Typical Stages in a 3D Production Pipeline
3D production is a complex and precise operation. In order to remain effective and efficient 3D production typically follows a standard pipeline which helps streamline the process. On larger productions different stages may be executed by different people.
1. Preproduction and Blocking
This is the initial planning stage where the final designs and assets are determined. Some productions, e.g. video games, may choose to use concept designs and development sketches to design their 3D assets. The visual development process involves taking the (usually) 2D sketches and concepts and determining how they will function in 3D.
Concept designs forJourney, a 3D video game. Source: http://conceptartworld.com/?p=17180
In addition to this, the role of the asset, how it will interact (and move) and its relationship with its environment is determined through the process of blocking, a term that most commonly refers to actors working out a scene (Marshall, 2010).
Character concepts for Rapunzel from Disney’s Tangled. Sourced from: http://characterdesignnotes.blogspot.com.au/2010/11/disneys-tangled-character-design.html
2. 3D Modelling of Required Assets
Modelling is the process of taking the asset design and recreating it in 3D computer generated graphics. There are a variety of programs for this, including paid programs such as 3DsMax and free programs like Blender. Modelling involves the manipulation of vertices, edges and polys in order to create 3D shapes and assets (Slick, 2014). They are many different techniques in which to do this.
3D Model for Rapunzel from Disney’s Tangled. Sourced from: http://xnuccio.blogspot.com.au/2012/12/animation-pipeline.html
3. UV Mapping
In this complicated and fiddly stage, the 3D asset is “unwrapped” so that it lies flat on the UV plane as a mesh in order for a UV map to be created. The UV plane is a 2D platform in which the U and V respectively represent the traditional X and Y axis (Guerrilla CG, 2009). In order for a texture to be applied to an asset its UV map must lie completely flat on the UV plane. In the example below, a cube is ‘cut’ and is in the process of being flattened (this is stylised for educational purposes).
Sourced from: http://www.chocofur.com/tut_01_e.html
Once flat upon the UV plane a texture or image may be projected onto the cube’s mesh. This is shown below:
Left to right: 3D cube with the applied map; map being applied (or “wrapped”) around the 3D asset; the 3D asset sitting on top of the UV map. Sourced from: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/fe/Cube_Representative_UV_Unwrapping.png
Once the asset has been unwrapped the UV map can then to painted or edited in order to give the asset texture (Bourdon, 2013). This can be done in programs such as Photoshop.
Clockwise: final texture when applied to the 3D model; the 3D model without texture; the flattened texture maps ready to be applied to the model. Sourced from: http://www.thegnomonworkshop.com/news/2013/03/why-a-camera-is-a-texture-artists-best-friend/
The 3D asset is then bound to a character rig: a skeleton system of bones, joints and control handles which allow the character to be moved, as a doll would, into a pose (Slick, 2014). When rigging, kinetics and joint hierarchy must be taken into consideration.
A complex character rig for a human model. Sourced from: http://alexnikolaev.blogspot.com.au/2010/10/advanced-rigging.html
Similar to 2D animation, 3D character animation involves creating a series of poses in a timeline that, when played, give the impression of movement (Boudon, 2013). Poses are created by moving and adjusting the character rig. Other animations, especially VFX such as shattering or exploding, may be pre-programed into the software, allowing the animator to save time (Boudon, 2013).
The principles of animation, including follow through and overlapping animation, are still essential for creating realistic movements (as seen in Disney’s Tangled). Sourced from: https://www.tumblr.com/search/tangled+gifs
7. Scene Assembly
Similar to blocking or staging in a theatrical sense, scene assembly is the process of positioning the assets in the 3D space and manipulating the camera through the creation of camera paths (CG Architect, 2013). This allows the artist to recreate the storyboards, movement or scene outlined in the initial planning stages (Dreamworks, 2013). The assets may be from multiple different files and varying in size, some being extremely large like, a 3D forest environment, which will cause many computers to struggle (CG Architect, 2013). Scene assembly must therefore be carefully planned and many artists will use secondary programs to help with this stage.
Rough scene assembly. Sourced from: http://www.dreamworksanimation.com/insidedwa/productionprocess
As the name suggests, lighting is the process of incorporating a virtual light source into the 3D scene (Boudon, 2013). This stage needs to be carefully done in order to create the desired effect (Chang). Lighting gives the 3D objects shading and shadows, allowing the scene to appear more dynamic and realistic. However, different assets will need to be lit differently and/or have the settings adjusted: a light source, for example, will shade a metal surface differently to a wooden surface and this must be taken into account (Chang).
Observe the different highlights on the scales, armour, cloth and hair. Sourced from: http://www.moustachemagazine.com/2014/06/at-the-movies-44/how-to-train-your-dragon-2-international-poster-slice/
One of the final steps, rendering involves taking the 3D scene, the camera placements and movement, lighting and effects and outputting it into usable files (Boudon, 2013). Different rendering settings will give a different final product; it is therefore important that much time is left for experimentation in order to gain the desired effect for the scene (Bourdon, 2013; Chang).
Front: the rendered image including camera affects and lighting. Behind: the 3D scene. Sourced from: http://area.autodesk.com/3dsmax2011/features
In this stage, the rendered file (an image or animation) in brought into a compositing program (Chang). This stage includes everything from special effects, to final touch-ups, to the combining and assembling multiple visuals, possibly from different renders or sources (Chang). For example, a rendered character may be placed into a live action scene. Specialised visual effects artists will play a large role in this stage.
The rendered animation (left) has special effects added to it (right) in a compositing program. Sourced from: http://www.motiondesignandcompositing.blogspot.com.au/
11. Video Editing
Lastly, video editing is the final, but still important stage, in the 3D production pipeline. The composited footage undergoes final editing: this includes the addition of audio, sound effects and, possibly, adjustments to camera and framing (Chang). Due to the addition of audio, this stage is extremely vital and quite extensive: the process of the final mix must not be passed over (Dreamworks, 2013).
The process of the final mix for the movie Puss in Boots. Sourced from: http://www.dreamworksanimation.com/insidedwa/productionprocess
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CG Architect. (2013). Scene Assembly. Retrieved from
Chang, A. The Process of 3D Animation. Retrieved from
Dreamworks Animation. (2013). Production Process. Retrieved from
Guerrilla CG Project. (2009, June 5). The Basics of UV Mapping [Video file]. Retrieved from
Marshall, P. (2010). The 5 Stages of Shooting a Film Scene. Retrieved from
Slick, J. (2014). 3D Modelling. Retrieved from
Slick, J. (2014). What is Rigging?. Retrieved from