ANI:3D Computer Character Animation Main Page

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Successful animators must be more than good artists – they must be “actors,” able to convey thought and emotion through their characters’ appearance and movements. Building on the concepts covered in Fundamentals of Animation, 3D Computer Character Animation addresses the entire character design and animation process, from initial studies to the design and acting. It also covers modeling and animation techniques using 3D computer animation software. Over the course of this workshop, you will learn about traditional art and animation concepts utilized by successful character animators. You will also demonstrate these techniques yourself in a number of hands-on projects, including executing a convincing character animation of your own design.

  • Create your own 3D character animation: Use advanced modeling techniques to model, texture, and animate a 3D character of your own design.
  • Learn what makes an animation work: Examine principles of acting, movement analysis, anatomy, and facial structure to make your animations more convincing.
  • Tell your story: Reinforce your traditional fine art, performance art, storytelling, and creative writing skills as you plan and execute your own animations.


The 3D Production Pipeline

The following list is an overview of the major steps needed to successfully complete any animation. Some of the steps, such as preproduction and post production, can be broken out into their own steps. Other steps will be covered only lightly until you become far more proficient in the use of the applications. Still, the pipeline will help you set up a useful routine as you learn to create your own animations. You will notice that the following chapters of this book parallel the pipeline you are learning about here.


Before you even get started on a project, you need to have an idea a goal, a story, characters, a look, a feel, and so much more. All these things need to be thought up and carefully planned before the animation gets into full production. Preproduction takes a huge amount of time compared to the other steps in the production line. The team researches, the story is written, the storyboards are made which show all the important decisions and shots in a movie, the visual concepts are created, the characters and places are designed, etc. This is one of the most critical parts of the production pipeline, because if your idea for your animation isn't thought out and planned, then all the other steps after are going to suffer and your animation most likely won't turn out very good. So plan ahead.


At this point the character model sheets are taken and are made into 3D. The key here is to keep the spirit of the 2D designs. This can be hard since digital 3D is a completely different medium. Lots of studios will make real-life 3D sculptures out of clays and plastics so they have an easier time making the jump to digital 3D. Modelers also have to keep in mind how the model is going to have to move. Models that don't have good edge loops or don't have enough polygons (polys) in the right places won't look right when they move around. Modelers have a lot to think about, but if they manage to bridge the gap between concept and the computer then truly amazing works of art can be made.


Texturing is the process where the model is painted. A lot of details can be put into textures that are not in the models. This can make your models seem a lot more realistic without adding lots of polys and ruining render time or frame rates.


Models look pretty bland until proper lighting is put on them. This is what really makes models look like they are real and belong in their environments. It can be a bit tricky to get the hang of good lighting, but it's the best way to make your models and textures look really cool.


Cameras need to be set up right away, because they allow complete control of your point of view. You need to make sure all your characters are in view and what they are doing is clear to the viewer. It's important to have your scene all planned out and staged correctly. In video games, it's a lot harder because your animations need to look good from ALL points of view since the character is being controlled by the player and sometimes even the Camera.


Rigging is the art of preparing the model to move. In this workshop you will link multiple parts together to make the model move. In more advanced animations there will be bone structures, forward and inverse kinematics, controllers and morphing. This can get pretty technical once you get into it, but if the rigger does a good job, then the animatiors have a much easier time animating.


Animation brings everything to life. The animators make several passes at one animation. They start by first having the model slide around without moving legs or arms, which looks pretty funny, but it's important for timing and staging, then they slowly build up detail until they get a final animation. The key here is to have lots of character and to exaggerate. This is where the story is told and the emotion and interest is generated.


Once the scene is all done it is then rendered. This is the process where the computer takes all the lighting information, any hair/fur/cloth simulation, animation particle systems, everything and puts it all together in single frames. You never really know what it's going to look like until you see your work rendered out. In big projects, like the Pixar movies, they use huge computer banks to render out their movies because of all the complicated calculations and the level of quality they need the render to be.

Post Production

After the movie is all rendered out, all the different scenes are cut together, sound effects and music are added, and other final tweaks. Then the final product is ready to be shown.

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