Communities & Regions:
"THE MISSION OF DOKACHIN" Operating in Itoman
Part 3: Overview of the animation production work and the Production Management System
By Yoshitsugu Hiwatari (TAO)
|| ©TATSUNOKO pro.
1. Overview of the animation production work
(1) The subjects of the animation production business
Most traditional animation production works are labor intensive and time consuming, especially motion generation processes and painting processes. However, it takes a long time to educate an animator, and the chronic shortage of animators is still unsolved. Many highly-skilled animators are recruited when a new animated application appears. Moreover, as the animation production scale has been enlarged, productivity over the whole production phase is also a problem to be solved, although computer animation production tools bring improvement in productivity in each animation production phase. Thus one of the issues for the animation production business is the lack of animators.
For instance, production of animation film for the theater needs large numbers of efficient animators and long production time to maintain high-quality work and to provide work that has smoothly continuous character motion. High-quality animation film usually needs 24 or 30 frames (pictures) per second , so animation film of an hour running time has at least 86,400 frames. In practice, four or five times that volume must be produced, so animators have to deal with 345,600 frames in the painting work. If forty expert animators take part in the painting work of this animation production using computer tools, it takes six months if we suppose that one animator can paint 50 frames a day. And if more animators take part in this painting work, it will be hard to manage the progress of work because of the lack of the member's communication and the misunderstanding caused by inaccurate information. To deal with these matters, it is necessary to provide a new production management method that can improve the productivity of the entire work phase comprehensively in a distributed network environment, in addition to introducing computer animation tools to improve each animator's productivity.
(2) Main operations of animation production
Fig. 3 shows the main operations of the animation production and the work flow. Most animation production companies (animation-design companies) in Japan order the work after the painting process (painting & finished phase) to subcontracted production companies. The animation-design company works out a plan to make a scenario, to form the scene layout and to generate the motion. The painting work is still labor intensive, even though the use of computer animation tools is spreading. The productivity of the group work depends not only on the efficient skill-level of each animator, but also the management level covers the whole production phase.
The animation production plan is discussed by the producer, the director and the representative staff from the subcontracted animation production company.
The producer, the director and the scenario writer discuss the animation story, and they recognize the development of the story and think out the effective direction.
E-Conte is the story board that the director or the art director uses to illustrate the outline of a story, a character's movement or the sequence of major actions with sketches. E-Conte plays an important role to inform production rules from scene forming through editing work to the animator.
- Scene Forming and Layout
The character designer or the art director forms the layout of the character on the background, and sets the colors for each cut in the scene. In this work phase, the image boards prior to the drawing of background can be provided.
- Motion generation
According to the method of key-framing  to conduct the motion generation, the lead animator draws key frames of the character and then the second animator creates in-between frames on the basis of key-frames to compose the sequence of actions. In the production of high-quality film for the theater, 1,440 in- between frames must be created for one minute running time.
In case of all images (in-between frames) are handed to the subcontracted company by hard copy, and the animators scan these images as the preliminary process of painting work. The animators correct the faded line and then paint the designated closed faces referring to the specific color pallet.
The animator composites the characters on the background image, or composites several characters with each other. In this work phase the animator also sets effects using the camera work of the computer animation tool.
The animation work is finished by adjusting the time sequence and editing the words or setting the sound and visual effects.
2. Computer animation painting work in the MMTC
In general, the animation-design company subcontracts the painting work to the external companies to finish a large volume of painting work by the time limit. This production style of painting work has been spreading world wide looking for highly-skilled animators. In this world wide competitive condition it is important to have excellent original technologies and to own highly-skilled animators, and subcontracted companies must be able to manage the painting work with high-quality besides coping with the fluctuation of working volume. In addition to having efficient animators, the companies must provide enough computer facilities to support the painting work for the animators to show their painting skill well.
The project team in the MMTC is ranked as one of the external animation production teams. We have understood such hard realities in the animation production business, we have introduced sufficient computer systems, and the director has been continuing the training of animators. We also have started to study new management methods to improve productivity while taking into consideration traditional animation production ways in Japan.
(1) Computerized animation production work in the MMTC
As I described in series #2, section 2, the project team in the MMTC is using 2D animation software , painting software and 3D CG software   . The animation software is useful to paint effectively and create various effects efficiently. However, applying of the animation software contributes to improving the productivity of an animator's work in each work process, but a comprehensive management system to improve the productivity of the whole production work when the animator carries out painting work in cooperation with other group members is required. Then we have developed an animation production management system that manages the animator's skill and the painting work progress.
Fig.4 shows the main operations carried out by the director and the animator in the MMTC. The animation-design company orders the painting work with the instructions, original images and the E-Conte. The director of a project team in the MMTC receives these instructions by hand-drawn papers at this time.
The tasks for the director*1 (Production Administrator) in the MMTC are the work scheduling from scanning through editing, instructing the way of painting, managing the progress of the group work and inspecting the animator's work. After receiving the painting order, the director plans the work schedule and organizes the painting group referring to the animator's skill-level and the difficulty of the painting work. The order is rearranged into the computer instruction form and the digital instruction is delivered to the members of the painting group. The animation production management system supports the work scheduling, the work group arrangement and the managing progress of painting work.
The animators are organized in the specific painting group and they share the information about the painting work sent by the animation production management system. At the start of the painting work, the animator scans the original drawings and corrects the lines, erases blots of the ink or creates lines to make a closed face. They paint scores of cuts, and their group deals with these cuts in their one work period. They belongto one assigned group until they finish their work.
3. The animation production management system in the MMTC
The management system operating in the MMTC consists of a Work-level Management System and a Work-progress Management system. The Work-level Management System assesses the hardness of the painting work, manages the animator's skill level and assists the director to administrate the progress of painting work.
Fig.5 shows the outline of the system structure. The Work-Level Management system accepts an order from the animation-design company and analyzes the difficulty of the work by evaluating the complexity of composition and computes the work-level. This system also has data about the animator's skill-level. The director plans the schedule of the painting work and organizes the painting group by referring to these level data. The instructions of specific painting work can be issued by the director using the Work-Level Management system. This information of painting work is exchanged through the communicator across the director and the animator. The Work-progress Management System supports the director to administrate the work progress by inspecting the animator's work. This inspection result will be referred by the Work-level Management System to renew the animator's skill-level.
The purposes of our research  are to propose an optimal task allotment method and to work out a cooperative animation production planning. We are studying the animator's skill-level, the efficiency of each animator's work and the classification method of task difficulty. Moreover, we are proving the validity of the estimated skill-level and the task classification method by using practical data from the production of the animation story "DOKACHIN".
*1director: The director supervises the painting work and the work of finished phase in MMTC. The most suitable name is production administrator.
 Jessica K. Hodgins, James F. O'Brien, and Robert E. Bodenheimer, Jr. "Computer Animation", In the Wiley Encyclopedia of Electrical and Electronics Engineering, John G. Webster, ed., v.3, pp. 686-690, 1999.
 Shiro Tamaki, Yoshitsugu Hiwatari, Bokushou Kinjou, Morikazu Nakamura, Hajime Nakamura. "Consideration of Optimal Task Allotment Method under the Distributed-Autonomous Environment", 2002 IEICE General Conference. (in publication)