With nearly everything you need to make an animated film, Maya Entertainment Creation Suite software enables animators and directors to do some real guerrilla filmmaking. This article will walk you through some of the techniques we are employing to bring the feature film Dog Eat Dog to life. We are bringing our entire bag of tricks to bear in our quest to release quality animation on a grassroots budget.
About Dog Eat Dog
James Young Entertainment presents Dog Eat Dog, an animated film about a dog surviving a life of fighting, escaping only to be forced to return to rescue the ones he loves. Our film has a budget of less than $1 million, and is being produced on an entirely new pipeline developed at Arconyx Animation Studios in Los Angeles, California. The film releases July 2015.
Planning the Production
Planning is the foundation of success. In low-budget filmmaking, planning primarily entails identifying the high cost areas of your script and trying to turn them into high value moments of your production.
What does “high value” mean? Value is defined as elements that give a perceived quality to your audience at little cost. High value elements are those that add the most perceived visual quality at the lowest expense.
There are many well-known high cost (therefore low value) elements in filmmaking. Some examples are crowd scenes, epic landscapes, simulations like destruction, etc. Avoiding these elements is essential to staying on budget, but it doesn’t mean sacrificing story points.
The value curve is the amount of value you are getting for your effort (time plus budget). As your ambitions to be cutting edge rise, your value rises until you are taking advantage of all of the software, hardware, and workflow methods that are avant-garde; simply put, there is a “sweet spot” of value where the perceived quality and the tools that are being developed currently both peak. However, as the need to surpass expectation continues to rise, the value falls sharply. No gains can be made in value past a certain level of sophistication.
Perceived Quality Versus Value
As you are making further decisions as to the production in terms of where you want to spend your money, think about the real perceived quality of certain aspects of your film when weighed against the value of putting them in. Some things, like epic 3D landscapes, are a very low value item but please audiences greatly. Other things, like inexpensive designs, are very high value from a time/effort perspective, but do not improve your film from a perceived quality standpoint at all.
Old Pipeline Versus New Pipelines
Once you have determined the script elements that are going to be adjusted to give the highest value and the highest perceived quality payoff, you have to design a pipeline that makes sense to achieve these results.
We determined on Dog Eat Dog that a good amount of the elements we wanted were achievable with a novel arrangement of tools ranging from motion capture (mocap) software to GPU rendering. It is at this point we realized that we had committed to an entirely new workflow as well.
Do not be tempted to repeat what you know. There is little innovation left in old workflows. For instance, the common wisdom of rendering your shots in multiple passes per character, multiple layers per scene, and then only finalizing the look in compositing works well for high end VFX and big budget movies. With low-budget filmmaking, you must learn how to get nearly exactly what you want out of Maya. Design workflows empower you to make finalizing decisions based on what you see in front of you.
In low-budget 3D animation, we need to get as close as possible to “what you see is what you get.” In this way, animation is actually moving closer to live-action filmmaking. We have to create our sets, characters, and their performances, lighting, staging, and effects to be “in-camera.”
In this decision, we are committing to our final “look” being whatever the current software and hardware can give us at a value that makes sense. The hope is that by committing to the “in camera” look, we can partner with Maya tool developers and make strides to improve value and quality. Rather than try to force old workflows to be low budget, we need to take a low-budget workflow and try to push quality.
With nearly everything you need to make an animated film, Maya Entertainment Creation Suite software enables animators and directors to do some real guerrilla filmmaking. This class will walk you through some of the techniques we are employing to bring the feature film Dog Eat Dog to life on a budget of less than $1 million. From timesaving rigging techniques to at-your-desk facial motion capture, we are bringing our entire bag of tricks to bear in our quest to release quality animation on a...