Abstract Factory Blog

The Responsibilities of Pre-Visualisation

02 Sep 2013

This post is about the dangers of spending too much time on a pre-visualisation

You can’t refine it well enough for final, but you can’t spit out static cubes and blocky animation either.

Yes you can. Here’s why.

I’m sitting here at a well known studio – about 10 people working on a TVC with three weeks done, three more to go – where the Head has just made a side-by-side comparison video of previs and final renders because the client said

“It looks different”

What he means is that the arrangement of each individual character in the crowd shots look different from how they once looked. What he means is that the way the characters move is different. The composition in camera-space is different.


Exaggerated example. You get the point.

What shouldn’t have happened is for the client to ever have expected anything but timing and continuity to look the same.

A previs is for timing and continuity. Nothing more. Nothing less.

It can sometimes be difficult to illustrate timing without a character and still somewhat tricky without him moving. But move him too well, and you’ll start putting constraints on what you allow yourself to do in the future.

Eventually, you’ll want to get into the nitty-gritty of how each individual character moves, his personality. How the crowd is arranged and how light hits the surface. But there are better ways of doing this.

E.g. who’s in each shot and what they’re doing can be expressed in either storyboards or manuscript. The look of characters can be illustrated via artwork such as concept art. A characters personality can be expressed via motion-tests. So on and so forth.

The point is, a director is responsible for assembling inspiration and draw the final pictures in his head. That’s what he does. That’s what he’s good at. What we’re doing is to help him do that.

We make pre-visualisations because final renders are expensive. Because tweaking animation takes time. And before you head down that route, it’s important to know in which direction you’ll go.

What happened here was a previs that, in addition to containing timing and continuity, contained composition, animation, secondary animation, shading and lighting. All from the viewport of course and not final in any sense of the word. To a CG artist that is. To the client, the story is quite different. It goes something like this..

“Wow these guys are fast!”

..only to leave disappointed from the next meeting once the studio has ”changed” (read “refined”) everything.

He’s here now. As we speak. Here to straighten things out. He just asked the Head to overlay final renders with the previs to better spot inconsistencies. Indeed the two characters in the render at a particular frame are 20-25 pixels off. Not good.

The discussion should be about what looks good and what can be made better, but instead the it’s about spotting differences, after which we’ll go back and make things to what it once were. Poor.

This is not the client’s fault however. He’s been given a previs which he has been staring blindly at for the last couple of weeks. Gotten used to any inconsistencies and started to see the good rather than the bad. He’s presented the work to his peers. Vouched for it. Then along comes the studio, changing everything. Not the timing or continuity, mind you. But everything else. As was planned from the start, yet the client never knew.

On a technical note:

Once you’re there, once you’ve got a previs that is executed to a level close to what the client expects to be final, you start using those shots directly as a starting point. That’s great, right? Saves time. But they were all made by a single artist (the previs artist) and thus only he knows what’s going on in the scenes. And neither are they pretty. No, they were made with efficiency and speed in mind. As a means to communicate and mesh our vision with that of the director.

So what happens? The rest of the department ends up refining a previs, rather than creating with previs as reference and inspiration. Ever heard the expression “polishing a turd”?

What can you do?

Let the previs communicate timing and continuity. As simply as possible, but no simpler[*].