Tradigital Television: Digital Tools and Saturday Morning
Once the episode has been voice recorded and the storyboard completed, the process of timing the show begins. Using the EMR or NP tape, the line-lengths script and the as-recorded storyboard, the episode's director chooses one of two pathways. In the traditional method the director will "slug" the storyboard using the EMR/NP tape and the information on the line-lengths script regarding the length of the dialogue. Veteran producer Larry Huber states, "To slug a storyboard is to indicate time 'place holders' or pauses between the lines of dialogue. This leaves space for character action. The director will also cut or add scenes to the storyboard. The slugged storyboard will include timing notes for all action and dialogue written on the bottom of the storyboard." This information is transferred later to the exposure sheets. The second method for the director to produce this timing element is to produce an animatic of the storyboard. The storyboard panels are scanned into a computer and digitally assembled into a rough version of the episode. Using the line-lengths script information, the episode's director works with the animatic operator to edit the show to length. Once the animatic is final and approved, the animatic operator outputs an Edited Dialogue List (EDL) and a DAT of the new edited dialogue (now referred to as Animatic Dialogue) is created. This version of the dialogue track will be used for track reading. Both methods prepare the episode for track reading and sheet timing, the next step in the process of timing the picture. Traditional slugging of the storyboard typically takes about one week. The animatic process takes a week and a half to two weeks.
Now that the picture has been cut to length, the director moves on to finalizing the timing information for the overseas studio. The line lengths script, conformed storyboard, dialogue track and blank exposure sheets are forwarded for track reading. The track reader receives either the slugged storyboard or a storyboard that has been conformed to the animatic dialogue track. If slugging was done, the EMR is still the main source of dialogue and the track reader will first need to edit this dialogue to the slugged storyboard instructions. The DAT of the EMR is transferred to 35mm magnetic tape (MAG), then "slugs" of 35mm film are edited into the MAG track where there is no dialogue. The result of this process will be an audio track that is edited to length. If an animatic was done, the new Animatic Dialogue tape outputted by the animatic operator is transferred directly to 35mm MAG. No film slugs need to be edited into the MAG because during the animatic process, the audio has already been edited to length. Once this process is completed, the track reader listens to the audio track and transcribes the dialogue onto the exposure sheets, leaving appropriate space where there is no dialogue. Exposure sheets are 11" X 17" sheets of paper that are pre-printed with a grid and masthead. The masthead usually denotes the name of the overall series and has blank spaces to include information such as production number, scene number and footage count per page. Each horizontal line on the grid of the exposure sheet represents one frame of film. The vertical lines create divisions to be used for dialogue, camera directions, cel levels of animation and other information that the overseas production crew will need. When the track reader returns the sheets, the director writes directions for the animators. These instructions describe the type, rate and speed of character actions and mouth shapes for dialogue, movement of props and special effects and all camera instructions scene by scene. Once the sheets are completed, a pre-production checker and the director have a final review of the sheets and storyboard of the episode to catch any footage errors, lip-assignment omissions, etc. on the sheets. Any adjustments needed are made and the checker creates lead sheets (a list, scene by scene, briefly describing the action and indicating a footage count of the episode). The show is shipped overseas for layout, animation, color and camera. Transfer and track reading takes approximately 2 days. Sheet timing is usually scheduled for two weeks. Pre-production checking typically takes one week for a half-hour show.
Final Designs and Color
While the episode is going through the timing process, final designs and keying for color are being completed by other departments. The slugged storyboard or final animatic board is reviewed by the design artists and the director and final designs are determined. The final character, props, effects and key background layout references are collected, logged and labeled. A list of all designs is generated for each episode. This list is included when the material for the show is shipped overseas. Background layouts typically take one to one and a half weeks, depending on the number of layouts required for the episode. 10 to 15 background layouts is a typical amount. Character, prop and efx designs are typically scheduled for one week. Again, the nature of the episode determines how much time is actually needed. Shows in a series that are background or design heavy can take up to two weeks to complete.