During my career, I realized that making a mistake in shot casting is one of the best ways to set a fire in a production.
The consequence always follows the same pattern. The Animator is the first to notice that something is missing. Then, he warns the Production team about the issue. In response, the Production asks the Modeling Artist to stop what he is doing and switch his focus on the missing asset. It doesn’t sound like a big issue, but this simple action modifies the production process and creates a lot of noise.
To avoid that situation, the only thing you can do is to be properly prepared. This blog post will explore how to get ready and see what can be done when a casting error happens!
NB: If you are not familiar with the concept of the Shot Casting, you can learn more with this article CG Pipeline: Shot Casting.
Do Several Breakdowns
To handle the shot casting properly, you need to do three breakdowns during the production lifetime:
1The Script Breakdown to list all the assets for Concept Artists and Storyboard Artists.
The first time you read the script, you should not start the breakdown yet. You have to get the story first before analyzing it. Once you have the big picture of the movie, you can start your breakdown. Don’t try to do everything in a single pass. You need to identify the backgrounds, the characters, the props, and the most important FX. If you are not used to breakdown, you can highlight the elements with pens of different colors. It will help you not to miss a thing.
The background is the most complicated part. It would be best if you focused on establishing/close-up/reverse angle/… The purpose is not to create everything but to create meaningful environments that will act as references.
Characters are easy; you can add special posing and action if there are really specific. Don’t forget to mention passerby or figure.
The props are a bit more tricky; you have to visualize the action. If, for example, the script says, “Tom hangs a frame on the wall,” you need to list the frame, the hammer, and the nail!
Be prepared to have back and forths with the director/supervisor. They may have ideas to optimize your breakdown.
2The Storyboard Breakdown for Modeling/Preproduction Artists and Layout Artists.
To do the storyboard breakdown, you need 2 things: the storyboard (of course) and the design pack created earlier. The purpose of this breakdown is to list all the things added by the Storyboard Artist.
Once again, don’t try to do everything at once. Do the background first, check the environment already created, and see if you have all the information needed. You may have to create extra camera angles or close up to fit with the storyboard.
Then, do the characters and props breakdown. It’s the same principle, check if you have all the information previously created. It would help if you had a reference for everything, all the spoons, cars, leaves;... Finally, list all the FX, drop of water, mud puddle, sparkle, etc.
3The Previz/Layout Breakdown for the Modeling/Preproduction Artists and Animator Artists
This breakdown may be tedious and sounds like an “extra kill,” but the Previz/Layout Artist commonly adds new elements to improve the pictures. You need to list these elements to not to miss anything.
Every time you achieved one of these breakdowns, ensure that the official shot casting is updated accordingly! It’s best to avoid future mistakes.
How to manage problems
But, let’s be honest, even if you’re prepared, errors happen. So how to react when an asset is missing from the casting?
The Modeling Artist figured out that something is missing.
He could decide to build the missing asset by himself. An Artist shouldn’t have to imagine how to make an asset. If the Director didn’t brief him, the Artist would do the shape to ease his work the most, not what the director wants. There is a high probability that this asset will be redone. All related shots will require a new take to fit with the new official asset.
What to do in that case: When an artist comes tells you that an element missing an element, make sure that there is not a similar element.
If there is nothing, add this asset and label it with a Stand By status. Then give the artist something else to not block him. You now have to redo the breakdown of the animatic/layout to define this missing element's properties. Once the characteristics have been filled in and validate with the Director, you can have this element made. Then you have to update the shot casting!
The Modeling Artists did not realize that something is missing, neither the Animators.
In that case, someone realizes late in the process that an asset is missing on some shots. Creating an asset during the last stages of the production will create a lot of confusion. As a Production Manager, you may even need to call back a Modeling Artist if there is none in the studio at that moment. All days spent on modeling, shading, rigging this asset, and redoing the animation of the related shots, are days where the rendering is stuck.
It could compromise your deadline. Make sure to inform all stakeholders when it happens.
What to do in that case: If it is at the rendering stage that we realize that something is missing, the first thing to do is to postpone the build of this shot and give the Artist something else to do.
You have to analyze the shot again and see what is missing. The first reflex is to try to find an approximate element because it doesn’t require extra work. But prior to that, you need to involve the Modeling Supervisor (he knows best what’s in stock), the Rendering Supervisor (he knows if it would change the shot's performance), and finally, the Director to validate the decisions made. If an equivalent element can be found, it’s ok to keep on building this shot. If nothing can be found to replace this element, we must define the need precisely. A new breakdown is needed to know if this element appears in other shots. Gather as much information as possible, take a decision and have it validated by the Director.
Then, you have to get this element done. You have to decide if the Rendering Artist can handle this or a the Modeling Artist have to be called back. And, once you’re done, do not forget to update the shots casting!
You have done the breakdown, but the casting is not up-to-date.
It means the Modeling Artist will have a list of objects and characters to do, without a distinction of importance. Without a shot casting, the Modeling Artist won’t know if an asset appears in every shot or just in a single one. He will play the safe card and spend the same amount of time on every asset.
The Rigging team will have the same lack of information. The Artists will do the rig the same way for each object and character, without knowing if an object is a prop (needs a rig) or an object part of a background set (doesn’t need a rig).
It can quickly become a huge waste of time! It can also affect the global quality of the show. The main characters and props won’t be pushed enough, and an insignificant object will be worked way too much compared to the time it is visible. When the artists realize the discrepancies between their work and the final picture, it will bring a lot of frustration. The Director can go mad.
What to do in that case: It is time to be more accurate with your breakdow. Identify the most recurring elements. It is always useful to know how many times per sequence or episode an element is used.
It is also necessary to know if an element will be seen in close-up, medium, or wide shot. It’s important to differentiate a passer-by and a speaking character. Do not forget about the character posing too. It has an impact on its rig (and details matter: watch, under soles, inside of the mouth, etc.).
Another important element to take into account is the lighting. Indeed we will not treat an element in the same way if it is displayed with a full lighting or in the dark.
A quick solution can be to classify the elements as primary, secondary, or accessory. In the same way, you should not hesitate to note the posing or visible details of characters or objects in the description. The more exhaustive you will be during the preparation, the faster the next steps will be.
To sum up
As a Production Manager, you need to take extra care about the different breakdowns you have to do during the production.
If you forget to do it, several problems can occur:
- According to his own desire and not the director's view, an artist can decide to do the missing asset by himself.
- No one realizes that an asset is missing until the very end of the production. Shots will be stuck, and the whole process of the pre-production has to start again.
- The main and secondary assets are not identified. They will all have the same level of detail. It will affect the movie’s quality, and a lot of time can be wasted to fix that.
The breakdown and the shot casting are the different faces of the same coin. It’s one of the main elements to communicate with your team. Be sure to manage them properly, and you will avoid a lot of annoying situations!
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