How to add 3d animation and video to your
museum and exhibition displays
Christian Darkin is an illustrator and animator and has written five books and countless magazine articles on animation and visual effects.
Want to bring back the dinosaurs, or reconstruct a medieval castle as it would have been in its heyday? Want to allow your visitors to fly through the arteries of the human body, or meet an alien? Want to show off a new product before it�s even been built?
With recent advances in quality and reduction in cost of 2d and 3d animation, all of this and more is now possible, but how do you move from your initial idea to a finished animation? How do you commission animation, how does the process work and how much is it going to cost you? This article is designed to give you a few answers.
Don�t be afraid to approach an animator with your idea even if you�ve not fully developed it. They can often give you advice on the most effective way to make the project work, and will instantly be able to answer a lot of your questions on how to develop the idea to your timescales and budget.
The animator isn�t an expert in your field. They might have a lot of experience creating productions in your field, but that�s not the same. The more you can provide in terms of reference material, photos, drawings, other reconstructions, the better � and it�ll stop you wasting money on work that has to be re-done later.
Time and money. The more time you can give your animators, the more detail and quality they can add. The better your budget, the more time can be devoted to your project.
Music, voiceovers and video. There�s a lot of overlap between different parts of the TV industry and teams can be put together very quickly for larger projects. Your animation company will probably have someone they can call on who can add sound effects and music (they might well use a royalty free site likehttp://www.productiontrax.com/ to source good quality copyright free music for your production). Equally they�ll be able to hire in voiceover artists (I use http://voice123.com/ as a source for voice talent) � it�ll probably add around �500 to the cost of your video depending on its length and whether you need to have the script written as well.
For more sophisticated video shoots � involving background shots, interviews, bluescreen work or even whole dramatised scenes, most animation teams will either be able to do the work or will know people who can be brought in. Likewise, if you want to add interactivity to your displays, your animator will be able to bring in those skills.
In short, you can usually expect to come up with an idea for the production and have the animator cover everything right through to the delivery of the finished work � even if there�s more to it than just animation.
Formats: Animators create their work as sequences of still images � usually TIFF files. From there, your animation company will be able to provide you with video in any format you want. Whether that�s a DVD, a youtube file, a blue-ray disk, a quicktime file or anything else, it doesn�t matter � and don�t be afraid to ask for multiple copies in different formats. They�re easy enough to produce.
Try to aim for high definition production if you can. It�s a little more expensive, but it looks great on a big screen and most modern computers and screens can handle playing it. If your animation is done in High Definition, you can have a standard DVD of it too � but if it�s done as a standard DVD, you can�t turn it into HD later.
OK � so what�s this going to cost me?
Animation is a pretty broad subject � covering everything from South Park to The Golden Compass, and the budgets change to match. Animators can give you day rates, but that�s no more help coming from an animator than it is from a builder because you don�t know what they can do in a day.
What�s usually better is to give the animation company a rough idea of what your budget is and let them tell you what they can do with it. My usual method is to take the customer�s budget and give three options � one undercutting it, one using it to the full for the best possible effect � and one letting them know what they could get if they could find a little more.
Of course that�s only possible if the budget is reasonable to start with and to give you an idea, for a museum display if your budget gets below about �1000 per minute, you have to start cutting serious corners, and if you want a Trex fighting a triceratops on a high definition cinema display, you�re probably looking at around �5000.
The quickest way to increase the cost of your production is to make alterations to the project at a late stage. Changes can quite often mean elements of the work have to be re-done and that will cost � try to let the artists know what might need tweaking early on (before work starts preferably) then they can build in quick ways of adjusting things without re-doing everything.
The quickest way to reduce cost is to talk to the animator about how the production can be simplified without affecting its overall look. For example, to animate a camera flying through a static model takes a lot less time (possibly weeks less) than animating every detail of the model itself.
Most animation companies will ask for 25% of the cost up front, 25% on delivery of the first finished version and the remaining 50% at the end of the project (often � if no changes are needed � the last two invoices are at the same time).
What if I really can�t afford full animated scenes?
If your budget won�t stretch, but you still want some professional looking video content, try sites like http://www.istockphoto.com/ and http://www.footage.shutterstock.com/ � these offer royalty free still images for a couple of dollars and video clips from 15 dollars. All you�ll need is a voiceover (a professional artist is well worth the hire fee) and somebody who can edit the images into a presentation (usually a day or two of work for someone with experience).