Don't Do it All in One Scene

Dec 17, 2021 at 07:30 am by Warlord720

Some animators, perhaps even most of us early on in our animation journey, have been guilty of trying to do too much in one scene. What is a general indicator of such a scene? One that has grown so complex in timing and substance that it is difficult to work with past a certain point and even more difficult to tweak because of a cascade of side effects in timing up and down the timeline said tweaks can produce. I have written about this topic in previous posts but it bears repeating with new animators everywhere it seems.

The length of the scene is not so much a factor as the complexity that stresses both computer and user until one finds themselves chasing their tail or locked into digital whack a mole. It’s the old “fix one problem and two more appear elsewhere” sort of thing.

Modern animation products like Reallusion’s iClone do not require advanced skills to be able to put together an animation. I’m not saying it’s going to be a great animation, but it can, in a manner of hours for a new user, produce at least a test that they can be proud of. It’s a confidence-building program too when one can turn out a rudimentary animation so easily.

On the other hand, powerhouse 3D applications like C4D, 3DS Max, and Maya can produce a character animation test too. After a few days, weeks, or months of doing everything but animation just to get to the point of animating unless you are already well versed in the software.

With iClone you can drag and drop characters and motions to get something going without even knowing that things like keyframes exist or what physics has to do with anything in animation.

With easier-to-use applications comes an influx of new animators – newbies, which is not meant to be derogatory but merely a simple classification so other 3D artists know where you stand. We can’t help you if we don’t have at last an inkling of what you know about 3D in general. If you try to fake these skills… well… good luck with that.

Along with new animators comes the almost innate tendency to want to put together scenes with tediously long timelines. First in terms of loading the scene and its assets, second in terms of manipulating the scene and its objects. Third, the ability to easily time elements without affecting other parts of the timeline, to both sides, of the event being edited.  

If you script your scenes or at least outline them for coherence and story continuity, then you don’t want to throw that development work out the window with bad timing. Whether it’s comedic or dramatic, bad timing kills a scene or at the very least makes it fall flat. Timing truly is, in this instance, everything. Storytelling in general is boring without timing.

Break your scene into manageable parts. Using a storyboard, even just text-based or a list can help to plan a scene. You can also stop at a manageable point that does not interfere with the continuity of the storyline. After making sure you have a saved copy of your current work you can save that same file under a different name and start where the last scene ended.

With this method, everything is in place, no need to add assets again, the timing of events before and after will not be affected as they will stand on their own with their own scene or Project file in iClone’s case. The big advantage is that continuity is maintained from scene to scene without a lot of time wasted rebuilding or restoring a scene to certain points.

Whether it’s a few seconds or a few minutes a scene can quickly grow too complex for new animators to keep up with or remember where certain things happen within the timeline. This is another good rule of thumb… if you are confused by your project file… i.e., you do not know exactly what is in it then break it down into multiple project files to clear the fog or at least make it easier to search for events on the timeline.

Your project file for a scene should be nimble in terms of events that need specific timing. Cut those up into their own projects so as not to affect the timeline up or downstream. The next time you feel like your scene has grown too complex to manage… break it down into sub-scenes that flow from one to the other so it will be easy to stack together in the video edit.

M.D. McCallum, aka WarLord, is an international award-winning commercial graphics artist, 3D animator, published author, project director, and webmaster with a freelance career that spans over 20 years.  Now retired, M.D. is currently working part-time on writing and select character development projects. You can learn more about MD on his website

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