Hitting a Moving Target; cont'd - what's it good for?
The last post laid out two approaches to defining an animation target - to summarize, ideally a bite-sized value such as x seconds per week. Congratulations! You've taken an important step to getting a grip on your production. But... what's this target worth?
Well, not much. On its own, it doesn't really tell you if you're goals are achievable or not. On its own, it doesn't really do anything. It needs context.
Context number one is experience based evaluation. This is another way of saying - it's you. Or the team. It doesn't matter how fast Pixar can animate, or your colleague. If you can't sustainably maintain the target for the duration of the production, change either the target or the production. Change yourself isn't an option as long as its you who is going to be doing the work. This is particualrly important in educational projects. Learning takes time, and that should be reflected in the numbers. If not, you're only setting yourself up for a fall.
Context number two are the production targets. You set these just as you do the animation target but beware - they affect your animation in extreme ways. Production targets refer to the time and effort you plan to invest in your project's visual look. The more details your character has, the longer it will take to model and shade, the more deformation issues you'll encounter (3D) and the more refinement your animation will need to achieve a credible visual whole. Cast against the backdrop of your skillset and the intended production quality, you can get a feel for the validity of your animation target.
I evaluate production quality with 3 simple categories. Level-of-detail reflects the complexity of the visual look. This is so important that I break this down into volumes and surface. Then I evaluate the production "wow". I don't call it quality because that leads people to think the evaluation has to do with it being good or bad. It doesn't. I use a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 representing the expensive end. Here are concrete examples to illustrate:
- Pixar's films are lush fireworks of surface details (can you say "snowflakes in hair"?) = 5. The volumes are twofold... the figures are crisp, simple forms, so maybe a 2. But the backgrounds and environments are once again highly detailed, 5. And production "wow" is well, wow. 5 plus.
- Don Hertzfeldt relies on a wonderful, down-sized look. Level-of-detail for both forms and surface are 1, and production "wow" is "wow", but at the other end of the scale. His films are the perfect proof that we're not evaluating quality, but expenditure. (And his films still represent epic efforts.)
- Pocoyo is also very low-detail work, a wonderfully concepted children's format. But look at how smoothly those volumes bend, how much attention the eye forms receive. Production "wow" = 3.
Now that we have some context, we can venture an assessment of our animation target. But again, this can only be done in the context of your personal experience. If you're a production manager doing this for a professional team, this experience will be the "going rate" which is an aaveerage of how much aniamiton can be created per week / day / month by a professional animator.
Let's say our animation target is 12 seconds per week. Would Pocoyo be doable? Hertzfeldt? Pixar?