How to Prevent Your Next Animation Project from Failing

Every project is susceptible to failure. That’s a simple fact that many people might not even consider when discussing a new project with a client. However, addressing these issues right from the beginning is a great way to start a strong and healthy relationship.

The most common concerns when it comes to animation production are:

  • Failure to meet a deadline
  • Failure to stay within the budget
  • Failure to send the right message
  • Failure to meet the client expectations

If any of these failures remind you of a project you worked on, you’re not alone. Many directors and producers only recognize these holes in a project when it’s too late, so my goal here is to help you identify and prevent failures early on in your next animation project.

Failure to meet deadlines

When working on product launches or a marketing campaign, deadlines are sacred. But sometimes, meeting deadlines can feel out of your control. However, even those external factors can be spotted early and corrected if you know where to look.

Deadline problems happen for numerous reasons, but they can usually be attributed to:

  • A lack of vision or understanding of the creative team on how long things take to be done.
  • A rush to get external partners and teams into the project without a clear picture of the production timeline.
  • Agencies being too ambitious with their project scopes without acknowledging the time needed to make that vision happen. 
  • Agencies and teams not accounting for client feedback time when putting together a calendar.

The best way to prevent it

1: Document how much time is needed
For every new animation project, document how much time you and your team usually spend on each stage of development. Even though every case is unique, it will give you a rough idea of what’s possible versus unachievable.

2: Define clear milestones for development
Instead of thinking of a project only by the start and end date, add milestones and small deliveries along the way. At MOWE, we split production into many steps, defining small deliverables as we progress. It helps to quickly identify when something is not going as expected so we can speed up work when necessary.

3: Understand the client’s availability
One way to prevent “client sabotage” on schedule is to ask about the availability and time needed to receive and respond with feedback. You should account for some days of “waiting for response” at some milestones and small deliveries in your internal process. Get real with the client, present those milestones and the dates they can expect to hear from you, and get on the same page to understand if your plan seems realistic or not based on their schedule.

4: Get the client on board with dates and milestones
Not only define and get a clear picture of those dates and milestones but also communicate with the client so they can be aware of when they will hear back from you and when their input is needed.

Example an animation project timeline and milestones.

Failure to stay within the budget

One of the worst emails you’ll ever have to send to a client is an email asking for more budget. It’s never something a client wants to receive, and this immediately puts everyone on the defensive, trying to point fingers at who is responsible for causing this. Especially when the budget is tight and very sensitive, asking for more money can negatively impact the client relationship.

Sometimes going over budget is related to delays in production, which now you know how to avoid. However, a big part of failing to stay within the budget comes from a deficit in resource allocation. Maybe you invested too much money in pre-production and will need to ask for more to afford to hire the best team. Or maybe you managed to get production done but forgot to allocate money for the original music track the client was asking for. In addition, the desire to innovate can cause you to invest in more costly animation components like characters or cel animation when in the end, it wasn’t a requirement or a need.

The best way to prevent it

1.  Prevent delays before they happen
Failing to meet deadlines directly impacts budget. Being aware of what to do to prevent it from happening will also save your life here. 

2. Be clear about how much budget is available for each production phase
Avoid putting too much in the pre-production phase and not having enough for the following production steps. A small budget well distributed is better than over-expending in a single aspect of production.

3. Identify the essential technical needs
To avoid going “too fancy,” as it can easily lead a project to go over budget, be clear on what’s necessary to achieve the client’s expectations and campaign goals. It’s tempting to hire a specific talent or studio to deliver that fantastic character animation, but sometimes it’s not what you need to sell your client’s product. 

Failure to send the right message

It’s great to complete a project on time and within the budget, but none of this will matter for the client if you’re trying to say A and end up saying B. If their audience doesn’t get the message, how do you expect them to engage with your client’s brand? Getting the message right is always the most critical outcome of an animation project.

Sometimes conversations with the client and materials provided by them won’t give you a clear understanding of the message they’re trying to convey. If you can’t understand it, how will you communicate it to the audience?

A message in animation marketing can take all shapes and forms. There are moments when something that is not clear in the early stages of storyboard or design can become easier when you see it in motion. But that’s not always the case, and assuming that adding movement will save all your messaging errors is risky.

The best way to prevent it

1. Ask, ask, and ask again
If the briefing is not clear enough and you didn’t get entirely what the client said in the first place, ask again. There’s nothing wrong with having doubts about certain words used or checking if you got the message right. Make your goal to always be on the same page with the campaign messaging, so there’s no error moving forward.

2. Get everything approved in writing
Another way to make sure you understand what the message is is to get everything written and approved by the client. 

3. Don’t assume the animation will fix it
If the script is not at the right point yet, don’t assume the animation will fix it. It has to be correct and good from the beginning. A good animation will make the message more appealing and enhance its outreach and potential. And you don’t want to empower bad messaging, right?

Failure to meet client expectations

The production of an animation campaign is an exciting and integrated process, and seeing everything combined in the final piece can either be a special moment for the client or an unpleasant surprise. With expectations so high, it’s not uncommon for clients to be unhappy with the final piece (especially if that’s the first time they see ANYTHING). 

It can come from numerous factors, maybe the client wasn’t aware of how the project was progressing, or your team lacked the technical skill to develop it correctly, or perhaps the team you outsourced didn’t deliver what was promised. In any case, there are ways to avoid this from happening.

The best way to prevent it

1. Set the right expectations
Get the client on board on every significant step of animation production. Present scripts, storyboards, and style frames. It’s extremely important that the client is aware of the project’s direction before it’s too late. Being present in those early stages is not only good for avoiding “surprises” but also helps to get the client excited about the future outcomes.

2. Be aware of your team’s limitations
Some internal teams of designers and animators are great at completing daily tasks but not ideal for larger campaigns. Understand how far your team can go so you can offer something within their expertise.

3. Don’t be afraid to outsource
When it comes to animation production, outsourcing a project to a specialized studio is the best way to guarantee the quality your client is expecting. Even though it’s a common practice for many agencies, outsourcing elements outside of animation production (like animation strategy and sound) to an animation studio can guarantee results beyond expectations.

The best way to prevent failures is to be proactive about them instead of reactive. For example, never leave a project discussion meeting without understanding the client’s concerns and how they feel that failure can be avoided in their project. It may sound weird at first, but we always get useful information when we ask this question.

When running creative projects, hiccups are inevitable and should be exceptions. Whenever possible, take a step back so you can analyze the big picture of your production situation. The sooner you can predict a problem, the easier it will be to fix it.

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Felippe Silveira

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