We've all been there. You pour hours of work into completing a task only for your team to give vague, contradictory, or harsh feedback upon sharing your progress. Your day is ruined. You go through it anyway and sleep on it. But the next day, your client praises you, and it's like the sun shines a little brighter: nobody likes bad feedback, but few animation studios teach the skills to provide it constructively.
This is a mistake, because feedback is how you go from done to great.
In this article, we'll explore the importance of feedback in animation and offer valuable insights on how to provide constructive criticism, when to seek input, and how our production tracker tool Kitsu helps brighten the feedback process.
1. Why Feedback is Key in Animation
Animation is a collaborative effort where animators work together towards a common goal. Without open communication among team members, nothing can get done: everybody has their own roles, with their unique perspectives, and managing to combine these perspectives through continuous feedback is how great animation is born.
Unresolved issues, miscommunications, or constant revisions can quickly inflate production costs. If a mistake slips up in a 3D character model and you have to re-render the entire episode, you'll feel the pain. Constructive feedback ensures that resources are allocated efficiently, saving time and money in the long run.
But more importantly, bad feedback also reduces morale: when feedback is delivered in a negative way, we are less likely to go out of our way to improve. Our sense of accomplishment is tarnished, and the loop of bad feedback continues. Feeling part of a team and that our work is valued is how you create loyal, happy employees that will push the quality of your animation to its limits.
2. How to Give Constructive Feedback With Non-Violent Communication
As we mentionned, there are right ways and wrong ways to give feedback.
The "sandwich" approach (compliment-critique-compliment) is a common method: "I like what you did, but this needs fixing. I really like what you did, though."
While this comes naturally to some, it can feel forced and insincere. It's easy to make up a "compliment" or forget it entirely to focus on the negative. Honesty is the basis of trust, and it requires a little bit more vulnerability to be honest about what you don't like.
Instead, we recommend using Non-Violent Communication (NVC) to provide more constructive, humane feedback. It is often advised to focus on the work, not the person, to keep your feedback objective and avoid interpersonal conflicts. The problem is, work IS deeply personal. An animator wants to be proud of their work, and it's hard not to take criticism personally. NVC is a method in 4 steps that takes into account this psychological aspect:
- Observations - Explain what I sense that doesn’t contribute to my well-being. Example: "I see that the character's eyes are not aligned."
- Feelings - Explain what feelings these observations causes me. Example: "I feel frustrated because I put hours into designing this character."
- Needs - What I value in my work that causes these feelings in the first place. Example: "I need to feel like my work is respected."
- Requests - What I would like to see happen that would make my job better. Example: "Please pay closer attention to the design sheets."
The exchange goes both ways because it's important to get each other's perspective.
While you should always strive for positive, constructive suggestions, it doesn’t mean you should be afraid of conflicts. Instead of saying "This is terrible," say "This could be improved by...". But encourage open dialogue by listening to the artist's perspective and addressing their concerns. Vague feedback is seldom helpful, so extra patience is required with collaborators who have trouble communicating how they feel.
When conflict arises, consent is key. If you're not sure how to proceed, ask for permission to take a decision. This ensures that the other person is included and their needs are met. For example, "I think we should go with Tom's design. What should we add from yours to make it better?"
3. When To Seek Feedback
While it may be tempting to pat your colleague on the back and seek feedback constantly, excessive interruptions cause frustration: it's crucial to strike a balance between refining your own work and allowing the team to make progress.
One solution to this dilemma is asynchronous feedback through tools like Kitsu. They offer the convenience of leaving comments and suggestions directly on the animation, allowing team members to review and respond at their own pace. Just leave a comment on the frame you want to discuss about and move on with your work. They'll get a notification and can reply when they're ready.
With versioning support, colloaboration tools like Kitsu ensure that feedback is tied to the specific iteration of the animation, reducing confusion and streamlining the revision process. You can easily compare versions to see what changed and why. It also allows you to work on something without waiting for feedback on another task.
4. How to Do In-Person Reviews
In-person reviews remain a valuable method for providing feedback. It's a great way to get everyone on the same page and discuss the animation as a team.
Review the work thoroughly before the meeting so you can provide specific and informed feedback. Take notes and be ready to discuss your observations using the NVC methodology.
There are various techniques for conducting in-person reviews, like frame-by-frame analysis. Try different methods to see which suits your team's needs and ensure that everyone is on the same page.
For instance, Kitsu has a sync review feature that makes it easy to watch the animation together and leave comments in real time. This is a great way to get everyone's input, whether some people are working remotely or not.
5. Don't Forget Documentation
Documenting feedback is often overlooked but is crucial for reference and future decision-making. It serves as a record of design choices, discussions, and agreements.
Whether it's a simple spreadsheet, a project management tool, or integrated feedback platforms, having a centralized repository for feedback ensures that valuable information is never lost. You can add notes to frames, but you can also add actionable steps resulting from your feedback process to your task list. Tools like Kitsu are ideal to keep the history of the discussions.
From experience, similar conflicts tend to arise from one production to the next, and having a record of how you resolved them in the past can save you a lot of time and frustration.
Feedback doesn’t have to be tedious. It should be part of an animation studio's work culture to seek excellence; feedback is valuable. The pain points are deeply human, but nothing is impossible to overcome with the right methodology.
NVC combined with Kitsu features is a great start. NVC allows us to clearly identify the issues or areas that need improvement, considering the emotional aspect of giving and receiving feedback. Kitsu acts as a centralized repository for feedback, ensuring that everyone's contributions are never lost but also acted upon.
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