Communities & Regions:
"THE MISSION OF DOKACHIN" Operating in Itoman
Part 4: The management of the animator's skill-level
By Yoshitsugu Hiwatari (NEC)
|Painted by an animator in the MMTC|| |
1. A supplementary explanation for section 1 in series #3
In section 1 of the previous series I stated that "Most animation production companies in Japan order the work after the painting process" (see Fig.1). But the animators who take part in the editing process need to understand the structure of the animation cuts and the animation production style. And the animators also should have the ability to check the works from the viewpoint of motion animation. Only the expert animators who join from the planning process can carry out the editing work. Thus the finished work and the planning phase have a close relationship, and most of the animation planning companies conduct the finished work in their company. In comparison with the editing work, the motion generation work has the same conditions as the painting work. That is, both of the works are labor intensive; in most cases the motion generation work is given to subcontracted companies.
We think that carrying out continuous working process from painting through the finished work can be effective to raise the animator's skill, and consequently productivity will be improved. This is because the animators can learn that the result of previous processes affects later works. We also expect that there is some cooperative work in the transition of several processes, and to manage the animator's skill-level can be useful to develop the animation work dynamically in the cooperative work environment. We understand that supporting cooperative work is one of the research tasks in "THE MISSION OF DOKACHIN".
2. Common management style in the animation production
Most animation production companies employ the animators as contracted workers when they start a project. It is difficult to determine the ability of contracted animators, and it is much more difficult to organize the correct group members to correspond to the complexity of the production work. They simply recruit the number of animators corresponding to the production volume from the associated companies or free animators. They spend a long time to manage to have sufficient animators, but the chronic shortage of the animators always follows the directors* as an unsolved problem.
The first animation enterprise to use regular employees was Studio Ghibli in Japan . The purposes of the enterprise are the wage increase of the animators and the improvement of the quality of the works by conducting production constantly. However, most animation production companies do not always have regular animators, and instead they recruit animators to catch up on their work. In this condition it is hard to manage to keep the quality at a high level and to complete production work without confusion.
The directors* in the production companies tend to trust animators about production until they finish their assignments to encourage motivation. In this case, the progress of production work is out of supervision, so they cover the uncontrolled administration by setting many checkpoints. But setting many checkpoints causes increases in delayed reworking and brings bad influences to the after-process. Moreover, many directors sometimes create the story by imaging the finished animation scene as production progresses, despite the fact that the debut of a new story affects the progress of the relevant production processes. Then the production workers coordinate the progress of each process by making frequent arrangements, work hard to catch up on their works or manage the many checks by making full use of their information and limited working time.
If the directors* don't grasp the present condition of production and the animator's ability, they take a long time to reschedule production and to account the achievement or to rearrange the work assignment caused by design changing. It is important to understand the state of production progress and the information about the animators as precisely as possible for effective management production.
Until now, many advanced animation software products have been introduced to each animation production process, such as painting software  or computer graphic tools  to improve productivity and to create realistic effects. However, if digital canvas eventually completely takes the place of clear celluloid, it takes a long time for the writer to write the scenario, the producer to organize the project, the director to manage the production and the animator to create the animated scene. It is necessary to support the animation production workers to grasp the status of the production, to understand the relationship between the processes, to know the available production resources and to communicate with each other efficiently even in the distributed network environment.
3. Providing the animator's skill-level calculation algorithm
In order to improve the productivity of painting work and to manage the animation painting work effectively, the research project in the MMTC provides an efficient management system to administrators and animators. At start of the research, we set the basic research subject to provide the animator's skill-level with a numerical value, so that any work group member in the animation production can grasp the skill-level to compare with the difficulty level of the designated painting work. We defined the animator's skill-level from the working time and the quality of the work, and also defined the difficulty level of the assigned painting work by analyzing the characteristics of the drawings.
We know that the developed skill-level calculation algorithm can account for only one part of the animator's ability. It is not easy to represent the artistic skill or the skill of understanding the finished images of animation in the animator's mind. In practice, we collect the working time as the experience and the retake count as the quality of painting work. In addition to these data, the data that reflects an animator's challenging of work with a higher level compared with the animator's current skill-level is counted.
Fig.2 shows the sample frame of each difficulty level. The difficulty level of the assigned painting work is calculated from the complexity of drawings, and we are proving the correctness of difficulty level by comparing with the administrator's estimation. The details of the skill-level calculation algorithm and the measurement method of the difficulty level of the painting work are edited for the proceedings of some international conferences. I will present the explanation of the algorithm freshly after the proceedings are published.
|An easy level
||A normal level
||A hard level
|Fig.2 Model frames of painting difficulty level|
4. Management of the animator's skill level
The animators are evaluated by referring to their careers and experience employing animation production work in general. The administrator assigns the number of scene cuts of the specific painting work to the animators with little consideration of their carriers, and then indicates to the animators who finished their assigned work to help another painting work in progress by unit of the scene cut. There is no reserved manpower to cope with the urgent handling since the all of the painting work are assigned.
We think that it is possible to assign the proper number of frames to each animator by employing the comparison method between animator's skill-level and the difficulty level of the painting work. And we believe that the proper work assignment or a little surplus work assignment under control by consideration of these levels will bring improvement in team productivity. It is possible that the painting group can cope with urgent work if the administrator has prepared spare time in advance. And they can also handle the production of animation prototypes quickly to see a simple motion picture, or the administrator can control a lot of works to avoid bottlenecks in the workflow by referring to both levels in the planning of the production schedule.
At the research project in the MMTC, we applied the animator's skill-level to the production schedule and the organization of the painting work group. We conducted practical experiments by organizing the animators who have different skill levels and are being assigned the same volumes of the painting works to the organized work groups. Two organized work groups painted three difficult levels of painting work, and we inspected the working time corresponding to the difficulty of the painting work. The productivity and the quality of each animator and each work group are checked and suitable work assignments are discussed in the experiments. The details of the experimental results will be presented in the proceedings of international conferences.
When I read the production journal of Studio Ghibli , I was overwhelmed by the earnestness and the concentration of the production staff. I felt that the beneficial influence to the productivity by the utilization of the animator's skill-level is rather week in comparison with their enthusiasm to the animation production work. Although we attempt to develop a robust production management method to contribute to improvement of productivity, that can be matched by the passion of the production staff by strengthening the skill-level calculation algorithm and trying to apply the skill-level widely with practicing the animation painting work in the MMTC.
 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.
 Studio GHIBLI: http://www.ntv.co.jp/ghibli/
 Cambridge Animation Systems: http://www.cambridgeanimation.com/
 MAXSON COMPUTER: http://www.maxoncomputer.com/
 New Tek, inc.: http://www.lightwave3d.com/
 AliasWavefront: http://www.aliaswavefront.com/
 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.
* directors in section 2: I use it generally for the director, the drawing director, the art director or the music director.