Animation

I’m working on another spot that consists mostly of animation and computer-generated imagery. I’ve done this a few times in my career, and each time I’m reminded of how different a beast it can be from the normal production process. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a really fun process and allows you to do some things you never could with live action, but it can be really frustrating if you don’t have your ducks in a line, or if everyone doesn’t understand how the process works.

Animation is like building a building. Each step depends on the previous steps. If you get to the fifth floor and decide you don’t like the first floor, you have to tear the whole thing down. For example, let’s say you’re animating a cartoon character onto a shot with a live-action person. On Monday you and your client approve the edit, basically saying you like a certain take of the live-action person. Then the animators start the rough animation process. They work all week on it. Then on Friday, the client changes their mind and decides that they’re not crazy about the look on the live-action person’s face and want another take in there. You’ve just lost a week.

This is a pretty common scenario, and it makes agencies, animators, and probably everyone else want to pull their hair out. Here’s a few tips for how to avoid this:

1) Prepare the client. In one regard, YOU are the client, so you must prepare yourself as well. Along with your creative director. And your client client. It’s worth having a meeting up front that walks through how the animation process works and emphasizes that once a decision is made, you can’t go back. Use the building analogy. And repeat every meeting, “After we decide this, we can’t go back.”

2) Manage expectations. Animation is about baby steps. There are no big “wow” moment, because each time you see something, it’s only changed a little since you saw it last. Keep this in mind, and make sure the client knows this. You will come a very long way from start to finish, but the process is one step at a time.

3) Be crystal clear what’s being decided with each meeting. There are a ton of potential disractions with each review of the cut. At the beginning of the meeting, make sure it’s clear what everyone is looking at. If they’re judging just the animation of the fish, kindly remind everyone to focus on just the fish when they ask if the clouds in the background are finished. The fish is the only thing that exists.

4) Make sure everyone is speaking the same language. Odds are, your client doesn’t know a wireframe model from a model airplane. Make sure you have a grasp of the process, then break it down for them in their terms. Use analogies (this is like the studs of the house, and this is like the drywall, etc.). Or get the animation company to help break it down for you. Just make sure everyone is talking about the same thing.

5) Make sure the decision-makers have the power to make the decisions. This is the big one. One client might be okay with something, but their boss isn’t. Or their boss’s boss. Or the CEO. It doesn’t matter. Whoever the decision-maker is going to be, they need to be involved when the decision is made. Get them in the room, or find some way to get a rough cut in front of them.

6) Be patient. You’re asking people to imagine a lot. There will be indecision. There will be a lot of questions, and a lot of what you might consider hand-holding. Just expect this. Be clear, be patient, and be organized. If you do all these things, it’ll help everything run more smoothly.

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