3D motion graphics: from concept to delivery

Part of my role at Engine Creative is to produce CG (computer generated) animations for clients, which is often a complex process, with many potential pitfalls and obstacles. Getting feedback from the client at the right stages is vital to the smooth running of a project and can, as well as helping the client to understand where we are with a project, help us to plan effectively, which aids the smooth running of each stage. Remaining creative as well as staying within timescale and budget is vital to each project and we have developed a clear process which lets us do this.

Using our latest online video for Kaplan as a mini case study, below you will see a step by step breakdown of this process. Whilst all requirements vary from one project to the next, the steps below are all needed to complete each job and this structured approach helps to keep the client informed of our progress and gives them opportunity to supply feedback at every stage.

Once a brief is delivered and discussed, we develop a concept and create a script in partnership with the client. This will be approved and, if required, a voiceover artist will be commissioned. After a final take has been selected we have the foundations for setting timings and highlighting key focus points throughout the animation.

The next stage is to draw up a storyboard. This has two functions. Firstly, it enables the client to visually understand the story and gain a better understanding of how it will look on screen. Secondly, it allows us to draw up a clear plan for the project including a shot list and asset list that we can work from after any storyboard adjustments have been made and signed off.

Storyboarding is usually a group activity where our creatives, producers, designers and, in some cases, clients will put forward their ideas. After detailed discussions, the strongest and most appropriate ideas are combined to create the most effective results.

Once the storyboard is approved by the client, the visual style and ‘look’ of the final piece will be refined and we can lock down the settings we use for the renders.

We begin by creating 3D assets and painting textures where needed. Individual components of a project are built then textured and in some cases animated. For example, any looping animation, such as a tree waving in the wind, can be animated more easily on its own than in a complex scene full of different objects.

Next the ‘world’ is created and the landscape is put in place, along with the sky and various props such as lamp posts and litter bins.

Once this is done we can begin populating the scene with the main elements and animating them. Characters are added with associated props and an initial animation is created. If there is a voiceover this will be added to aid in highlighting focal points of the animation such as key facts or phrases.

Cameras are added to the 3D world and are animated in a similar way to a real world film set. Once this is done an animatic render is produced. This lacks the textures and lighting but shows the client very clearly how the project will look. At this point changes can be made and tweaks to the animation can be implemented whilst allowing the process to stay fluid and creative.

After a final round of changes are made, textures can be added, followed by lighting and atmospheric effects. At this point a final render can be produced, which will then head off to be edited, graded and prepared for output in various formats for the client.

And relax. The coffee machine gets a chance to cool down, the computers all get a rest and I catch up on admin (until the next project begins).

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