Pre-production is the first stage of the production pipeline, and is one of the most crucial and fundamental steps. Designing and planning something is the key to a successful finished product as you don’t have to make things up as you go along. It is a step that creates the building blocks for the rest of the pipeline. Character sketching, story planning, a summary of who will do what jobs, etc are some of the things that are planned during this stage.
Concept design is probably the biggest part of this stage, and it acts as the culmination of ideas that will eventually lead to the final product. It often starts with a lot of ideas thrown around that are all fairly relevant. For example if a team is trying to design a monster they will be chucking ideas out like its proportions and asymmetrical detail etc. Then concept artists (depending on how big the team is) will take that draw up some quick sketches to try and visualize the ideas discussed beforehand. From here the best representation is picked and the rest of the pipeline begins.
3D modelling is the second stage of the production pipeline, and this is where the ideas from the concept design in pre-production is formed. Artists use reference and 3D modelling programs such as Blender, 3DS max, maya, cinema 4D, etc to sculpt and create a 3D version of 2D sketches. This art can be hard to learn at first as the learning curve can be fairly difficult, however once you know the fundamentals it is all based on practice, practice, and more practice. 3D modelling would be considered more of a technical art due to its nature.
UV Mapping is the process of creating seams on the 3D model in order to literally unwrap the model into what i called a UV Unwrap. Much like how you can fold a cube out into its most basis shapes of 6 squares you can also fold out a 3D model into multiple different triangles. When modelling you take into consideration the fact that ngons (5 or more sided shapes) would ruin the UV mapping process, and therefore only model into quads or triangles (as quads can be split evenly into triangles).
Texturing and Shading
Through the use of tools such as Photoshop you are able to create very detailed textures over the top of your UV unwrap. There are multiple different types of layers and textures that can be used during this phase, some being ambient occlusion, diffuse maps, normal maps. Ambient occlusion is a texture that simulates shadows on the 3D model, so you are able to imprint a shadow onto the model without actually having to have a light. Diffuse map is just the colouring, and basic textures of the model. This is usually layered beneath the ambient occlusion layer so that the shadows can get some colouring. Last of all is normal maps, which are made to bake on high detailed bumps and other little details instead of actually having to model them in.
Rigging is the process of putting bones into your 3D model in order to prepare for animation. By using the process of parents and children for bones you are able to swiftly animate the 3D model as freely as you like. Rigging itself can be fairly difficult, especially when trying to set up a face rig where there are muscles etc. When it comes to basic bone structure it isn’t too difficult as the fairly large bones are usually pretty obvious, especially if you have basic anatomy study. The process of rigging can be fairly tedious, however it leads into one of the better and more entertaining parts of the production pipeline, which is animation.
Animation is arguably one of the most entertaining steps, and is also a fundamental part of translating the message in which you are trying to convey. A lot of the time you are able to use IK controls and other processes to move the arms and feet in a more simple manner. Once you understand how things move, and have a fairly good understanding of the way you should position something, it becomes a fun process. One of the more difficult things to achieve when doing animation is the correct timing and key frames in order to make something look fluid. Even professionals can sometimes have trouble trying to find the right frame in which they need to use to make something look right.
Lighting is all about the correct angles and colours in order to make something look better than it actually is. This can help a lot as there is often times where your model might be lacking in some parts and simple lighting techniques can really polish it up. Having a good understanding of colours in general helps a lot with this process, so knowing colour rules such as complimentary, analogous, triadic etc will help. For example blue and orange is a great complimentary combo when being shone from a fairly great distance. Lowering the opacity of these lights and having them just subtly affect the model can greatly increase the quality. There are many situations where lighting will help, as it can increase the overall ambiance of a product.
Rendering is a technical process where having the right settings will seriously make everything work well. You need to be careful in this stage as if you font set it up just right you could add hours to your overall rendering time. Finding the point where the amount of samples that is rendered is negligible helps a lot as you aren’t wasting more ram than you should, and there isn’t a noticeable difference in the quality. For large scale projects and animations there is usually a render farm that renders a few frames each, in order to produce the best quality possible. These are for big budget companies like Disney and Pixar however.
Compositing is the process of using multiple different layers of VFX, models, textures etc in order to create a final piece/product. Colour correction and visual effects can greatly improve the overall product as it can hide any small details which might look wrong, and it can highlight the parts that look really well. Compositing is more of a film thing however it is still useful for animators to learn and understand.
Illya Kushinov is an artist that inspired me heavily with his artwork. He has a very mature theme to his deviant art, and constantly produces art that amazes me. The detail in the eyes are always in never ceases to amaze me.
Header Image – Bugatti Veyron – 3D Model