A new tool has arrived on the computer animator’s bench, and it’s promising to make 3D-CGI more feasible for those working on TV schedules and budgets. The tool, a PC software package called the Jethro Animation Management System, is designed to help animators manage 3D computer graphics production by incorporating both financial and time management components. MSH Entertainment, the San Francisco-based animation facility that is developing Jethro in cooperation with chip manufacturer Intel, reasoned that just as today’s PCs can be used to create high quality animation, they can be harnessed to manage the production process more efficiently too.

Jethro is designed to monitor each step in the animation process on a daily basis, tracking the project against delivery milestones. MSH Entertainment President Jonathan Stathakis explains that the system “is structured to efficiently organize an animation project so that it’s executed correctly from the outset. It not only tracks all the tasks, but will also e-mail or page a producer if something goes wrong. It’s been designed to take the guesswork out of how much a project will cost and how long it will take. It will even break it down and tell you how much it will cost to do each scene. As a result of this efficiency, it can help a producer deliver high quality, cost-effective animated television programming at a savings of about 25-30%.”

The proof is already on TV, in the 3D computer animation that MSH has created for the popular syndicated children’s show “Van-Pires.” Working with Abrams/ Gentile Entertainment, (which scripts the programs and films the live action segments) MSH “has been able to do 12 to 15 minutes of animation every 3-1/2 to 4 weeks,” says Stathakis.

When MSH unveiled the pre-beta version of Jethro in the Intel booth at the Siggraph convention last August, the response was immediate. “The artists and animators who saw it told us there was a real need for this,” Stathakis recalls. “Some manufacturers offer a scheduler or a budget program, but not a comprehensive tool like Jethro.”

Jethro was built to work initially with Kinetix’s animation program, 3D Studio Max, explains Stathakis, “because ‘Van-Pires’ was being done in that. What we’re now thinking is that instead of building the next version for another 3D package, like Softimage for example, we’ll start building a version for 2D cel animation because that’s such a huge market.”

Meanwhile, Jethro will continue to be beta-tested on real world projects. Stathakis notes that “Van-Pires” has been picked up for another season, and there have been inquiries about making a “Van-Pires” movie, so we may shift our focus to that.” But by proving Jethro can streamline 3D computer graphics production for episodic television, MSH has already tackled one of the harder problems facing animation producers today. “We’re saving them time,” says Stathakis, “and therefore money.”

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