Here’s What You Always Wanted To Know About Animation

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There are many myths and misconceptions circling the animation and CGI world, and a quick Google search only proves this point. Searching on Google for open questions such as “Is animation…” and “Does CGI…”, I noted down the most varied and shocking suggestions, deciding to take them to one of our studio directors, Mike Richter to get the real answers.


Why is CGI so bad?


Please see here:

Why is animation so expensive?


I could give an answer like, “it depends how you define expensive.” or “It doesn’t have to be.” but that is a cop out, and if people are asking that question directly they deserve a straight answer.


It is expensive because in order to create compelling CGI that adds value to a project, it takes a company or individuals who have already incurred costs to get a point where they can work on an animation. And then there are the ongoing costs that a studio or a freelancer will rack up while creating an animation:


Hardware – this is very specialist and expensive. Hardware is constantly wearing out, and needs to be replaced with newer hardware to meet increasing demands of HD, 4k, 3D stereo, realtime, etc.


Software – this is very specialist and expensive. Software licenses are increasingly subscription based so is an ongoing cost.


It isn’t easy. Capable artists have spent years and a lot of money completing courses, higher education and have sometimes spent years working in the industry working on their artistic and technical skills, the cost of their time while working on an animation ought to reflect this.


There are plenty of other costs, but you get the idea! We always try to work out where we can add value to a project, and how to maximise the gap between the cost of the animation and the value of the end result. It isn’t easy considering those overheads tally up to some pretty big bills if a project isn’t well planned, well briefed and well managed with a clear idea of why CGI is being used in the first place.


Here’s a little summary:

Value of project without CGI minus cost of project without CGI = x

Value of project with CGI minus cost of project with CGI = y

If x>y then CGI can be considered expensive.


Engine House’s tips for maximising ‘y’:

Choose an animation and VFX studio (or freelancer or collective) wisely. What work have they done that is relevant? How have they added value for similar projects in the past?

Give them a clear brief, agree on a schedule and budget and have a clear understanding of what you are getting for that budget. This makes both sides clear from the start what the scope of work can be and what everyone’s expectations are. You don’t want to be paying for something that you don’t want, and the studio shouldn’t end up being the ones paying the bill because CGI is expensive.


Is CGI dead?


No. The VFX industry is growing exponentially year on year, and that’s only when looking at CGI in movies. Games rely almost entirely on CGI, and the games industry has overtaken Hollywood blockbusters in terms of revenue. With the expected rise of VR, immersive media and our ever increasing consumption of content on smartphones CGI is not dead, it’s not even got a suspicious sounding cough.


Is animation hard?


It is hard to do well. Animation is the movement of something over time, making it appear alive. So to animate anything well, a ballet dancer animating their body for example takes a lot more skill than sitting on a sofa watching films (although we like to think after years of practice we’ve got that nailed).


As well as technical capability using the software, an artist or animator needs the knowledge and a lot of practice to have the skills to successfully bring a 2D or 3D computer generated asset to life and make a convincing animation.


One of the first skills an animator learns is how to make a circle or sphere move like a bouncing ball. It sounds relatively simple, but it is extremely difficult to do well. A good animator can breathe life into anything and make the audience feel emotions as a result. We recommend watching Pixar’s Blue Umbrella, no-one does it better than them.


Is animation art?


Yes. Film is considered art and it is sequence of still images played over time to give the effect of animation. 2D and 3D animation, both hand-drawn and computer generated do exactly the same thing.


We’re keen viewers of the YouTube series Every Frame a Painting, and the title sums up how the moving image should be appreciated.


Does animation need math?


Or maths.


Remember asking your teacher at school. “What’s the point of maths, I’ll never need it in the real world?” You’ve probably realised since that you use it a lot, and not just to add up how much your cheapskate friend owes for their share of the bill, taking into account they had the majority of the sharing platter and an additional glass of wine.


Granted, a CGI artist or animator isn’t usually asked to solve a quadratic equation or to find a binomial coefficient, but they’ll have an understanding of the difference between an 8 bit image, a 16 bit image and 32 bit linear float, how the values add up and multiply when composited, they’ll be familiar with square numbers, exponential values, calculating render times, file sizes and reflection and refraction indices.


CGI artists will also have a working knowledge of photography, lenses, fields of view, frame rates, velocity, acceleration, inertia, the golden ratio, the list goes on. All of these things involve numbers, and the manipulation of them.


Software does a lot of this work, so it is possible to animate something without actually doing what we be widely considered as maths, but you’ll be a better animator and artist if you embrace it.

So with all that in mind, no animation doesn’t need maths.

Does CGI ruin movies?


Again, see here.