by Stephanie Overby

Animation Automation

May 15, 20023 mins
Data Management

IT adresses the problems of assembling the thousands of shots that compose a computer animated film.

“I can fix that.”

That’s the tagline for Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius, but it could just as well be the motto for the production coordinators who put together the animated feature film released last holiday season.

DNA Productions, the Irving, Texas-based animation services company that partnered with Nickelodeon and screenwriter and director Steve Oedekerk to produce the film, addressed the problems of assembling the thousands of shots that compose the 82-minute movie by logging and tracking all of them in a database.

Actually, DNA staffers used four FileMaker Pro databases. One followed the initial storyboards, one tracked the shots assigned to individual artists, one followed the progress of each shot through the production process, and the final database tracked changes to completed shots (known in the industry as retakes).

In the past, animators tracked production elements using the low-tech key-ring-and-nail-board method. Production coordinators used a 4-feet-by-8-feet sheet of particle board with the list of shots running across the top and the list of the four departments necessary for approval running down the side. A nail was hammered in at each intersection. As the shots moved through production, staffers hung a simple key ring around the appropriate nail.

“The biggest worry of all was someone knocking the board over,” says Ben Gilberg, production coordinator in charge of retakes for Jimmy Neutron. “If they did that, it meant two people’s full day of work going back to re-create it.”

Using database software helped production coordinators track each of the movie’s 1,800 individual shots throughout the entire process. The file for each shot also included notes from each of the four departments that had to approve the shot. It also enabled DNA Productions to shave production time to just a year and a half.

Production coordinators definitely prefer the automated method. “By having it in the computer, everyone has access to the shots instantly, as opposed to having to walk over or call someone near the board and say, ’Where is this in production?’” says Gilberg, whose database had 20,000 entries by the end of production. “And on the board, all you had was the key ring. With FileMaker, you have all the notes on every shot, dating back to the beginning, at your fingertips so there are never any questions about who said what.”

The production team is currently using FileMaker Pro to track production of the Jimmy Neutron TV series and will use it on upcoming animation features. The home video version of the movie hits stores this June.