The use of animation has expanded way beyond the traditional animated corporate logo.
“It has definitely expanded in both the frequency of what we’re doing and in the capability of what we’re doing — the different kinds of products we’re delivering as animated pieces,” said Cynthia Kay of Cynthia Kay & Co. Media Productions.
Animation is being used for kiosks at points of purchase and on plasma screens for trade shows. The latter is becoming quite a market.
Kay, whose firm has been using animation for more than eight years, said the techniques have become increasingly sophisticated in recent years. Animation, in fact, is being used more and more for products and projects that don’t presently exist.
Kay said a lot of people want to introduce a new product but don’t want to show the product just yet, either because they are awaiting a patent or want to “tease the market.” So they use animation to get the idea across without actually showing the product and use it as a promotion for the product.
“Animation is becoming huge for that,” she added.
Her company also is starting to do a lot of animated 3-D “fly-throughs” for building and development projects. Using architectural drawings, the firm is able to create an animated vision that gives people an understanding of what the project is going to look like upon completion.
The so-called fly-through allows viewers a 3-D look at the project inside and out, so it’s as if they are actually moving inside and around the building or development.
“The great thing about animation is that you can take a camera and basically move it anywhere; you’re not locked to the ground like you are with a regular video camera,” explained Craig Schwarzbek, the firm’s chief animator.
“You can ‘fly’ pretty much anywhere,” he said. “You can ‘fly’ inside of objects or completely around objects.”
Kay said animation also is great for showing how something works, such as the inner workings of a piece of equipment, as well as simulated re-enactments of accidents.
“If you have the capability, it really extends across so many different businesses and so many different methods of presentation.”
As a percentage of business, the demand for animation has increased significantly for Kay’s company in the last two years, but hasn’t necessarily surpassed the demand for live production.
“It’s really not usually one or the other,” Kay remarked. “It’s often a combination of the two things. On every given day of the week we are animating something but we’re also out shooting (video) every day, too.” Sometimes we’ll go out and videotape the product, bring the tape back and create the animations from the product.”
Animation is extremely labor intensive and can be expensive.
Kay’s company has tried to reduce costs by investing in a high-powered “render farm,” a computer cluster that renders computer-generated imagery offline.
“It has the rendering speed of eight really fast computers in one machine, so where some people would tie computers together within their system to render off, say, 30 seconds of animation, we don’t have to do that,” she explained.
“We’re not tying up computers to render the images off; we’re creating the animations and shipping them to an offline render farm so that they will render. That has really made it much more cost-effective because otherwise you’re tying up all your equipment and you have to charge people for that.”
Three members of Cynthia Kay & Co.’s eight-member staff are involved in animation.
She said seven years ago she “was fortunate enough to steal” Schwarzbek away from Fox WXMI in Grand Rapids. He has served as her chief animator ever since.
“We sought him out because of his capabilities,” Kay recalled.
“We were looking for someone to build off an animation and graphics area. If you’re going to offer media production, an animator is a ‘must have’ on staff.”
Schwarzbek said one of the most challenging animation projects he has undertaken in his seven years with Cynthia Kay & Co. was an international product launch for Alticor Inc.
The presentation incorporated a woman’s animated face and hand with a drop of a real liquid moisturizer to show the smoothness of the skin following application of the product.
“The tough part with animation is making things look as real as possible,” Schwarzbek observed.
Other challenging projects, he said, have included animation of heavy engineering processes and a presentation involving a patent law case.
“You have to be very involved in understanding the design and physics of things in order to make them move right, and many other things along that line,” he said.
For Schwarzbek, the most enjoyable part of the process is when he actually gets down to animating an image after he’s built it.
“What’s most fun is trying to get it to look like it moves as it would in real life. It’s literally like having your own little world inside a computer.”