By: Elyse                Categories: 3D AnimationAnimationBooks

The first stage of 3D pre-production is deciding what should be created and what can be purchased or downloaded. Remember, your main consideration is finishing the film, so the first question you must ask is whether you can create the asset yourself in the time that you have, not whether you could make something better. On a long enough timeline, of course you could model something that is better than the freely available version on Give me a couple of years and I’ll model you all of Manhattan, but the one available online for $50 will suffice. The next question, even more crucial than whether you could create the asset in less time or better than what is obtainable online, is how important is the asset to your film.

If you are talking about the main character of your film, then it is risky to use a distinctive downloadable character for the role. has dozens and dozens of character rigs that are free to use in non-commercial projects, but just because they are free doesn’t mean that you should be using one of them for your main character. Your short film is your calling card, and if you aren’t making a strong design statement with at least your main character, your short is only going part of the way to show the world who you are as an artist. If it comes down to a question of your not being able to create your main character yourself and you cannot get help from a friend, it is time to go back to your story and figure out if there is a simpler way to tell it. Another reason that using a downloadable character for your main character is dangerous is that there may be hundreds of animations floating around on the internet with that character animated poorly, with a different voice, or worst of all, animated in a distasteful way. As beautiful as your short may turn out to be, if your main character suddenly shows up in a viral video humping a fi re hydrant, your film’s success has been severely undermined.

Remember, I pointed out in the story chapter that your story does not have to be told with a bipedal human character. The story about the kids playing soccer is told just as well with simple box characters or flour sacks. Think long and hard about how complex the characters really need to be to tell the story you are trying to tell. In the end, my hope is that this first film is just one of many that you produce and finish. Each successive fi lm can be more detailed, complex, and ambitious.

Booty Call ’s Downloaded Assets

For Booty Call there were only a few assets that I determined would not be economical for me to create myself. The biggest consideration was how much screen time was going to be allotted to the assets that I needed to create. After hearing that, you might have already guessed which assets I downloaded. If you guessed the pirate ship and the rowboat in the first few shots, you would be right.

FIG 5.1 The pirate ship is hugely detailed and perfect for what I needed. But since it is only seen in its entirety in a single shot, it would have been a huge mistake to work on it myself.

Take a look at this ship. It’s actually beautifully done. I found it on for $200, and it’s called “Jolly Roger Pirate Ship” by MantifangMediaPro. It needed to be retextured and a little bit of topology changed for my film, but altogether it took perhaps two hours to get this asset in shape for production.

Compare that to an estimated 40–50 hours to model the ship and it was a no-brainer. However, if the film took place on the deck and there was a huge amount of interaction with the ship itself, it would be a totally different story. I might have opted to build the ship myself and be sure that every plank was in the right spot. Imagine how disruptive to production it might be to discover that a problem with a downloaded model is holding up your shots.

FIG 5.2 The rowboat was also downloaded from TurboSquid. Why reinvent the wheel (or the boat, for that matter)?

I found a great rowboat on Turbosquid for $15, called simply “Boat” by Panait George Dorin. It was highly detailed and even included the piece of rope dangling on the bow. The main consideration again was time and energy. I don’t know how the boards actually go together on a boat or really anything at all about hydrodynamics and boat design. I could have faked it, but that would still have taken hours and hours. For $15 I was almost 90 percent done with this asset. All that needed to be done was rig the oars to move correctly in the rowlocks and add Babinsky’s lantern. Overall, maybe three hours of work, saving another 20–30 hours in total.

There’s no rule that says you can’t download a free asset and take a closer look at it. I do not want my advice in this section to discourage you from experimenting and exploring the offerings of the free online model repositories. On the contrary, you should be downloading all of the free models you possibly can! Amass a gigantic model library and see how much easier it makes it to populate your film with sets, props, and characters.

Excerpt from Finish Your Film! Tips and Tricks for Making an Animated Short in Maya by Kenny Roy © 2014 Taylor & Francis Group. All Rights Reserved.

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