*This article is the 4th in a 5 part series on Animation Production Management by Ranjit (Tony) Singh.*
AAA: Are there any differences in the methods used to manage animation productions across the different mediums and formats?
Tony: To fully understand this concept, we have to at first be clear about how we differentiate mediums and formats for animation. For example we can classify the medium or style of work as 2d / classical hand-drawn, 2d – vector based (popular as Flash), 3D CGI and stop-motion. Within stop-motion there are various styles such as pixilation, clay, light, sand, puppet, paper cutout etc. Formats can be termed as Broadcast SDTV, HDTV, DVD, Film and new media including Web, Phones, hand-held and other portable devices.
In essence the concepts are similar except for medium and format dependent adjustments. For instance the requirements of a feature project are quite different than those for a mini-series. Similarly, new media projects have requirements that may not be applicable to TV projects. Even within a particular format such as TV, a stop-motion project differs from a CGI project and thus each has to be managed according to its respective needs. Resources, manpower requirements, infrastructure, etc. very often differs between formats and mediums. Even the tools of the trade can change. All these differences have to be kept in mind when designing and managing animation or art related productions.
AAA: Could you explain about managing visual effects? Are the concepts applicable the same as in the case of animation productions?
Tony: The term ‘Animation’ has been used in a generic manner and covers production management for visual effects as well. In fact, animation as a medium can be a part of visual effect productions which may have a mix of live action, animation (in any medium) and special effects (again in any medium). So the management of these productions is a little trickier.
For starters, there are many inter-dependencies that have to be meticulously tracked across the span of such productions. For instance, it may well be possible that a single shot can have multiple input sources and the resources needed to create these input sources can also vary. It would seem relatively easier to manage a visual effects production where all the source material is generated under one roof, however this is rarely the case. Managing any production where the expertise is spread over multiple locations is in itself a huge task. To further add multiple mediums to the cocktail definitely creates a heady mix. Though the span and purview is larger, the concepts of managing such productions remain the same.
AAA: Is there any relevance of this subject for graphic design projects?
Tony: This subject has relevance for any project that utilizes art, manpower, infrastructure and resources in a time-bound manner. While a graphic design project may have quicker turnarounds and not utilize animation in any form, it still needs to be managed effectively for it to be profitable. Resources, budgets, schedules, asset management, communication, manpower, operations, administration, data management etc. are all part of such projects as well.
AAA: Are there any ready tools (software, apps, books etc.) to assist you in managing the production process?
Tony: There are tools and apps however the nature of the beast is such that very often solutions are tailor made or customized. From using a simple spreadsheet to a complex MS Project application, there are many tools that can help to manage productions. However to my knowledge there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution. Every project has its own intricacies and for a ready-made application to pre-empt every requirement that may arise and therefore be able to provide a solution is just not possible. Most software is customizable to a point, beyond which the effort required to create the solution may sometimes not be worth the expected returns.
The basic trick is to keep things as simple and uncomplicated as possible. The important part is to understand the subject at a concept level and not be worried about which software or tool can provide you the solution. Once the concepts are clear, then the tools become easier to identify and use.
Here’s an example, while working on a 3D-CGI HDTV project, there was a requirement to create smaller resolution movie previews for quick approvals. As the composite image renders were at a higher resolution, these smaller previews were being created manually, i.e. each image sequence would be loaded into the software and a low-res movie file would be created. Not only was this consuming valuable production time, it also required dedicated manpower – someone just to create low-res movie files!
The solution I designed here was really very simple. With the help of a programmer, we created a customizable batch processor that would work at a folder level. Point to the folder containing the image sequence, specify the required res, and the tool would do the rest. To further automate it, the utility was designed to work with a list of folders as well. So now we could work the tool across our network as a background process, but more importantly we no longer had the need for someone to sit and monitor the process on a shot by shot basis. At times the solution can be really very simple and make you wonder, why you didn’t think of it earlier.