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Lesson 002a – (TV/FILM/Animation Standards)

Standards for TV/Film/Animation:

To say that this topic is a easy one would be a mis-step. First of all the history of film production ties directly to what we use in our modern day productions. Add technology advancements and all the trappings that come with animation and camera work and you literally have a mountain of information that is either very confusing or overwhelming. The goal with this section is to give you a quick explanation without scaring you away from knowing the must know information.

*Success in animation and film production hinges on you knowing the bare basics. If you fail to learn these basics then you will never be able to animate. It’s easy information as long as you read this section over. If you already know this subject matter then you can skip this section. 

Muybridge motion photography of a horse jumping.

So let’s start with the very basics – The Frame!

The very first thing you should understand is the size in which you are working on in terms of your image. Television originally was broadcast in two frame sizes which is called “Standard Definition (SD)”. They would be NTSC (480×720) for the Americas and PAL (576×720) for Europe. Depending on where you were in the world this varied from country to country outside of the USA or Europe. With the dawning of the digital video age the standards changed and the size increased to what is called “High Definition (HD)”. Those sizes are 1280×720 and 1920×1080.

Pixels:

The numbers of the above standard frame size are represented by 1 pixel each. So a 1920×1080 HD image is 1920 pixels wide and 1080 pixels tall. A pixel is a square of color that varies over the frame to collectively make an image. Your still camera shoots a lot of pixels and the image is most likely far larger than 1920×1080. 4K is now becoming the new standard on the horizon and its image size is 3840×2160. That’s a large image!!! But don’t worry you should be fine using anything from 480×720 to 1920×1080 for your animation practices. If you are wanting to produce professional work however you will most likely need to output all your animation at what we call 1080p which is basically 1920×1080.

*Please note that we can dive down the rabbit hole with this subject. For one thing there are formats such as Interlaced (rarely used in todays productions) and Progressive frame rates (Used in almost everything today). The “p” in 1080p stands for progressive and if you see 1080i, the “i” stands for interlaced. That’s all I’ll mention about that here. 

4X3 and 16X9:

One way to differentiate the SD and HD standards is by the numbers 4×3 (SD) and 16×9 (HD). These are called aspect ratios and are important to know if you plan on going professional with your work. We typically call wide screen a 16×9 aspect ratio. Wide screen is made to simulate the image shot for film theatrical projection while 4×3 SD was used for television broadcasts. We can take one step further an if you placed a 16×9 image in a 4×3 image the top and bottoms of the image will contain a black rectangle. We call this letter boxing. It is important to understand since once you adventure into whats called animorphic lenses you will eventually have letterboxing even in a 16×9 output.

Action Safe / Title Safe:

To further understand the frame we have to look at areas of the frame that are key to making a proper camera setup. Guidelines have been established by broadcasting agencies to fully take into account of different television, projectors, and monitor setups. Sometimes the image gets cutoff on the sides or bottoms when broadcast or the titles don’t read since they are at the bottom edge of the screen. You should always frame your action within what is called the action safe area and keep your text in what is called the title safe area. Most stop motion softwares come with an overlay that you can use to guarantee you stay within these standards.

Frame Rates:

Oh boy! Here’s where we lose our minds.

The film camera take a photograph and places it on a medium which traditionally was called film. Thus the name film camera. The movie camera would take multiple photographs one after another in a certain amount of time. We usually measure this in one second intervals. This means when you hear the term 24 frames per second (also known as 24fps) the camera had taken 24 photographs one after another in one second. This was a huge discovery that is the basis of all motion picture and animation production.

Now instead of confusing you with a bunch of frame rate non-sense which comes with television and broadcasting standards I want to point you to the basics.

*(FYI there are 23.976fps and 23.978fps just to name a few framerates out of a larger crazy world of outputs for different formats. Don’t worry we will stick with basics.)

Frame rates:

  • 24fps – Film standard for the Americas and Hollywood
  • 25fps – Video standard for Europe (also called PAL)
  • 30fps – Video Standard for North America (television traditional broadcasts were at 29.976fps)
  • 60fps – Video game frame rate

We will go further into these frame rates in the future and mainly focus on 24fps because it lends itself nicely to even and accurate math when doing animation. It also produces nice results when looked at with the human eye and preveived by the brain. There are high speed frame rates but we won’t go into that here.

Compression and Codecs:

Traditionally two practical media storage devices were used in storing the image. Those would be film and video tape. As time went on and everything became digital the need for better digital storage became very important. Resolutions increased an this resulted in high increase in data being needed to be stored. As a result the various types of compression and codecs were created to compensate for this increase.

Compression is in a sense the squishing of the data to be played back. Maybe I can explain that better. If you have a very large image and want to look at in on your phone it needs to be reduced in size to allow for your phones processor and screen to be able to display it. Otherwise you will be looking a a very small part of the larger image.

Formats are the storage container for the compressed image. A still image format would be a jpeg (jpg), png, tiff, targa, or RAW format.

A codec takes the formats and puts them in a compressed sequence which is then able to be played back on a computer. The standard internet format is .H264… BUT!!! an .H264 is also a compression that can sit inside of an MP4 codec…. YIKES!!! Compression and codecs are a nightmare honestly. There are three standards that I personally work from the first is I always work in an image sequence which is basically just straight images from the camera brought into a software such as After Effects. the second is I always use .H264 for my output to the internet. It’s everywhere and supported by almost all online streaming services. Then when I produce commercial productions I usually output a version of an Apple Pro Res format. There are many to choose from for different purposes, but im most cases the editors usually want an Apple Pro Res for television.

Film productions can get even crazier with the codecs since they work with large formats and usually they like to use a varience of RAW. This typically means using an a conversion software to convert the RAW image into something workable like an EXR.

Don’t worry if you are lost with all of this. What you should use is image sequences and .H264 for the internet. If you are on a PC or Android phone then you probably can export an AVI file which in many cases is just as good as an .H264. YouTube loves the .H264 and AVI codecs so stick with that.

Color Standards:

Okay this subject is a battle and I won’t go into it. Just know that there are color standards that you will need to observe when broadcasting television and film. The internet is not too concerned with such matters when streaming video. The standards are setup so that you don’t burn a hole in a customers television set (this results in dead pixels and burned in images) or blow out a $100,000 digital projector at a theater. Yes, it has been done… Yes, I’ve worked with professional individuals who had no clue about the color temperature standards… Yes, thank god there are professional colorists who work at the networks and fix those crazy peoples mistakes. Because this course is focused on the basics of stop motion animation you shouldn’t have to worry about the color standards. But if you decide to venture further down the road with a goal of being professional you will definitely need to take note of what the standards are.

Conclusion:

I hope I haven’t scared you away with all this information. This honestly is just a snowflake on an iceburge in terms of information. That being said you should only concern yourself with the frame aspect ratio and pixel size of the image, frame rate and the compression output.

My suggestion:

  • Shoot in 16×9 (1920×1080)
  • Framerate 24fps
  • Use .H264 or AVI
  • Have fun!!!
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