Tradigital Television: Digital Tools and Saturday Morning
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Rough concept sketches of the Action Man character are turned into a detailed wireframe model once the character's design is final. Courtesy and © Mainframe Entertainment.

CGI Designs and Storyboards
3D CGI pre-production follows a similar pattern as traditional animation in creating a blueprint for all other departments within the studio to use as reference. Once an approved script is final, the design process begins. CGI differs in that the models for the show are constructed in the computer as skeletons or wire frame forms. Designers may use model sheets (animating elements drawn on paper, showing turns and expressions) as their reference material or a clay sculpture may be designed and used as reference. The model's wire frame is perceived as a 3D object. The model is tested by the designer to make sure it moves as desired. Once the model is approved by the director, it moves into the next stage of adding a surface texture to the wire frame. Texture includes skin, hair, clothing, chrome, wood-grain, etc., whatever covering is desired.

Some CGI facilities generate traditional storyboards while others go into semi-production mode and create storyboards digitally using stock set-ups. George Maistri, who set up the CG series South Park and is now producing Karen & Kirby for Kid's WB! states, "As the storyboards are completed and the animatic created, we set up the characters in the scene and take a still. This gives a layout of the scene to begin animating from." Mainframe Entertainment, for 8 years has produced several CG television series, including Reboot, War Planets and more recently, Action Man for Fox. They're also producing two videos for Cartoon Network. Kim Dent-Wilder, Mainframe's director of animation, says that they regularly use digital set-ups rather than complete storyboarding: "It really depends on the needs of the particular episode. Every show is different. We'll sometimes do set-ups on the AVID using a combination of elements pulled from the show's library and adding digital storyboard set-ups only for those scenes that require them. If needed, we also do any shooting of motion capture during this time."

Using gray scale helps perfect the lighting of a character. Courtesy and © Mainframe Entertainment.

While the process of setting up the cast, props and efx for a new series takes a long time (4 to 6 months) the payoff is worth it. Sue Shakespeare of Creative Capers stresses that this step is critical, "Slowing down here and getting it right will expedite the entire process." Once the characters, props and efx are established, 3D CGI pre-production can take as little as 5 to 6 weeks per episode. However, if this stage is rushed, the entire schedule is sorely impacted by delays caused by problems arising out of design flaws that surface once animation begins.

The production stage in traditional animation took the shows from animation, assist, color and through camera. Larry Huber, television animation producer, states, "The biggest advantage was having everyone you needed to communicate with right at hand. If you were a layout artist with a question regarding a character's start and end poses, or you were an animator and had an idea that differed from the storyboard, but you thought would be funnier, your director was right there on the premises." The show was handed out (the pre-production elements given to the various departments that needed them for reference.) The director had handout meetings with the animation supervisor and the crew. Animators completed their assigned sequences and made notes on the exposure sheets. Animation assistants followed up on the animated scenes as they were approved. The cleaned-up animation went to the color department where each scene's cels were painted. Once through final checking, scenes were forwarded to the camera department.


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