Animatics are animated storyboards -- usually set to music, with sound effects and temporary dialogue -- that professional filmmakers, commercial agencies, and special-effects artists use to visualize the look and tempo of their projects. To create your own animatic, all you need is a set of storyboard drawings, a batch-capable scanner, and a Mac equipped with Apple's $999 Final Cut Pro 4 (800/692-7753, www.apple.com ). With Final Cut Pro 4's RT Extreme feature, you can preview the animatic in real time as you build it. And when you're finished, you can output the animatic from Final Cut Pro 4 to tape, DVD, or a Web site.
Anatomy of a Storyboard
A storyboard is a collection of black-and-white pencil or ink sketches that visually tells a story. Each sketch depicts one shot's action, character positions, camera framing, and special effects. Animatics sometimes require additional keyframe images when a shot is complicated or has a lot of movement. For example, a long moving shot may have three or more images to better describe the movement, the action, and how characters interact. You can hire a professional storyboarder, or can draw storyboards yourself if you're artistically inclined.
A traditional storyboard can have six or more story frames on an 8-1/2-by-11-inch page. An animatic storyboard often has only one frame per page, and it doesn't have to be of those dimensions. Because you'll scan each frame into a computer, it's easier to scan multiple pages in a batch process than to play with scanner framing to pull multiple images off of each page. To simplify the batch-scanning process, make sure all your frames have the same orientation, and that the drawing area is consistent from page to page. Some animators even peg-register each page -- this process requires a special type of hole punch for the paper; the holes in the paper fit over pegs that keep each page perfectly aligned when they're photographed.
Scan Me Up
Animatics can easily contain hundreds, if not thousands, of individual drawings, so a scanner with an automatic page feeder is a smart investment. You'll also need scanning software that can handle batch scanning. I prefer Lemke Software's $30 shareware application, GraphicConverter (http://lemkesoft.com/en/graphcon.htm). Scan your art using a gray-scale setting, such as true gray, rather than a line-art or a black-and-white setting (the exact terms depend on the scanning program you use). Choosing line art or black-and-white can make your scans too contrasty. Gray scale preserves detail such as shading and light pencil strokes. You should also think about lowering the brightness and contrast settings. This is particularly important with pencil art, but it can also enhance charcoal and ink drawings. Lowering the brightness will give you a grayer and flatter scan, but it preserves all your fine detail. You can tweak the results later using Final Cut Pro 4's color corrector. For a DV NTSC project, make your scan dimensions at least 720 by 540 pixels. (Scanners use square pixels; Final Cut Pro will convert these into nonsquare pixels when you import them into a 720-by-480 DV sequence.) This results in the exact frame size of your DV project -- you won't have any wiggle room. If you want to pan across your image, as in a Ken Burns documentary, you'll need extra real estate. Also, if you're planning to zoom in on a picture, you'll need more pixels so the picture isn't blurry when it's blown up. I often scan my 8 1/2-by-11 animatics storyboards at 150 dpi.
Whatever dimension and resolution you choose, batch-scan all your pictures at one setting. While it may waste some hard-drive space to scan all the pictures at the maximum size you need, it will save time later. When saving your images, number them with leading zeros (for example, Scan001, Scan002, Scan003, and so on) so Final Cut Pro 4 will order the frames properly. Save your files in the PICT, TIFF, or Targe format.
Bring Pictures to Life
Once you've scanned your storyboards, open Final Cut Pro 4 and go to User Preferences. Under the General tab, choose a Stills/Freeze Frame Duration setting of whatever length you think you'll need. Give some thought to tempo. Will you need a shot longer than the default ten seconds? Do you need only six seconds?
Import the folder containing all your image files. It will appear in your browser with an expansion arrow next to it. If you click on that arrow, you'll see your numbered files. To create the structure of the animatic, start a new sequence and pick DV NTSC 48kHz. Now choose all the image files in your folder, either by pressing 1-A or by highlighting the folder itself, and drag it into the Canvas window or the timeline. The clips will align themselves in the sequence, with their lengths based on the duration setting in User Preferences.
Now you can set the overall framing and color for your animatic. To get real-time previews of your work, enable Final Cut Pro 4's RT Extreme from the RT pull-down menu on the upper left side of the timeline window. This way, you can work on the sequence without wasting time rendering footage. Unless your animatic is very short, you won't want to frame and color-correct each image individually. Final Cut Pro 4 lets you work on one image, get it right, and then apply the same settings to all the other clips.
Double-click on the first image of the sequence so it loads into the Viewer window. Click on the Motion tab. Set the scale of the image and center it properly. When you're happy with the image placement and size, apply FCP's Color Corrector 3-Way filter to the clip (Effects: Filter: Color Correction: Color Corrector 3-Way). Select the Color Corrector 3-Way tab in the Viewer. If you did a low-contrast scan, you can boost the Whites level and lower the Blacks level to get acceptable contrast.
Once the clip looks good, copy it and select all the other clips in the sequence (by pressing 1-A or using the All Tracks Forward tool). Select Paste Attributes under the Edit menu. In the Paste Attributes window, deselect Scale Attribute Times and choose both Basic Motion and Filters. Click on OK to apply the sizing and color characteristics of the first frame to the selected clips. At this point, you have a basic animatic. You can adjust individual clip lengths to match a soundtrack, create keyframed pans and zooms, and add temporary dialogue and effects. When you're done, you'll have a minimovie that conveys your intentions for the project.
Fast Font Finding
FontCatalog 1.0, from PrePress Consolidated Color ($30; 305/378-4470, www.prepressmiami.com/fontcatalog), is designed for those of us who are more visual than systematic. You can search for typefaces by design, not just by name. You can also look at text displayed in several (even hundreds of) faces simultaneously. If you still don't like what you see, select the font that comes closest and click on FontCatalog's Similar button; the application will search your hard drive and acti-vate any similar fonts it finds. -- terri stone
It's About Time
Pixar Animation Studios (800/937-3179, www.pixar.com) is bringing its RenderMan Pro Server to the Mac. RenderMan Pro Server will ship with RenderMan 11.5. This high-end rendering package has a list price of $3,500, and it previously ran only on Unix, Windows XP, and Windows 2000. -- terri stone
ANTON LINECKER is a writer and video technical adviser in Los Angeles. His previous articles for Macworld include "Make Your Mac Faster" (Secrets, October 2003).
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