what it takes to make a short animated movie

Most artists dream of making there own short movie, its the main reason there a lot of 3d artists using blender today, but on average only 1 out of 100 ever publishes there own animated movie or series, today i am going to breakdown what it takes to make a short animated movie.

what is a short animated movie?

in this case we are going to consider a 3d animated movie of length 10 minutes, rendered at 24 frames per second, at a minimum resolution of 1920×1080.

a short movie of 10 minutes at 24fps is 10x60x24 = 14,400 frames, that’s the number of frames you need to render to have 10 minutes, for reference the blender timeline by default is 250 frames or 10seconds

the several stages of making an animated movie.

1. the Story

any movie, animated or live, short or full feature starts with a story, this will dictate the production budget ,creative process and pipeline choice needed to turn the story into a watchable film.

The story is the most important part of the whole process, of course you need a compelling story to draw viewers in, but don’t get caught up writing a visual spectacle that you will struggle to produce.

you can still have a compelling story without blowing your visual effects budget, after writing your first draft, consider meeting your creative team, that’s your model makers, riggers, animators and others to discuss the script and see what is possible with in your budget limits.

No being on page as your creative team is going to create a lot of hiccups in the production process, them not meeting your expectations or you having misunderstanding on what it takes in terms of, time, money or computation resources.

2. The script

a script is different than a story, in its format and purpose, a story can be considered a complete stand alone product that can be turned into a book, movie or audio book but a script is part of a production process, a script written for film would not be used for an audio book, the structure and format of a script is dictated by how the final product is going to be consumed, while a story may not require that much change to be adapted for different mediums.

there are no considerable changes in the Game of thrones books to the Game of thrones audio books, the most changes we see, are in the series adaptations and those are just creative decisions otherwise the story could have been adapted as is the original books.

the script can be considered as instructions for the actor/actress, directors on how to approach each stage of the story, it gives directions on what is being done, dialogue, camera angles and more.

3. story boarding

storyboarding is the process of graphically showing how the script is going to unfold short by short, for blender users this can be achieved entirely with in blender using glease pencil, you can even print out the shorts on paper to share with your creative team.

if you can see the story unravel in the storyboard, that means you have done a great job with writing the script and storyboard.

A good story board can also be used to seek funders for your film, sometimes drawing spark peoples imaginations better than stories or scripts, you can move with your storyboard to meetings to complement the script which making your pitch.

the importance of a storyboard in making a film

  • gives your creative team a visual representation of the story/script keeping them on the same page with the director
  • it gives the creative team a better understanding of the types of shorts that are needed and helps you budget your resources better
  • helps lock in camera positions which concept artists can use to start the concept art process
  • In the case of animated films, they are the blueprint for what is later animated in 3D.
  • the storyboard acts as a blueprint for animators, the director can revise the story boards with the artists and animators thoroughly as, storyboards are more like rough sketches and faster to make than animated sequences, then when the director is happy, the animators can go on to the animation process which is more time consuming.
  • storyboards can be as detailed as you want, so you can spend most of the time at the storyboard level to make the other process more smooth as they take more time than story boarding

4. Concept art

Concept art is a tool that allows the director to guide the visual styling, mood and setting of a movie, there is alot of back and forth at this stage, with a cycle of rejections and approvals at all levels, with artists, directors and producers.

You want to spend alot of time here, making sure everyone is on the same page and expectations are understood, concept art is much more faster much less expensive.

A concept art drawing can take a few hours or a few days verses making a 3d model that could take weeks if not month to make and render, if you add revisions on top of that, the whole process can become a frustrating and expensive process.

You can see a dozen of ideas or hundreds and freely discard the ones that don’t work, without loosing to much time or money.

concept art can also be used to find artist for the modeling, sculpting, texturing and rigging.

you are expected to have developed the look and style of your movie at this stage and you can use it to find artists who can produce the visual style you have selected. not all modelers can do stylized art and not all stylized artists can make your visual style, blindly hiring model artists and sculptors before locking in your visual style may end up hurting the production process.

5. Modeling/sculpting and texturing

with a story, script and concept art locked in, the long and time consuming process of modeling can begin, at this stage the creature design, character design have already been approved, major changes to the character design after the modeling process is going to be expensive in terms of time and money.

you hopefully also chose the right artists for the job, as this is a lengthy process, you are going to have a really bad time if you find that your creative team cannot meet expectations.

use concept art to communicate your expectations and you can also browse through artists portfolios to see who has work close to your own concept art.

if you are a small team, the modelers can also do the uv unwrapping, texturing to have a ready model, don’t forget about the environment, and props

6. R&d research and development stage

this is a never ending stage, its continuous through the production process, you will likely have water simulations, fire, particles, wind, cloth animations and more. all this need to be tested and tried out to make sure they your creative team can make them behave as you want.

things like simulations are different from animating and a lot of r&d time has to invested to get them to behave the way you want.

its easy to think making a specific effect is going to be easy because you have done it before and later realizing it does not work the way you expected it to because you are using a different version of software than you where using or something is breaking for some reason you can understand.

you need to iron out these issues as they come that’s why you should expect this to be continuous process.

7. Rigging and animating

Rigging which is equally complicated and as time consuming as modeling requires you have the right artists and that you are set of the art style, any changes in the model design is going to create a cascading effect along the production pipeline.

if you make considerable changes to a character design, you may find that you will have to make an entirely new rig, scraping all the work that was done already, you better hope the design came before animation was started otherwise you may have to redo all the shorts where this rig appears.

A proper rig is going to make the animators life easier and the animation process fast, revisions will also be less frustrating.

7. Rendering

now that you have everything set you can start rendering, except you should have been rendering all along, to see how the characters look in certain lighting and on different background.

You should be doing multiple rendering test during the lighting stages, modeling/sculpting stage and rigging stage to showcase the different poses you characters can have.

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