The Production process
Creating a video is a lot like the construction of a house. Decisions need to be made, and it can feel overwhelming when you first stick your toes in. But not to worry! This guide was created specifically to provide a general understanding of how the process works. When you take things step by step, its quite manageable.
Every video is unique, offering challenges and benefits particular to itself. As such, some projects will require alterations to this plan – but its core will remain the same.
It’s quite common to stare at a blank page without a clue of what to start with. I view the video script as a 60 second elevator pitch, a concept that many of you are quite familiar with: a possible client has just asked you what your company does, and you’ve got one minute to tell them all about it. Once you start thinking about it from that perspective, the video’s general framework is easier to discern.
Since your team knows the product or service being promoted better than anyone, it’s helpful if your team is able write out the first outline in as much or as little detail as you feel comfortable with – anything from a few bullet points to a polished text.
Think about the primary points you want to communicate to your viewers: prominent features & benefits you provide, answers to questions they’ll undoubtedly have, key words or phrases that’ll catch their ears.
With an outline in hand, we can begin to flesh it out in more detail, giving it a life of its own. We’ll pass the script back and forth, making adjustments as needed and ensuring that everyone is content. My primary focus will be adjusting the phraseology to make it flow better when spoken aloud, providing time for important visuals during key sections of the script, and making modifications to ensure we can fit everything within our video’s scope.
As we develop the words that’ll be viewed or heard, we’ll also create a written description of the visuals we’ll want to see at the same time. This allows us to juxtapose the two in our minds – comparing, contrasting, and determining if the combination will work.
Since these two channels of thought form the core blueprint of our video, it’s quite important that we take the time necessary to ensure that they’re correct.
Even with a script in hand, its challenging to imagine the final images. With hundreds of color and visual style combinations to choose from, we want to be sure that everyone is on the same page – that client and contractor both understand what the other is viewing in the mind’s eye.
The fastest way to accomplish this is through Google Image Search, YouTube, or Vimeo – each of which quickly presents us with a great many possibilities to choose from. We find references for each section of the video, and put them all together as a guide for moving forward.
The audio component is broken down into three primary sections:
Music: Choosing an appropriate score is very important. It sets the tone and pace of the animation, and is a strong representation of your brand. Will the music be fast and lighthearted? Slow and serious? A jazzy tune or an indie film?
It’s important to note that we cannot use the average song from iTunes, as the royalty fees for any recognizable artist will cost hundreds if not tens of thousands to acquire. We also won’t do it on the down-low – hoping the musicians won’t notice – as that is an expensive legal quagmire waiting to happen.
For me, the best source of music for videos like these is from PremiumBeat.com, which has an enormous collection of music tracks to choose from that are easy to search through and very affordable. Figuring out which one is the best choice for your brand can be a challenge – it’s not unusual for me to listen through 100-200 different tracks before finding the right one.
PremiumBeat also allows us to download free, watermarked versions of the track to work with throughout production, with the actual purchase occurring at the end – so if an emergency need requires the audio to be switched late, it can be done. That being said, last minute switches are definitely not ideal, as they often require significant adjustments to the animation to ensure that everything stays in sync (which can in turn delay the project or incur more costs) – so swaps of that nature should be avoided.
Voice Over: Many animation projects feature a narrator that speaks to the audience as they watch the visuals; this can be a lot more efficient than having words appear on screen to be read, as in that scenario the text must appear on screen long enough for readers of all kinds to properly understand it – meaning more time is spent reading then is spent being entertained, which is not in our favor. On screen text will also distract the viewer from visuals you want them to look at, which leads to simpler, slower videos.
If we do decide to go with a voice over for the above reasons, we must be sure to choose a voice that fits with your brand & the message you’re trying to communicate: male or female, foreign or domestic, age – these are all things to consider. Often times we’ll examine the demographic that you’re marketing towards and choose a voice that they’ll respond to the best. Cost will also be a factor, as some voice artists charge significantly more than others. Lastly, we’ll want to be sure they can record their voice in a studio setting – as poor audio will immediately reduce the quality of the entire production.
Sound Effects: Some projects are best with only music & voice – but others require sound effects to be included. I’ll be perfectly honest: I’m not a sound technician. I can definitely mix in a few pre-recorded sounds here and there, but if more are needed we’ll look into hiring a sound engineer to come in and do the work for us.
With a script in place, a visual style chosen, a music track selected, and a voice over recorded – we have enough to begin building the animation. We’ll start with layout – figuring out where different objects will be in our scene, how our camera will move, where it will point at different times, and how quickly or slowly all of this needs to occur so that it matches the music and voice.
As changes are made and adjustments requested (via the review process discussed in the next step) we’ll add detail & refine the the product in layers: ensuring that a core concept has been approved before taking the time to polish it.
The clips produced during this process will be animatics – draft quality, low resolution videos that allow us to iterate through ideas more efficiently than if we worked with high-res images only. The clip below demonstrates what they’ll look like:
As you compare it to the completed version, you can see their similarities – and understand how one is the core of the other.
One of the best ways to cut costs and speed up production is to reduce the amount of work that’s left on the cutting room floor. There’s nothing worse then spending a day (or three) developing a particular aspect of an image only to find that we should’ve done something different.
The best way to avoid such a scenario is to review the work on a regular basis & offer immediate feedback. In the VFX & animation studios, all the workers submit their work at the very end of the day, and first thing the next morning everyone reviews the work accomplished the day before, and adjustments are made as needed. This ensures that time & money is being spent most efficiently – something both client and contractor can agree on!
We’ll do our best to emulate that process: each night I’ll send in the work I’ve done during the day, and the next morning you’ll be able to open up your email and offer feedback. I’ll take those notes and incorporate them into that day’s work, submitting the results of those adjustments along with any additional work in that night’s progress report.
After the draft animations are complete, it’s time for science. The rendering process allows us to recreate all the real-world physical properties of light, lenses, and materials within the digital world we’ve created. Photons are shot out of the light sources in our scene, and bounce off and through all of our objects as they would in real life – creating shadows, reflections, motion blur, and a whole lot more – before ending up in our camera lens and being processed into a PNG or JPEG image file – just like we’d get from a DSLR or the camera in your phone.
Depending on how detailed the picture is, it could take anywhere from 1 minute to 10+ minutes for a heavy-duty workstation to process the detail of just that one frame. To generate one second of video in this fashion, we need to render 24 images. And for a full minute of animation? 1440 frames. Needless to say, the time adds up quite quickly – let’s hope we only need to render it once or twice!
Opening up a completed render is a lot like pulling a cake out of the oven. It’s hot & tasty – but definitely missing a top layer.
Instead of adding actual frosting, we take the rendered images into a compositing program (think Photoshop for video) and apply the finishing touches: correcting the colors, adding motion blur, lens effects, text elements – that sort of stuff.
We’ll also be adding in the screen contents of any phones, tablets, and laptops we have in the video – allowing us to adjust those particular visuals without having to re-render the entire scene (a huge time-saver).
If your project also involves live action footage (whether it be purchased from a stock site or filmed specifically for this project) we’ll be integrating it with the CG component at this point in the process.
With the project completed, it’s time for delivery – usually in the form of MP4 & MOV files. If the clips I generate are going to a video editor, I can also export a PNG or ProRes sequence if that’s preferred.
By default, the 3D project files will not be delivered, as that is the standard industry practice (partly for legal reasons – as a lot of the files & tools used to create the image are licensed from a third party, and would require that your company purchase similar licenses). It’s comparable to hiring a live-action filmmaker, as they would be delivering final video clips rather than the actors, cameras, lights, sets, and props used to create the footage.