Animation System
Some Basics
User Interface
Animation Settings
Setting Up a Simple Animation
Rendering the Animation to a Movie File
The Graph Editor
Using the Animation Wizard

The animation system in Pointools View Pro is based on interpolation between keys placed on a Timeline. If you've worked with Timelines in other animation software you'll find the Pointools' animation system easy to get to grips with since most of the key concepts are the same.

If this is the first time you've attempted setting up Timeline based animation, the interface may look a little daunting at first but with some understanding of the basic principles it shouldn't take a long time to start producing movies.

Some Basics
If you are a beginner grasping some basic concepts and terminology will help greatly when it comes to setting up animations and getting into the more advanced aspects.

Key Framing
In traditional animation (clay model for example) each frame is made by posing a scene and then capturing it on film. A slight change is made to the scene between each frame so when the frame sequence is played back the scene appears to be animated. Computer animation uses a slightly different process. Instead of setting up each frame we can set up 2 or more frames and the frames in-between are interpolated to produce smooth motion. This means we don't have to setup each frame, rather just the 'Key' frames and the other frames are computed. The change in the scene at a particular frame is called a Key. The frame in which there is a Key is called a Keyframe and the technique is referred to as Key Framing.

Controllers, Parameters and Keying Mode
A Parameter is any value that can be animated. In fact Keys represent the value of a Parameter at a particular frame. For example the camera's Z position is a Parameter and we could place a Key at frame 42 with the value of the camera's Z at 2.0. A Controller abstracts an object into a number of Parameters allowing it to be animated. Controllers also provide a convenient grouping of related Parameters. For example the Camera controller groups together the camera's fov, x position, y position, z position, x target, y target and z target. Note that positions are represented by 3 parameters, one for each coordinate component. In other animation software, Parameter may be called a component or channel.

By default when you add a Key you are actually adding a Key for every Parameter in the System. This is likely to include parameters that you do not intend to animate. Whilst this is harmless is most cases it is not very efficient and sometimes you want to create or edit keys of a particular Parameter or Controller only. This is achieved by using the Keying Mode which can be set to work globally, by controller or by parameter. Subsequent adding or removing keys will only affect the scope of the Keying Mode.

Timeline
A Timeline is a representation of the time over which various parameters may change ie be animated. Since animation is experienced linearly this is a useful way to represent the placement of Keys in relation to one another and to time. The Timeline UI is described in the next section.


User Interface


The animation interface

Controllers
The Controllers interface displays a tree of all the Controllers and their Parameters. Selecting a Controller / Parameter in the tree makes it the active Controller / Parameter. This determines which Parameter is shown in the Graph Editor and may also affect the Timeline depending on the Keying Mode.

A Controller or its Parameters can be activated or deactivated (all are activated by default) by toggling the small icon to the left of it. Deactivating a Parameter prevents it from being animated although you can still add or edit its keys and see it in the Graph Editor or Timeline.

Timeline and Keying Mode
The Timeline represents the time over which various parameters can change ie be animated. To animate a parameter, lets say the camera's Z position from 2m to 12m over 10secs we would place two keys on the Timeline, 10 seconds apart and representing the values 2 and 12m. The animation system then interpolates between the two keys to produce a smooth animation of the parameter value. This is the basis of keyframe animation.

Note that the values along the Timeline are frame numbers and not seconds. The translation into time will depend on the current Frames Per Second (fps) setting of the animation. Fortunately you don't have to be continuously doing this calculation yourself as the current frame and timecode are shown in the bottom left corner of the Timeline.

Keyframes are represented by a white marker on the Timeline. Depending on the Keying Mode the following keys are displayed:

All
All the keys as shown
Controller
Only the keys for the currently selected Controller are shown. This includes all the parameters the controller has.
Parameter
Only the keys for the currently selected Parameter are shown. If not parameter is selected the first parameter of the current controller is shown.

To change the Keying Mode click on the Keying Mode button until the mode you require is displayed.

In All and Controller Keying Modes a key shown in the Timeline may actually represent more than one key. This can happen since there may be a key for a number of parameters on the same frame.

The Timeline cursor represents the current frame position. To change the current frame drag the cursor along the Timeline. As you drag the cursor any parameters that are animated are updated in the viewport.

Areas outside of the current animation time-span are shaded in red. You can use the red triangular widgets at the bottom of the Timeline to extend or reduce the animation time-span. Note that this only setting the start or end frame of the animation and doesn't not effect the keyframes in anyway.

Animation Toolbar
The Animation Toolbar is located under the Timeline separate from the standard toolbars above the viewport area. The following commands (in left-to-right order) are available:

Start
Sets the current frame to the start of the animation time-span area
Previous Key
Sets the current frame (as represented by the Timeline cursor) to the previous keyframe.
Previous Frame
Sets the current frame to the one before it ie. moves the Timeline cursor back a frame
Play
Plays the animation from the start to end frames in the viewport. The animation will play in real-time at actual playback rate. This may cause frames to be skipped as it may not be possible to draw the frame quick enough for the playback rate. This can cause the animation to appear jerkey at times, however this does not affect the rendered animation quality.

To pause the animation use the Escape key. To stop the animation click the Play icon again.
Next Frame
Sets the current frame to the one after it ie. moves the Timeline cursor forward a frame
Next Key
Sets the current frame (as represented by the Timeline cursor) to the next keyframe
End
Sets the current frame to the end of the animation time-span area
Add Key
Adds a key at the current frame. Keys are added for all the parameters indicated by the Keying Mode
Add Key
Removes the selected in the Timeline or Graph Editor. Keys are removed for all the parameters indicated by the Keying Mode
Pan mode
Enables panning of the Timeline. Alternatively you can use the middle mouse button to pan whilst in the Default mode
Zoom mode
Enables zooming of the Timeline. Alternatively you can use the right mouse button to zoom whilst in the Default mode
Default mode
Default key picking mode.

The remaining options are described later in chapter on Animation Settings.

Graph Editor
The Graph Editor enables fine tuning of Keyframe position, value and interpolation method. To open the Graph Editor drag up the bar separating the Viewport and Timeline. The Graph Editor displays the changing value of the current Parameter over the time as a graph with keys shown as nodes along the graph. The following editing methods can be preformed interactively in the graph section of the Graph Editor:

Value edit
To change a key's value drag the key up or down in the graph editor. The key's value is shown next to the key and also in the Parameter Bar.
Frame edit
To change a key's frame position drag the key whilst holding down the CTRL key. The key's frame is shown next to the key as also in the Parameter Bar.

The Parameter Bar enables numeric entry of value and frame and also gives you access to the various key interpolation modes available. The interpolation mode always refers to interpolation of the incoming curve.


Animation Settings
Start Frame
Sets the starting frame of the animation. You can also edit this in the timeline by clicking and dragging the leftmost red marker.
End Frame
Sets the ending frame of the animation. You can also edit this in the timeline by clicking and dragging the rightmost red marker.
FPS (Frames per second)
Sets the frame rate for the animation. This defaults to 30 fps which gives a smooth animation. However you can decrease this value to render the animation out quicker (since there will be less frames). Lower than 12 fps and the sense of motion can be lost with the animation appearing very 'choppy'. There is little point in increasing the fps beyond 30.
Resolution
This is the resolution of the output image. A number of presets are available. You can also define a custom resolution by selecting Custom from the list and entering the width and height of the image in the boxes below.
Pixel Ratio
Determines the ratio of the pixel. By default this is 1 which gives a square pixel. Use this default if you are rendering for playback on a computer display. For playback on other devices or for broadcast the pixel ratio may need to be different.
Motion Blur
In the real world fast moving objects often appear blurred. This effect is simulated in computer graphics by use of Motion Blurring. Motion Blurring gives a smoother, more realistic motion. The downside is, it requires a number of samples at fractional frames and therefore increases render time considerably. For this reason, this option is off by default. The quality setting determines the number of samples used and has a direct impact on rendering time.
Show Motion Paths
Shows the path of selected motion animated objects (currently only the camera) in the viewport. In order to display a path, the relevant controller must be selected in the Controllers Tree. This can help set up precise placement and movement on the object.
Show Visible Area
Indicates the visible area of the frame in the viewport. The viewport aspect may differ to the rendered aspect so it is useful to see exactly what will be visible in the output.
Show Safe Area
Shows an outer and inner frame that are used to determine the 'Safe Area' that will not be clipped out by TV displays. The outer rectangle represents an 'Action Safe' area, whilst the inner is the 'Title Safe' area. The Safe Area charts are not rendered in the animation. If you are rendering for broadcast you can use these as a guide. For a detailed explanation see the BBC's Picture Size Guide.
Show Field Chart
Shows a field chart in the viewport. This will not be rendered in the animation.


Setting Up a Simple Animation
It's time to have a go at setting up a simple animation. Follow the steps below to set up some timeline keys and preview the animation.

1.Import some data into the workspace
2.Move the camera (ie the current view) into the starting position. You may find it easier to do this using the Explore navigation mode.
3.Make sure the timeline cursor is on frame 0.
4.Add a key in this position by using the Add Key command in the animation toolbar.
5.Move the camera to a new position
6.Drag the timeline cursor 60 or so frames to the right. You can see the time-code this represents in the bottom left corner of the timeline.
7.Add another key
8.Repeat steps 5-7 as many times as you want (although you may need to extend the animation time by dragging the red marker on the right of the timeline)
As you drag the timeline cursor the camera view in the viewport is animated. Frames between the keys you have placed are interpolated to give a smooth motion. In this instance we have created keys in all Controllers although we are only animating the camera. To be more efficient we could have toggled the Keying Mode to Controller and selected the Camera controller in the Controllers list so that keys would be generated in the Camera controller only.

Note that keys are represented in the timeline by a white filled frame marker. You can reposition these keys by a simple click and drag operation. This is useful if you find the motion too quick or too slow.

Viewing the Camera Path
Sometimes it is useful to be able to view the camera's path to ensure it's not colliding with any objects in the scene. You can do this by turning on the Show Motion Paths option in the Animation Options dialog box. You should now switch off the camera controller to prevent the view following the animated camera. Do this by unselecting the small icon on the left of the Camera Controller in the Controllers List. Now you can navigate the view to check the camera path and movement using the timeline without snapping the view back to the path. The path can be edited via the Graph Editor whilst being viewed.


Rendering the Animation to a Movie File
Once you have set up your animation you can render it to a sequence of stills or a movie file. The frames are rendered with Anti-aliasing at a higher quality than the view in the viewport to ensure a high quality output. A movie file can be played back on any system and does not require Pointools software. This makes it an easy and effective way to share visualisation of a project with others.

To render the animation out click on the Render Settings icon in the Animation Toolbar or alternatively pick this option from the Animation Menu. The following options are available:

From
Sets the start frame for the render
To
Sets the end frame for the render
Step
Sets the frame step. For example a step of 3 will render every 3rd frame. This can be useful to quickly render out a test animation.
Image Output
Sets the output and format for numbered stills rendering. The animation will be rendered out as a series of still images with each file numbered with its frame number. You will need a compositing or editing package to combine these files into a movie file. A number of free and low-cost applications are available on the Internet that will allow you to do this.

This is the recommended output for rendering animations since it gives you the highest degree of flexibility. If the render fails or you need to stop the render it is easy to start rendering again.
Video Output
Sets the output and format for movie file rendering. The animation will be rendered out as a single AVI movie file. Click the Options button to open up the compression options for the movie. Note that you may have to indicate the location of the output file before the compression options appear. This option can be used at the same time as Image rendering.

Once the options are set up, click Render to start rendering. This brings up the Render Progress with a preview of the frames being rendered. It also displays an estimate of the time remaining to finish the rendering.


If you cancel the rendering you will still get a valid movie files of the frames rendered so far.


The Graph Editor
The Graph Editor provides finer control over the animation of parameter values over time. To open the Graph Editor click and drag upwards the bar over the timeline. This exposes the Graph Editor interface.


The graph editor interface

The Graph
The Graph Editor is linked to the timeline and the two pan and zoom together. Vertical movement whilst zooming zoom the Graph Editor values. The 3 zoom icons zoom the view to the current graph.

The Graph Editor displays the currently selected parameter in the Controllers Tree. If a controller is selected and none of its Parameter are selected, the first Parameter of the Controller is shown. Only one Parameter graph can been shown at one time. The identification of the current controller / parameter combination is shown in the bottom right of the Graph Editor.

The Graph Editor enables editing of key values, frame positions and interpolation type settings:
To edit the Value of a key
Click and drag the key vertically to set its value. The new value of the key is shown as you are dragging it. Alternatively select the key using a window (L-Mouse Button and drag) and edit its value in the Parameter Bar Value input box. Note that the viewport is updated as you change the value.
To edit the Frame position of a key
Click and drag the key horizontally holding down the Ctrl key. The new frame of the key is shown as you are dragging it. Alternatively select the key using a window (L-Mouse Button and drag) and edit its frame in the Parameter Bar Frame input box. Note that the viewport is updated as you change the frame position of the key.
To edit multiple keys
Click and drag out a window to select the keys. You can now drag to change the key values or frame position.
To edit the interpolation type between keys
Select the key that is at to the right the interpolation section you wish to change. Use the Interpolation drop down in the Parameter Bar to select the interpolation type. The TCB Spline interpolation type has a number of additional settings you can use to fine tune the interpolation.


Using the Animation Wizard
The Animation Wizard provides a quick and easy way to set up an animation. To get started select the Animation Wizard menu item from the Animation menu. The animation wizard will clear existing camera controller keys, but will leave other keys intact. You can choose one of two types of animation to setup:

Fly Through
This will help you setup a camera fly-through type animation. The Wizard will take you through the following steps
1.Enter the camera positions along the path. To do this move the camera (via the viewport) into the next position and click Enter. Note that the wizard switches the navigation mode to Explore. In most cases this will make positioning the camera easier, however if you prefer the Examine mode you can switch the mode back via the navigation mode menu above the viewport. Repeat this step to enter as many positions as needed and then click Next >>
2.Set the duration of the animation and the frame rate and click Next >>
3.Now choose the key placement method and click Next >>
4.Click Finish and Create Keys to create the animation or Cancel to cancel the process
Orbit
This will set up a orbit or rotation around a point type animation. The Wizard will take you through the following steps:
1.Set the Target point. Use the viewport Set Target command from the viewport toolbar (top right of viewport) to position the target of the view. Alternatively you can use the X key whilst hovering over some data in the viewport to set the target. This is the point around which the camera will orbit.
2.Now choose the key placement method and click Next >>
3.Click Finish and Create Keys to create the animation or Cancel to cancel the process
Now click Play in the Animation Toolbar to preview the animation path. You can now use the Graph Editor to make adjustments until you are satisfied with the results.