Building your system


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Posted by Charles on June 23, 1999 at 00:31:20:

The collective employment strength of the animation community comes from employment options and the competition that those options foster. Without competitive options, animation artists will continue to be at the mercy of the production status quo and the clowns that oversee it.

I spoke with a friend of mine the other day who happens to be the lead production designer of a Disney animated feature in development. You would think that an opportunity to design a Disney feature would be a tremendously gratifying experience. In the case of my friend, it's anything but that. The problem? The same old story. Being art directed by insensitive, unqualified, non-creative management personnel.

For animation artists so inclined, developing and producing a personal project is important not only for individual creative fulfillment, but for the betterment of our industry and for overall artistic growth and expansion. If it's not possible to get anywhere within their system, then build your own. The small operation of today could be a major option of tomorrow.

When I decided to make the committment and get into digital animation production, I had no idea what I was in store for. At the time, all I could do was type a letter on some simple word processing software and save it to disk. Everything else was a mystery. Many traditional animation artists are in a similar position today. Their computer skills are lacking or are nonexistent. If that's the case with you and you are motivated to do your own thing but are intimidated by the technology, your opportunity to get something going is much better today than when I got started. I learned the hard way at a time when the technology still had to mature. You don't necessarily have that problem. Everything is in place for you.

First, decide upon the software you want to use and build your production system around it. You'll have to do your research, but that's ok. Let me fill you in on what I've discovered. There's animation production software that's been available for several years and has just started getting the recognition that it should have received long ago. It's called AXA and for someone looking for affordable, yet effective production software for traditional cel animation, it's hard to beat.

AXA is Windows based. It is very easy to learn and has extensive tools for producing every aspect of broadcast and feature quality animation. Animo, Toon Boom, Softimage Toons, etc. are all excellent and extremely powerful software packages, but they are very expensive and are better suited for very high end work. AXA is affordable and produces animation of comparable quality. If you are a student or an instructor at an art or animation school, you also get 50% off. I'm not a spokesman for the company, nor do I have a vested interest in selling their product, but if you'd like more information, call Kent Braun at 714-974-2500. He is very helpful and provides excellent tech support.

To run AXA or similar software, you'll need three basic components. A computer system, a flatbed scanner and a video output card. I looked through the paper today to see what was happening as far as prices are concerned. I found an add for a 450 megahurt Pentium III with 128 megs of ram, an 8 gig hard drive and a 17" monitor for $1500. That's an incredible price on a system that is more than enough to do anykind of cel animation you want. Toss in a heavy duty scanner and you've got two of your three components for less than $2000 before tax. That same system 4 years ago would have cost you close to $15,000 to $20,000. That's how much things have changed.

A quality video output device is important. I use the Perception Video Output Card manufactured by a company in Kentucky called Digital Processing Systems, or DPS for short. I get excellent results with it. All you have to do once its in your computer is connect it to a TV monitor and a VCR and you've got everything you need to start producing and pitching full color animated shorts of the highest quality. The Perception card is a bit pricey. Last I heard it was selling in the neighborhood of $2000, but keep this in mind. It took $20,000 worth of equipment to do what this device can do only a few short years ago. There are less expensive output devices and maybe someone can suggest one, but for something between $4000 and $5000 tops, you can have an awesome animation factory in your home. All you need to do is load the software and generate the drawings. That's an amazing place to be. Anyone can acquire the potential to independently compete in this industry. And it can be done on a credit card.




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