By Joel Goodman VFX Supervisor, Goodman Brothers
Crossing The Line recently visited a new post-production facility created by the Goodman Brothers. Established as a boutique facility in Sydney, we were invited to see the engine room at work. We asked them to give us a blue print to follow, mapping our way through the post-production maze.
With a speciality in VFX developed at some of the world’s leading animation and post facilities over the past 13 years, it’s founders, brothers Joel & Elliot Goodman, recently increased their offering to include full service grade and finishing suites from their new studio in Surry Hills. This year, with the additional savvy afforded by industry veteran EP, James Hudson, the team look forward to providing a holistic service to the advertising film and TV industries.
Given the complexities of the entire post experience we asked the brothers to write us a blueprint, to assist in following this vital, and complex part of the television production processes. Here’s what they came up with.
Building a house
When we build a house there is obviously, a practical order to the process.
- Concept, Architect, Engineering Planning
- Laying of foundations, framing, and general construction
- Wiring, electricals and lighting
- Plastering, flooring and painting.
- Furnishing and Fittings
- Superficial Decorating and finishing touches.
It is, in most cases impractical, if not impossible to commence the next stage until the previous one is completed, and signed off by builders and clients. Any unauthorised or untoward changes to the plan will have a disastrous affect on the next stage, as well as causing delays to the schedule and cost overruns. You can’t go altering the foundations of the building after the walls are up and the electrician is at work running cables, and it would cost you large amounts of time and money if you were to demand wooden floorboards just as your tiler has completed laying Italian marble.
Now you may not realise it, but the post-production process for a film or tv commercial is just as complex and dependent on structure and timing as any building. Perhaps even more so! Once the physical materials are available and on-site, a single tiler can usually lay down flooring in a matter of days, whereas some processes in the ‘Post Pipeline’ can have whole teams of people working for weeks.
Here is a comparable process list for the average Post-Production / Animation pipeline.
- Concept, Design, and Planning.
- Pre/Post -visualisation
- (For live-action integration) On-set supervision and logistics
- Asset Creation – Modelling, Surfacing, Rigging
- Animation and Effects
- Lighting and Rendering
- Grade & Finishing.
Concept, Design and Planning
This is a great time to roll up the sleeves and most vigorously flesh out the details of your vision. Get all your ideas, dreams, priorities and especially your non-negotiable demands aired and clearly understood. Anything proposed at this point in time has the best chance of being incorporated into the project with minimal effect on timing or budgetary constraints.
This is the stage at which we are just getting everything down on paper.
Our raw script is taken from textual descriptions on paper, into increasingly complex sketches, drawings, story-boards.
In many cases, your chosen Post-facility will take your storyboards and string them together as simplistic animation to create what is known as an ‘animatic’ to give you and the director some idea of combined timing, tone and design of the project. This is also a great time to get as much client feedback as possible, after all, they’re the ones footing the bill in the end and their opinion counts!
Once the “post-viz” process is complete, and everyone from production company, agency, right through to client are all informed and on the same page, we can safely move on to:
In the majority of cases the project will involve integrating the elements created in Post into live action footage. An often overlooked and undervalued component of the process is the on-set VFX supervisor, who is an experienced representative of the Post-facility who is present in the planning and execution of the live-action shoot to ensure that the footage taken and the methods used to get it are compatible, effective and desirable for the VFX process.
They are primarily responsible for helping plan the shoot so that all elements required for post production such as reference photos and footage, lighting information and HDR images, camera data recorded, tracking markers placed appropriately etc are supplied. They’re also invaluable to have on-set when anyone is tempted to use the dreaded phrase “That will do, we’ll just fix it in Post”. Only the VFX ‘super’ should ever utter these words unless of course it is part of a sentence that goes something like, “Yes we can fix it in post because we have a budget contingency and a highly flexible schedule which gives us plenty of time and money to….. fix it in Post!”
3d asset creation: Modelling, Surfacing, Rigging
The number of things these processes cover can be rather broad. Usually they refer to the creation of any characters, objects, sets and environments that are needed for the script.
This is where we build the digital ‘puppets’ to act in your film or spot, and the world in which they will be performing.
Modelling – Imagine this as a sculptor with clay, pushing and pulling geometry around, moulding it into an accurate semblance of our design documents. Once this is nearing completion, we will likely share this around again for you (and your clients) approval. Things are still malleable at this stage, but, figuratively, we’ve poured the foundations of your dream-house and the concrete is drying! We can round off the odd corner here or there, but what we’re presenting here will be following the accepted designs closely and swapping out our mermaid character for an octopus-man at this stage is now no easy feat! This would also apply to any major set or environment changes. It will require some serious jack hammering and excavation of our foundations, so any major changes must be carefully considered and may be costly.
Surfacing/Texturing – This is where we paint and add details to our models. During this process there is a moderate amount of flexibility for this aspect and this aspect alone. You may be able to weigh in on details and the material of which your model is made, but we can’t change its structure without kicking it back to our Modellers and incurring all the setbacks this would cause.
This would be a great time to present to all interested parties, including client, to make sure we’re all on the same page and happy which how the design documents have been followed.
Rigging – This is the ‘stringing’ of our puppet. Basically adding a skeleton system and controllers to allow our animators to make our models perform the way they should. This process might even be happening simultaneously to surfacing as it is somewhat independent. Rigging can be a tricky process and any change to the model at this point can cause serious problems, perhaps even requiring a complete restart of this process. It’s best to be confident that the model has been accepted, finalised and signed-off before proceeding.
We now have our Assets built and are ready to head into the next phase of things.
Animation and effects
Ok. This is where we take what we’ve built so far and get it functioning and looking the way we want.
Often, during the animation process the model will appear to take a step or two backwards. A more simplistic model or maquette which can be previewed and handled in a more efficient way will be made. It may take a little more imagination to envisage the final product, but it will certainly be a faster way of getting there. So the first steps will be ‘lensing’ and ‘blocking’. This is roughing out the cameras’ movement and settings and the gross movements of your characters and other key objects in relation to the environment. This is a fairly basic stage and will often be shared only with key personnel such as the Director.
Once feedback is given we can usually move on and implement the feedback in the next stage which involves honing and refining all aspects of the animation to really bring out the most from the performance. Facial expressions, secondary movements and general subtleties are added through subsequent rounds of feedback until it reaches a point of approval. Now would be a good time to share with all involved parties (client included) as we still have significant flexibility at this stage which will become less so once we move on to rendering. Having said that, the current rounds of amendments are for animation only! It doesn’t open the floodgates for changes regarding the model, surfacing or rigging, as these will still incur the same time delays and costs.
At the same time that animation is being done, other team members may be working on effects for the project. This would include any dynamic simulations (realistic falling, smashing, bouncing), cloth, feather or hair simulations, fluid dynamics (liquids or smokes). These can be really tough and take large amounts of time to process. Not only that, but they’re often hugely dependent of the preceding animation, which is another good reason to try not to stretch out the animation process. With any luck (and diligent planning), completion of the effects will coincide with the animation and may be available to present to the Client at the same time.
Lighting & Render
This is basically where we take all the animated assets and scenes and add back all the detail we stripped out for the sake of practicality and get the project looking as good as possible. We take the animated scene (or animated elements for a live action scene) and add ‘digital lighting’ to match the live action plates or the 3d environment of the project. The setups are then sent to a render farm, either on-site or remote, where computers churn away tirelessly ‘drawing’ the animated images, frame by frame, with each frame taking anything from seconds to days (depending on the output resolution, content and style of the project)! It’s important to be aware of this because repeating this process due to changes or mistakes can be costly and therefore prohibitive
The rendered frames are then passed along to a compositor, who will the arrange and compile the various image elements into scenes or integrate the digital elements into the live action plates taken on shoot, and will then ‘polish’ the final result. As compositing progresses there is scope for superficial changes such as colours, contrast, at this stage, but it’s now much too late to be reconsidering the fundamental designs or nature of the core elements of the project.
Grade and Finishing
These are the two processes with which you are likely to be most familiar, as they are often the most interactive with production company, agency and client and are often conducted in ‘suite’ sessions at the post-house
Grade is the process of giving the work a unique visual style, tone and feel, through the correcting, enhancing and implementation of a colour palette.
The ‘Finish’, or ‘Online’ process is the equivalent of superficially decorating and putting the finishing touches on your home construction project. Here we add the final titles, logos, credits, supers, and the like; and provides the director, agency and client with the opportunity to make any last-minute adjustments to timing, colour, or other superficial elements in ‘real-time’.
These two processes usually occur after the completion of the rest of the VFX and animation pipeline, as they require the most comprehensive overview of the project, and will culminate in the output of a final mastered version.
Well there you have it. You can visit the Goodman Bros website at www.goodmanbrothers.com