Making a Show: Assets

MCMSunday, March 1, 2009

Okay, last one, I swear. This one will help explain why so many of the characters in RollBots look the same with different paint jobs. Actually, if you look at it there's a lot of careful re-use in the show. For example: in 105, Koto has Pounder's legs, repainted. Asset management is a big and terrible job, but it makes things go smoothly in the end...

We've touched on the issue of assets before, but it bears some extra scrutiny, because your asset count largely defines what kind of an episode and series you're going to make.

What is an asset? In a 3D series, an asset is a character, prop, location of effect that you have spent time and money creating, that you expect you can use again at some point. In this way, animation assets are similar to financial assets, which you see when reviewing your bank statements (YMMV). However, you will find in the course of creating your show that the fact that you have these things around means you feel obligated to use them repeatedly, which actually makes them more like liabilities. Headaches ensue.

On the one hand, having a fully-functioning model of your main character is a great thing to have around. It means you don't have to re-create your principal cast every scene (which undoubtedly speeds up production over time). In terms of principal cast and locations, you want to have as much re-usable material as you can. These core elements are often called the MMP, or Main Model Pack.

(You will often, in the mid-part of a production, find yourself tempted to claim: "this character that I just made up on the spot right now was ALWAYS part of the MMP, don't you remember?" Saying such things to the Line Producer will cause momentary confusion as he reviews his notes on the matter, but usually results in letter bombs and voodoo dolls. The MMP is for the most core of elements only, and may not be added to willy-nilly. At least not obviously.)

Anything beyond the MMP is considered episodic. The phrase: "He rushes past a man wearing a bowler hat and a pinstripe suit" will result in the Production Manager flagging "CH - MAN IN BOWLER HAT AND PINSTRIPE SUIT" as an asset to be designed and modelled. The first thing that happens is that you're asked WTF a bowler hat looks like, and you're forced to look it up on Google because – despite years of being confident about the subject – you're suddenly uncertain if you've used the wrong term after all.

Next, you are shown several designs of a man in a bowler hat wearing a pinstripe suit, and asked to pick one. In most cases, the second option is the best. There's no good reason for this rule, and certainly never tell anyone you think this way, or you'll start getting the Line Producers' choices in second place in every email. And the Line Producer has a thing for big fluffy pink feathers, so you've got to be careful.

Once you've chosen the design, it goes to be modelled in 3D. One cannot say much on this subject. One cannot remember why. Every time one tries, one has a striking headache in the back of the head where the microchip was implanted.

Now that you've got your finished 3D model of Man in Bowler Hat and Pinstripe Suit, you're ready to make your episode. All's good in the world. Except... four episodes later, your main character is meant to be conversing with a pretty woman in the park who he'd really like bring out for dinner. And your Line Producer informs you that you've run out of available assets for the series, so you're going to have to start doubling up. And so it's suggested that you swap out the woman at the park, and use the Man in Bowler Hat and Pinstripe Suit instead! It's an asset! It pre-exists! Perfect!

"No no no", you say, "I don't want to have the main character hitting on some crumply old man in a pinstripe suit!" It's not that there's necessarily anything WRONG with that... but y'know... once you make an episode like THAT, that's ALL anyone's going to talk about. So why don't we just swap out the man in the hat with the woman in the park? It's like reverse-asset-reuse!

Sadly, that is not how assets work. At this stage, too much investment has been made in the man in the bowler, and it can't be undone. The woman has to go. And you cry a little.

But not to worry! The Line Producer has an excellent idea! They can arrange to have the Man in Bowler and Pinstripe Suit re-textured so that he's wearing a GREEN SEQUIN SUIT instead! And one of the lead female actors can do the voice! So rather than having a wobbly old codger in a fine black suit flirting with our main character, we have a wobbly old GENDER-CONFUSED codger-ette in a sparkly green suit flirting with our main character.

And strangely, at this point, you think it's a pretty good compromise.

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