Artists Think in 3-D, Dollars and Cents : Marketing: Animators at Vision Art Productions in Tustin create ads and video presentations for corporate clients. The cost of splashy computer graphics has dropped greatly.


Dot by dot, frame by frame, David Rose’s imagination, with the aid of a computer, is shaping a three-dimensional animated dream world of medieval castles and futuristic spaceships.

Using the clickity-click of computer “mice” to create images on display screens, Rose and his small troupe of animators at Vision Art Productions specialize in creating commercials and video presentations for corporate clients who want to spice up their marketing with flashy computer graphics.

For fees of $200 to $1,000 per second of computer time, Rose’s company can make a corporate logo fly through a three-dimensional landscape and burst into a rainbow of colors like something from a Nintendo game.

This high-tech wizardry is helping Rose and his 5-year-old company make a name for themselves in the computer animation field.


“I’ve always been a designer, and this is another dimension to that,” said the 41-year-old computer whiz. “It’s my way of breaking into the special-effects and filmmaking business.”

In the last decade, companies such as Wavefront Technologies, a Santa Barbara developer of computer animation software, and Silicon Graphics, a Mountain View, Calif., supplier of high-power personal computer workstations, have developed products that have put powerful new tools in the hands of high-tech artists.

The technology has brought forth a wave of companies such as Vision Art that specialize in computer animation for corporations, said Phil LoPiccolo, editor of Computer Graphics World in Westford, Mass.

A decade ago, computer graphics were rarely used for business promotions because the equipment cost millions of dollars, LoPiccolo said.


“It was not practical and took forever to create a sophisticated animation,” he said. “Now the cost of the technology has come down dramatically.”

Rose added: “I think there’s a misconception about how much this costs to produce. The technology has changed so much that it’s affordable to a lot more people today than it was five years ago.”

The computer animation field is a $250-million-a-year industry that has more than quadrupled in size in five years, according to Carl Machover, president of a computer graphics consulting firm based in White Plains, N.Y.

Most of the work is done by such small firms as Vision Art, Machover said.

“The capability is becoming limitless in terms of its ability to create something out of the imagination,” said David Bernstein, Vision Art’s executive vice president of sales and marketing.

In a few minutes, Rose can click the mouse on his computer workstation and create a three-dimensional image of, for example, a goblet. He can then rotate it to show different angles and varied colors.

Rose, a former Newport Beach architect, founded the privately held company in 1986. The company has grown to about 20 employees and has sales of more than $2 million. Rose declined to provide specific revenue figures.

For lettering work such as corporate logos, the fee for a five-second animated sequence can be as low as $1,000. Customers can choose features for the logo from Vision Art’s computer library of lettering styles and colors.


For more elaborate animated ads, however, the cost can run about $1,000 per second. Still, that might sound like a bargain in contrast with fees of $2,000 to $3,000 a second that a major film production studio in Hollywood typically charges.

The computer animation business is no place for amateurs. Rose said his three workstations and software cost about $1 million. The equipment is about 10 to 20 times more powerful than standard desktop computers.

“This is not really user friendly right now, and I don’t want to paint too rosy a picture,” he said. “The real breakthrough will come when you can do this on a Macintosh or a personal computer. That day isn’t too far away.”

Rose said any technically adept person can learn computer animation, but his most productive animators are trained artists who have spent years trying to draw with the computer.

“It helps if you think in three dimensions,” Rose said.

After consulting with a client, Rose sketches the animation frame by frame--using a storyboard similar to those used by filmmakers. Then the animators work their magic.

They first draw one layer of outlined images, called a skeleton, to show the basic position of objects in the picture. Then they add another layer, which they call the skin, with more details, coloring and shading to create a three-dimensional illusion.

The animator creates the illusion of movement by telling the computer to pick up the skeleton outline of the object in “motion” and move it to a slightly different spot relative to the “stationary” part of the image.


The process is repeated frame by frame. The computer aids the animator by mathematically projecting what the 3-D scene would look like from a different perspective. In this sense, it allows an animator to “walk inside” the animated image as it is created.

Clients range from such small companies as Mission Chiropractic in Mission Viejo to such big corporations as Japan’s Hitachi Ltd. Much of the company’s work also comes from larger production studios or ad agencies, Rose said.

Jim Carter, director of advertising for Tuttle Click Automotive Group in Irvine, said Vision Art created an animated commercial for his company, which owns Orange County car dealerships. He estimated that his company saved about $50,000 from the cost of other production techniques.

“We normally don’t have a great budget for television ads, but I didn’t want to have just a camera moving by a row of cars on a lot,” he said. “They do excellent work, and it has become very cost effective.”