In production, it's common to set quota goals to facilitate planning and budgeting. These quotas are then used as indicators to know whether the team is going at the right pace or not. Quotas can be calculated in terms of frames per day, seconds per day, or finished tasks per day.
Quotas are efficient but are a double-edged sword too. When they are well balanced they help the team to work serenely and give an indication of the level of quality required. But, when the estimations are wrong, teams will not be able to keep up with it and will end up exhausted trying to meet unrealistic demands. The quality will go down and your team may fail to ship on time...
To avoid bad situations, we'll see in the following how to use this tool efficiently without undermining your teams.
Setting quota goals
It is important to know what quotas mean in order to use them correctly. Like, we said earlier, by definition, it is the number of frames, seconds, or tasks validated per day. It's better to stick to a single indicator but you can track the three of them.
Retakes or not
When do you consider that the task is finished from the artist's point of view?
In TV Shows, we will often consider that the shipping of the take 1 (T1) determines the quotas. We do not include the calculation of retake quotas (T2/T3). We guess that the shot won’t be changed entirely because of a retake. Most of the time the T3 is done much faster than the T1.
It may sound contradictory but it is mandatory to keep room to make these retakes. It is not because it is faster to do a T2 than a T1 that retakes should be totally removed! So the best option is to include the fact that some retakes will be done when you set the T1 quota goals (for instance, decreasing your daily quotas goals by half a second will allow you to anticipate the time spent on retakes).
It is great to be aware of what it means to have a quota of X seconds of animation per day. Unfortunately, it is not enough to calculate the number of frames in a shot to determine the quota goal. You have to take into account several other parameters :
- The number of animated characters in the frame.
For example, if there are two people talking in a shot, you will have to animate these two characters. The animator will have to do double work for this shot: animate character A and then animate again character B.
- The difficulty of the shot itself: is it an emotional or an action scene? Is there a complex movement involved? etc.
- The number of moving props in the scene and the number of FX may have an impact on its difficulty.
- The level of the animators enters into consideration. We expect more from a senior than from a junior. Beware too that a senior may take more difficult or longer shots. In that case, the quota goal should be adapted.
The context defined by the contract with the animation studio will have an influence too. For example, you could decide that there are no more than two characters on a shot, no more than six in a shot with wide framing, etc.
Once you agree on this, all the previous steps must be validated with these limitations in mind (script, storyboard, animatics...) to ensure that the quotas will be feasible.
The contracts set how many back and forths are planned and the nature of the retakes (if simple corrections are expected or if the shot can be fully redrawn). It will give you an idea of the time spent on the retakes on average.
Quotas should be used as a guideline to establish a budget and a schedule as close as possible to reality. It is important to include buffer zones that will allow absorbing the delay of an episode without jeopardizing the rest of the schedule. Keep in mind too, that quotas are not a dogma set once and for all the production, you will have to adapt to every situation.
Let's finish with a little tip for TV series. To ensure that the quotas are respected, alternate the episode difficulty. A heavy episode should be followed by a light episode to allow the team to recover (in terms of fatigue and delay).
Once the product is launched and the teams are set up, you need indicators to know if the quotas are respected and if everything is going at the right pace. You need to track the productivity of the teams.
As you guess, to match them with quotas we are going to calculate artist by artist how many frames / seconds / plans they have done each day.
If you do it manually, it requires spending a lot of time each day to get an accurate record of the work done. You will have to store this in a spreadsheet to be able to analyze the data.
The second issue is that it adds a lot of stress on the artists. They may feel that they are constantly being watched. If an artist decides to rework his shot because he feels it's needed, he will have to justify it, and may even hesitate to do so. Artists can stop planning and thinking about what is really best for the pictures, in order to start animating as fast as possible to meet the quotas.
And the last point to pay attention to the artist can take a break, or start again from scratch his work. It will be up to the production manager to flatten the quotas on all the days spent by the artist, to have an idea of his speed.
To not annoy an artist, there is another solution: you can track how much time per day an artist has worked on his task. As soon as he asks for validation, you can consider that he's done. Then you can make a retroactive calculation by weighting the amount of frame shipped with the time logs coming from the timesheets. If you don't use a timesheet, you can rely on his start date and guess a daily average of frames shipped between the beginning and the end of the task. Guessing quotas will be less overwhelming for you and your artists. It will lead to a similar level of accuracy with much fewer efforts required.
Ideally, during production, the quotas should be displayed via a burndown chart system for the whole team. It really helps to know if the team is still on track and it makes easier to handle edge cases (difficult shots, big retakes, etc.). For instance, you should break your animation department into teams of 4 to 5 people, and track their quotas together. This technique allows to remove the individual pressure and improves the cooperation between animators. Even better, it creates a sense of accounting and it could be seen as a game by the artists. It leads to stronger collaboration among the team!
To sum up
Quotas are a powerful tool to predict and track your production. But it is double-edged. Badly estimated, quotas can exhaust a team and lead to a consequent delay. Properly estimated, quotas will serve as a reference throughout the production. It will give an idea of the number of elements to have in the picture and to know the real difficulty that the teams encounter.
Everyone can find motivation in seeing the progress and keep being regular. Team quotas can be fun and push everyone to act as smart as possible to finish on time while keeping a great movie quality. Overall, it's a great tool, but use it wisely!
We dedicated this blog to Animation Production Management and Animation Pipeline. But you can follow us on LinkedIn to see our news. We also share news from the animation industry. Come take a look and join us!