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In late May 2014 I attended the Pokémon UK Nationals in Manchester and did reasonably well, just missing out on making top cut. It was here that I started to consider the idea of creating an animated tournament report of the event; many people in the competitive Pokémon community write them after events and I was thinking of doing the same, whilst separately thinking I need to create more animations for my portfolio. Why not kill several birds with one rockslide and create an animated report? This was solidified as an idea when Sam Bentham, my 8th round opponent, posted his own report which included a video of our battle and causing several people to contact me to ask about my team. That confirmed to me that there was interest in it and the project was worth going ahead with.
That said it was a good month before I was even able to begin work on it. Doing an arts based course at Uni means I didn’t have exams to worry about but instead a degree show to put on in London at the end of the academic year. Consequently my attention for over a month after Nationals was focused on that and it was early July before I was able to properly begin; you can see that early progression in some of my earlier blog posts.
What became very obvious to me in those first few weeks was how much time editing and revising scripts takes, along with voice recording. My initial scripts didn’t take all that long to write but they included everything I could think of about my team and its performance and would’ve easily covered more than 45 minutes total. Editing these down was an iterative and quite time consuming process; the final scripts I used were the 4th versions since the originals.
Voice recording for the narration was another intensive learning curve. I began by recording a line or two at a time, editing that to get it right, then moving onto the next one, but this process took absolutely days. By the end I realised that recording in large chunks was by far the best way to work -if you mess up a line just go back to the last sentence and start again, editing all the mistakes out later in one go. The big time consumer was stopping and starting repeatedly, this cut back on that immensely. It also maintains a more consistent tone through the recording, unchanged by shifted positions or potential diminishing enthusiasm.
That said the narration is probably the area of the final videos I’m least happy with, especially in the first animation. When I recorded it I was using a headset mic in a small room with laminate flooring and nothing to soundproof the walls, and all of that shows; the recording is crackly and distorted the entire way through. Listenable, certainly, but far from great. It was between recordings that the mic on that headset broke, forcing me to buy a more professional mic for the second video and you can hear an instant improvement in quality, so it was perhaps a very fortunate accident. Yet that doesn’t solve my second problem with the animations, my speed of narration.
As I mentioned before getting all the content I wanted to include within a compact time was one of my biggest concerns. There was no way I’d want to inflict myself with creating a 45 minute animation at this point, much less demand anyone sit through it all (that’s part of the reason there are two separate videos). Whilst I did succeed in keeping both videos brief there’s been an unfortunate side effect in the speed of my narration. I talk through each video at a fairly rapid and consistent pace, at best making it difficult to fully absorb all the provided information and at worst causing people to zone out. The animation should be entertaining enough visually to keep people engaged, and I have added subtitles to both YouTube videos to help with this, but it’s definitely the area I’m least happy with overall.
The rest of the production besides was about what I expected, although no less intensive for it. The drawing and colouring of assets took just under two weeks total if I recall, whilst the animating process was about 6 weeks, although that was almost full time working hours most days.
There’s definitely a lot I’ve learned through this process, and I think you can see that in the quality difference between the first and second video. I knew from the start that reusing assets and compositions would be vital -the flying animations in particular each took about a day to get right, hence Talonflame has two key flapping sequences (front and back) that got reused endlessly- but it also became apparent that I couldn’t stick to the visual layouts determined in the actual battles. It often worked better visually to rearrange things. For example, Talonflame might have been on the right side of the field in battle but her flying animation takes up a lot of room visually and can be distracting. Consequently she was often swapped to the left side of the field out the way. This means there are inconsistencies when comparing the animations to the battle videos, but I think it results in a stronger animation for it.
Other little things I picked up along the way;
– The importance of backing up saves and creating separate ones at different stages. I was doing this anyway, but when one of my save files corrupted and wouldn’t render it emphasised how important it was that I’d been doing that. It lost me about an hour of work instead of days, or potentially even in entirety.
– Flying animations are horrible to create. I know I already said this, but I want to reiterate it. That said, they do look pretty cool when completed.
– Managing my time within the project. What I mean by that is being prepared to leave a short sequence of a few seconds even if it’s not something I’m entirely happy with to move onto larger sections. In all honesty the chances of someone besides myself viewing these videos more than twice are very slim, so getting a single ten second sequence to be absolutely perfect yet taking all day to do so was something I quickly had to train myself not to do. It doesn’t make any sense to have moments that I’m not 100% happy with but finish in 6 weeks than get everything absolutely perfect but finish in several months.
– How to create Aftereffects rain. Yes, I know now that it’s really easy, but as with anything it’s not easy when you don’t know how to do it. There are a couple of other techniques I learned through doing this, but that’s perhaps the most notable and easiest to explain.
So what am I taking away from this experience overall? First off I am pretty pleased with what I’ve achieved, especially the second video. No disrespect to anyone who has created a video about competitive Pokémon but the vast majority of the ones I’ve seen have been very dry, watching people narrate over static screens from Showdown or something like that. No one but those interested in competitive battles would find much of interest there, whilst I think I’ve achieved something that would at the least maintain interest for those who don’t play competitively. I want to test this before confirming it a success, but I think it’s quite likely that non-competitive fans of Pokémon would find something to enjoy in these videos.
For future pieces like this a less intensive series would probably work better. I was only able to complete two separate videos totalling 25 minutes because my circumstances at the moment allow me to devote so much time to this, but I couldn’t do this every year and neither would I want to. Instead I think it might be worth experimenting with different formats. A series of regular shorts might work better for showing an on-going team building process than one big intensive piece created afterward, for example. If I’m able to compete in 2015 it’s certainly something I’ll look at and experiment with.