Completing the Animation


Introduction

While this page is labeled “completing the animation” these are things that you will be thinking about throughout production. What I will detail here is how you should handle turning all those renders from Maya into a whole animation ready to be delivered in a single file. While there are many ways to approach this, this is a fairly common workflow. Be aware that all projects do have their own qualities and particular requirements, so be prepared to adapt. 


Building your Shots

Software used: After Effects

The renders that are produced in Maya are assembled in After Effects (AE). Here we are using AE a a compositing tool. There are better tools out there for this sort of task (like Nuke). What AE has going for it is that it is a competent compositing application, plus it has the capability to serve as a 2D animation package, and has plenty of great tools for adding titles and labels. It is also widely available and commonly used in our industry.

File types going into After Effects

If there is one golden rule to remember, it’s that you should never use any sort of compressed file in the production process. Compression happens as the very last step. Just say no to JPGs.

Use TIFs or EXRs when rendering from Maya. AE is not as efficient as something like Nuke when it comes to EXRs, but EXRs offer plenty of compositing and rendering flexibility. Arnold seems to be built around EXRs and allows you to render multi-layered EXRs with all AOVs merged into one combined file. TIFs can also be used in some cases - they can hold alpha channels in addition to the RGB channels, and are uncompressed. In either case it is best to use 16 bit or 32 bit float in the colour depth choices when rendering from Maya. Usually 16 bit will suffice and will produce MUCH smaller files. If I had a choice I’d go with EXRs at half precision (essentially half 32 bit). This will give you maximum flexibility with fairly small files, and will help avoid the dreaded “banding” of gradients in your final output.

You will also likely be bringing your sound clips into AE to time events properly. Make sure you bring in the uncompressed clips that were exported from audition.

Compositing Shots

The MRP is a vicious and sprawling beast. With this in mind, you may not want to build all of your shots in a single AE file. If you do it may become too big to be snappy and responsive as it tried to load all of those files. In fact it may be better to group them by sequence, or even build one shot per file. This will vary depending on the nature of your animation and whether you are using AE to fake transitions between shots.

Rendering shots from After Effects and putting them back together

Software used: After Effects and Premiere (or Final Cut Pro)

Once you have composited your shot, you can then render it out as a new file. This could be another series of image files (TIFs, for example). Or you can render out an uncompressed movie file - with or without sound. This second option is probably best. The next step will be bringing these movie files into Adobe Premiere and piecing all the shots together and adding sound effects, music, etc.

Video output to go to Premiere: Uncompressed AVI or Quicktime ProRes 4444.
Remember the golden rule - no compression yet! These will be monstrous files, but you don’t want any compression artifacts yet. Truthfully, ProRes 4444 is compressed, but it is so unnoticeable that we live with it for the MUCH smaller files it produces. If you don’t have access to this you can use the Animation CODEC at 100%. Prepared for a weeping hard drive though.

Why do this? Why not just use AE for this?

You certainly could do this (I do sometimes out of laziness or really small and mainly 2D projects). AE would allow you to put all these movie clips together and add sound effects etc. However, each time you want to preview, you have to load everything into RAM. Premiere is a video editor and MUCH more efficient at this. At 1080P everything will be at real time - no RAM previewing necessary. Premiere also has easy to use transition presets, and easy means to adjust volume, etc. Premiere will be much easier to use in this way. On a Mac you could use Final Cut Pro in place of Premiere. It is optimized for Mac hardware (it only works on Mac).

Final Export

Software used: Premiere and Media Encoder

You must export an “uncompressed” version of your MRP. Use the ProRes 4444 preset (Premiere will send it to Media Encoder). Then compress this output using Media Encoder again, but this time use a preset that relies on a CODEC like H.264 or PhotoJPG.

Now you are a professional!