Skyline Postmortem

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Introduction and Overview

Team Skyline worked on pre­production for the year­long animation project. Our story, Shattered, is based on a Greek mythology of Helios and his son Phaethon. The sun God Helios grants his only mortal son one wish, which comes at a cost. Inspired by ancient Greek pottery we will be using 3D animation with a 2D style to portray to tell the story visually. The expected length of the animation is around 3 minutes and 30 seconds. Our target audience animation festival attendees.

The goal of the pre­production is making next semester’s production team work smoothly through each stage, including story, rigging, animation, special effects and rendering.

Our Final Deliverables are storyboard, animatic, character and environment sheets, pipeline, and a shot breakdown spreadsheet.

The pre­production team is composed of four members: Simon Xia is the producer and the technical artist; Nafisa Baker is the director and the co­producer; Megan Kennedy and Chong Hu are artists working on storyboard and concept arts. The instructors are Ruth Comley, John Dessler and Ralph Vituccio.

What went well (Or What Went Right)

Teamwork

As a team, we were able to support each other and work well with one another. Although we had few people, we were able to get the work done on time, even if it required us to take on multiple roles. We became each other’s support system and worked hard to get our ideas across. Not only did we enjoy working together, we are very proud of what we accomplished this semester and look forward to seeing the final product.

Compromise

In order to succeed, we really had to kill our babies. It was difficult at first, and this took some time to adjust, but being able to step back and think rationally about what was best for the project helped the most. There were many times when we became attached to an idea or a visual and could not let it go. However, taking a step back and thinking objectively made the story shine and helped get our visuals across as well.

Iteration process

Our iteration process took time to get going. Once we figured it out, the process went smoothly. We started by acting things out and doing quick sketches on sticky notes, then moved to camera blocking in a 3D Package like 3DS Max. After we got the OK from faculty, we began to draw over that blocked sequence. It helped in telling the story we wanted to tell and getting our vision across, and can definitely be implemented in other animation projects.

Story

Having a story that was already established helped us move quicker. We had the overall story, we just needed to show it in our own way. This was especially helpful when having to make compromises. No one was overly attached to ‘their’ story, it was ‘our’ story and we only wanted the best for it.

What could have been better (or what went wrong)

Too few people

With four members, we were often doing the work of three people each. Although this is expected in the ETC, having at least 5 members in the beginning would help the process a lot. In that there should be at least 2 artists, 1 story person and 2 tech people. Our story person was also a tech person, but could not help with the tech because they were busy with the story, which slowed down the tech and pipeline iteration. In addition, the producer should not also fall to the tech people or the artists. Tech and art are very heavy workloads, therefore it is not advised to do both in one semester because producing has its own challenges as well.

Pipeline Issues

Having one person on tech and pipeline was very difficult. In the first semester of the animation project, there should be at least two dedicated tech people. This way the tech pipeline can go smoothly and there can be more iteration and testing time. This way, the next semester students do not need to do that testing on their own. Although story is important, figuring out tech ahead of time would be most beneficial.

Artist Workload

Although we had two artists, the way we separated the work was not well defined until too late in the process. This lead to repetition and a feeling that we were just spinning our wheels. A better division of tasks and a balanced workload would have helped in the iteration process. In a small team like this, artists also need to work collaboratively versus doing their own work and waiting for feedback.

Story Iteration process

Figuring out our story iteration process took too long. The next animation project should definitely come up with a storyboard iteration process before halves in order to move the story process along faster. Our iteration process worked well for us, but it came a little later than we needed it to be. Ideally, the next animation project should have the iteration process down either by halves or before it at the very least.

Communication

Sometimes, we got caught up in our own work and did not verify what the other person was thinking. Although we all worked well together, one person may not share the same vision as the other even though the words were understood. Therefore, it is really important to sit down and explain your thought process thoroughly. Stick figure drawings, pantomime and dioramas are often more helpful than simply verbally explaining your idea.

Room Layout

We learned far too late in the process our project room arrangement was a detriment to the project itself. We had the artists separate in one of the smaller rooms, which cut us all off from each other and hindered our communication and workflow. In hindsight it would have been better if we were all in the same room (or the project was located in a room where that was the only option [sans the pillar room]) and all desks could be arranged so we can see what each other was working on. This would allow us to critique faster and catch things before too many hours went into working on it, as well as staying up to date on what eachothers progress was.

Lessons Learned and Conclusion

We learned was that a four person team cannot and should not try to divide itself like a production studio. Each of us tried to work like separate departments, like the ‘Storyboard Department’ or ‘Effects Department’ and didn’t pay much attention to what the other ‘departments’ were doing since they did not directly influence our work. By doing this, we created problems in communication and getting everybody on the same page, since we all were so focused in on our own ‘departments’. In retrospect, we should have all been involved in every aspect of the process (Story/Art/Tech); knowing what everybody was working on and knowing the troubles they were having, and allowing us to have worked more efficiently and effectively throughout the semester. This would have been achieved easier if we were all working in the same room.

We should have also come up with our iteration process sooner. We lost a lot of time doing things slowly and drawing things out frame by frame. Once again, we are not a production studio, and do not have the luxury of time and resources. A small team means that we need to think fast and work fast. Creating our own iteration process should have come much sooner than it did.

In conclusion, we had a few hard lessons learned from this semester, but not without some bright spots along the way. The takeaway is that this entire process was a learning process. We learned how to iterate our ideas quickly, how to communicate as a group and most importantly, we learned that what works for a big studio is ill suited for smaller teams. We are proud of the story we have created and the unique style that came with it. We cannot wait until May to see the final product!