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The Computerised Studio

Stan Hayward

1970

The plan of an animated film has a number of parallels with a computer program.

  1. It is a step by step process.
  2. Each drawing is coded sequentially, and is composed of elements which are subscripted.
  3. Animation cycles (walks, runs, wheels turning, liquids flowing, etc) occur through each film. These may be considered as loops.
  4. Transitions occur at the beginning and end of each scene (mixes, wipes, fades, zooms, etc). These may be considered as subroutines.
  5. There is an established system of coding and cross-references for colours, field sizes, and movements, that allow precise labelling of each drawing and instruction. This may be considered as a machine language.

With the above in mind, it would seem that the planning and charting of an animated film is open to data processing methods.

There are three distinct stages in the.production of an animated film.

1 CREATIVE
Ideas ... research ... script ... design ... storyboard.
2 PRODUCTION AND MANAGEMENT
Costing ... scheduling ... charting.
3 TECHNICAL
Animation ... shooting ... editing.

Stage 2 would be easiest to computerise. It can be considered in three parts:-

1 COSTING

This would mainly deal with the constants of film making.

All the constants would be stored in the databank. The computer would be given the information:

The computer would print out three budgets:

  1. Minimum possible cost
  2. Probable cost using acceptable margins of error
  3. Least time cost that would maximise the use of studio personnel and equipment

This would refer to an overall budget. On the choice of one budget the computer would then print out separate budgets covering:

Any of these could then be compared with external services for time or money saving.

The separate budgets would also serve as a guide to efficiency when other methods were tried.

The computer would also print out estimated cost/frame and compare this with the actual cost/frame of the finished film.

Once the film goes into production, the computer would be fed weekly progress from each department, and from this would print out:

2 SCHEDULING

Different films have different priorities depending upon budget, deadline, prestige, and special facilities that may be needed.

At the creative level, skills are rarely transferable, which means that bad planning may leave a skilled man held up for work, or he may become a bottleneck by being overloaded.

The computer would use a Critical Path analysis method to optimise the studio's facilities and personnel. Bottlenecks would be predicted, and alternative procedures suggested.

3 CHARTING

The overall plan of the film is the Dope Sheet. It has three sets of instructions in parallel:-

These are usually all written on one sheet, and this Dope Sheet accompanies the drawings at all times. There are several faults with this method of charting:-

  1. If the dope sheet or part of it is lost, the complete sequence needs to be recharted.
  2. If a mistake is made in the early stages, it may be perpetuated.
  3. Only one person can use it at a time.
  4. Alterations to the sequence make the dope sheet messy and prone to misinterpretation.
  5. The dope sheet is large and cumbersome. When the film is finished, this sheet is packed away, will probably never be referred to again. It may contain useful animation cycles that have to be worked out anew for each film.
  6. Experiments with cameras and lighting may lead the animator to develop instructions that are not understood outside of that studio, or perhaps even by others in the studio. Standardised dope sheets and a more defined set of instructions would save time and confusion.
  7. Each drawing has to be checked against the dope sheet before shooting. This is specialised work, time consuming, and a long way from foolproof. This type of comparison should be ideal to computerise.
  8. However well the dope sheet is prepared, there is still a lot of time spent between editors, animators and cameramen explaining what is what on the dope sheet. The existing dope sheet is not universally standard; self evident in its instructions; easily handled; readily available for future use, and in a form suitable for copying.

The computer would produce a dope sheet in several stages.

The first stage would be based upon the key movements indicated in the storyboard, eg

    Walk       .. .. .. ..  3 seconds
    Stop/hold  .. .. .. ..  1.5 seconds 
    Turn       .. .. .. ..  0.5 seconds
    etc

The print out would indicate:-

Each frame as:     ...............
                   ...............
                   ...............
                   ...............
                   etc
Each 16th frame as *************** 
this is footage
Each 24th frame as ---------------
this is seconds
And the end of each
movement as       ________________

The last frame of the WALK 3 sec. and the first frame of the STOP/HOLD instructions would be separated by:

     
                  ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^        

A section of the dope sheet would look like:

..................................................
..................................................
..................................................

END OF WALK 3 sec^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
STOP/HOLD 1.5 sec.................................
..................................................
****************..................................
..................................................
etc

A copy of this rough dope sheet would go to the editor to fill in the soundtrack breakdown.

A copy would go to the animator who would fill in the transitions (mixes, wipes, fades, etc).

The final dope sheet would look something like:-

ACTION        DIALOGUE            CEL NUMBERS
                      EXTRA    4     3     2     1     REMARKS
______________________________________________________________

TURNS	      WH	                 1F    1G    1A    BACKGROUND 1
HEAD	      E                       "    2G     "
              N                       "    3G     "
__________///////                     "    4G     "
BENDS         Y                       "    __    2A
DOWN         OU                       "          3A
__________///////                     "          4A    PAN TOP PEGS RIGHT
THROWS       TH                       "          5A    .01
BALL         RO                       "          6A    .02
              W                       "           "    .03
                                      "           "    .04
etc

The final dope sheet print out would be accompanied by a punched tape version.

The punched tape would be used for numerical control of the camera and editing machines.

It would also be used for line testing the film on a cathode ray tube, allowing the animator to check the timing and movement before he starts to animate.

Let us now assume that the studio has a fully interactive system using a terminal, graph plotter, and a cathode ray tube.

We will also assume that all the information and references the studio normally keeps are stored ia the data banks.

This information will include:

THE PRODUCER has been asked to make a ten minute film. It is a conventional film similar to many the studio have made before, so even with just the idea he can use the terminal to:

Having chosen a date and fixed a deadline for the storyboard the producer hands the terminal over.

THE WRITER uses the terminal to:

The script has been written and recorded. It is handed over to be broken down.

THE EDITOR used the terminal to:

He keeps a copy and gives copies to the animator, director and cameraman.

THE DIRECTOR uses the CRT and graph plotter to:

The punched tape version of the line test is given to the animator.

THE ANIMATOR uses the CRT to:

THE CAMERAMAN uses the terminal to:

THE EDITOR would use the final tape to match the sound track with the image. With a numerically controlled editing machine he would be able to work out most of his cuts without having to do this physically. Having a print out of all the frame numbers, an assistant could do the final cutting.

THE PRODUCER having storedthe budget in the databank, would get a print out each week of:

The savings must be considered in the light that a large studio may have up to twenty films in various stages of production at any one time.

The majority of films that are considered for production, never reach the production stage (but consume a lot of time and money before they are rejected).

Many films that are produced may be in the wrong format (eg, in 16mm when cassettes are more popular).

Or obsolete before being marketed (common to many industrial films on technical subjects like electronics).

Or duplications of a popular subject (just about any new subject that becomes suddenly popular).

Or too limited in appeal (age group) and geography (language problems).

To a certain extent these problems can be overcome by having more information on markets, trends, and teaching policies etc. It is just this type of information that a computer can keep up with, and a film maker cannot.

Should the computerised studio arrive, it is probable that it will alter the structure of the industry, tending to separate the hardware from the software and redefining the studio as the creative centre rather than the productive one.

It would certainly result in a network within the industry that would improve efficiency and communication of ideas at all levels.