4 Best Practices For Managing a Multi-Studio Animation Production

It becomes frequent during production that the work is separated into several studios. Either because the main studio is only a delegated producer and has no production studio or artist, because of lack of space, or to take advantage of a better rate on certain stages.‌

a year ago   •   6 min read

By Gwénaëlle Dupré
Photo by Eric Prouzet on Unsplash

As productions become more complex and demanding, it's becoming increasingly common to divide each step of the production pipeline among several animation studios to face a lack of in-house resources, limited space, meet deadlines, or leverage opportunities to tap into specialized expertise.

But managing a multi-studio production, whether each entity resides in the same country or abroad, comes with its challenges. This article will explore the pros and cons of working with multiple animation studios and provide best practices for ensuring a successful outcome.

Benefits of Hiring Multiple Studios

Hiring multiple studios can bring a host of benefits worth considering when planning your next production:

  • Increased creativity and diversity - Each studio has its unique style and perspective. Bringing more studios means you can tap into a broader range of creative ideas and approaches, leading to a more diverse and exciting end product.
  • Access to a broader pool of talent and expertise - An animation production relies on various skill sets, from IT to character design or project management. Working with different studios gives you access to a broader pool of talent and expertise, which leads to a higher-quality end product.
  • The ability to divide the workload and meet tight deadlines - With more hands on deck, you can complete tasks more quickly and efficiently, allowing you to stay on schedule and avoid delays.
  • Cost savings through competition among studios - With multiple studios bidding on the project, you can negotiate better rates and secure the best deal for your budget.

Production Challenges

The added complexity comes with its own challenges, however:

  • Coordinating the efforts of multiple studios - Managing the work and progress of multiple animation studios is hard work: you need to keep track of the status of different tasks and ensure their completion on schedule. This challenge requires effective communication and project management skills.
  • Managing communication and ensuring consistency - Maintaining clear and consistent communication among multiple studios is especially hard when working with studios in different countries or time zones. But it's crucial to keep everyone on the same page to obtain a consistent end product in terms of style and quality.
  • Maintaining quality control - It can be challenging to make sure the final product meets the desired quality standards across all studios: establishing a clear set of quality control measures is essential.
  • Dealing with legal and financial issues - Working with multiple studios can also lead to legal and financial challenges. It would be best if you had a clear understanding of the legal and financial agreements in place and the rights and responsibilities of each party involved.

We must be aware of these challenges and take steps to mitigate them to ensure a successful outcome.

Best Practices for Managing a Multi-Studio Production

1. Choosing The Right Studios

Choosing the right animation studio for your project is crucial for success. It's important to consider a few key factors:

  • Quality of Service - Does the studio have a good reputation for providing high-quality work? Are they reliable?
  • Project Capacity - Does the studio have the capacity to take on your project? Are they already working on other projects that may impact their availability or ability to deliver on time?
  • Equipment - Is the studio operational and well-equipped? Do they have the necessary technology and resources to deliver your project?
  • Compatibility - Are the studios using compatible technologies? Studios that use different software or hardware may not be able to work together, which is a deal breaker in a work environment requiring extensive collaboration.

Once you've identified the studios you wish to work with, it's essential to establish clear rules and agreements before starting the project.

2. Distributing The Tasks

It's important to be very clear and specific when distributing tasks among multiple animation studios. This will help to avoid confusion and ensure that all parties understand their responsibilities:

  • Write a technical contract - Clearly define the different studios' work, including the start and end of each step.
  • Include as many details as possible - Explain the expected input and output files, how a step should be carried out, validation criteria, the allowed number of revisions, etc. Be specific in defining the production steps to avoid surprises and ensure that all parties understand their responsibilities.
  • Validate the technical documents with all stakeholders - Include the technical documentation as an annex in your contracts and make sure it is understood.
  • Separate tasks by episode or sequence - To mitigate risks of delays, prepare a backup plan. Plan for buffers between different studios and consider working one episode ahead of schedule.

For example, imagine asking a studio to do the production of color sets and animation. You can assume they will take care of pre-compositing and deliver a single video file with all the right assets but think again. If pre-compositing tasks aren't specified, they can decide to deliver the backgrounds in one separate file and the animation in another―you would then have to put everything together yourself!

Follow all these best practices to ensure a smooth production process!

3. Communication, communication, communication

The most important thing when working with multiple studios is communication: you can come up with the best plan and still face backlashes because one provider needed help understanding what you were getting at. Working with a single in-house studio is hard enough, so working with several ones comes with added risks.

Consider the following best practices to ensure effective communication in a multi-studio, international production:

  • Account for timezone differences - Make sure to plan for direct communication moments and factor in the time it may take to get a response.
  • Factor in public holidays - Each country has different vacation times, so consider this when planning your schedule. In France, little is going on in August, May, and between Christmas and New Year's Day. Even if the studio is willing to accommodate your schedule, finding staffing may be challenging at certain times of the year.
  • Eliminate language barriers early - Identify and address any language barriers early on to ensure effective communication: What is the primary language spoken in the country? Do you have a common language like English? Are there English speakers on the team to understand your feedback? Does the studio have a translator? And if so, how long does it take to get the translation?
  • Designate a referent - Provide a dedicated contact person on both sides to help build trust and understanding.
  • Schedule recurring meetings - Schedule regular meetings to review progress and address any issues. Define the agenda beforehand and keep the number of people involved to a minimum. From experience, we don't advise mixing the production follow-up meeting with the production briefing: it is better to make separate points on different days so everyone has time to prepare beforehand.
  • Brief everyone at the beginning of each stage for each episode - Make sure everyone is on the same page by providing detailed briefings at the start of each stage, for each episode. These briefs must happen the day before a new stage starts to avoid scheduled shifts, so schedule them early accordingly.

You can avoid any misunderstandings during production by using these best practices, but remember: good preparation is key to staying on time and on schedule without sacrificing quality.

4. Adapting To Each Studio

Each studio works differently, so it's important to take into account their specificities and adapt your production process accordingly. The best way to do that is to send a supervisor on-site throughout the entire production.

Unfortunately, this is often overlooked because of the cost it incurs. From experience, however, the benefits far outweigh the costs of unforeseen conflicts, delays, and retakes:

  • Consider this: if your contractors deliver late, you still need your supervisors, production manager, and director. The whole chain is impacted, so you won't just pay for an extra person, but for the whole crew!
  • Let's imagine we live in a perfect world and there is no production delay: dedicated supervisors still ensure consistent quality throughout the production of the animation series by their presence, saving you time and money on retakes.
  • Bonus points if the supervisor is familiar with the hired studio's country, language, and culture. Each culture has its own codes and specificities that can end up in the production. If you tell an artist to animate a character brooming the floor, you will get different results depending on the country: in France, we handle brooms with two hands, but in some countries, a broom doesn't have a handle and the action is done near the ground. If you don't keep these details in mind, unnecessary conflicts can emerge.

This is why it's important to develop a common visual language with the help of a supervisor―whether it's images, video clips, or anything that will help you get your ideas across. Again, the more precise you are, the smoother the work will be.

To sum up

A few key takeaways to conclude:

  • Bring the same attention to detail to each studio. No stage of production is easier or simpler than another.
  • Each studio must have a contact person, a weekly production brief, and a sequence brief for each new episode.
  • Treat a foreign animation studio the same way you would a local studio. But do spend more time and energy on a foreign studio to make up for the difference in culture, language etc. They don't necessarily share the same perspectives and references.
  • Treat each studio equally and create an inclusive environment. Otherwise, you risk decreasing the production quality and straining your relationship.

With this best practice, you will avoid all caveats and make your production a success!

If you're interested in learning more about hiring several studios, we also run a Discord community where you can connect with more than 1000 CG professionals to share tips and ideas. No matter where you come from, join us―we will be happy to help you with your projects!

Spread the word

Keep reading