Last week I gave you a broad overview of the different types of VFX that shows will run into. But for the big fancy photo-realistic stuff that you see in blockbuster movies, it’s a huge process that involves a lot of people. So where do we start?
All the objects, environments, effects, and characters that you see within a scene, are called assets, and they need to be built before any animation work can be done. Usually, an asset list is created from the script as well as designs created by the art department, outlining what each shot’s needs are, and from that list the team can decide what kind of artist resources they need to build everything. This outline also helps with budgeting and scheduling on top of staffing, as each asset will need to go through a specific series of processes done by different people, and each phase can take a certain amount of time depending on the complexity of the asset.
First things first, the asset has to be modelled. This is essentially sculpting, except on a computer. In this stage, they’re getting the overall shape, aesthetic, and details built out. Sometimes they’ll do some basic colors too, but for the most part at this stage, we’re only concerned about details in shape.
On an animal, for example, this is the musculature, facial features, and any small unique things like scars or anomalies. This can get pretty detailed!
Everything needs to be modelled separately – clothing, characters, buildings, objects, furniture… you name it!
Next it’s time to paint and texture the sculpt! Just like clay, the model is usually just gray or terra cotta coloured. The modeller will send the model over to the texturer, who will paint on colors, patterns, and even more details.
This artist will need to be able to adjust any 2D textures to fit on the model, and create something called a UV map – similar to a map of the earth which you may have seen that has been cut up on the edges to fit properly around a globe. Many times hair or fur will also start to be considered in this phase.
At this point, whatever the asset is is starting to look like it’s final self.
Now that the model has all the pieces in place, it has to be set up to move. Rigging is one of the most technical (and probably tedious) parts of the CG animation asset building process, and it can basically be likened to adding a skeleton to the model.
The Character or Rigging TD (which stands for Technical Director) is responsible for adding realistic, animatable, movement points along anything in the asset which is intended to be moved. These are known as joints and control points, and can apply to literally anything that needs the ability to move, not just creatures and characters!
There’s a lot of things to consider when doing this, like kinetics, physics, and stretching, especially if the final asset needs to be hyper-realistic. Because of this, it’s not uncommon for the asset to go back and forth between the modeller, the texturer, and the rigger in order to correct anything that’s not working before calling it done.
In my next video, we’ll dive into what it takes to make these freshly crafted assets come alive with animation and FX!