Para Productions Postmortem

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Summary

This was the first semester where the animation semester was structured to develop work along the entire animation pipeline. Our team Para Productions was tasked with producing a completed animated short using materials provided by our instructors. Simultaneously, we needed to develop a separate package of pre-production materials that we are passing to the spring semester. Working on both pre-production and production allowed us to see each aspect of the animation process from concept through final editing to better understand how they work together.

This semester our team developed the production piece: Race 2420. In this piece there are five fish-like creatures with unique personalities who are racing through a steampunk environment. This piece presented many challenges including things like unique fluid materials, non-biped rigs, expressions in non-human characters and different types of visual effects. We are excited about the completed piece we have made this semester and are looking to submit it to several student film festivals in the near future.

Our team also produced a material package for next semester’s production piece, Lovers Meet. We designed a piece that combines both live action and 3d animation. One of the key feature of this piece is the transition between the live action part and the 3D animation world. We grounded our story around the work of Leonid Afremov and his colorful and impressionistic oil paintings. From there we developed story, storyboards, Live-acted animatics, and several technical tests to pass to the next team.

With this new set up, the semester was very busy for our team and we learned a lot through this new process.

What went right

There were a lot of things that our team feels like we have accomplished and were successful this semester. We had a really good team this semester. Each person has his/her strength that could contribute to the projects.  Team members were passionate and excited about the project and were willing to work extra hours to make small tweaks to improve the quality of the project. Especially for the production piece, even during the last few days before the final presentation, we were still making small changes to some of the scenes to make them look better. The idea of having both pre and production happening at the same time was a good thing to see the complexity of balancing two concurrent projects. The shifting of workflow works nicely as the 3D artists and technical artists could use experience when they worked on the production piece to better prepare the pre-production materials to pass on to the next semester. In general our team communicated effectively on the production piece and was able to work out meeting times and a schedule that worked for our team.

               One of the strengths of the production piece was the unique pipeline that was developed to help us work efficiently. Because of the short 15 week semester schedule we needed to be able to complete our individual pieces without blocking others from completing theirs. We created a non-linear pipeline that allowed us to do this efficiently. Besides, as the materials for the production piece were tailored to meet each team member’s interests. We were able to figure out who is best doing what in the early weeks, and thus developed a pipeline based on it.

               On the pre-production side, we feel that the choice to combine live action film and animation together as well as the choice of art style has posed some interesting challenges both visually and technically for next semester, which has attracted student interest in the animation project. We also feel the decision to bring in the live actors was useful because it gave us a sense of gesture, expression, and pacing for the piece.

               For both pieces we feel our team responded well to faculty and guest feedback. For the pre-production materials we met with several faculty members for suggestions on our story early on in the semester and when we were shooting the animatic we asked faculty to help with camera angles as well as showing emotion and expressing character in our pieces. We also gathered a lot of feedback for Race 2420 from faculty and guests during softs presentation and BVW festival so we were able to work on some changes to make the story more understandable.

What could have gone better

While there are many things our team is proud of this semester, there were still a lot of learning occurring throughout and several things we would have liked to improve looking back. On the whole, our biggest challenges and weaknesses we faced this semester were in the areas of production, organization and communication.

As there was no full-time producer on the team, the production has suffered a lot. The production piece works out very well was because of the passion of the team members instead of a solid schedule. So the team’s time split between the two projects was unbalanced with most of the work for pre-production being rushed in the last few weeks.

We also did not have a designated “writer” on our team which led to us getting stuck in developing story longer that we probably should have which pushed everything back a bit. Even though we were still able to lock the scripts by halves, it still harmed our schedule a bit. After that, we relied too much on our 2D concept artist to provide concept art for more technical tests and 3D mock up, but we were not being able to keep track of it. For weeks we were not able to get the concept we needed, and we had to make a decision to use reference art instead of concept art very late in the semester.  

We hope the next semester’s team would learn from our lessons to have a clear and solid schedule at the beginning of the semester. It is very essential to make sure everyone gets his/her work done on time so the team is able to finish the whole piece on time .

While our team had good initiative and communication for each project, the communication between the projects would need to be improved. We think for the next semester, it would be very beneficial to include the whole team for both production and pre-production meetings with the faculties. and each team member should keep updating the stuff he/she is working on with the whole team.

This new project setup of having two concurrent projects was new to everyone, and our team struggled with how to schedule and organize the demands of both projects. Our folder structure, while we tried to keep both projects separate, folders quickly got busy and disorganized. A better, clearer archive/folder system would be something we recommend next semester stay on top of.

We had two co-producers this semester, and we lacked in communication and organization here as well. How the producing tasks were distributed between the two producers was not clear at the beginning of the semester, which led to a lot of confusion and harm the scheduling. And we also could have done a better job of things like setting meeting agendas and email communications in and outside the team.

There were a lot emails that were sent to producers only. Sometimes this include important information like playtesting schedule and presentation rehearsal time slots. We highly recommend the producers in the following semesters to send out ALL these kind of emails to everyone in the team. This would help with communication within the team and reduce confusion for schedules.

Overall, our team has experienced and learned a lot over this past semester. We were able to build on and strengthen our specific skills as well as learn from each other. We have shown that this new dual format for the animation project semester can work, but it is a big challenge and through our experience there needs to be better organization and balance between the projects.