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Producing Pixels (Part 1 of 3) – Designing a 3D Animation Production Pipeline

I’ve had the pleasure of delivering a talk I named “Producing Pixels” to a group of aspiring animators, shedding light on designing a 3D animation production workflow, managing resources for a small CGI team, and touching on common pitfalls. And here I am adapting the valuable content for the blog.

Ronald Fong 3D Animation Production Planning (2)

So, if you’re a budding creative entrepreneur, looking to start a small, 5-6pax CGI team, or you’re a student looking into assembling a team for your final year project (FYP) / thesis short animated film, this article is for you. For context, here’s what a typical 3D animation production workflow looks like:

[0] Pre-Production[1] Prep Work[2] Animation + VFX[3] LNR[4] Finishing
Concept Deck
Storyboards
Animatic
Moodreel
Modelling
Texturing
Surfacing
Rigging
Lookdev
Styleframes
VFX RND
Layout
Character Animation
Camera Animation
VFX
Lighting
Rendering
Compositing
Edit
Sound Design
Colour Grading

A typical animation production – this information is wide-available online in various shapes and forms with different terminology and categorisation, but it’s by and large the same.

While the pipeline overview is essential information, it’s not exactly enough for you to have a smooth-sailing operation. We’d also need to consider the following:

Managing Hardware Resources

Introducing the Render Farm

Ah, the captivating world of 3D/CGI production! Buckle up, my friend, because, in this wild ride, it’s essential to have a firm grip on your rendering resources. Picture yourself in a professional setting, where we unleash the mighty power of a render farm to bring our projects to life. If you’re wondering what a render farm is, don’t worry, Rebusfarm has you covered with an explanation that’s juicier than a CGI fruit salad.

“I’ve tried my best” – The Convenient Self-consolation

Now, let’s talk about completing our projects on time, every time. I’ve seen a peculiar mindset among some folks—let’s call it the “I’ll work super fast and magically make it” mentality. But let me tell you, that’s a recipe for disaster, my friend. It’s like diving headfirst into a rabbit hole of delusion. These artists refuse to acknowledge the reality of how long tasks actually take (time-bidding), and they conveniently console themselves with a half-hearted “I tried my best.” Well, newsflash: that approach won’t cut it in the production world. Trust me, I’ve been down that treacherous road during my student years too.

The Round-Trip – A Workflow Test

Now, I know time-bidding can be as tricky as a chameleon playing hide-and-seek, especially for less experienced artists. But fear not, for I bring you the legendary technique known as “The Round-Trip.” It’s basically a workflow test that you conduct early on in the production process. It’s like going on a trial run, where you whip up a rough version of each step in the production pipeline.

Yep, from start to finish. Don’t do a half-way round-trip. Finish it.

By doing this, you get an accurate sense of how much time each process takes and the technical hurdles you might stumble upon. Btw, even Netflix has a Guide for their VFX Round-Trip Workflow for the VFX vendors they work with for their shows. And I believe other platforms and distributors have similar round-trip workflow standards.

Completion > Perfection – Perfectionism hinders Progress

Once you’ve embarked on this RND journey, you’ll gain the confidence of a CGI superhero ready to conquer any task. Plus, it’ll show you when it’s time to let go of those imperfections for the greater good (aka completion) of the project. Because let’s face it, perfectionism can be the supervillain that hinders progress. So, embrace the wild ride, and let the Round-Trip guide you to victory.

More to come

Hold onto your CGI hats, because this article is just the beginning of a trilogy of articles to help you with your 3D animation projects. In the next instalments, I’ll share practical software considerations, and how to assemble the dream creative team, and debunk some pesky common misconceptions. Together, we’ll navigate the treacherous seas of creative production, in hopes to remind ourselves to sidestep all those problems that often plague young animators and designers.

Oh, if you find any valuable nuggets of information here, don’t be a CGI Scrooge—share them with your fellow creatives. Let’s build a community where knowledge flows freely and the magic of CGI shines. Until then, keep creating, keep dreaming, and keep pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in the realm of pixels and polygons!

For now, if you’re interested in animation producing, head over to Zul’s article on identifying the needs and wants in 3D animation and VFX.

Edit: The next instalment is up: Producing Pixels (Part 2 of 3) — Choosing Your 3D Animation Software

Ronald Fong

Author Ronald Fong

A CGI animation director and educator who blends storytelling prowess with visual finesse, shaping his expertise in the creative realm. From technically-driven 3D animator to founder of Masonry Studios, he navigates challenges, shares insights, and empowers the next generation of creatives through tutorials, talks, and business wisdom.

More posts by Ronald Fong

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