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The VFX Animation Pipeline

April 17, 2024

Animation in VFX is more than a technical process of implementing movements and actions. Though animation in VFX matches real-life movements and believable actions, it’s also a key component of storytelling in VFX scenes in film, television, and game cinematics. VFX animation is essential to defining characters visually, as their movements and actions can tell us who they are and their motivations.

To deliver second-to-none VFX animation, Magic Media produces them using several distinct stages to help us create, refine, and polish our animation work, which is a vital part of the VFX and cinematic production process.

Poses in VFX Animation

Critical to understanding the VFX animation pipeline are storytelling poses. These poses are used to highlight particular actions, motivations, and mental processes of our characters, resulting in feelings and inherent understandings that the viewer can gain from a glance. Though the actions can be big or small, the smaller details work to highlight changes and need-to-know information about a character.

Storytelling Stage

In the storytelling stage, or the layout stage as it’s sometimes called, we work without references and use the script almost exclusively to understand character motivations and actions to determine what needs to be conveyed to the audience. We lay out silhouettes to represent our characters and figure out what could work for their initial poses and potential camera angles. We also work out what lighting and color palettes could work and take note of all our viable options. Once we’re happy with our layout ideas, we work on loose poses to determine what options we have going forward for walking, running, grabbing, or any other physical action.

This phase involves a lot of iterations as our team hones our character’s actions and how they’ll look performing them. The number of poses is usually determined by the complexity of the character’s actions - a character going from sitting down to standing up and turning their head would be three distinct poses, and a character going from standing up to sitting down would be two distinct poses.

Reference Stage

During the reference stage, we use actors to act out the various characters' actions and discover what works for the scenes. This is a combination of a creative process in nailing down the best way for characters to express their actions and technical as our team attempts to gain references to animate the characters in the best way possible.

We do several takes at once for our VFX animation references and use one take as the main point of reference for work. We then place the shots in sequence and our Director of Animation will work with the team to determine the right speed for each action and adjust timing accordingly if needed.

As a continuation of the reference stage, we enter the blocking phase, where we refine our preliminary VFX animation poses through a delicate balance of ensuring our poses and animations are physically accurate to what the project requires, but also ensuring that the story is preserved through character actions. This process of refining animation in VFX, usually carried out by Senior Animators, is referred to as blocking.

Spline Stage

In the spline stage, we continue the work of the blocking stage and fill out our VFX animation shots. We focus on filling in the intermediate frames between key poses in the spline stage, ensuring that the in-between frames are natural concerning the preceding and proceeding poses. It’s important to note the significant impact of editing poses at this stage, as any changed key poses will mean that numerous frames on either side of it will need to be edited, which can be days of work. It’s critical to lock in key poses before reaching the spline stage to avoid extraneous work and affecting other stages of the VFX production process.

Polishing Stage

The final stage in crafting animation in VFX projects is the polishing stage. Throughout this phase, we refine our VFX animation as much as possible with iteration after iteration and tweak after tweak. Though the changes might not be noticeable to the untrained eye, but our animators make essential tweaks to improve the animations and poses overall. Once we’re happy with the level of polish, we hand the animations off to the next department so that the lighting and color palette can be finalized.

Take a look at our portfolio to learn more about our extensive body of work and expert TV & Film VFX services. Contact us today, and we would be happy to collaborate on your television, film, and gaming projects to provide stellar VFX, cinematics, models, animations, and much more. Contact Magic Media VFX & Cinematics today, and we would be more than happy to collaborate and bring your game cinematics and VFX for tv/film to the next level. In addition to animation, we offer countless services to help bring your projects to life.

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