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Description of an Animation Studio

Animation projects, and teams, can vary greatly. Creating animations requires professionals who have been trained in both fine arts and digital arts. The required skill-sets of these artist's also varies greatly depending on the size of the team and the animations being produced.

An important thing to consider is the time it takes to produce high quality animations. When you consider it takes a team of hundreds anywhere up to 7 years to produce a feature film, you begin to understand that just a few minutes of animation from a much smaller studio can easily take months to produce.

This outline is to give a better understanding of the kind of people who work in the business of animation as well as their roles and the process of production:

Project Lead—It is important to have one person who is coordinating all of the efforts of the artists. This person would be the main point of contact with collaborators, and if no Director is present, this person would act as director of the project. Having a single point of contact throughout the majority of a project is important so the artists can stay on task and so the client can better coordinate communication

Art Director—Art Directors can be synonymous with Project Lead in a smaller studio, but if size allows, an Art Director acts as the lead of smaller groups of artists. Depending on the size of the team and scope of the project you may have multiple art directors that handle different aspects of production. Ideally this person would manage up to about 5 or 6 artists. The difference between a project lead and art director is that the art director tends to have more expertise in software and techniques used by the artist and can provide assistance and expertise to the lower level artists. A project lead primarily serves as the line of communication between the client and studio.

Writer/Storyboard—Not every studio has an individual solely responsible for this role, but it is a very important role. The writer and/or storyboarder works closely with the Project Lead and Art director to define the scope and the direction of the animation. Since creating 3D animations is such a time consuming process it is important to lay out every shot beforehand so the artist's don't waste any time producing work that will end up being cut.

Artists—The core of the team, artist's provide the majority of the actual work that is seen in the final production. The artist's ideally operate in groups of 5 or 6, having some area of expertise in one of the following areas:

  • Concept Artists—In the early phases of production concepts for the final look and feel of the animation and objects within the animation need to be created. This person sometimes is the modeler but at the very least, works closely with the modelers who will be creating the final 3D objects and scenes.
  • Modeling/Sculpting/Texturing—Depending on the size of the team these tasks are combined into one or separated into 3 tasks. This group handles production of the models or objects you see on the screen. All characters, props, etc. have to be virtually built, detailed, and have color applied to them.
  • Animators—Modelers make the objects, animators make them move. Everything in a 3D movie has to be told exactly how to behave, how to move, how to squash and stretch. Animators specialize in making this movement believable and fun to watch.
  • Lighting/Rendering—The world of CG has been designed to operate as closely as possible to our real world so virtual lighting is necessary to show off models and scenes in animation. Lighting artist's spend their time creating lighting on a project by project basis that best shows off the scene while doing their best to minimize render time. Rendering is the process of translating the final 3D files into frames that can be composited together to produce the final animation.
  • Visual Effects—Visual Effects are sort of the digital version of special effects. This team handles all of the more real life physics based animations and simulations. This includes fluid simulations, explosions, dynamic destruction of objects, and many more things that require simulations to be run. They can also work closely with the compositing team as their work tends to be the most complicated as well as one of the later stages of production.
  • Compositing—One of the more unknown tasks in 3D is compositing. After all the frames have been rendered out the compositor starts to put the pieces together. 3D animations are almost never rendered out in one pass. To produce production level visuals, multiple passes are required. This also aids in speeding up edits after the fact. Lighting, reflection, shadows, and many other things can be rendered into separate files so they can all be edited during this phase of post production. Editing in this phase is much cheaper in both time and resources then re-rendering from the 3D files. The compositor produces what the audience will finally see.

Small teams—(approximately 1 to 5)—Smaller teams tend to be made up of professionals with a more general background. Most people on the team will have to have at least some familiarity with all of the above mentioned skills. However, with a team of 4 or 5, a studio is freed up a bit to allow artist's to focus more on a single task, thus allowing the studio to work faster and create higher quality animations.

Mid-level teams—(approximately 5-25)—Teams of this size allow for more specialization. Artists' can focus more on their area of expertise and therefore quality vs. time tends to increase. With this size team, the above outline is most accurate. Large teams - (approximately 25-200) - This is the kind of team that produces movie visuals. Artists are very focused on only one aspect of production, and specialized art directors get to focus on just one aspect of production.

This page last reviewed on March 2, 2011

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