How to speed up your production without affecting its budget or quality
Whenever you need to speed up an animation production, it’s easy to think that the creative output is the first thing you’ll compromise. Don’t worry, you’re not alone. This is one of the biggest concerns most teams have.
But what if I told you that the quality, timeline, and even the budget of your project doesn’t need to suffer in order for it to move faster? There are several ways to improve your workflow, but I’ll focus today on those I believe to be the essential ones.
Take the time to make a detailed production plan
Let’s think about a vacation trip. While many people think mostly about the dates, other important factors affect the experience of the trip. For instance, the weather will affect the size of your baggage, which may affect the number of cities you’ll travel through, the kind of transportation you’ll use, the size of the car you may rent, and many other things.
Animation projects are just like that. What many people don’t notice until it’s too late is that many projects start with an incomplete plan. It’s easy to care about the development of each step but forget the little details that may eventually affect the project down the road.
For example, it’s essential to take into consideration your client’s response time for feedback, the timezones of everyone on the team, and even the usual render time of a project. All those small details eventually add up.
To better prepare for these inevitable challenges, start by making the most out of your briefing discussions. It will not only keep your team aligned about the project’s requirements and goals but will also surface other important project details that might not have otherwise been considered until too late in the project.
All animation projects deal with humans and creativity, which are two unpredictable elements. So a perfect plan is impossible. But guaranteeing that your plan has considered most red flags reduces the risk of dealing with unpleasant surprises later in the project. A day “wasted” on planning can save weeks of production.
Work with a team you trust
The second thing that is vital for a project to run smoothly is the trust you have in the team or individual you’re hiring. The key to building that trust is setting specific goals and fostering clear communication.
Trust issues can lead to micro-managing, impacting the development speed, the morale of the team, and the possibility of innovation on the project. Even worse, the final result might not work as well or look as good as it could since the professionals weren’t allowed to use their skills and expertise properly.
Hire an animation production expert
We know it’s common for agencies to do part of the work in-house to reduce costs and have more control over the work. The challenge with this approach is that it often results in project delays or extra fees during production. You can avoid it by hiring an animation specialist capable of spotting problems before they arise during the production process.
For example, even though the script and illustration phases are important moments of the production, storyboards require extra attention. This single step creates the structure and the creative direction for the animation, so any mistake here can quickly become a headache later, and ultimately slow down your project.
When working on the storyboard, we discuss movements, cameras, and the flow and continuity of actions. This document becomes the central reference for everyone working on the project. A few of the most common issues we have encountered with storyboards are:
- Projects with different aspect ratios that don’t consider them in the actual layout.
- Lack of camera movements and action descriptions.
- Wrong estimation of actions needed for the total duration of the scenes, having either less or more than necessary.
- Lack of relevant frames that would help a scene’s transition or action to be easily understood by the people developing it.
And the list goes on and on. Trusting the script, storyboard, and illustration to experienced professionals can make a project run smoothly since they can detect problems in the early stages of the project when it’s faster and cheaper to move things around.
How does it work in practice?
I knew you’d ask this, so let’s talk about real examples. In this project we did for Google, having this briefing discussion was crucial so we could understand the best way to develop it. The biggest challenge of this project was to develop almost the entire production of 3:30 minutes of animation in 3 weeks (which is a short timeline for a video of this length). Speeding up production, in this case, was more than necessary.
A common thought would be to hire more people right from the beginning, and even though it would probably work, it would require an unnecessary extra budget that wasn’t planned by the client for this marketing campaign. And if we just tried to speed throughout the creative side of it, the quality of the animation would suffer, and the whole process would have been stressful for both the client and us.
During our briefing calls, we were able to understand that this project was part of a bigger campaign that started as still illustrations to support their marketing messages. This unique information allowed us to shift our whole production around those images.
We knew that reducing the friction of feedback and revision rounds would allow us to move faster, so we built the entire storyboard using most of the images they had, making small changes when needed. This move allowed us to avoid additional revisions and steps in the production pipeline, as the storyboard followed the final design of most of the scenes in this video. We also made a few suggestions on the script that didn’t affect the message but allowed us to use more illustrations and concepts that were already being used as their marketing assets. That meant that when we got their approval about the storyboard, we were able to start the animation right away while some new illustrations were still being developed.
The project went smoothly and everything was delivered on time, with quality and inside their original allocated budget. There’s no one solution for everything because we’re dealing with creative projects, so it’s critical to understand the different ways you can play the game.
Arm yourself with the best tool available
There’s no one solution for everything because we’re dealing with creative projects, so it’s critical to understand the different options available that might help to speed up your animation production process. You’ll notice that the main element that appears in all the tips above is communication. It can completely change the outcome of a project.
Having the briefing, deadlines, and expectations aligned across the teams allows everybody to move in the same direction and at the same speed. Also, paying attention to how your animation partner handles the communication, planning, and general discussion of the project is also a great way to understand if you’re dealing with the right kind of professional. Their answers and their process can say a lot about your future experience with them.