Search form

'Inspired 3D Short Film Production': Production Planning — Part 2

In the second of a multi-part series from the Inspired 3D Short Film Production book, Jeremy Cantor & Pepe Valencia begin to help you organize your project with detailed planning.

All images from Inspired 3D Short Film Production by Jeremy Cantor and Pepe Valencia, series edited by Kyle Clark and Michael Ford. Reprinted with permission.

All images from Inspired 3D Short Film Production by Jeremy Cantor and Pepe Valencia, series edited by Kyle Clark and Michael Ford. Reprinted with permission.

Be sure to check out Part 1 of Production Planning to learn about basics such as the production pipeline.

Budget Analysis

Before you attempt to schedule your production, determine the feasibility of your cinematic vision by constructing a complete budget analysis consisting of fairly accurate financial and time estimates.

If the film you are planning turns out to be too expensive or too time consuming for you to accomplish, it is much better to discover this before you begin than in the middle of production. By crunching the numbers and estimating the hours it will take to produce your film, you will discover whether or not you will need to take preliminary measures to make your production fit within the limits of your available money and time. However, if you choose to skip this important pre-production step and rush right into production without doing any sort of budget analysis, dont say we didnt warn you if you find yourself shelving your film indefinitely because you unexpectedly ran out of money or time halfway through (see Figure 8)!

Financial Estimate

To begin estimating how much your particular film is going to cost, consider the different types of production expenses you will potentially incur.

[Figure 8] Dont let this happen to you!

[Figure 8] Dont let this happen to you!

Types of Production Costs

Production costs generally fall under the following eight categories:

  • Computer hardware
  • Software
  • Office or studio supplies
  • Purchased digital assets
  • Training
  • Personnel
  • Marketing and distributing
  • Soft costs

Production Cost 1: Computer Hardware

Obviously the most important piece of hardware you will need is a decent computer. A PC or a Macintosh will generally be your best bet. Systems such as SGIs are indeed powerful, but they wont offer the same level of expandability or range of available software. Debates rage between PC lovers and Macintosh aficionados regarding superiority; however, you can effectively and efficiently create a successful short film on either platform. Macintoshes are generally considered to be more user friendly, but the PC world offers a wider selection of CG software choices. If you are looking to purchase a new computer and you cant decide which way to go, try to make your software selections first and then choose the platform accordingly. Also, if the majority of your friends are using one particular platform, it is a good idea to follow in their footsteps because you will have that much more advice and technical assistance available.

The five main elements to consider when purchasing a new computer are:

  • Processor speed
  • Operating system
  • Video card
  • RAM
  • Storage space


Processor or clock speed will determine how fast your computer can process data. Higher clock speeds will mean greater interactivity, as well as faster image processing and shorter rendering times. Try to get your hands on the fastest computer you can afford, but be aware that the speed difference between the fastest and the second fastest processors out there will be marginal, while the price difference might be substantial.

RAM (Random Access Memory) represents the amount of data that can be processed at any given time. Increased RAM will allow you to run more software simultaneously, multitask more effectively, load heavier scene files into your 3D packages, play back larger video and audio files, work with higher-resolution imagery and assemble more data into a single scene file or animatic. 512MB of RAM should be sufficient to create a fairly simple film, but we suggest at least 1GB or more.

An operating system is the overall software interface of your computer, which includes the desktop and your basic computer management tools. The most recent PCs generally come with Windows XP, while the latest Macintosh operating system is OS X. Many software packages run on either system, but a few will not. Machines with slightly older operating systems, such as Windows 2000 or Mac OS 9, will generally run most recent software, but if you are using a significantly more ancient operating system, upgrading is highly recommended.

Storage space refers to hard drive capacity. You need to make sure you have enough room to store all of your necessary files, which will include installed software, scene files, texture maps, audio files, reference imagery, rendered images and clips, preferences and so on. If feasible, it is preferable to have two or three smaller hard drives rather than a single huge one. Distributing different types of files between hard drives is advantageous for reasons of organization as well as safety. For instance, if you have three 60-GB hard drives rather than a single 180-GB unit, you can put your operating system and all of your installed software on drive C, your data files on drive D and your audio and reference files on drive E. This way, if drive C crashes (and hard drives occasionally do), you will indeed have to reinstall your operating system and your software, but your data wont be lost. You can also use your alternative drives as backup stations for one another.

A video card is the piece of hardware that processes your computers data into the imagery that is displayed on your monitor. Video cards can range in price from around $50 to as much as $3,000. You need a card that is powerful enough to display your graphics and play back your movie files effectively, but like everything else, this does not mean you need the top-of-the line product. Generally, something in the $300 to $600 range should be sufficient for your needs unless you are planning to create Finding Nemo on your desktop. When you purchase a new video card, make sure it supports recent OpenGL and DirectX shading languages because many graphics packages require such technical specifications.

[Figure 10] You might need some of this stuff as well.

[Figure 10] You might need some of this stuff as well.

Other Hardware Costs

In addition to these main computer components, there are quite a few other hardware items and supplies you might need for your film production (see Figure 10).

Obviously you must have a monitor, and youll want as much screen real estate as you can afford. We recommend at least a 19-inch screen to work comfortably in CG. A dual monitor setup is very convenient, but of course it will require the expense of a second monitor and an appropriate video card.

A second processor in your PC will allow you to multitask more effectively, which can greatly increase your productivity. Its like having two computers in one. But keep in mind that purchasing a second processor will almost double the price of your machine.

A CD drive is a hardware necessity. Without one, you wont be able to install most software packages. A DVD drive is a good idea for reviewing and capturing reference material. A CD burner is highly recommended, mainly for making backups. A DVD burner is actually preferable, because DVD-ROMs can hold about five times as much data as CD-ROMs. However, DVD burners are more expensive than CD burners, as are the blank discs.

A scanner is a recommended peripheral that you can use to digitize storyboards, reference imagery or traditional drawings and paintings, which can be used as texture maps or modeling templates. If you dont want to buy a scanner of your own, your local all-night print shop likely offers inexpensive scanning services. But realize that you can purchase a decent scanner for as little as $40 these days, so owning one is a fairly inexpensive convenience.

A printer is also a handy piece of hardware to own. As your project develops, you will likely find yourself needing hard copies of script drafts, schedules, shopping lists, hardware specifications, various production imagery and cover letters. Of course, you can bring such files to your local print shop on CD-ROM, but decent printers are not prohibitively expensive nowadays so we definitely recommend that you purchase one of your own. There are two basic types of printers inkjets and laser printers. Inkjets are less expensive, but laser printers deliver better image quality. Remember that printers are not expensive, but ink cartridges are. Look for compatible third-party cartridge stores on the Internet. If you think you will need a scanner as well as a printer, consider an all-in-one unit that will also generally include photocopying functionality. As always, balance your needs against your funds when you make your choice.

Digital pen tablets are nice to have, especially when you are working with drawing or painting software.

Speakers or headphones are necessary when you are working with audio files. Some computers have built-in speakers, but their quality is generally rather poor. You can purchase a decent set of external speakers for as little as $30, so it is generally a worthwhile expense.

A digital microphone will offer you an inexpensive method of bringing vocal tracks and sound effects into your computer.

Digital cameras are great for capturing reference images, and many can now record short movie files you can use for motion studies or even rotoscoping. Keep in mind that movies recorded on digital cameras generally have a maximum resolution of 320x240 and tend to be limited to 30 seconds or so in length. Such specs are generally fine for reference, but if you plan to film longer high-resolution videos, youll need a camcorder. However, converting small movie files from digital cameras is faster and less expensive than importing from a camcorder. A digital camera can also double as a scanner.

Camcorders are helpful for filming animation reference videos as well as potential rotoscope imagery (see Chapter 16, Animation) and videomatics (see Chapter 10, Story Reels and 2D Animatics). Most digital camcorders have still-picture functionality, but the resolution and quality generally doesnt match that of digital cameras.

To get a copy of the book, check out Inspired 3D Short Film Production by Jeremy Cantor and Pepe Valencia; series edited by Kyle Clark and Michael Ford: Premier Press, 2004. 470 pages with illustrations. ISBN 1-59200-117-3 ($59.99). Read more about the Inspired series and check back to VFXWorld frequently to read new excerpts.

Authors Jeremy Cantor (left) and Pepe Valencia.

Authors Jeremy Cantor (left) and Pepe Valencia.

Jeremy Cantor, animation supervisor at Sony Pictures Imageworks, has been working far too many hours a week as a character/creature animator and supervisor in the feature film industry for the past decade or so at both Imageworks and Tippett Studio in Berkeley, California. His film credits include Harry Potter, Evolution, Hollow Man, My Favorite Martian and Starship Troopers. For more information, go to

Pepe Valencia has been at Sony Pictures Imageworks since 1996. In addition to working as an animation supervisor on the feature film Peter Pan, his credits include Early Bloomer, Charlies Angels: Full Throttle, Stuart Little 2, Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone, Stuart Little, Hollow Man, Godzilla and Starship Troopers. For more information, go to his Webpage at