The term “pipeline” is like the procedure or process involved in completing a project. So a 3D production pipeline is basically the process involved in creating a 3D animation project whether that would be a film, advertisement or a cutscene from a game. The process can be divided into THREE essential phases:
I think the image below captures the 3D production pipeline really well (love that bunny!)
This is the phase where the vision for the animation is developed. In my opinion, the whole purpose of animation is to convey a message to the audience primarily through movement. To achieve this, the animator must have a vision or a main concept that they wish to communicate. Then they must capture and sustain audience’s attention and the best way to do this is to have a storyline. The pre-production stage is where this all happens. The main stages of the pre-production phase is as follows:
- Story: the main vision or the concept is expanded into characters, problem(s) or objective(s) of characters and resolution. It is often told in third-person and a script (or partial script) or a beat outline (a map of on-screen actions, dialogue and events) should be produced. Sometimes a step called treatment is included in this stage to have a clear understanding of the direction of the completed animation. The treatment involves outlining and summarising the main themes in the story.
- Storyboarding: the script/beat outline is used to create a storyboard, which is a series of drawings visualising the storyline detailing the key scenes and changes in the animation (see below). Often it will be accompanied by text notes describing what is happening in the scenes and camera movements. Storyboarding allows animators to clearly see how the story will pan out in the animation and communicate their ideas with each other clearly. In a large production, several artists are asked to produce their own storyboard to pitch their interpretation of the script/beat outline to the director.
- Reel: a reel is an animatic created straight after storyboarding to support the pitch or to test an animation sequence. An animatic is a rough animation created from a segment of a storyboard with relevant music and dialogue. Often multiple animatics are created throughout the course of 3D production to get a better idea of the motion and timing of an animation sequence. The reel assists the director in planning how the sequence can be staged and how the visual effects will be integrated.
- Design: how the final animation “looks” is determined AFTER the reel. This involves finalising the designs for the characters, costumes, and locations and staging the scenes. The finalised blueprints will then be used to create 3D models of the characters and locations during the production phase.
Essentially, pre-production phase establishes clear framework or guidelines in which production phase can work from. Hence the stages in this phase will be subject to various adjustments until the director is satisfied (and hopefully everyone else involved). It is worth noting that voice recording commences in this phase for any dialogues included in the script, assuming that the script is finalised. Voice recording SHOULD be complete BEFORE the main animation stage.
This is where the bulk of the “actual” work for the final animation begins. 3D modelling stage is part of this phase, but it is difficult to describe 3D modelling without first introducing the earlier stages. Below describes the first THREE main stages of the production phase:
- Layout: basically a 3D version of the final storyboard is created to determine the composition of the models making up the set, as well as the movement and the depth of field of the camera in each shot. During layout, rough models of the characters and the set are placed in front of temporary cameras until a satisfactory composition is determined for each shot. An animatic for each shot is created as guide for the animators.
- Research & development: an ongoing stage which involves determining what is required to create the animation and providing for those requirements. This can include developing specific surface shaders, simulation options and physics solutions.
- 3D Modelling: using the information from both design and layout stages highly detailed 3D models of all the characters, the props and the set in the animation are created.
The Progression Reel for Ratatouille below clearly shows the main stages in pre-production and post-production phases!
- Boudon, G. (2013). Understanding a 3D Production Pipeline – Learning The Basics. Retrieved from http://blog.digitaltutors.com/understanding-a-3d-production-pipeline-learning-the-basics
- Gulati, P. (2010). Step-by-Step: How to Make an Animated Movie. Retrieved from https://cgi.tutsplus.com/articles/step-by-step-how-to-make-an-animated-movie–cg-3257
- SAE Qantm Creative Media Institute. (2016). 3D Pipeline [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved from https://moodle-sae-au.axis.navitas.com/pluginfile.php/153096/mod_resource/content/1/pipeline%20slides%20v2.pdf