1st Annua Ani-Jam: a 24-hour Animation Challenge
RIT’s School of Film and Animation hosted the first Ani Jam; a 24-hour animation competition. Teams made up of 2-4 students had only 24 hours to come up with an original story, and complete an animated film. Anyone with a background or some sort or prior knowledge about animation knows it’s a slow and tedious process. Just to put it in perspective, I worked over the summer in an animation studio located in New York City, where we created children’s television shows such as “The Wonder Pets!” and “The Small Potatoes”. A professional animator there would finish around 5-8 seconds of animation in one work day (about 8 hours). That’s it. So how did we finish an entire animated film in 24-hours? Honestly I still have no idea how we pulled it off, but I’ll try to break it down.
Saturday, 12:30pm: The theme given to us is “It Came out of the Blue!”, and the competition officially begins. Our group finds an empty classroom and quickly starts throwing out ideas. One idea consists of a dinosaur attack, while others where just as wacky. We opened up YouTube and started to watch some old 1950’s Sci-Fi horror movie clips to get some inspiration. We were all sold on the idea of doing a 50s style sci-fi film.
Using our theme, we decided that the film should be in black and white, but the only color being the strange, mysterious blue light.
Saturday, 1:30pm: Storyboards begin to be drawn on blank note cards and hung in order on the wall. We also used a whiteboard to plan our set, and plan where each item and character will be placed in each shot. After going through the sequence of storyboards over and over again, we narrowed it down to 12 shots.
Saturday, 3:00pm: Our group splits in two. I and another group member take our camera and shoot some reference footage to pin-point timing and character movements and timing to make it easier to animate. The other two group members begin to create the 3D models we need for our set.
Saturday, 6:00pm: Reference video is finished and cut together to help us with timing of shots. A shot list is created with multiple check boxes to track our progress on each shot. Models are complete and placed into our final set file.
Saturday, 6:30pm: For this competition, we were allowed to use pre-rigged characters. A ‘character rig’ is basically a digital puppet. There are handles or ‘controls’ for the arms, legs, pelvis, and even dozens of controls to manipulate facial expressions. There are over a thousand rigs online that are available to download, but we quickly found the one we were looking for and placed it in our scene.
Saturday, 10:00pm: With all of our set modeled out and characters imported, it is time to start animating (Finally!). Animation starts with key poses, which are the main poses for a character in a shot. Some shots have only 1 main pose per character, some have 10. It all depends on how complicated the character’s movement is. The more key poses we put in, the easier it becomes to turn that into polished animation. In this case, we tried to keep them to a minimum in the interest of time.
Sunday, 12:00am: Midnight hits and we are about halfway into the challenge. Key poses are done and our team splits into two once again. My teammate and I take our shots that have been key posed and start animating in-between poses. This animation step is called ‘blocking’, since the animation is not yet smoothed out. Our other two team members work on lighting each shot.
Sunday, 2:00am: One of our team members that are lighting shots breaks off to work on gathering sound effects from RIT’s massive sound library. The sound library is located on one of RIT School of Film and Animation’s servers, and consists of thousands of royalty free music and sound effects, as well as sound effects from past sound recording classes and student projects.
Our other team member who was working on lighting breaks off to work on painting backgrounds in Adobe Photoshop to later composite in.
My teammate and I continue animating into the night.
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Sunday, 6:00am: Our teammates finish painting and finding sound effects, and are now joining in on animation. Animation is just about done. It has been smoothed, but not totally polished yet. We are surprisingly ahead of schedule.
Sunday. 10:00am: Animation is complete. Lighting is done. Rendering begins.
Rendering usually takes hours and hours (sometimes days) to complete, but we made sure we had 3D models with a low amount of polygons to minimunize render times. Also, we only rendered 1 layer, when I usually render multiple render passes and compoite them together in After Effects.
Sunday, 11:00am: As shots finished rendering, we composite the backgrounds in and put it into our rough edit. One team member starts to add sounds in.
Sunday, 12:30pm: The challenge is complete! Our team finishes with about 30 minutes to spare. All of the rendered shots have been edited together with backgrounds composited in and sound effects in place. A short title sequence is created at the end and our title, “It Came out of the Blue” is put in the beginning.
Overall, this challenge was one of the best experiences I had at RIT. It was a ton a fun and a huge accomplishment to complete an animated film in 24 hours. I do not remember how many cups of coffee I drank or the amount of pizza I ate, but I’m not sure if I really want to find out. Winners of the challenge will be announced at the end of the quarter at film screenings, where the films will be premiered to the public.