MSC2017 - Visualization Technology

This page documents the general production pipeline used in the creation of your MRP animation. It will vary from student to student and project to project, but we will follow this for our curriculum. Production is less linear than it is iterative: you will circle back on these steps when moving from shot to shot, or when editing and refining individual segments of your animation.

Course Assignments

You have to complete and submit six items in this course - three are directly related to production and three have to do with project management (which, really, is part of production):

  1. Shot breakdown - list of all your shots, their details, and the assets that need to be created for each. When you submit this to me, indicate which shots you intend to create for this course. This should be in an Excel spreadsheet with columns for shot name, animatic thumbnail, shot length (frames), list of related assets; associated audio tracks; notes. Here’s an example from a past student.
    DUE: January 14 - (5% of final grade - includes asset list)

  2. Asset list - a list of all the assets that you need to create. Remember, you may need more than one model to represent the same thing in your animation. For example, you may need a model of a white blood cell that can crawl around in certain shots. In other shots you may need to look at the cell surface up close. Same "thing" probably different models.
    This should be on a second sheet in the Excel file created for the shot breakdown. Include columns for asset name, asset type, associated shots, notes (eg. what does it need to be capable of doing).
    DUE: January 14 - (5% of final grade - includes shot breakdown)

  3. Three shots - choose three shots from your MRP and make them, from beginning to end. Choose three that ramp up in difficulty, and that represent different challenges that you want to attempt early. Submit these as compressed .mov or .mp4 files.

    1. Shot one - maybe just a simple shot with no animation other than maybe camera movement. Static shot of a static thing, or perhaps just simple animation. (30%)
      SHOT ONE RENDER - Feb. 11

    2. Shot two - more advanced animation, with some new technological challenge: particles, MASH, rendering style, etc. (30%)
      SHOT TWO PLAYBLAST - March 4
      SHOT TWO RENDER - March 11

    3. Shot three - something even more advanced and complex in execution (30%)
      SHOT THREE RENDER - April 8





You will start this course with your MRP topic established, storyboard, and animatic in hand. Research is on-going, but you should have a pretty good idea of the story you plan to tell in your animation. You likely have a scratch-track narration recorded, and this is good for production, but you should try to confirm all elements of your script as soon as possible and record the final version (yourself or enlist someone who has a nice voice and can wrestle with the terminology appropriately).

Now you should get a clear idea of all the things that you have to do before July. A good way to start is to make a shot break down and an asset list. The shot breakdown 

 Modelling and Rigging

You gained some modelling experience in MSC2016, and you'll put it to use here. The first step in production is creating your assets: the models used as "characters" and "sets" in your animation. It is good practice to create the separate models in their own files. These will later be referenced into you animation files - your shot files. This take some organizational discipline to do properly, which is sometimes difficult when you are just learning the program and the practice, but the earlier an organizational discipline is imposed, the better off you'll be.

Modelling includes elements that stray into other categories of production: rigging is the part of modelling that enables certain types of animation; shading and texturing is in the liminal space between modelling and rendering. Remember, this is all iterative design work - lots of looping back around. It is good, however, to know what models need to do in production: how they move, change shape, or have their surface properties alter over time. Knowing this allows you to tailor your work to meet the needs of the production and no more. Time is money (and your life currency!).


The next step is to animate your elements in your shot scenes. You can either import your models or reference them into the shot. Referencing has the benefit of being a live connection to your model file: if you edit the source file, those changes will be seen in all the shots in which that model has been referenced. Importing is a clean way to bring a model in, but that connection is severed. You will build some things in your animation file that won't be brought in from elsewhere (usually), such as particle effects, and MASH networks. However, this will be done on a case-by-case basis.

Animation is accomplished most often by setting keys (keyframing), dynamic simulation (nParticles, nCloth, nHair, Bullet etc.), procedural animation (MASH), or expression writing are also part of the animation process. Which of these you use will depend on the particular needs of your project and its individual shots.


Lighting, Shading and Rendering

Everything is connected: the type of lighting you use may influence how big your set needs to be; your shading may include bump maps and displacement maps which my change how you model something; rendering includes all of these elements and more, like how you are going to assemble all of these elements outside of Maya in a program like After Effects.


Now you put everything together in a compositing package. We use After Effects for assembling the different footage elements and adding titles, effects, and so on. You will likely find that you need to bring your voice-over into AE in order to tweak the timing of the on-screen visuals to match what is being said. However, you may want to finalize this, and to add sound using Adobe Premiere. 

More info on putting it all together here.

Class Schedule


Week 1 - Jan. 7, 2019
Topic: Principles of animation; basic mechanics of animation in Maya; key framing and interpolation
Exercise: Bouncing ball character and quality
Resources: animation tutorials: chapter 13
Items Due: NA

Week 2 - Jan. 14, 2019
Topic: ANimation continued; Mechanics of rendering (camera, compositing, playblasts); project setup and render settings; arbitrary output values and render setup (layers and collections)
Exercise: throwing a ball

Submit: excel files of shot breakdown and asset list

Week 3 - Jan. 21, 2019
Topic: Compositing in After Effects: nested compositions; time remapping; sound; adding effects to layers (eg. bg blur)
Exercise: Composite complex sample scene
Items Due: NA

Files for today - compositing example

Week 4 - Jan. 28, 2019
Topic: Review of shading, lighting, texturing, rendering with a sample scene.
Exercise: Work on shot 1; review playblasts in class.


Week 5 - Feb. 4, 2019
Topic: Rigging (bacteriophage example); animation with constraints; trax editor; graph editor; dope sheet.
Exercise: Rig the bacteriophage
Items Due: Shot 1 playblast

Download this

Week 6 - Feb. 11, 2019
Topic: Dynamics 1: the Nucleus system (particles, cloth, and hair).
Exercise: Add hair and particles to Bacteriophage scene.
Items Due: submit shot 1 here


Week 7 - Feb. 25, 2019
Topic: Distributing objects in a scene: MASH; nParticles; xGen
Exercise: Review playblasts; build landscape with MASH

Week 8 - Mar. 4, 2019
Topic: Dynamics 2: nucleus (elements not covered earlier), MASH, Bullet
Exercise: Render a shot with dynamic elements after caching.

bactShape.scaleInstPP = <<bactShape.rampPP,1,1>>;
int $pi=bactShape.particleId;
vector $pos = bactShape.position;
vector $vel = sphrand(3);

//int $div = fmod (frame,10); 

int $div = noise(bactShape.particleId)*frame;

int $rn = rand(frame);
if ($rn == $id)


bactShape.lifespanPP = 0;

emit -o bactShape -pos ($pos.x) ($pos.y) ($pos.z) -at velocity -vv (-$vel.x) 0 (-$vel.z);
emit -o bactShape -pos ($pos.x) ($pos.y) ($pos.z) -at velocity -vv ($vel.x) 0 ($vel.z);


if ($vel == 0)

    $vel = $vel + 1000;

    $vel = $vel + 1000;

Week 9 - Mar. 11, 2019
Topic: Walk cycle, character animation, applying the principles
Exercise: Rig a reverse foot; animate a walk cycle loop.
Items Due: Submit shot 2

Week 10 - Mar. 18, 2019
Topic: After Effects compositing
Items Due: NA

Download this

Week 11 - Mar. 25, 2019
Topic: Rigging and walk cycle
Exercise: Walk cycle (download this file); work period
Walk cycle resource image
Items Due: nothing - no playblast needed

Week 12 - April 1, 2019
Topic: After Effects integration with scene
Exercise: Integrate rendered scenes into animatic

Week 13 - April 8

Submit final shot