Animatics

Okay, moving on.

In general, once I feel like the storyboard is at a good place I decide to move on and start making an animatic. In the case of Don’t Fear the Sitter I was actually limited by school – I had to have a finished animatic, using specific required techniques, by the end of Fall term. As a result I moved on to the animatic stage a little sooner than I otherwise would have.

It’s both a boon and a curse to have deadlines. The advantage is that it gets you to actually finish the thing. The disadvantage is that sometimes it makes you turn in a product that isn’t as good as it might have been. In this case it was mostly a good thing. I was planning to finish the project by the end of the school year, so I needed to move on and get to animating the thing as soon as possible.

For anyone who doesn’t know, an animatic is like a cross between a storyboard and a movie. At its most basic level, you create a movie with each storyboard panel displayed in sequence and timed out. You can get more advanced than that, though, actually moving around the characters in crude cut-out-style animation. The more in-depth you get in making the animatic, the better idea you’ll have of the timing of the final animation. Of course, if you go really detailed you’ll start to get diminishing returns and it would be better to just move on and start animating.

The first thing to do when starting an animatic is to scan in all the storyboard pictures. I have probably fifty pages of storyboards, but luckily the UCLA Animation Workshop has a sheet-fed scanner, so I basically just give it my stack, press a few buttons, and come back in a few minutes. Then I have to crop the images to make them easy to use in Premiere, the program I use for putting together animatics.

At school they have certain programs that they teach, and if you want to use different ones you’re on your own. For this class they taught Apple’s Final Cut Pro video editing software, but I wanted to use Adobe Premiere, since that’s what I used at home. It would have to suck to come in to school any time I wanted to work on my project. Most of the other people in the program ended up getting Apple laptops and Wacom tablets and doing most of their stuff on those. I was all proud because I’ve had a Wacom for years, having bought it in 1996 when I first went to the University of Oregon. In fact, it’s so old that when I bought a new computer I had to get a special part just to be able to connect it because the connector it uses is pretty much obsolete.

After I scanned and cropped all my storyboard images I opened up a new project in Premiere. Premiere is a video editing program, but I would be using it mostly to arrange still images in a timeline. After my first draft of the animatic I would actually break up the images a bit, making characters move around and stuff like that. I put a bunch of sound effects in and recorded myself speaking all the lines.

That was actually one annoying thing about the process. I put myself speaking the lines into my animatic, and then when I showed it to the class they all laughed at the absurdity of hearing my voice come out of a 14 year old girl. Yeah, understandable, but it distracted them from critiquing the actual animatic. I wanted them to laugh at the jokes, not at a silly little artifact of the creative process.

Next: casting and recording voice actors.

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