5 Rendering Tips for Animators When Adding the Final Touches to Your Demo Reel
Your animations are all polished up and you're ready to put together your demo reel. To get that extra pop in your reel, adding animation previews isn't always the best way to go. Simple but well-executed renders can help add that extra final touch to your demo reel to push it over the top. Maybe you have an animation that calls for a particular lighting setup that will really help sell the mood of the shot.
Whatever the case may be, there are some very important things to consider when rendering your animations for your demo reel. Let's go over five tips that, when applied, will ensure your shots are getting the polish that they deserve.
One of the most important things to take into account before you ever render your shot is, are you ready? Before starting on any sort of render, it never hurts to double-check that you are completely happy with your animation. Only when your animation is completely polished and truly called "final" should you decide to render.
You should never rely on the rendering phase to fix problems with your animation or hide things because, at the end of the day, it's all about the quality of the animation and not if it looks pretty. Rendering should just be a nice added touch to the shots you feel are at the quality worthy of your reel.
Use Motion Blur Sparingly
Motion blur is a great feature to add to your renders, especially if your shot is body mechanics heavy. It creates a very nice blurring effect during movements to help smooth things out, and makes it so everything isn't perfectly clear and crisp, similar to what the human eye would see. While this is a nice feature, it can be very easy to incorporate too much motion blur which can decrease the quality of your shot. Use motion blur for your shots, but use it sparingly. Think of it kind of like the animation principle of squash and stretch. It should be felt rather than seen.
Every animator has done this before, you add in motion blur to your render and suddenly that knee pop isn't nearly as noticeable, or that spacing issue magically got corrected by the motion blur. While this may seem good at first, you should never use motion blur to hide hitches in your animation. The first reason being it's better to fix it rather than hide it, and the second reason is that a recruiter will notice!
Before you use motion blur you also need to make sure that your animation curves are cleaned up and there are no problem areas, like gimbal lock. Messy curves can cause problems in the motion blur calculations. This will result in glitchy motion blur when rendered.
Choose Lighting That Fits With the Animation
When you're ready to add lights to your scene, you should be asking yourself what type of lighting would best suit your animation? Don't add lights just for the sake of illuminating your shot. Think about what type of lighting would enhance your animation. For instance, maybe the character in your scene is threatening someone.
You could use a darker light setup to help push the tone and mood for your shot. Play around with different lighting setups to see which one best fits your animation.
Use Image Based Lighting
If you have a body mechanics shot that doesn't require background elements or any set pieces, like a walk cycle, you can utilize a simple image based light setup to achieve a good looking render in a very short amount of time. While it may not be a photorealistic result, it can still be a lot better than the simple playblast or animation preview.
In order to get a good result, try utilizing a simple ramp as your background image and choose two colors that complement each other. This will provide a nice, even light distribution for your shot. Once you are happy with that, you can incorporate final gather to increase the render quality. Doing this provides a nice render with a soft background color, and each frame can be rendered in just a few seconds rather than a few minutes if you were to try a more complex light source.
As mentioned above, this image based lighting technique is great for body mechanics shots because it won't cast any deep shadows and will provide an even light source.
Don't Complicate Your Render
Try to steer clear of flashy effects or lighting that distracts from the animation. Rendering is great for the shots you want to include on your demo reel, but you don't want to spend hours trying to set up your render, and you also don't want to spend hours or even days trying to get the actual animation rendered.
It can be very easy to turn on settings like final gather and global illumination to up the quality of your final render, but these settings greatly increase render time. So try and find that line of a good looking render, and still keep the render time relatively low. Having your animations rendered is nice to add that bit of polish to your demo reel, but the focus still needs to be on the animation and not the render.
Set Up Rendering Passes
Another way to speed up the rendering process is to set up simple rendering passes so you can change colors and make other adjustments in a software package like After Effects. It's a whole lot easier to make minor color corrections and brightness adjustments in a video editing program than it is to have to re-render your entire animation sequence just because you might need to up the brightness slightly.
Render to an Image Sequence
This tip is probably well known to artists who render often, but to an animator it can be easily overlooked. Whenever you render your animation you should render to an image sequence and not straight to a video format. Why? Because if for some reason there is a crash, a power outage, or any unexpected hiccup with the render, the entire thing will be lost and you will have to re-render the whole animation.
This can be frustrating, especially if your animation was just a few frames from being completed! Or if your animation takes several hours to finish, which it most often does.
Instead, render to an image sequence. This can be a JPG, PNG or whichever you prefer. If your computer crashes, all the previous rendered frames will be saved, and you can start back up from where you left off. Just about any compositing software can import image sequences so all you have to do is bring them in and make sure they are playing back at the frame rate you animated in, most likely 24 frames-per-second, and render to a video format from there.
If you're ready to render your animations for your demo reel, make sure to incorporate some of these tips into your workflow to speed up the process and produce results that will enhance your animations. Remember that your render shouldn't hide or distract from the animation but should complement it.
Learn more with 3D animation tutorials from creative professionals and our resource for creating your demo reel.
You can also take advantage of our free PDF guide full of tips to make your demo reel come to life: