Tradigital Television: Digital Tools and Saturday Morning
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This SpongeBob background key is a color representation of one episode's unique "neighborhood." Courtesy and © Nickelodeon.

Once the background layouts for the episode are completed, the director goes through them and chooses the ones that need to be painted as key color reference for the overseas studio. Six to 12 keys will typically require painting. These backgrounds may be painted traditionally or digitally. Key backgrounds become color reference, too for the color key artist to use in color styling the characters, props and efx. For color key, the final model pack drawings are copied, cleaned-up and pasted onto masthead sheets either by hand or by scanning in the drawings and pasting them up digitally. The color stylist works with the director to determine which models require keying. Any new characters, props or fx need to be keyed, as well as any changes to stock designs that effect color, such as the main characters in a night palette. The color stylist also completes color lead sheets (a scene by scene description of color elements in each scene) for overseas reference. Completed color material is copied before shipment overseas. A few copies are kept on file for home studio reference. The original material and several copies are shipped to the overseas studio to use as color reference in the background and ink and paint departments as well as layout and animation departments. Background painting is typically scheduled for two weeks. Color Key is typically scheduled for one week. Background painting and Color Key can require more time if the episode has a large number of designs to key, or if the episode requires several color palettes for the same designs.

Nickelodeon Animation had several series that started out as traditional ink and paint for color key and production. "Hey Arnold!, Cat Dog, Angry Beavers and SpongeBob all made second or third season changes into digital ink and paint," says VP and general manager, Mark Taylor. "This made an impact on the post costs later." Former SpongeBob line producer Donna Castricone concurs, "The shift to digital ink and paint allowed us to reduce the amount of time spent in telecine sessions in post, so the costs were impacted significantly."

Copies are also made of all black and white pre-production material being shipped overseas. This is for reference should questions arise, but also as a precaution against anything unforeseen happening to the material during shipment or if it gets lost at the receiving studio.

Pre-production for CGI
"Currently, CGI is like the wild west days of animation. There are so many trying to get involved and so many options to choose from," says Sue Shakespeare, president of Creative Capers Entertainment. CGI is in a constant state of growth and change as hardware and software becomes more and more animation friendly.


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