Some productions require to work with an animation studio overseas. It’s great to dispatch the work and limit budget but it brings uncertainty. To minimize the risks, you have to keep in mind that the more accurate and precise information you will give to your contractor, the less time they will lose to think about what they should do. In that case, what we all do is to send them a detailed roadmap they can use while doing their job. Unfortunately, most of the time, the roadmap isn’t enough to ensure good results.
Deciding to build the animation step overseas, is a little bit like making a whole another production elsewhere. If there are issues, the producer will realize it very late in the process. It’s hard to see the problems before the animation is delivered. For a cartoon TV Show, it means that they can appear when two or three other episodes are going to be sent to the overseas contractor again. At that time it will become really hard to fix things. That’s why you should consider sending your Animation Supervisor on-site.
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This is the fourth article of our series about the production setup:
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The detailed roadmap
Before sending anyone there, you should ensure that they have a clear overview of the work to achieve. For that, send them a roadmap containing the following:
- A do-and-don’t about animation
- How your characters should move and turn
- The final designs
- Your characters specificity
- A brief for the whole episode and one per specific sequence
- The type of animation do you want
- Animation references
- Make sure there is no room for interpretation in the storyboard
- Include backgrounds and characters that are more developed than a line and a circle.
The Animation Supervisor
Now it’s time to consider sending someone there to manage the animation correctly. And of course, make sure there is a line in your budget for an Animation Supervisor on-site.
You may think it is an extra expense and you don’t have the money for it. But now imagine the cost of having an animation studio that doesn’t understand your references, or that don’t have the technical level to follow the quality guideline within the schedule. This kind of events will lead you to hire more CG Artists to create additional references, to spend more time in the checking of the animation, and to spend even more time on dealing with retakes. It will generate frustration on both sides and expenses will seriously raise.
And if the animation studio does good, you will have the opportunity to improve dramatically the quality of the animation. Your characters will have a strong personality and the animation will be awesome. It will be good publicity for your studio and for your contractor. The broadcasters will be more than happy with this TV Show.
They won’t adapt if you send wrong directives
Now let’s review some bad things that can happen when working with a contractor.
Animation studio will send you back exactly what you asked them. If your storyboard doesn’t have the backgrounds in every panel, or if the posing is not correct, they won’t fix it for you. For the background example, they will use the background listed on the leadsheet but they won’t correct the perspective or the framing. They cannot afford to do more.
It means you will only realize the poor quality of your pack when you receive the animation 4 weeks later. The production of each side will spend plenty of time on the phone and no one will agree on what they have sent/receive.
It means also the director will receive the animation, he will spend the day to check it, and in the evening, he will write his email.
On day two, the studio will receive the email, correct the animation, and send it back. On day three, the director will receive the retake. Three days later, the problem should be fixed!
With an Animation Supervisor on site, he will realize immediately that something is wrong with the storyboard or the package. He will phone the production, explain the issue, and give his solution. On the same day, problems are solved, the animation will be as good as or even better than on day three of our previous example. If it’s the same issue that comes back again and again, the Animation Supervisor will be able to do a meeting about this and be sure it won’t happen again. Instead of always writing the same retakes on the retake list!
Keep in mind that if you work with animation studios overseas, you should be aware of the cultural differences between your two countries.
You will need to be extra clear on your explanation. A simple gesture like waving the hand to say hello, or shaking your fist when you are mad, could be wrongly interpreted overseas because they may not react like you on this kind of situation.
Having an Animation Supervisor will help to ease the communication between the director and the animation team. The director won’t have to spend all his time on this step and keep focusing on the other steps where he is really needed.
The Animation Supervisor will also be able to give you feedback about the material you send, and he will pinpoint the weakness or the uncertainties. He will also be able to give you an accurate report of the situation and update your schedule if needed. If unfortunately, the animation studio will have some delay, the Supervisor will be the first to know it, and you will be aware of the situation more quickly.
Other animation studios involved
When you deal with an overseas studio you don’t know, there is a possibility that it won’t have the manpower to do the whole show. The animation studio may decide without you, to share the animation with another studio. You won’t be aware of it. It will increase the discrepancies between the episodes. Without an Animation Supervisor on the Animation Studio, you would never be aware of it and spend extra time and money to understand and correct this issue!
Sometimes they also use the possibility to work with animation school to gain time and money, but the quality won’t be what you have expected.
Lack of manpower
If you are in a hurry to choose quickly an animation studio, you may only choose him based on a phone call and pictures of their office. However, it can happen that they wait for the first payment to buy hardware and hire people. It means you can have a 3 month time with no work because the animation studio is hiring and looking for hardware. Of course, it’s not planned on your schedule. If you have sent an Animation Supervisor, he could have told it to you already.
It happens that the team simply doesn’t have the required skill level to perform the job. In that case, your Animation Supervisor will have to train the team at the lunch break and during the weekend. It will clearly raise the quality of global animation. When you receive duties, it’s better if you can fulfill them!
Keep in mind too that most of the time the studio won’t brief specifically the team for a difficult sequence or episode. It’s something that the Animation Supervisor can deal with. He will act as the director to make sure everything runs smoothly.
You should expect a lot of turnovers; it’s very rare that you finish the production with the same artists than at the beginning.
If you have an Animation Supervisor on site, he will ensure that each new CG Artist gets on board quickly. He will be able to train them, describe the animation style, and explain the do-and-don’t specifically for this production. The turnover will be transparent of the production.
On the same way, if on the producer’s side there is also some turnover, the new ones will be able to rely on the Supervisor, he will be able to explain how the production is working.
Why your Animation Supervisor needs to stay during the whole production
If the Supervisor stays at the studio only for one or two months it’s a good start, he will be able to set up a good process. But if he leaves, it won’t last. He will only be able to fix the issues and not to anticipate them. The old habits will come back. The overall quality will go down and there will be more pressure for the retakes.
To sum up
The work quality of an animation studio always depends on the quality of the material you sent. They will never do more than what you ask.
If you want quality animation, spend a bit more time on the references and design package you will send to your contractor. Make sure that your roadmap is clearly understood. Prepare the main pack in collaboration with your Animation Supervisor. Then, send him to the animation studio. He will be your link with them and will be able to manage the work done properly.
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