If You Animate It, They Will Come
Author - Brad Kolacinski, Director of Marketing Operations – The Americas, Antics Technologies
An increased focus on developing 3D animation software programs that can benefit both dedicated professionals and hobbyists means that just about anyone can try their hand at digital animation.
We all like watching what professional 3D animation artists can do on the big screen (from Finding Nemo and Shrek to Toy Story and WALL-E). So with everything companies know about how to make technology accessible to the everyday consumer, why has virtually no one bothered to make 3D animation software that everyone would want and find easy to use?
Professionally-oriented 3D animation programs, while incredibly useful for those that intend to make a living using them, have never been widely accessible by the typical consumer or computer user. The technology has proven to be simply too complex to learn and use, and the average enthusiast has not seen the value in devoting quite so much time and effort to a hobby. Consequently, a majority of 3D animation programs available today are targeted at the professional, and the consumer market for animation technologies has largely been ignored.
With the tremendous popularity of Web sites like YouTube and MySpace, however, the visual arts have had a profound impact on the mainstream market. New collaborative technologies and artistic sites are inspiring more people to explore their creative capacities—bringing the practice of the professional into the everyday household.
But for 3D animation to really find a place in the larger market outside of the professional film and animation realms, it needs to be accessible by amateurs and hobbyists—something most 3D animation programs, even today (30 years since the first programs were used for big-budget filmmaking), are decidedly not. If a program takes forever to learn and even longer to master, it won’t be useful, and it will never be fun. This notion seems to have resonated with professionals and amateurs alike. Both groups have been increasingly drawn to the few simple and versatile, real-time 3D animation software programs that are available. Consumers from all areas are finding unique and surprising ways to use them for work or for play—and transforming the 3D animation market.
Perhaps not so surprising is the fact that educators and students have gravitated toward these new tools as a way to make learning more hands on. For Brigham Young University (BYU) Professor of Philosophy Dennis Packard, the goal of teaching his students to write and develop a feature-length film script, prepare, shoot and edit the film, and then submit the work to a film festival, became markedly easier when he started incorporating 3D animation software into his curriculum. The real-time software he chose enabled his class to not only produce short video definitions of basic film and editing terms, but also to visualize how the techniques are executed when shooting a film (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2gEJvXiZ6Ks).
The visual aid helped teach concrete film production techniques and enabled the students to previsualize scenes. The BYU class used the animation software to refine their criticism skills and determine exactly where to position each camera, actor and prop to get the desired look for every shot.
Similar use of 3D animation software was employed by students at the UK’s prestigious National Film & Television School (NFTS). Four students working toward a Visual and Special Effects Diploma at NFTS were tasked with producing a high-definition short that would incorporate multiple motion control camera passes, live action shot against green screen, a thoroughly-authentic 1/6th scale model of a London street, and on top of that, add atmospheric physical effects from rain to sunshine to snow. Getting all the variables right in a month would be difficult enough. But with only two days to shoot everything and practically zero budget, the four students turned to 3D animation software to visualize everything in advance and make sure they got it all right the first time.
Wilson Stockman, one of the four students, says of the project: “We had a very tight shooting schedule and budget. With this in mind, we decided to use Antics at the very beginning to determine camera moves, set out the action and consider all the elements that we would be combining. We needed to be sure that what we were going to shoot would work before committing the crew time to it.”
Michael Churchill, supervising creative director at Global TV News network in Ontario, Canada, has used the same sort of 3D animation technology to rapidly produce TV-quality animations for broadcast segments. Michael successfully integrated animation clips into several of the network’s news broadcasts as supplemental coverage for stories, including crime scene reenactments, car crashes, building developments and more. “Quickness is key,” says Michael. “Often a news story will come in from field reporters, and we will need to have a detailed segment on-air within the hour.”
When Michael had a story about an armored truck robbery come in, he wanted to have a visual representation of the robbery, but no one had been around to film the crime happening. To fill the gap and give his viewers a better idea of what went down, Michael turned to a real-time 3D animation program to produce a short animated clip in just minutes, complete with character animations and camera choreography. Michael explains that before such programs were around “this would have not been possible, and we would have been forced to insert mere still images from the crime-scene, but with Antics we were able to show the viewer what actually happened (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3qlu0fTP10A).”
In the age of YouTube and ‘i’-this and ‘i’-that, finding a way to make 3D animation a personalized experience is as spot-on as it gets in the consumer world. For Dennis, Wilson and Michael, the use of 3D animation software in their activities came down to the ease, and therefore the speed, with which they could all learn to use the technology. These traits are the exact same ones the average consumer looks for in the products they buy, so if a Professor of Philosophy can teach his students how to make good use of 3D animation software, what’s stopping anyone else from doing the same?
In the same way the advent of the digital camera has enabled people to more easily share their experiences and explore their artistic side, so too can 3D animation programs. Everyone has a creative streak in them. Thankfully, some developers have recognized that a good number of people are curious about exploring their imaginative roots and have built some new animation programs designed to let them do so with minimal effort—and without breaking the bank.
In February of 2005, three former PayPal employees founded YouTube, and at the beginning, no one was quite sure whether it was worth much. By October of the following year, Google had bought YouTube for US$1.65 billion, and now major communications service providers like Viacom and NBC are competing with the online video giant for viewers. With so many students, budding animators and filmmakers using the accessible easy-to-use 3D animation tools available today, who knows where the next big animation creator will come from. Look out Pixar.
About the Author:
Brad Kolacinski, director of marketing operations for the Americas for Antics Technologies Inc., studied film theory, criticism and history at the University of California at Santa Barbara. Brad’s job with Antics started as the product demonstrator and has since used Antics to work on pre-viz projects with such A-list film talent as Peter Berg, Jim Rygiel, Jim Bissell and Dean Devlin. Brad has also traveled the world presenting Antics at IBC Amsterdam, Boards Summit in New York, SIGGRAPH Los Angeles, NAB Las Vegas among many other trips to Skywalker Ranch, Industrial Light & Magic, Sony Imageworks and every major studio in Hollywood. Brad’s most current endeavors include working with local Computer Clubhouses such as the Tiger Woods Learning Center, where Brad is tutoring K-12 students on using Antics for producing 3D animated movies.