Zax was a production guy when he got the idea for his software. Find out why ProAnimator is the ideal tool for Bread & Butter 3D and why that’s so important for you.
This post is going to be a little long but it explains why I created Zaxwerks and why our software is so valuable even if you already have another 3D program. 3D work can be divided into two main categories: Bread and Butter work, and Custom work. Everyone would like to get custom work but it’s the bread and butter work that keeps food on your table. The big mystery here is why most people use custom software on bread and butter jobs? Do they even realize there is a difference? Doing that is like drawing animation by hand; the result can be completely custom but boy does it take a lot of time and skill to do.
I’ve done all phases of production work from the most grunt jobs to directing and producing. If you’ve been in this business for any length of time you know the key is to work smarter not harder. Are you getting paid by the hour and trying to eat up time, or are you trying to do your work fast enough to finish on time, on budget and maybe have a life outside of work? If you keep an open mind every once in a while a new technique or a new piece of software comes along that changes the whole way you work. Maybe that breakthrough will come for you today.
Most times 3D software creates more problems than it solves. 3D programs are typically bloated monsters that take months to learn and a technical degree to operate. It’s not unusual for someone to get excited about 3D, go take a class, and then find that if you don’t use the software every day you start forgetting how things work and end up pushing the program off to the side because it’s too frustrating to use.
The problem is not the user. If you’re editing video or doing graphics on computer you’re already one of the smart people. The problem is the software. You shouldn’t have to make a thousand mouse-clicks, in just the right order, to make a 3D title animation. You shouldn’t have to rebuild animations from scratch just because the client makes a change. It’s a computer, dang-it. It’s supposed to be doing this work for you! No, the problem is not with the user, the problem is with the software.
What’s needed is a better 3D program. A few years back I starting thinking about what a perfect bread and butter 3D program would be. I didn’t need to make dancing dinosaurs or shiny spaceships. I didn’t have time to waste. I was working for a living, had a job to do and wanted that job to get done as quickly and as easily as possible. I also saw that 3D graphics really upgraded my image and made people take my work more seriously. I could charge more when I could offer 3D graphics. I could attract higher-end work and higher paying customers. Most importantly was that almost every client these days wants a little 3D and if I couldn’t give it to them I’d end up losing them.
The problem was that even as an expert 3D artist, it took a long time to do the bread and butter work. You had to build the models, light them, color their surfaces, set up the motion, on and on, and the work had to be repeated for every animation. Even when doing title animations, you couldn’t reuse your work and client changes caused a domino effect of fixes and rebuilding.
Customers didn’t understand that little changes were going to cost hours of rework, so to keep the client happy I would often work “off the clock” trying to keep the change fees in line with expectations. In other words I would work for free just because the software didn’t have the ability to handle changes. This made me angry. I didn’t like that I was being forced to work late and didn’t get to see much of my family. I didn’t like that my attempt to offer a new service for my clients was becoming a frustrating nightmare. And I didn’t like how my stupid 3D program couldn’t handle simple changes without causing me to work unpaid overtime!
Again, the problem was the software. I was using software made for custom work. But what I needed was a 3D program that was specialized in handling my bread and butter work. One I could use to knock out things like 3D title and logo graphics so I could get on to any of the million other things I had to do. So I looked around and I found that no professional level 3D software had tools specialized for titles and logos. Sure they can all make a 3D model out of a font but none of them have really nice tools for making text models or for speeding up production and handling changes.
Fortunately I had a little programming experience and I realized that if I wanted such a tool I was going to have to make one myself. But it couldn’t be just another 3D program. This one had to serve a purpose and solve problems. There were some pretty stiff requirements this new program had to live up to. I began imagining what a perfect 3D bread and butter program would be like.
1 – First off the program had to be really easy to use. Workflow is key so the fewer keystrokes needed the better. A typical 3D program requires hundreds if not thousands of keystrokes to create a full 3D animation. I had my sights set on ten. If I could create a whole 3D animation in ten keystrokes I’d like it very much. That’s about the same number of steps as it takes to scramble an egg. Besides, the simpler it is to create an animation the faster it’ll be to learn.
2 – It had to be really easy to learn. Most 3D programs take a long time to learn and a special sort of geek-brain to use. I know a lot of people who bought really expensive programs that are gathering dust on their shelves because they didn’t have a few free months to learn how to use them. I didn’t mind a little training but things needed to be pretty obvious. If I forgot how to do something I wanted to be able to scan over the controls to figure it out without having to searching for options hidden two or three windows down.
3 – You had to be able to change anything at any time without causing a bunch of rework. Clients make changes, boy do they make changes, so I needed a program that would handle those changes without making me stay late at work to do them. Also, being human, I make mistakes too and being able to correct a mistake without having to rebuild half the project made this feature a high priority. In typical 3D programs one little mistake will cost you a couple hundred keystrokes to correct. “Change anything at any time.” Yeah, I like that.
4 – The program had to handle multiple versions. I don’t know who designs 3D computer programs but they seem to think you only do one animation per client. With bread and butter work, you’ll create an animation and then need fifty different versions of it. A version for each day of the week, a version for each corporate office, a version for each athlete in an event. The ideal program is one where you could set up an animation once and then each new version would be a few keystrokes away.
Also, I didn’t want to have to stick to some pre-canned set of moves. Even if I was animating every single letter in the graphic I still wanted the program to handle new versions easily and efficiently. But how was that possible? Everyone knows that to animate an individual letter it has to have its own keyframes and be on it’s own track. How could a program take an animation created for 10 letters and turn it into an animation of 15 letters? There’s got to be a way. It just hasn’t been thought of yet.
5 – The program had to work really fast. There is nothing that kills your workflow more than doing renderings or RAM previews to see what your animation looks like. I wanted a program that worked in real time, at least during the creation stage. One that would play my animation over and over while I was still making changes, so I wouldn’t even have to stop the playback to make a change. That would give me the fastest feedback so I could craft the animation and get it to where I liked it without wasting time waiting for previews.
6 – The program had to be flexible. To speed up production many programs offer templates, but the problem with templates is they never do exactly what you want. Then to change the template requires as much skill at using the program as the person who created the template in the first place. The ideal program would have plenty of templates but the program would be so easy to use that you could customize the template with a couple of clicks. Also, the program had to be able to create animations that looked just as good if not better than what you see on TV. You can speed up production by restricting an animation to a few pre-canned moves, but that just ends up looking sad. The ideal program would enable you to create animations that looked unique, flowed beautifully and could be customized to fit the latest trends in motion graphics.
7 – Finally the program had to create world-class images. The fanciest program in the world is just a waste of money if you can’t use the final output. So this program had to make beautiful pictures that would stand up against any other program out there. It also had to create perfect alpha channels so I could composite the 3D elements over a background video without causing halos or keying problems.
OK, so these requirements looked like a pretty tall order. No computer software I knew of even came close to living up to these standards. In fact several of the requirements seemed to be at odds with each other. How could you make a program that was very flexible, yet was really easy to use and required little training? Hmmm. So I started to think, and designed mock ups, and threw them away and thought some more. It took two years before I found the perfect solution. The perfect mix of flexibility and ease of use; of beauty and speed.
What we created was the Zaxwerks ProAnimator. ProAnimator is an interesting beast. It is the first, honest-to-god, hands-down, solution to the problem of: “I have a boat-load of graphics to make, and an impossible amount of time to get them all done.”
It’s easy to learn and it works startlingly fast. It took the most time-consuming and complicated task in post production, that being the creation of 3D graphics, and turned it into one of the fastest and easiest things to do. We did a test in a public school and within an hour had a class of seventh graders each creating their own custom 3D animations. It solves every one of my big seven requirements. It’s fast, flexible, it excels at creating multiple versions, and you can change anything at any time without causing yourself nightmares.
It helps you work smarter, much smarter, and rewards you with beautiful images, more time, happy clients and hopefully a fatter wallet. For this, Videomaker magazine awarded it the Best Animation Software of the year.
I’m very happy to have one day gotten tired of working late. I’m happy that I got mad enough to decide to do something about it rather than giving up on doing 3D graphics. I love 3D graphics. I think 3D graphics lend a punch and an attraction to videos that are hard to match. A good graphic at the opening of your video makes people perk up and pay attention. It helps put you in a different game from those who don’t have 3D, and it helps to keep your clients from wandering.
In this day of marketing hype, your ears clamp up when you hear about how “wonderful” and “revolutionary” a new piece of software is. But in every true sense of the word, the ProAnimator is a revolutionary product. It will literally change the way you think about 3D graphics. You may even find that you get a little of the old excitement back which you first felt when you thought about adding 3D graphics to your work. 3D graphics are possible. You can do them. ProAnimator is what you’ve been missing.