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How studios keep track of animated assets

Animation computers such as Animo may have taken the drudgery out of cartoons but they have created new headaches for the world's major studios.

Conventional animation generates hundreds of thousands of drawings during the two to three years it takes to make the film, and over the past few decades the studios have evolved ways of managing these physical "assets". But as animation computers become more widespread, these "assets" are increasingly being found only on the hard disk of a computer, and the old methods no longer apply.

DreamWorks is using 100 Silicon Graphics workstations with Animo software to make its first feature, The Prince of Egypt, but the film will spawn a CD-Rom, an album of songs and an Internet site, all of which will use clips from the original production.

Keeping track of these "digital assets" is essential for the production to run smoothly, from storyboards to spin-offs, according to Dylan Kohler, one of the studio's technology gurus. "You have to have good data management and a lot of infrastructure in place in order to produce an 85-minute feature," he explains.

Kohler's team has spent more than a year creating the world's largest animation network, in which the Animo computers are linked to a large server that stores each animators' work. The network also links them to 3D animation computers, editing systems, colour management computers and the film recorder where the digits are finally turned into film.

"We built an asset management system, which is a huge database holding all the information about everything that happens during the making of the film," says Kohler. "For instance, you can find all the pictures of Moses created by a particular animator before a certain date, or all the versions of a particular scene. Then you can pull them off the server, make changes and send them back and everything is recorded in the database. It's creating a historic record of everything that happens during the making of The Prince of Egypt."