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

In the third 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 and Part 2 of Production Planning to learn about basics such as the production pipeline and budget analysis.

Production Cost 2: Software

It goes without saying that you will need a sufficient CG modeling and animation package to create a CG film (see Figure 11). There are many choices available, each with individual strengths, weaknesses, quirks and price tags. Some of the most common are as follows:

  • Animation:Master from Hash Inc. $299. Available for both Windows and Macintosh computers.

  • Carrara Studio 3 from Eovia (formerly Infini-D from MetaCreations). $399. Macintosh only.

  • Cinema 4D from MAXON. $600. Windows and Macintosh.

  • LightWave from NewTek. About $1,600 for the full version. Windows and Macintosh.

  • Discreets 3ds max. About $3,500. Windows only.

  • SOFTIMAGE|XSI from Avid. Price can range from about $4,000 to $14,000 depending on the version and the status of Avids promotional discounts. Available for Windows, Linux or SGI.

  • Maya Complete or Maya Unlimited from Alias. $1,999 and $6,999, respectively. Available for Windows, Macintosh, Linux or SGI systems.
[Figure 11] CG software packages come with a variety of specific features and price tags.

[Figure 11] CG software packages come with a variety of specific features and price tags.

All of these packages offer full functionality in the areas of modeling, animation, lighting and rendering. Some are better with audio file handling, while others have some degree of compositing capabilities. Depending on the versions, procedural effects such as particles, cloth and hair are also included in some of these packages. Discounted student versions are available on the more expensive packages.

Before you purchase a piece of CG software, be sure to check its technical requirements to make sure your operating system is compatible and your computer specs are sufficient.

In addition to programs you will use for creating the digital assets and imagery for your film, you might also need software for other production tasks, such as writing, organizing and scheduling. These include word-processing programs, such as Microsoft Word or WordPerfect, spreadsheet programs, such as Microsoft Excel, and database software, such as FileMaker Pro. Other handy software utilities might include file renamers, screen grabbers and virus scanners.

Investigate your software possibilities and choices with regard to functionality and affordability. Visit their websites for information. Read reviews and ask around. Download and evaluate trial versions whenever possible. Also consider what your friends or colleagues are using. If your choices are consistent with theirs, you will be able to share information and files much easier.

[Figure 12] A comfortable and efficient work area will help ensure a high level of artistry and productivity.

[Figure 12] A comfortable and efficient work area will help ensure a high level of artistry and productivity.

Production Cost 3: Office and Studio Supplies

A quiet and organized place to work will help to maintain your productivity and sanity (see Figure 12).

A desk can be as simple as an old door propped up on a few cinderblocks or as sophisticated as an ergonomic workstation with keyboard drawers and footrests.

Either way, make sure your work surface is solid and you have enough room to work comfortably. If you need room for printers and scanners and perhaps a bit of surface space for writing and drawing, you might need to get creative and build extensions or additional shelving on which to place your digital tools. Wide monitor risers are helpful because they allow your keyboard to be pushed underneath and out of the way when you need to use pencil and paper.

Take measures to avoid conditions such as repetitive stress injury. You will potentially be spending long uninterrupted hours on your film, so make sure you dont sacrifice your physical health for the sake of your art. If any part of your arm, hand or back aches or tingles after working for a couple of hours or so, investigate the causes and solutions of these conditions immediately. If the symptoms are ignored for too long, serious and permanent damage can result.

Get a chair that is comfortable enough to sit in for hours at a time, but not so comfortable that you melt away into blissful slumber in the middle of your work sessions.

Other necessary office equipment might include bookshelves, lights, a mirror for motion study, surge protectors, tripods for your cameras or camcorders, a digital voice recorder, art supplies and file cabinets. If you need to purchase such items, be sure to include them in your budget estimates.

Production Cost 4: Purchased Digital Assets and Other Computer Expenses

It might be possible and appropriate for you to purchase certain digital assets that you dont have the time, desire or skills to build yourself. These include the following:

  • Character, prop and environment models can be purchased and sometimes even downloaded for free from various Internet sites, such as,, and

  • Character puppets are not as easy to find as models, but you can locate a few good ones at websites such as Turbosquid and Software plug-ins, such as The Setup Machine from, can provide interactive solutions for creating custom character rigs without requiring extensive knowledge in that particular discipline.

  • Texture maps are also available from sites such as, and

  • Image filters for programs such as Photoshop are also available for creating a wider variety of styles and effects for your final images.

  • You can purchase sound effects on CDs at your local music store or download them from a variety of websites.

  • You can purchase royalty-free songs and scores in CD form as well as from various Internet sites. You can also license copyrighted songs. This can sometimes be a formidable expense, but if your film absolutely relies on a specific piece of music, you will need to add corresponding licensing fees into your budget calculations.

  • You can also find and purchase photographs that might be used as reference material, background imagery or texture maps from stock photography books. A quick Internet search will also result in a very large number of sites on which you can buy and download photographs and copyright-free illustrations from agencies as well as individuals. Try, for example.

  • Program scripts and various material shaders and rendering algorithms can also be downloaded from various websites, such as, to expand the functionality of your software packages.

See Appendix C for more information on where you can acquire some of the above digital assets.

Other computer expenses you might run into include Internet fees, website hosting fees, customer support fees and, of course, repairs.

[Figure 13] Dont forget to consider distribution costs, such as blank discs, labels and postage.

[Figure 13] Dont forget to consider distribution costs, such as blank discs, labels and postage.

Production Cost 6: Personnel

You may be fortunate enough to have volunteers or fellow students as your teammates; however, you might actually have to pay for your crew. Keep in mind that in addition to their salaries, you might be required to provide them with equipment as well. Voice actors will also sometimes come with a price. Other personnel expenses you might face include installation and repair technicians, couriers and technical support providers.

Production Cost 7: Marketing and Distribution

Unfortunately, once your film is complete, you will still have to spend some money to allow your desired audiences to see your work. Such marketing and distribution costs include the following:

  • Video or film recording fees might be required for transferring your short onto necessary formats for your intended display purposes.

  • Duplicating your film so you have multiple copies for festival entries and job interviews might also cost you a few bucks (see Figure 13).

  • You will have to purchase blank CDs or DVDs if you plan to distribute your film in digital format.

  • Postage and envelopes. Unfortunately, Internet connections are not always fast or robust enough for e-mailing or FTPing potentially large movie files to festivals and HR departments.

  • You might also have to pay entry fees for some contests and festivals.

  • There are also printing costs for labels, attached resumes, or promotional items, such as posters or business cards.
  • Internet hosting fees will cost a bit too, if you want to use a personal website as your presentation locale.

Production Cost 8: Soft Costs

In addition to the expenses directly associated with your short film production, there might be a few indirect costs that you dont necessarily need to factor into your budget analysis, but you should at least acknowledge. For example, if you take a sabbatical from your day job or extend your college stay to produce a short film, realize that your existing or potential income might be reduced or perhaps completely eradicated, which may damage your financial situation or your credit rating.

But also keep in mind that the creation of a high-quality short film will very likely be worth a bit of financial sacrifice. The potential rewards can often make the risk quite worthwhile.

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