23 tips on cg animated filmmaking from M dot Strange

I'm M dot Strange- love me or hate me or simply go MEH- I get cg animated films made- no one can argue with that- I'll be releasing my third solo cg animated feature film this year with I AM NIGHTMARE-here are some things I've learned through my battles making my films over the past ten years. You can check out my second animated feature film here.

  1. If you want to make 3d animated films then Storyboard- it will make your life so much easier, allow you to work faster, and give your films stronger visual storytelling and flow.
  2. If you're writing scripts and need a printer- get a cheap laser printer- inkjets fail us hard and eat all our money- I got this Canon Laser Printer and I love it- I also use it to photocopy/scan my Storyboards.
  3. Use a daily shot quota- do animation tests so you can know exactly how many shots you can animate a day without dying- use this knowledge to form an ambitious BUT reasonable daily shot quota. Since you storyboarded your whole film you know exactly how many shots it is- use basic math to figure out how long it will take to make your film using various quota's- decide how little of a life you want to have and how much work you want to complete- GET IT DONE!
  4. Keep your rigs as simple as possible with the fewest number of controllers and morphs/blendshapes possible- yeh the "pro's" might have 300 controllers and 1000 morphs/blendshapes but they also have numerous TD's and I enjoy sleeping occasionally myself.
  5. If you don't know exactly what's going on in your script- don't expect any viewer of the finished film to figure it out for you so you can pretend that was your intention at a Q and A.
  6. Don't buy the top of the line PC to do your work with- buy a mid tier one that you can afford to replace in 2-3 years- Don't spend $5000 on a single workstation when you can spend $1500 on a decent one AND have enough money to buy a few render nodes OR pay an online render farm/EC2
  7. For viewport speed when doing character animation its SINGLE processor speed that matters- a quad core clocked at 4.0 ghz will perform much better than a 16 core machine clocked at 2.8ghz
  8. Don't buy a high end graphics card like a Quadro or FireGL- crossfire or SLI won't help you either- mid/low end graphics cards suit us best- I'll never spend over $200 anymore on a gfx card- I just got this one for $89 and I'm loving it
  9. If you can go dual monitors do it! With the above $89 card you can do three monitors! More screens and screen space means less juggling of windows and palettes and a faster workflow.
  10. Beware of the underwater look! if you're lazy with your keys and don't touch your f-curves all of your movements will happen at the same speed- which gives animation a zero gravity or underwater look- my earlier works suffered from this until I got in there and started workin those f-curves! Just a few tiny tweaks can make all the difference in the world.
  11. Just because something hasn't been done doesn't mean that you can't do it- filmmaking is young- and 3d animated filmmaking is even younger- there are many new paths to be laid- don't be afraid to lead us somewhere new!
  12. Learn to ignore online forum threads wherein people with little to no experience actually making animated films are discussing "how to make a film" or are trying to lay down rules or guidelines based on what they read about Pixar or some shit- a lot of those threads are havens for people who are too afraid to make the leap on their own and get bustin on a film so they are looking to others to tell them that "its ok" You don't need anyones acceptance or permission- just go do it and show us the result.
  13. You'll be better than you think you are once you stop believing you are great when you have no finished work to base it on- do the work- face the reality and work hard to improve yourself- its a grueling and exciting journey but the most rewarding one in my experience.
  14. More polygons doesn't mean a better film- long render times doesn't make a better film- complex tools don't make a better film- an expensive education at a reputable school doesn't make a better film- you and your ideas make a better film.
  15. Before you make a 3d animated film know that if you have a Pixar branded dick in your mouth that I don't want to see your film- and I believe a growing number of people won't want to see it either. Strange is the new normal- give us something we've never seen before or face the MEH!
  16. If you try to kickstart you're film and it fails- don't let that stop you- I tried to raise $25,000 to make my newest film- it failed and ZERO shits we're given- I've already finished 17 minutes of it and its awesome. Money is GREAT to have to make a film but again just like with the technology- YOU and your IDEAS are what's important.
  17. Optimize your shots as much as possible by deleting objects/geometry that are not seen by the camera- create simple 3d matte paintings by rendering out things that are far away from the camera and dropping them in during the compositing phase.
  18. Want to use GI on your film? GET OUT OF HERE! Learn to light the real way and save MASSIVE amounts on render time and gain an opportunity to create your own personal look rather than the look everyone else has who is using the same algorithm. Leave GI to the architecture crowd.
  19. Study lighting/color/composition and make your shots look dope on their own- don't just use vanilla photography/lighting and throw a ton of Magic Bullet Looks slop on top of it. Do be an instagram cinematographer- make your shots look dope THEN throw some Magic Bullet on it if you choose.
  20. (OLD MAN VOICE) You don't need a multipass render with like 10 passes of crap to make your shots look good- I can make any shot look awesome with just a beauty pass, a depth pass and an alpha channel Gawd DAMN IT! Don't drown in passes- use the minimum you can get by with to make your images look good.
  21. Don't be self loathing in regard to your software/hardware- if it works for you- it works for you- use it- make awesome stuff and show it to us- we won't care what you made it with- if we do, we're dicks anyway and ignore us.
  22. When people see your finished film %99.999 don't care how/why/where you made it- they judge the film for what it is- as it stands alone- so do what you need to do to make it the best it can be- making yourself popular will help you market and sell it and make lots of money- but if your film is mediocre- your film is mediocre- your friends/fans can't help you with that one.
  23. If you're making a film- please create a blog or something similar and share some thoughts/experiences with us- When I first started I was inspired by the people that made films before me and shared their experience with the world.
I wrote a little ebook sharing my workflow that might be helpful to some- get it here.

Lastly,  if you're making a cg animated film on your own and need some advice- I'd be glad to help! you can contact me at here.