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How Pre-Production Can Make or Break Your Animation Project

Every project or campaign requires a good pre-production. It’s essential to start every project on the right foot and it helps the development to run smoothly and more effectively. This is where exceptional results are guaranteed and when you set the road for success in your production. 

However, the pre-production process in animation is not clear for many agencies. The same structure for live-action, a radio spot, or even social media doesn’t apply when it comes to motion graphics, which can lead to disastrous production situations and even in an opportunity loss in making something remarkable.

Since each medium has its specific demands, it’s important to understand how to better prepare your team for any motion project. But no worries, I’ll guide you through the stages in pre-production for animation and show you what’s important to keep in mind when developing each part of your project

Why is pre-production so important?

It’s the best time for modifications

One of the reasons why dedicating time to pre-production is so important is because this is where you’ll probably receive the most feedback from your clients.

It’s not rare to see clients changing their minds in the middle of this stage — and you should expect that. Changing things during the pre-production phase is a lot easier than doing so down the road, which could impact budgets and schedules more drastically. Therefore, the more you can communicate with the client and have them sign off on this stage, the easier it will be to move forward. 

Even though you can expect some back-and-forth in this early phase, pre-production still takes less time than the design and animation stages. And the more time you invest here the better it will be for the team because they’ll have a clear understanding of what to do and what to expect moving forward. Clients will have a solid understanding of what’s to come and any “bad surprises” can be prevented as clear pre-production puts everyone on the same page.

It shapes the animation

The biggest reason why you should give extra attention to pre-production in animation is that this is the place where the animation starts to get shaped. Instead of only figuring out how things will work and move once you get to the animation stage, this initial phase allows you to anticipate challenges. Also, you can achieve a much richer result when doing pre-production properly.

One good example is related to the Script and Storyboard stages. Most of the time, scripts tend to translate what the voiceover will be saying throughout the video. However, not all information needs to be transmitted only with the voice. Sometimes, the best way to describe a thought or explain something is to show instead of just tell.

At the same time, paying close attention to the construction of the storyboard helps to foresee and plan clever transitions while helping the end client to get a better perspective of the true potential of the video you are creating. In the end, the more time you allow here the better the end result.

What is pre-production in animation?

When talking about pre-production, we consider the stages that precede the animation moment. It means, before we get to the point where every scene of a video is illustrated, the voiceover is recorded, before any kind of movement at all. It consists of strategy, scriptwriting, storyboarding, and style.

Strategy

The animation strategy is the alignment between the campaign’s end goal and the creative direction. It’s when the narrative style and the technical requirements of the animation are defined. It sets how everything should move and what are the limitations of the project. The strategy tells us how we are going to reach the target audience, which type of animation should be pursued (motion graphics, character-based, typography, cel animation, etc.), as well as the duration and format of our animation piece. The strategy should always connect the client’s brand with the message they want to send to their customers.

Scriptwriting

This stage in pre-production helps to shape the narrative style and the flow of the story. A good script is dynamic and has a natural flow to it, which helps to set the animation’s rhythm and allows viewers to be engaged by it. 

Just like the animation strategy, the script should be clear enough to send the message but also respect the constraints of duration needed for the piece. A great script is just like great video-editing: what you remove is more important than what you put in. It’s easy to fill a script document with many words and elaborated sentences that won’t contribute to either the message’s clarity or the animation’s flow. Investing time to reduce and shape the script is extremely valuable for any project.

Keep in mind that you cannot squeeze a lot of words in just a few seconds of video. Allowing some breathing space between sentences and sections helps transitions flow more smoothly inside the animation.

Style

The definition of style is an essential part of an animation. It helps to connect the brand with the narrative, as well as helping shape the storyboard, defining what kind of movements are expected and sometimes even possible, for the style chosen. This stage is where we define the characters’ style, colors of the video, typography, composition, etc.

This visual style directly influences the complexity and the expectations of the animation. Working side-by-side with the animation strategy, the style can help to refine some early directions and vice-versa.

For example:

  • The strategy can define an animation piece as being character-based but without a preference for the animation style — cut out or cel — for those characters. When the Art Director starts working with the team to design the visuals of those characters, their directions will set the tone for the animation style. 
  • On the other hand, if the strategy sets the animation style to be cut-out (based on budget, timing, or target definition) the style of those characters should follow a structure that will allow the animation technique to work.

With the style and script in place, the next step in pre-production becomes a lot clearer and helps the story to align objectives with a visual impact.

Storyboard

The last part of pre-production consists of a storyboard, which is the thread that guides the illustrators and animators during the animation’s production. This is where a storyboard artist splits the script into multiple sections and draws the animation’s scenes and actions to create the visual narrative of the story. The style is a great ally of the storyboard because it dictates the visual tools that the storyboard artist can use. In the same way that a more abstract style will steer the storyboard to compositions that include more shapes and metaphors, a character-based style will lead the storyboard to follow a descriptive approach over abstraction, and so on.

This moment is the final step of the pre-production stage, where everything that was worked on so far comes together to shape what the animation will be. At this point, you already know your story’s content, visual style, and the storyboard to guide the production by planning each moment of the video’s actions and composition. Now you are ready to move full speed ahead to production.

A note about timing

This is the first stage of every project development and when it comes to animation, bringing your animation team closer starting at the beginning helps to guarantee good work upfront. There are direct benefits and relationships between having your animation part right from the start and the output quality of a project.

The projects we achieved the best results for our clients and partners were the ones we got involved with from day one. The animator’s eye in pre-production can bring smarter solutions to problems that would only be noticed later in production. It helps to avoid conflicts and set good expectations, nurturing better relationships with clients as it prevents delays and unnecessary changes.

Remember to give special attention to pre-production in your animation projects and bring the animation team in as early as possible. Take this time to review every detail and build the structure for success.

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Author avatar
Felippe Silveira
Co-founder & Creative Director at MOWE Studio

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