Communities & Regions:
"THE MISSION OF DOKACHIN" Operating in Itoman
Part 2: Advanced animation production system introduced by TAO in the MMTC
By Yoshitsugu Hiwatari (TAO)
|| ©TATSUNOKO pro.
1. Animation contents production system and security system
To process large volumes of computer data such as computer animation production, many animators and directors need a high performance digital work environment. For example, a substantial infrastructure consisting of a broadband network and high performance computer systems to work in collaboration flexibly.
Animators in the MMTC can do efficient animation painting work while having secure communication with other members and utilizing an "animation production management system" and an "animation production security system".
(1) Animation production management system
An animation contents production system works in cooperation with a management server, data server, PC, CG system and video editing system.
The system assists the director to plan painting work, to organize painting work groups and to manage the progress of painting work. The director indicates how to move painting work from the Web site in the director's PC to the animator. Some animators can be appointed to a specific work group for painting animation cuts, and they cooperate to achieve the mission in the MMTC virtual work environment. They carry forward the painting work efficiently by sharing information about work progress or taking the directors assessment about the result of panting work. A computer animation production system in the MMTC supports active communication within the work group. We expect that the computer support animation production system will result in efficient and hi-quality painting work.
(2) Animation production security system
An animation production security system in the MMTC protects information about communication within the work group and the animation products. When the animator saves or accesses the animation contents in a data server, the security system works by using access control and authentication. In the future we intend to expand the accessibility of the MMTC system to the Okinawa islands using the Internet and a Gigabit network (JGN). With the expansion of connection area we need to realize strong security mechanisms to protect not only production know-how but also copyrights of animation products in early stages of research.
2. System configuration of the research system in the MMTC
With the cost of PCs or servers coming down, we can more easily arrange system components to correspond to the size of organizations. In "THE MISSION OF DOKACHIN", we aim at having sufficient components available but also to build a robust system structure that will help when the animator works in a distributed network environment.
The research system in the MMTC contains four director PCs, thirty high performance PCs for painting work, fifteen PCs for complimentary painting work, a management server, a data server, four CG workstations and two video editing systems. All equipment in the MMTC is networked by high speed LAN. Fig.2 shows the system configuration of the Itoman multimedia model office system and the facilities for cooperative use.
(1) Director's PC
A director's PC is located in each director room. The director can manage scanning work, painting work, CG creating work and video editing work by using production management tools. 2D animation software is also available in the director's PC, so the director supervises painting work or gives comments about the animator's work result directly.
(2) PC for painting work
Thirty high performance PCs have access to Animo 4.0, a 2D animation production software developed by Cambridge Animation Systems . Animators scan paper drawings, paint designated areas in the line drawings, composite several elements, create effects using camera views and output to the file. They can produce animation products effectively by utilizing Animo.
(3) PCs for complimentary use
Fifteen numbers of PCs for the compliment use just about the same performance as PC for the painting work. The animator uses the PC as the preliminary work step for the painting work process. These PCs are installed Adobe Photoshop 6.0  and mainly use for scanning the line drawings (black and white drawings) created by second animators*1 .
(4) Management servers
A management server keeps project management data and working status data. The director and the animator can access to working status table in the management server and they can get information about the progressing of animation painting work on the web pages. The director can grasp the skill level of each animator, and the director makes work assignments by considering the animator's skill and the complexity of the painting work. The animator's skill is evaluated based on the animator's career of painting work and how many works the animator has accomplished. The system provides the animator's skill level as a graph image.
(5) Data server
A data server contains the animation contents. The animator saves the contents when he/she accomplishes all or part of painting work. Both the director and the animator who are permitted to join in the same work group can share the information in a data server. A data server consists of 16 31GB disks and these disks are organized by RAID-5 architecture.
(6) CG system
In recent years it has become necessary to use CG systems for efficient animation production. The MMTC Research project introduced aCG system that has installed Lightwave3D , MAYA Complete  and Cinema4D XL . The CG system also is equipped with application software that generates video contents from digital data. LightWave 3D provides fast and accurate light reflection refraction. The Depth of Field filter included in LightWave offers rendering of hidden geometry for accurate background blurring*2, optional iris shapes, and the aspect ratio and rotation angle of the camera lens, in addition to the traditional depth of field control. MAYA Complete provides NURBS*3 Modeling, Character Animation for creating realistic digital characters, MAYA Paint Effects for easily creating 3D scenes or 2D canvases, integrated particle systems, Integrated Renderer, and Universal Rendering. CINEMA 4D XL offers fast workflow in a fully integrated 3D environment combined with the fastest ray tracer*4. Generated 3D information can be exported to the 2D animation tool Animo and can be handled in the 2D hierarchical scene graph using all the effects and filters of the existing 2D functions.
(7) Video editing system
Two video editing systems in the MMTC correspond to NTSC format and HD (high definition) video coding format. Each video editing system consists of VTR, CD player, MD player, audio mixer, three sound generators and a non-linear video editing workstation.
(8) Network facilities
The research system in the MMTC can be accessed through the Internet via router. A firewall and proxy server guard from tattacks on the MMTC together with cryptography.
3. The role of each system component in the animation work
All of the computer animation work in the MMTC is under the control of the director by using an Animation production management system. The director is in charge of planning for team activities and supervising from painting work through video editing, and he/she arranges the work group, indicates the painting work and checks work progress.
(1) Receive painting work and arrange painting work
The director in the MMTC receives information such as the story of animation, the character's behavior, the combination of the character and the background, color scheme or lighting effects. The director arranges the members of the working team by considering the animator's skill level and directs painting by using the director's PC.
(2) Input the line drawings through Color Scanner
After the production scheduling, the first step of the painting work is to scan the line drawings using the color scanner. The animator checks the line of the scanned line drawings and corrects by using Animo. The animator also inputs the background drawings and edits the background data if the size of the picture is wider than the limitation of the scanner. In most cases the background drawings of animation are wide panning drawings to have the moving effect of camera work. Animo and Photoshop handle section scanning, and the animator can edit the scanned data precisely.
(3) Paint the designated area of line drawings
The animator receives the indication of painting work using the PC for painting work. The director indicates the color model for painting the character in each cut by using pallets. The pallets can be edited for multiple characters of each scene by the director or the color coordinator. When the animator finishes the directed painting work, the animator sends back the work to the director. The director tests the painting work and if the work fails the director sends the work with the adequate comment to the animator as retake work. If the work passes the test, the work is finished and the animator can get new painting work.
(4) Making the effects
The animator creates effects such as liquid, fire, smoke, dust, clouds and so on by using the CG systems. The animation cuts finished in the painting process can be imported to the CG creation process. In the CG creation process the animator can also generate the full CG animation cuts and export to the camera work step in the painting process.
(5) Composite and output to the file
The animator finishes the animation cuts with composition of multiple characters and the background by using camera tools of Animo in the PC for painting work, and the completed animation cuts are output to the file.
(6) The video editing
The animator edits the animation cuts by creating sound effects or mixing voices. The video editing work needs the ability to arrangeeach component in the animation cuts and to understand the implication of the animation cuts. When the animators in the MMTC accomplish the computer animation work starting from scanning the line drawings through video editing, the creativity of the animator group in the MMTC will improve and they will get higher reputations for computer animation work productivity.
4. The promising animators are taking an active part in the research project
As I described in series#1, the practical data of animation production is important the research activity success. In fact, we can know about the skill level of each animator and know everything about the animator's roll in the work-sharing environment through the series of production for DOKACHIN story. We understood that the training for the animator is important as well as improvement of the computer systems for animation production. When the MMTC was constructed, training courses in computer animation painting were held in Naha city. We recruited of animator trainees in Sept. 2000, and 447 people applied for the advertisement. After four months training, 180 people remained and they studied the additional course for the computer operation of Animo. They have experienced five months computer animation training, and 40 animators passed the Animo painting examination. They are the main members of the computer animation work group in the MMTC at this point. All members are from Okinawa and they have been progressing well. Alaso, 25 new members joined the MMTC animators group, and they are creating animation cuts in the computer animation production environment.
I would like to introduce some excellent persons in the MMTC animators group.
Mr. Takuji Kawamitsu is from Naha city, and
Miss Chikako Ooshiro and
Mr. Tetsuya Uehara are from Itoman city.
All three of these artists have finished painting work quickly and precisely. They are able to instruct the animation work to the animators, and can check another animator's work. When they grow up to be well-known animators in the future, I will show you their animation work with their digital photographs.
*1 Second animator: In a creation of the motion frames, a lead animator creates the key drawing, and a second animator creates the in-between frames.
*2 Background blurring: The effect of depth on the 3D digital field as the depth of the object through the camera lens.
*3 NURBS: NURBS is the Non-Uniform Rational B spline curves and this is ageometric modeling method.
*4 Ray tracing: Ray tracing is a versatile technique that uses the same model to integrate aspects of light/object interaction that were previously handled by separate ad hoc algorithms - reflections, hidden surface removal and shadows .
 Jessica K. Hodgins, James F. O'Brien, and Robert E. Bodenheimer, Jr. In the Wiley Encyclopedia of Electrical and Electronics Engineering, John G. Webster, ed., v.3, pp. 686-690, 1999.
 Alan Watt, Mark Watt. Advanced Animation and Rendering Techniques Theory and Practice, ACM Press