Final Composite with Audio and Output to Tape or Film

Mark Simon continues his series of 12 excerpts from his new book, Producing Independent 2D Character Animation: Making and Selling a Short Film.

All images are from Producing Independent 2D Character Animation: Making and Selling a Short Film, by Mark Simon. Reprinted with permission.

This is the 10th in a series of 12 excerpts from Mark Simons book, Producing Independent 2D Character Animation: Making and Selling a Short Film. This book is a full-color, concept-to-pitch guide that teaches animators, students and small studios the art and business of producing short, cel animated films. Animation producer Mark Simon has detailed the process in an accessible how-to manner using his award-winning series, Timmys Lessons In Nature, as a guide. This 432-page book contains more than 600 full-color images, interviews and a CD-ROM containing sample animation, animatics and sample software described in the text.

Youve finished your project. All the animation is complete, the music is perfect, and all the sound effects are in. You do your final composite only to realize that one frame wasnt painted properly, or theres a problem with the audio. Dont worry, that only happens a few times on every project.

In Timmys Lessons in Nature, Lesson 3, we had already built our master tape when we realized there was a single horizontal line in one frame that had not been erased from a bad scan. Somehow that line made it through every step of production and we never saw it. We went back, fixed the line, re-exported that frame, re-exported the affected scene and built a new master tape in our edit suite. Oh well. Always plan on needing more time than you think it will take you (Figure 1).

But your project is now done. More decisions need to be made. In what format are you going to output your short? Will it be on tape or on film? Do you have the equipment, or do you need to get the files to a post-production facility? How should you handle the audio?

[Figure 1] One tiny line on one frame made it through until our master recording before it was caught.

If you are going to master to tape, try to master to Digibeta, D1, DV, Beta SP or SVHS, in that order. For video playback and for video dubbing, make sure that you render to tape at 30fps. More and more people are mastering to Mini DV. The image is compressed, but it is also digital and works very well. If a client or festival wants a BetaSP tape, you can take your DV master to a duplication house and have them make copies in whatever format you wish for a nominal fee (Figure 2).

The best quality will be if you can output from a computer in realtime straight to a master tape. If you have your own equipment, that will be easy. If you dont, you will need to find a post-production house and talk to the engineer to find out the file formats you can output that are compatible with their system.

Generally, to take a project to a post-facility you should output your finished piece as sequential .tga or .tif files. It is best to have the files rendered to the pixel size of the format you wish to master to NTSC, NTSC D1, DV, and so. However, if you master to 640x480 and the edit suite uses 720x486, the editing software will stretch the image automatically. Make sure your sequential files start with frame 0001, not 0000 or 0033, as some edit suites will only import sequences that start with 0001. Also, try to keep your file names to a total of 8 letters and numbers, such as TEMP0001.tga. Macintosh systems that dont have PC reading software will only read the first eight letters of a PC file. If you are exporting from a Macintosh, make sure to include the three-letter file extension, .tga or .tif, since PCs will not open files without an extension.

[Figure 2] Master tape formats. From the left are BetaSP, Mini DV and SVHS.

You should also take the audio file as an .aiff or .wav format that either starts with frame #1 or has exactly two seconds of lead time before the first frame in your project. Have your audio files both as a stereo file and as separate left and right channel files. Some edit systems need the channels separated to import them properly.

Always use your master tape to make dubs at a duplication house. It will be faster and cost less than outputting multiple copies at a post-production facility. Duplication facilities will almost always be less expensive for dubs than post-houses.

When taking a digital project to film, you have many options. All digital-to-film transfer facilities have different specifications and costs. Make sure you talk to them before you send them your work to make sure you are sending your project in the ideal format for their facility.

The remaining chapter covers ideal resolution and mastering from tape to and more. The book also includes an appendix listing digital-to-film transfer facilities.

Producing Independent 2D Character Animation: Making and Selling a Short Film, by Mark Simon. Burlington, Massachusetts: Focal Press, 2003. 432 pages. ISBN: 0-240-80513-5.

Mark Simon founded and owns A&S Animation, Inc., an award-winning cel animation house in Florida, which develops and produces character animation for commercials, TV, training videos and the Web. He also owns Animatics & Storyboards, Inc., the largest storyboard house in the southern United States, which has provided work on more than 1,200 productions. Marks accomplishments include owning an award-winning advertising firm, being a syndicated cartoonist, production designer of film and TV, writing entertainment industry books and lecturing on both animation and storyboards. Winning more than 30 animation awards for his efforts, Mark has directed Timmys Lessons In Nature (which he sold as a TV series), My Wife Is Pregnant, numerous commercials, training videos and television series special effects.