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Behind the Scenes of Cars 2: Making an Animated Movie, From Storyboarding to Production

There’s a lot that goes into making a movie, especially when you’re creating a computer-animated film. Every movie starts with a story but a film concept evolves into a vision during pre-production meetings. In the pre-production process, storyboards are created to help people see the movie’s “vision.” Storyboarding is incredibly important part of filmmaking. For Disney/Pixar’s Cars 2, computer animators rendered all the scenes as traditional 2D storyboards and computer-generated animatics:

Storyboarding: Establishing the Action
Storyboarding helps a director share his vision with the production team, and helps the team understand what the director wants to see in the frame. Artists use simple line drawings (and their imagination) to create what will wind up on the big screen.


The action for Cars 2 starts with storyboarding. Before a film goes in front of the camera, a story is developed and then, storyboards are produced to help the entire production team understand what the final frame of film will look like, where characters will be positioned, and to establish scene locations. Actors may also see storyboards to help them develop their characters. The Tokyo race sequence for took more than 1,400 storyboards to portray the action involved.

Layout: Pre-visualizing the Scene
Everything is “laid out” before the first full computer rendering of a scene. Animators pre-visualize, or lay out the shot. Characters are roughly developed and placed within the environment, but don’t yet have a polished or finished look. This gives the director or scene supervisor a chance to make changes before resources are spent creating something that may not remain in the final scene.


In the pre-visualization phase, the cars are in position and have basic facial expressions.

The Final Render: Keyframe
In this keyframe, character and texture artists finish the characters and world. Only then, when the frame is approved by the director, are the computer models finalized.


The final frame is completely rendered with surface textures and reflections. (Notice the neon lights shining off Lightning McQueen.) Pixar uses crowd software to add cars in the background.

Creating 3D Characters
Pixar uses proprietary computer graphics software, while the majority of the movie and video game industry use Maya to create 3D characters. To create storyboards, you should have a background in creating comics or cartoons. Both skills can help you get a job working on a computer-animated movie like Cars 2.

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posted by DMA Jordan in Digital Filmmaking,News Blog and have No Comments

Thoughts on last summer's Maya classes…

By Geoff Beatty, Lead Maya Instructor – DMA @ UPENN

One of the most rewarding parts of teaching is opening doors for my students.  At the beginning of each class, I literally unlock the door to the computer lab, turn the lights on, and lead my students in.  But in a more meaningful sense, I enjoy being the one (or one of many) who introduces them to a new medium, a new set of tools for creating imagery and telling stories.  The part of that experience that is especially gratifying is seeing my students making connections between their respective backgrounds (e.g. illustration, music, graphic design) and this newfound world of 3D modeling and animation.

Last year, during DMA’s Maya sessions at the University of Pennsylvania campus, I had the wonderful opportunity to teach an amazingly diverse group.  Among that group, there was the middle-aged illustrator from the midwest, learning a new skill.  There was the recent art school graduate with a graphic design degree.  There was the home-schooled high-schooler with an interest in visualization.  And there was the teenage musician and composer with a talent for digital imagery.

Each person brought a unique sensability and focus to their study of Maya.  And I can truly say that by the end, there were just as many unique 3D creations.  The characters, environments, and animations they made each reflected a personal vision.  And this is what I consider the strength of both the software, Maya, and the type of course I was teaching at DMA.  My duty as an instructor was two-fold.  First, I introduced students to the basics of the software.  This included both the explicit features and the implicit workflow, which is the proper process and sequence for using those features.  Secondly, I attempted to build on that foundational and common knowledge by guiding each student to a point where they could begin to use that tool to fulfill a personal interest or vision.

Maya Training Courses

This ends up being the point at which I grow too as a 3D artist and instructor.  DMA courses bring together such a variety of students that it ends up being an antidote to the homogeneity common to most 3D classrooms.  I learn new things every time I interact with my students.  My experience last summer was so gratifying in that respect that I couldn’t turn up the chance to teach again.  I look forward to opening doors, turning on lights, and having my students do the same for me.

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