upsampling a bitmap image very quickly results in hideous degradation, unlike its vector equivalent, that can be manipulated without any loss of quality. In short, the artwork for close up sequences had to be prepared on a case-by-case basis, not something I was used to, having worked previously in a vector-based environment, where I could simply increase and decrease artwork size to suit my framing needs - all of which increased production time.

Again, due to previous employment in the highly optimised world of web production, my hardware had been purchased with this task in mind. Audiovisual (video) production, however, takes a great deal more 'juice' than equivalent production for the web. Although I had correctly anticipated the considerable disc storage required, I had under estimated other hardware requirements such as the processor and RAM, which led to longer render times and, as a consequence, longer production times overall. I would therefore recommend a minimum of 4GB RAM and dual processors for efficient audiovisual production. With regards to disc space, anything over 1TB is a good start.

Anyone who knows me will probably be surprised that I have included planning, as I'm really quite organised when it comes to project execution. I would, however, confess to the following deadly sins:

1) Spent Too Long In Pre-Production
Although it is important to ensure that ideas are strong (storyboards) and that the composition is fluid, comprehensive, compelling, etc. (animatics) I probably did spend too much time fixating over the nuances of the work, to the point where I had almost developed a phobia of the 'lights, camera, action' moment. In future I aim to set specific deadlines for the completion of pre-production materials, with a view to getting hands-on with production recces as soon as, as these often inform what can (or rather cannot) be achieved on the shoot.

2) Didn't Factor In Time For Production Recces
I'm almost embarrassed to write this in public, but the truth is I didn't factor in any time for production recces at all. Am I crazy? Probably! The production recce is vital as often seemingly straight forward tasks can reveal hidden problems in execution. In future, 'production recce' will find a sufficient slot in the production schedule!

3) Too Much 'I'll Fix It In Post'
I've since learnt that although a multitude of sins can be fixed in post production (in After Effects or Photoshop, for example) it really is a great deal easier just to get it right on the day! Many fixes are quite complex and time-consuming, whereas retaking a sequence or rescheduling a shoot, as frustrating as it may seem at the time, is actually far, far easier!

I hadn't expected to collaborate on MiLK HaRE and had designed the production really as a technical testing ground for other projects, which I'm rolling around in my mind. However, when you get the opportunity to work with talented and ambitious creative producers, such as the composer and sound designer for MiLK HaRE, then you grab at it with both hands! The consequence, however, was that I then had to raise the production standards to the very highest quality I could achieve, as I needed to ensure that those working with me were offered the best platform to present their work. This, of course, had an impact on the production overhead and, as a consequence, the production schedule. Worth it though, I think!

MiLK HaRE is now scheduled for release Christmas 2010. A MiLK HaRE Halloween teaser can be seen here. Enjoy!

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