Collaborative Animation Productions: How Studios Can Join Forces Effectively

The animation industry sees a rise in collaborative productions where multiple studios join forces to tackle a single project. This approach is more and more common for big productions but also with independent animators.

14 days ago   •   6 min read

By Gwénaëlle Dupré
Photo by John Schnobrich / Unsplash

The animation industry sees a rise in collaborative productions where multiple studios join forces to tackle a single project. This approach is more and more common for big productions with films like Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (2023 - Columbia Pictures, Sony Pictures Animation, and Marvel Entertainment) or shows like Arcane (2021 - Fortiche, Netflix, Riot Games)―but also with independent animators joining forces on platforms like Youtube, Instagram or TikTok.

Working with other studios is not without difficulties, however. You'll need to navigate communication breakdowns and cultural differences, balance divergent creative visions while keeping your artistic integrity, and manage diverse workflows and production pipelines, not to mention the complexities of intellectual property rights.

Despite these hurdles, the potential rewards of collaboration are undeniable in fostering innovation. At Kitsu, we saw animation projects that would have never gotten off the ground without studios joining hands, and we wanted to record in this article the advantages, best practices, and tools to split work between several studios.

Why Collaboration

Collaboration allows studios to share resources, expertise, and talent.

Each studio brings its unique perspectives and creative styles to the table, transcending the limitations of a single studio's vision to offer something fresh and original.

Collaborative efforts can also significantly reduce financial risks and production time because studios can pool resources, distribute tasks based on individual strengths, and leverage existing infrastructure to streamline the production process―leading to faster completion and potentially lower overall costs by economy of scale.

Lastly, collaboration allows studios to tap into new audiences and markets. By partnering with studios in different regions, they gain access to new cultural insights and distribution channels, effectively breaking down geographical barriers and expanding their global footprint. This not only benefits the studios in the short term but also opens doors for new content to reach a wider audience.

1. Clear scope & task division

Before embarking on any collaborative venture, all participating studios must have a clear understanding of the project's scope: the overall vision, budget, target audience, and desired outcome.

Once the bigger picture is established, it's crucial to divide tasks in a way that leverages each studio's strengths. Establishing defined roles and responsibilities for each studio is vital to eliminate confusion and foster accountability: who will oversee which part of the animation process? Who handles marketing and distribution? Defining these roles upfront prevents potential conflicts and redundant tasks, and ensures everyone is on the same page.

This is where a detailed production schedule comes in, outlining key milestones, deadlines, and dependencies. A production tracker like Kitsu allows teams to define animation tasks so that both animators and supervisors from all studios are on the same page:

Beyond individual tasks, collaborating studios need to agree on the creative direction, storyboards, and style guides to create a unified aesthetic and ensure all contributions seamlessly blend into the final product.

Similarly, developing a detailed budget helps maintain smooth workflow and financial transparency. A budget ensures all studios are aware of financial limitations and resource allocation.

2. Transparent communication

Clear and open communication is the pillar of any successful collaboration, and it's no different in a multi-studio environment.

Establishing a shared communication platform between studios is the first step. With Kitsu you can follow the productivity of your artists, anticipate when someone encounters difficulties using productivity goals to make sure no one is blocked, and leave annotations on scenes and assets. This is great for asynchronous communication, combined with a messaging platform like Slack or Discord:

To bridge the physical and cultural divides, fostering cross-studio teams can be beneficial. Composed of representatives from each participating studio, these teams serve as communication centerpoints to facilitate information exchange and foster a collaborative spirit. For smaller teams, real-time collaboration tools like video conferencing and instant messaging platforms allow for immediate problem-solving, brainstorming sessions, and progress updates. This immediacy fosters a sense of connection and reduces the risk of misunderstandings due to delays in communication.

While the tools are important, a strong communication plan acts as the foundation. This plan can include communication protocols (async vs sync channels), frequency of meetings, and designated points of contact. Another important element of a communication plan should cover collective reviews.

3. Collective reviews

Implementing regular feedback loops between studios is essential―setting up consistent check-ins, sharing progress reports, and actively soliciting feedback throughout the production process. By fostering open dialogue and addressing concerns promptly, studios can prevent issues from snowballing and ensure everyone feels heard and valued.

Collective reviews offer a platform for feedback sessions, where each studio can provide constructive criticism and insights into the work of others. This exchange of perspectives allows for the identification of potential weaknesses, exploration of alternative approaches, and ultimately, an improvement in the overall quality of the project.

Once again, Kitsu is a real life saver here thanks to its review engine: you can build playlists to review all your shots and assets sequentially, schedule review sessions to gather your team, and preview historical versions of your deliverables.

Collaborative work inevitably encounters moments of disagreement, and collective reviews provide an avenue for conflict management. Through open dialogue and respectful exchange of ideas, studios can navigate differences, find common ground, and ultimately reach solutions that benefit the project as a whole. Make sure to read our blog on effective feedback and conflict resolution to get this right―conflicts can also kill a project before it's even finished, after all.

4. Pipeline management

Mastering pipeline management is essential to ensure the various studios contributing to the project are in sync, ensuring a smooth flow of information and assets between studios.

The biggest hurdle in collaborative pipeline management lies in reconciling different digital creation tools: each studio may utilize its own preferred software for animation, modeling, or texturing. This creates a compatibility challenge, making it difficult to seamlessly share and integrate assets between studios.

To prevent this, an asset manager like Kitsu acts as a central storage hub where all studios can access, collaborate on, and share project assets in a standardized format, making it a single source of truth for all project-related information. This eliminates compatibility issues and ensures everyone is working with the latest version of each asset.

Asset managers offer features like version control, allowing studios to track changes made to assets and revert to previous versions if necessary. This fosters transparency and accountability, minimizing the risk of confusion and ensuring everyone remains on the same page:

5. Data security and privacy

Collaboration raises crucial questions about data security to safeguard sensitive information.

It's important to define intellectual property ownership rights and usage when dealing with original characters, storylines, and concepts to protect the creative contributions of each studio. To avoid future disputes, studios should establish clear data ownership and usage agreements before embarking on a collaborative project. These agreements clearly define who owns the data generated (e.g., animation assets, storyboards), how it can be used, and under what circumstances. Additionally, they should outline any restrictions on data sharing or redistribution.

Again, production trackers and asset management tools like Kitsu are key to exchange sensitive information like storyboards, character designs, or 3D assets. This includes implementing encryption to scramble data in transit and at rest, ensuring only authorized users can access it, and planning for data leaks or storage errors. Check out our dedicated article on best practices to secure animation assets for more information.

6. Coordinated marketing

One of the key benefits of collaboration is unlocked by extending it during post-production to marketing and distribution activities:

  • Share marketing and distribution strategies to tap into different audiences and distribution channels.
  • Highlight the collaborative effort through joint crediting and promotion with co-branded trailers or joint social media campaigns to pique the audience's curiosity.
  • Celebrates the unique collaboration behind it with behind-the-scenes featurettes showcasing the combined creative process.

Conclusion

Seeing more animators and studios working together instead of competing is exciting to witness: this collaborative approach not only fosters groundbreaking creative endeavors but also allows studios to expand their reach and explore new markets―literally creating new worlds. As the animation industry evolves, collaboration is poised to become an increasingly more common strategy to drive studio profits up.

By acknowledging the challenges and implementing best practices in areas like communication, pipeline management, and data security, studios can leverage the strengths of this approach. A tool like Kitsu can help you manage the complexity of a multi-studio production, from task division to asset management, and ensure a smooth collaboration.

If you're looking to start a collaborative project, don't hesitate to reach out in our Discord server to get advice from other studios who have already gone through the process!

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