Tradigital Television: Digital Tools and Saturday Morning
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Comparisons of Traditional Series Production and CG
In total the production schedule for a typical, Saturday morning, traditionally animated show is approximately twelve weeks for pre-production, thirteen for overseas production and six weeks for post production. This schedule also is effected by how much "library" material the series has. A first season show has very few "library" elements to pull from and therefore in pre-production, artwork may require more time. In post, music and sfx may require more time until a small library of audio material is built up for the show. A series' ability to meet a schedule also depends on other factors. Artists, directors and other staffers get sick or injured. Equipment fails both domestically and overseas.

For a CG series the total time for pre-production through post can be very similar to traditional schedules. They can be significantly less and considerably more. Andre Clavel is a director familiar with both traditional and CG production processes: "It helps tremendously if the animators on CG projects have training in traditional animation. It streamlines communication between the director and the animator." The deciding factors would appear to include the type of animation involved and the amount of planning done at the front end. Sue Shakespeare comments, "Planning is the key to this. You can jump in, then once into it find that it's fraught with complexities way beyond what you had in mind. But plan it and the benefits are worth it. What's great about CG is that it let's us do things that we never thought feasible in 2D, traditional animation. It's so creatively stimulating."

The number of programs available is mind boggling. 3D Studio Max, Alias Wavefront, Maya, Discreet, Softimage and Aftereffects were the programs that have wide usage, with most CG studios using more than one. What was striking to me in researching CGI for this article is the number of approaches to getting a show made as compared to traditional animation, where basically studio to studio, very similar procedures for television production are the norm. The question arises as to why so many CG studios seem to use primarily 3D software, even for 2D projects. The answer seems to be related to the more aggressive advances made in 3D applications used so heavily in the advertising and logo world. Buying computer equipment and programs comes at a dear cost and choices have to be made. However, 2D programs are closing the gap quickly and the faster rending time is a definite plus.

Schedules and Budgets
An animation production schedule and budget is always a rather organic thing, each stage choreographed with the others in mind. It's always in a state of flux whether done "traditionally" or as a total CGI creation. Budgets for animated shows cover a tremendous range, varying according to the style of animation required and the complexity of the action. A series with very simple animation can cost as little as $250K per half-hour to produce. The costs go up from there to $500K and above. Asked to comment on the overall cost of animated productions, Larry Huber replied, "The primary factor in the cost per half-hour is the total number of episodes ordered for the season. Smaller orders are more expensive. When the cost of producing a show can be amortized over 26 half-hours, or even 13 half-hours, the costs are significantly reduced."

Differences between traditional and CGI were not in the amounts, but in the time spent in the various areas of production. CG spends a large portion of time in pre-production and animation production. However, the time spent developing the models and getting any bugs out of the animation before starting production is time and money well spent to get the results you desire. David Palmer, VP of marketing for Sony Pictures says, "Our traditional shows and our CG shows are very close in cost to produce. The show schedules are also about the same."

The traditional animation folks felt that production was their heaviest hit, followed closely by post. Pre-production cost least.

The Future
Is CG animation the future for TV series? Are traditional TV animation systems doomed to go the way of the dinosaur? Both extremes of thought ignore the creative core of animated filmaking. Nickelodeon's Taylor says, "Animation will never go away. It may be refined as digital applications impact it." He goes on, "CGI presents an exciting and different look. Still, the artists and their creativity are the main ingredients of animation production. Whether it's traditional or CGI, the tools used should match the creative spirit of the show."

Sylvia Edwards is a former school teacher who made a career leap into animation eight years ago. She has worked at Hanna-Barbera Cartoons, HBO Animation and Nickelodeon. Edwards has served as a production manager on a number of animated TV series, including: What a Cartoon!, Dexter's Laboratory, Cow & Chicken, Oh Yeah! Cartoons, ChalkZone and Dora the Explorer.


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