A glimpse into the ‘Animation Industry’

“A picture is worth a thousand words”- we all have heard this idiom several times. Apparently, the pictures were not moving when this idiom was popularized by Frederick Barnard. Otherwise, he would have said “A moving picture is worth hundred thousand words”. It is true - as long as there is the momentum in that movement. Bringing the required momentum, thrust, and energy in a ‘moving picture’ is the crux of the picture animation.

Animation – is a way of making a film by using a lot of hand drawn images with different poses, lined up and watched at a fast speed - creates the illusion of movement. Not only kids, but many adults, whom I know are very fond of animation. I am a big fan of the classic collection ‘Tom and Jerry’ – it’s a stress buster for me at times.

Be it classics like ‘The Simpsons’ ‘SpongeBob SquarePants’ and many more or our own desi ‘Chhota Bheem’ - have you ever wondered how these wonderful creations are made- the process and threads? Let’s take a quick peek behind the scenes.

There are different types of animations – Traditional 2D animation, Digital 2D animation, 3D animation, Flash animation, Flip book animation and many more. Since I was a part of traditional 2D animation for many years, lets discuss the process of the same.

Animation process is divided into three segments: Pre-production, Production and Post-production.

Pre-production:the story concept which is approved by all the concerned, will in turn become a full length story, and the same will be further developed into a script/screenplay for the movie.

Script has every detail of the location and the character for each scene – like exterior or interior location, day/night/dawn/dusk, number of characters in that scene, character’s expression happy/sad/thinking, sitting/standing/sleeping, what the character is wearing and the dialogue of each character. Also the action description including the sound effects.

In case of the episodes, the main theme will remain constant– for eg: Chhota Bheem, every episode will have the same main characters (Bheem, Chutki, Raju Jaggu etc), dressing style, the characteristics, Bheem’s love for laddus, his best friend Chutki including the village Dholakpur throughout the episodes unless they show the characters travelling elsewhere.

Scripts will be developed for episodes- based on the episodic length. Each episode will have a different story. Generally, the number of episodes for each series will vary from 11 to 104.

Designing –Creative director of the show will conduct a meeting with all the designers and will read out the script to them. He then gives ideas for designing, colour combinations and design style to follow. Post discussion, Designers will come up with different styles and ideas, which will be further deliberated and one particular style will be freezed for the show.

Designing the characters, locations and props will take substantial time. Each character will have a turnaround design, to give an idea on how the character will look at every angle. Including the expressions of the character. Then the designed characters, locations and props will be coloured accordingly.

Audio/voice recording: the professional voice actors do the voice recording at the recording studio after reading the script. Each character will have its own signature style. Audio helps the animator to understand the dialogue length, so that the action will be wrapped in the stipulated time. The expression will also be matched accordingly.

Story boarding/ Animatics: is a visual description of all the scenes like a comic strip with action notes, which gives a clear idea to the animator in order to visualise on how the action of each character will go on.

Shortly after storyboarding, ‘Animatics’ is created which is a simplified movie of the comic strip (storyboard) along with the voices.

Production: Once the storyboard is approved, the production phase starts, based on the instructions given by pre-production team.

Layouts – Various angles of the location such as overhead shots, far away shots, close-up shots with a different perspective will be designed as per the story following the key location designs provided

BG painting - all the Layouts will be painted, based on the colour palettes finalised by pre-production team. Once they are painted will be sent for compositing.

Rough animation – taking the reference from the storyboard, animator will enhance the action and expressions and draws rough poses, which are generally with a thick pencil and generally done in multiple lines. He will give the camera instructions on a x-sheet.

Clean-up - Clean-up artist will clean all the rough poses done by the animator with a thin sharp pencil. The drawings should not lose the expression which is intended by the animator and also should adhere the model sheet. Off model characters will be rejected.

In-betweens- In-between artist will add more drawings to smoothen the animation movement. Else the action will become very irregular and jerky. After in-betweening, they will make a ‘Line test’ to see how well the sequence is flowing.

Scanning: All the cleaned up drawings and in-between drawings will be scanned and saved digitally in the computer by naming the files appropriately.

Ink & paint: From here on the process is completely digital. Each drawing will be coloured using digital paint software, taking the reference from main model pack and of course on the pre-production team’s instructions.

Compositing: The compositors will import the coloured backgrounds, and the coloured characters scanned. Following the x-sheet instructions, given by the animators, they create the camera moves and add digital effects like highlights and shadows for the characters. Then the final movie is rendered- which is a time consuming process. Their ends the production process.

Post Production: Once the final movie is ready, it is checked for the concluding overall timing. It cannot exceed the stipulated duration more than 15 seconds nor can it be shorter than 15 seconds.

Music: movie file is sent to the musician to score background music and sound effects. At times the Voice/Audio corrections will also be done, so the file goes simultaneously along with the instructions to the voice recording studio as well.

Mixing: In this process, the final video will be mixed with the final audio – both music and dialogues. The final output will be delivered as per the mentioned specifications either Blu-ray or a DVD (video file)

Apart from all the above process, there is a whole lot of work which needs to be done in parallel like Scheduling, Clientele communication, Manpower planning, Budget allocation, Negotiation, Retakes, Reviews, Reports, Broadcasters evaluation and final delivery - and that’s exactly ‘We’ the Managerial team come into the picture 

And that’s how we get to see such famous and beautiful creations. Do you know – the Disney productions ‘Sleeping beauty’ took 8 years to complete and ‘The Simpsons’ movie took as long as 9 years!!