At the pace of 30 videos a day, Next Media Animation is churning out “All the news that’s fit to animate.” The Taiwanese media company is (in)famous for hilarious and hilariously inappropriate news videos reenacting Tiger Woods’ car crash and TSA’s new full body scanners. It’s the day after the Super Bowl and their video featuring Eli Manning, God, and a “geriatric Lady Gaga Impersonator” (aka Madonna) has already been up for hours. How does it happen so fast? The answer is a huge team of animators but also one particular programming whiz. Eliza Strickland at IEEE Spectrum has a profile of Kevin Wang, the guy who makes it all possible:
On Wang’s first day as director of NMA’s multimedia lab, he had no employees, no hardware, and no office. The assignment: Reduce the animation production cycle from 2 weeks to 2 hours so that on-the-fly animations could be ripped from the headlines and published on the company’s websites before the news got stale. Accomplishing this, Wang realized, would require a completely new approach to computer animation, using a combination of tricks and shortcuts that no one had tried before.
The process Wang came up with starts with motion-capture technology: Live actors re-create a scene, wearing sensors on their bodies that transmit their movements in a format that can be transferred to digital doubles. Meanwhile, animators use a proprietary software program to turn a 2-D photo of, say, Tiger Woods into a 3-D digital face, which they then slap onto the digital character. The animators fill in the scene largely from what Wang calls a “graphic assets database,” essentially a trove of digital images—cars, buildings, beaches, furniture, and so on. “We have 50 different kinds of cups: mugs, paper cups, teacups, and saucers,” Wang explains. Finally, a real-time rendering engine ensures that the whole process, from storyboarding to visual editing, takes only 2 hours.
Compare that to Pixar, where rendering a single frame—and there are 24 frames per second—takes seven hours. At that point, the animators at NMA are already halfway into their fourth video of the day. That’s an internet meme factory for you.