Anatomy of an Animated Film - Part 2: Asset Context

Posted: 2023-02-01

As we continue our examination of the Anatomy of an Animated Film, Part 1 focused on Shot Context and the hierarchical breakdown of a film into smaller components. In this continuation, we will delve deeper into Asset Context and examine the components that make up a shot. This will provide a better understanding of the individual elements that contribute to the creation of an animated film.

Asset Context

Anatomy of a Set/Environment

A Set or Environment is a collection of nested assets, much like a top-level folder that contains sub-folders. It serves as the top-level container for various sub-assets.

For example, a kitchen is a set, but within the kitchen, there are various assets, such as a table, on which is a chopping board, and a knife. Each of these assets must be modeled and shaded. These assets are sometimes referred to as Set-Pieces or Props.

It's important to understand that every asset, no matter its size or complexity, must be properly managed and tracked to ensure the successful completion of the film, thus we work at this granular asset level.

In Asset Context, assets such as tables, fridges, and cupboards are often nested under the root asset, which in our example is the kitchen set. The walls and floor of the kitchen are considered parts of the root kitchen asset and thus are not nested under thier own individual assets.

This nesting hierarchy helps to organize the assets and ensure that all components of a set are properly accounted for. It is also helpful for managing dependencies and ensuring that each asset is created and delivered in a timely manner. By breaking down the assets into smaller, manageable parts, the production team can better understand the relationships between components and prioritize artists workload effectively.

Anatomy of a Asset

It's important to keep each asset separate because it provides flexibility in the creative process. For example, if the knife needs to be animated or reused in a different location, such as the dining room, it's easy to do so because it is its own distinct asset. This separation also makes it easier for different departments and teams within the production to work on different components of the film simultaneously, without affecting one another's work.

Anatomy of an Asset/Prop

Studios often differentiate assets into two categories: set-pieces and props. Set-pieces are assets that do not require animation, while props are assets that will be animated and thus require rigging. I prefer not to differentiat between set-pieces and props. During modeling and texturing, both types of assets are the same, regardless of whether they are later animated or not. It is important to keep this flexibility in mind, as there may be instances mid production, where a director or animator requests that an object be animated.

If it is not animated, it can be included in the set. If it is animated it requires a rig and the animation to be cached and the animation pipeline should be followed. However dont panic and think you need to treat it just like a character yet. You must determine if the object is deforming since that requires skinning (in short, does it need to bend, flex or function). If its a pair of scissors or a rubber bat then it will require the rig departments attention.

If its just a teacup then a simpler solution is to create a tool for animation that auto-generates a control rig, that way allowing your rigging team to focus on the complicated rigs.

Anatomy of a Character

A character is a complex asset that requires additional components, beyond just geometry and a shader network. It must have a rig, which is a sophisticated puppet control system to enable animators to control its various parts such as the mouth, eyes, arms, and legs. The complexity of a character increases with factors such as clothing and realistic hair that require simulation, in which case it would also require a CFX component.

Anatomy of a Character

Assets should have gone through reviews and approvals in modeling, texturing, and animation testing (for characters). These are reviewed in Asset Context.

Fx Assets

Some departments generate assets procedurally for specific shots, for exmaple the dust in shot 15 during the spaceship takeoff. The review of this asset is unique, procedurally generated assets take place in shot context, not as a standalone asset.

Fx sit between the two contexts, they most often create unique versions of a single assets for each shot. Many shots will have dust, but not all dust acts the same way. In the case of unique assets created for a specific shot the department should create a standard tool, such as a dust generator which allows for fine-tuning of the asset on a shot-by-shot basis.

While standard dust poofs and collision impact sparks can be created and cached as assets that can be placed in a shot like any other item, Fx often generates assets unique to the shot's animation. The set dressing team may do the same, procedurally creating grass in a set. It is important to remember that these procedural assets will still require shading and so should be treated like most other assets, even if they do not recieve a line item on your production schedule.