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Introduction to the DCC Pre-production Process

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The digital content creation (DCC) process begins in the minds of the creative team and ends in the imaginations of your audience. Along the way, you must be sure that every element you create supports the story you are trying to tell. Art director and industrial designer Duane Loose guides you through the digital content creation process in this article.
This article is excerpted from 3ds max 4 Workshop.
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Digital content creation (DCC) begins in the collective minds of the creative team. The process ends in the imaginations of your intended audience. The principle goal of the production process is communication: Did the audience get the story you were trying to tell? The answer to this question isn't dependent on your creative abilities alone. It also depends on how effectively your pre-production process is used to guide the creation of the elements needed to tell your story.

Figure 1 outlines the simplified production process followed by most studios. Every studio is different, however, and this process will vary to some degree, based on the studio's particular expertise and the unique requirements of its work.

Figure 1 The basic DCC production process is divided into three sets of interrelated tasks. The tasks in each set are designed to establish a foundation for the next tasks in the process.

Production Structure

Production is the process of turning all pre-production story development and art direction into real, usable visual assets. The structure of a feature film is usually organized into four distinct content groups: acts, sequences, scenes, and shots. Movies have three acts comprised of 15–25 sequences per act, with 10–50 scenes in each sequence. Those scenes might be further divided into hundreds of individual shots.

Using this structure, individual shots in the organizational structure of an entire production would be referred to like this: Act 3_Seq020, SC045_SHOT101_End Titles. This organizational convention and variations of it are the standard in most studios. Without this, it would be impossible to stay organized and keep track of all that has to be done.

Your work in this chapter will focus on the pre-production process, the first part of which is to develop the story you'll tell to your audience.

Myths and Legends

There are only a few prototypical stories or great universal legends that are continually retold in each new age. Considering this idea, you might be able to see how Titanic relates to Romeo and Juliet, or the similarities between the epic story Ulysses and the film Gladiator.

One of the greatest storytellers of our time is filmmaker George Lucas. Author Joseph Campbell, considered to be the authority on the power of archetypal myth in our time, was a mentor to George Lucas. Lucas created the stories told in the Star Wars double trilogy using the structure of the Hero's Journey, a legend that reveals the struggle and triumph of the human experience.

In an article titled "Of Myth and Men," in the April 29, 1999, issue of Time magazine, author Bill Moyers interviewed George Lucas about his approach to storytelling in movies. Here are some excerpts taken from that article, with some comments added:

Moyers: Joseph Campbell once said all the great myths, the ancient stories have to be regenerated in every generation. He said that's what you are doing with Star Wars. You are taking these old stories and putting them into the most modern of idioms, the cinema. Are you conscious of doing that? Or are you just setting out to make a good action-movie adventure?

Lucas: With Star Wars I consciously set about to re-create myths and classic mythological motifs. I wanted to use those motifs to deal with issues today. The more research I did, the more I realized that the issues are the same ones that existed 3,000 years ago. That we haven't come very far emotionally.

The first step in developing your storytelling ability is to research and understand the great stories that already exist. George Lucas refers to the research that he made to gather information for his work. This research, his own life path, and keen observation of the human condition brought him to an understanding of the human experience, which is the core component of communication with your audience. In the next excerpt from the interview, Lucas uses the words motif and localization, two important concepts in storytelling:

Moyers: You're creating a new myth?

Lucas: I'm telling an old myth in a new way. Each society takes that myth and retells it in a different way, which relates to the particular environment they live in. The motif is the same. It's just that it gets localized. As it turns out, I'm localizing it for the planet. I guess I'm localizing it for the end of the millennium more than I am for any particular place.

Motif, in this context, refers to the universal experiences commonly shared by all people in a society. Motifs are also called themes, which include fundamental experiences such as death, betrayal, love, good, evil, and so forth. We all have experienced our own versions of those motifs personally, nationally, and sometimes globally. England's survival during World War II is a classic localized example of the global motifs of conflict and triumph.

Stories must contain motifs that your audience can relate to in a personal or localized way. They must be able to see themselves in the story and characters you create. In the next excerpt, Bill Moyers remarks how the Star Wars motif has demanded his attention. This is the power of a mythical story to worm its way into the lives of generations of individuals and the consciousness of an entire world:

Moyers: It's certainly true that Star Wars was seen by a lot of adults, yours truly included. Even if I hadn't wanted to pay attention, I realized that I had to take it seriously because my kids were taking it seriously. And now my grandkids take it seriously.

Lucas: Well, it's because I try to make it believable in its own fantastic way. And I'm dealing with core issues that were valid 3,000 years ago and are still valid today, even though they're not in fashion.

Making a story "believable in its own fantastic way" is your core task as a visual artist and storyteller. You must create imagery that has the power to tap into the hearts and minds of your audience. The next excerpt from the interview deals with the power of film and the many different artistic components that go into the film production process:

Moyers: How do you explain the power of film to move us?

Lucas: It takes all aspects of other art forms—painting, music, literature, theater—and puts them into one art form. It's a combination of all these, and it works on all the senses. For that reason, it's very alluring, kind of a dreamlike experience. You sit in a dark room and have this other world come at you in a very realistic way.

When all the components of a production—the sound, music, special effects, editing, visual content, and so on—are created in support of the story to be told, the audience becomes so enraptured that they leave the ordinary world behind them. This is the power of the work you will do as a max artist.

Suspension of Disbelief

Your ability to create believable reality will result in a psychological phenomenon called suspension of disbelief. When an audience is totally captivated by the filmmaker's magic, they willingly choose to believe that what they are seeing is real—they suspend their disbelief. To achieve the suspension of disbelief in your audience, you must not only understand the visual reality of what they will be looking at, but you must draw them into the story as if they were living it themselves.

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