Friday, 27 December 2013

Advice To Animation Students: Distribution & Marketing

This is the sixth in an ongoing series of posts about the production process during final year at Falmouth University. It will cover everything from concept to completion in six stages; Development, Pre-Production, Pipeline Planning & Asset Management, Production, Post-Production, and Distribution & Marketing. This posts is the final in the series and focuses on Distribution & Marketing.

Thursday, 26 December 2013

Advice To Animation Students: Post Production

This is the fifth in an ongoing series of posts about the production process during final year at Falmouth University. It will cover everything from concept to completion in six stages; Development, Pre-Production, Pipeline Planning & Asset Management, Production, Post-Production, and Distribution & Marketing. This posts is the fifth in the series and focuses on Post-Production.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Advice To Animation Students: Production

This is the fourth in an ongoing series of posts about the production process during final year at Falmouth University. It will cover everything from concept to completion in six stages; Development, Pre-Production, Pipeline Planning & Asset Management, Production, Post-Production, and Distribution & Marketing. The posts is the third in the series and focuses on Production.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Advice To Animation Students: Pipeline Planning & Asset Management

This is the third in an ongoing series of posts about the production process during final year at Falmouth University. It will cover everything from concept to completion in six stages; Development, Pre-Production, Pipeline Planning & Asset Management,  Production, Post-Production, and Distribution & Marketing. This posts is the third in the series and focuses on Pipeline Planning & Asset Management.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Advice To Animation Students: Pre-Production

This is the first in an ongoing series of posts about the production process during final year at Falmouth University. It will cover everything from concept to completion; Development, Pre-Production, Pipeline Planning & Asset Management, Production, Post-Production, and Distribution & Marketing. The focus for this second piece is on Pre-Production.

Pre Production:

As of Monday October 1st 2013 you have 32 weeks to complete your film. It sounds like a lot of time but believe in me it will fly by. I can only describe the entire year is more of a marathon than a sprint but I urge you to sprint during pre-production. Hopefully you have gotten more than the bare minimum done for you research and development stage. As mentioned you should aim to start the academic year with the following as the absolute bare minimum:
  • Core team
  • Script (at least draft 5)
  • Synopsis and tagline
  • Production Schedule
In an ideal world you have much more done but being realistic if you can start here with these essentials then you will be fine.

Compress pre-production. You will be given 10 weeks, the entire 1st semester but you don't have this amount of time to play with in reality. Thats why you will need to get started over the summer and let the 1st half of the1st semester be an extension of that. This put more stress into at the start than at the end of the project but will give you breathing room in production. Our course tends to spend too much time in pre-production and there were some people doing pre-production work in the final week of the project. Don't be this person.

Be realistic. Its vitally important that you are realistic about what you making. There are always simpler ways to tell stories, solve problems. 

Production Design & Visual Development

Make sure you get a good production designer. You should be able to identify who is best for this position and it may not even  be the director. There job is not to apply their own style to the films but to work closely with the director to find the "look" of the film and guide the visual development artists towards that vision. I stumbled upon this gem of a video of DreamWorks Production Designer Kathy Alteri. Its give you a rough ideas of the jobs and how she works with vis dev artists.

Visual Development
What We Did Right:
  • Research & Reference. Long before I was involved Freddy, Seb and Luke went out on a fishing boat and took load of detailed photographs. Visual development artists would use these
What We Did Wrong:
  • Not defining look for environment (spending too much time on characters/ props)
  • Not developing a full colour script (no colour script not lighting)
What I would do next time:
Consult CG Supervisor on how final artwork should be provided. For example Autosdesk Maya prefers square images for the image plane so provide them square for the CG Supervisor/ Maya Modeller.

Living Line Library:
Pintrest Character Reference:

Character Design:
What We Did Right:

  • Producing load of concepts before choosing one to develop.
  • Defining height of characters before modelling started. (working to real world scale)

What we Did Wrong:

  • Not a wide enough range of styles of characters.
  • Not informing everyone it would affect down the line when design changes are made.

What I Would Do Next Time:

  • Make mood boards for each characters, environments and key storytelling props
  • Have visual development artists do a load of sketches and turnarounds in various styles.
  • Ensure your character sheets are consistent.

Other Advice:
Facial expressions, key poses, character line ups. These will help everyone in production further down the line. Modellers will need lineups for size reference, riggers and animators will need to ensure they can hit all the face expressions and poses.

Know the heights of the characters. This will help you with lineup and ultimately when they are modeller they will be built to real scale this information will be passes onto the modeller at some point.

Aim to start character models as soon as possible. if you start term on the 1st October your character rigs should be complete before christmas.

Get final concept art of characters worked up. Like the one below this gives a good indication of the  look we are aiming to get from our renders.

Environments & Backgrounds:

What We Did Right:

  • Creating mood boards.
  • Getting several concept examples worked up by Phoebe.

What we Did Wrong:

  • Underestimated the complexities of setting a CGI film at sea.
  • Not testing the sea and water simulations at research and development stage.
  • Not defining the look of the sea and sky earlier in production, too much focus on boat and characters.
What I Would Do Next Time:
  • Not set a student film at sea or...
  • Test water simulations earlier.

Other Advice:
Create a detailed environment/ background lists. This will be signed off as environments and background go through design and modelling through to lighting and look development.

Create an ariel/ plan view of each scene. Note the time, date, position of the characters, movement, camera placement, location of props and fixtures and lighting.

Where is the light coming from? This is an important questions especially for CGI films. Make a note of anything that gives off light; windows, skylights, lamps, torches, a glow from the TV/ computer screen, reflection in mirrors, glasses and or in puddles after the rain, a living room fire place, matches, cigarettes or lighters illuminating a characters face, etc. All this will help to build the world (mis-en-scene), inform the colour script and give lighting artists more to work with in production.

Props & Fixtures:
What We Did Right:
  • Detailed prop lists based on animatic with name of; designers, modeller, texture artists, etc.
  • Marking "storytelling props" (key to narrative) in red and "non storytelling props" in black.
  • Getting "storytelling props" designed first. Other props would be made if we had time.
What we Did Wrong:
  • Due to lack of some "non storytelling props" were modelled first. We deviated from initial plan to model "storytelling props" first because we could not settles on the designs of the ones we needed.
What I Would Do Next Time:
  • Make prop lists and stick to creating "storytelling props" first. 
  • Consider weather the other props are necessary at all.
  • Make mood boards for key story props especially if director does not know what they want.
Other Advice:
If you know props are not important then consider scrapping them. We spent a lot having viz dev artists design knifes and pipes. After long and arduous feedback over several weeks the knife became a rusty machete based on a photography from a google search and the pipe was scrapped from the story because of the logistic of animating lip sync with the pipe in the mouth, which I can only assume would have needed to be a part of the Fisherman character rig.

Mood board/ reference for the fishing boat from Freddy Pooley & Luke Ridgeway.
A photograph of a cardboard boat model was taken.
Phoebe Herring painted over a the photo in Photoshop. The emphasis her was on the look of the water.
A side view of the boat model was rendered and sent to Visual Development artists.
 Phoebe Herring painted over it in photoshop referencing photos taken during research & development.


What We Did wrong:
  • Not storyboarding properly (seriously..?).
  • Jumping strait into CGI to place cameras (seriously)
  • No making note of those camera positions (they had to be re-positioned for previz/ animatic
  • Not showing storyboards to other students and lecturers for feedback.
What I would do next time:
  • Storyboard the hell out of the film.
  • Get a dedicated story/ storyboard artists (not necessarily the director)
  • Get a dedicated story/ storyboard artists who tough/ has balls of steel
  • Lock storyboards as early as possible and move into animatic (story should be solid at this point)
  • Get them into Toon Boom Storyboard Pro as soon as possible
  • Producer will need to make tweaks to the schedule one the scoreboards are locked
Other advice:
One of my biggest regrets is not having freddy and luke storyboard the early stages of the project. We jumped strait to animatic which I something we should not have let slip though the cracks. I'll explain this in more details in the Animatic section below.

Don't just change the story every time you get feedback. There is the tendency to completely change some sequences. While you think you are solving problems you end up adding new ones. Spend some time playing with staging, composition and camera angles of sequences people do not understand to help the story read better.

Stick it up in the studio for everyone to see and invite criticism. This is one of the benefits of working physically over digital. People can see the story by chance and offer their opinion.

Storyboard Resources:
Temple of the Seven Camels:
Karen J Lloyd's Storyboard Blog:

What We Did Right:
  • Getting sound effects on animatic early to help it read better. (thank you Ben Wardle!)
  • Getting a very good editor to cut the crap.
  • Getting one new animatic out per week.
  • Putting sound effects on early to help it read better.
What We Did wrong:
  • Not storyboarding (seriously..?)
  • Jumping strait into CGI to place cameras (yep seriously)
  • No making note of those camera positions (they had to be re-positioned for previz/ animatic
  • Not showing storyboards to other projects and lecturers
What I would do next time:
  • Storyboard the hell out of the film before moving into animatic.
  • Get a dedicated story/ storyboard artists (not necessarily the director)
  • Get them into storyboard pro as soon as possible
  • Be absolutely ruthless and cut shots if the director can't see it needs to go (producer/ editor)
  • Lock the animatic as soon as possible.
  • If you are using motion capture work towards a recording of the actors first.
Other Advice:
The early stages of our animatic process were very convoluted as it was the first time some of them team had worked on an animatic that would be dine in fully CGI. It involved placing camera, posing characters who's rigs were not finished. The problem was that the camera position was not documented which would mean for the final animation the cameras, and characters would have to re-referenced.

Find a musician/ composer and sound effects design. The sooner you get them on board the better. Audio helps a rough animatic read so much better.

use thick outline for close objects, thin for backgrounds 

Work in greyscale but add colour to accent certain objects or moments. Similarly if you are mixing 2D and CGI maybe colour code whats will be 2D and CGI and make sure everyone understands. This was CG Supervisor and Production Designer can discuss needs to be modelled and and what can be a digital painting.

Add a shot and frame count on every version of animatic. Its a given that the production will be "shot driven" and this will help producer and CG Supervisor who will work on the shot schedule.

Update the shot schedule for each new version of the animatic.

Accept will take a very long time to get the animatic right. It will be built and destroyed over and over.

Get fresh eyes on the animatic. Through the year get fresh eyes on the animatic. Don't expect lecturers to do this for you. One of the problems with our weeklies is that we were all a little bit too nice on each other. Find people who will be honest and have an opinion on your work.

Give and ask for constructive criticism. We didn't say much about others animatics because we were nervous about our own. This leaves on the opinions of our lecturers who won't want to too harsh so they'll use the old "sandwich" method (say some thing nice, followed by several harsh and inconvenient truths, toped with something nice.) Get used to this. My advice to you is to to critique and help each other each week you will all be better for it. Have a opinion on each others work and help them make it better. Yes you are in competition with each other up until the pitch stages but in the even your project does not get though its in your best interest to make sure whats being done is

Know what the core of your story idea is. Back in my blog post on development I wrote about knowing what it is you are prepared to leave and what you have to fight for. This will be important when you show it to others as they will pull it apart. This was the problem with or it Orbit Strange. What will help is having a piece of concept art based on "the key moment" you are building up to in your movie weather that is hitting an emotional beat or an epic set piece.  If what comes before is not building up and what comes after is not a consequence then you can afford to let it go.

Production Management & Scheduling:

Once you have your storyboard and animatics coming out regularly ensure all production documents are updated accordingly. Production Schedule, Shot Schedule, Prop, Model and Environment Sign-off sheet. Be sure to schedule time for schedule time for R&D especially for CGI, Motion Capture and Stereoscopic 3D projects. I feel this is one of the things we neglected early on.

If you know you are using motion capture then visit Jens Meisner who works in the Motion Capture studios in the Performance Centre, be sure to factor in time for motion capture rehearsals (, motion capture recordings.

If you know you are using stereoscopic 3D (S3D) then visit ___ who works in the AIR Building. He can give you access to the large S3D screens for you to have stereo dailies/ weeklies on. You will need to look at S3D on a large screen as it will feel different to a smaller screen.

You can't know everything either. Another mistake I made was trying to make the schedule by myself. Instead ask people how long it will take and discuss time for flexibility. The reason you need to discuss this is that they will either factor in extra time when they give you the estimate or you will afterwards so make sure you discuss it.

Color Script:

Music/ Composer:
Music can do some of the heaviest lifting for an animation especially if there is not much dialogue.

What We Did Right:

  • tried to find a musician early (at tis stage we were still working out story so this was tricky)
  • sending them a locked version of the animatic/ previz
  • talent scouting from university talent and national talent.
  • Director has a clear vision for the music.
  • using someone from the music course that can come is on campus and can come into the studio
  • Made sure the music did not dip and in and out between dialogue. Constant volume.
What We Did Wrong:
  • Not giving the musician enough tim to compose. Composer had 6 weeks before the deadline.
  • Not updating musician on new versions of animatic.
  • Slow communication during deadline because of focus on shots over music.
What I Would Do Next Time:
  • find a roaster of musician early in the year keep them updated so they feel more involved in process (do this early in the year).
  • prepare music examples to send to musician long before you need them (director)
  • if there is anything that needs emphasis them let them know is
  • have faith in the musicians/ composers ability to find the story don't try to scrap them if they first version is not right, chances are the director gave bad direction.
Trust your Composer. If the composer does not bring you what you want the first time away make sure you communicate what you do and don't like and present examples. Its important that you trust the composer to hit the right emotional beat with the music in the same way you trusted the visual development artists ability to find the look for the film.

Make a Musicians/ Composers pack. You have ben working on your project for a few months by the time you bring in a musician/ composer but to the outside world they have no idea what your show is about. Put together a pack for the musician composer to get them up to speed. The great thing is that you have most of this ready from development. Well you should have.

  • script, treatment, synopsis, tagline.
  • Crew/ team. Provide contact details for Director, Producer, Editor.
  • animatic. Provide two versions. Both with dialogue. One with and one without and SFX.
  • character profile sheets with biographies and  concept art.
  • examples of what director does and does not want.
  • meeting dates (keep consistent).
  • music deadline (this will need to be negotiated.)
  • project deadline.
  • (ask them if they need anything else to play their part.)

If the actor is not hitting the right emotional beat the director can try a few different techniques to steer them in the right direction; ask them questions.
If you are the producer, or you re in the room while the recording is being done encourage the actor and director to give their all.
Do as many takes as you need to

Marketing & Promotional Ideas:
During pre-production a good exercise is to sketch out potential ideas for posters and dvd cover. This will get you thinking about what the idea is it as its core. I did this more for another project called Little Loud I was developing before I jumped onto Hook, Line & Stinker.

During this process you must develop the following.

  • Logo.
  • Typeface/ font.
  • Posters (portrait & landscape)
  • DVD cover (front & back)

Even though you will not be able to execute these ideas until later in production such as posters that need to be rendered you need to think about them now because...

  • It will help you sum up the die.
  • Provide you with a solid brand identity for the 

You will want these for:

  • Blogs (your own and blogs that promote animated films)
  • Websites (for the cover of your portfolio.)
  • Film Festival Press Packs (to send to festivals so they can talk about your film.
Hook, Line & Stinker DVD Front & Back cover.
Character posed by Luke Ridgeway.
Lighting, Rendering, Compositing by Omari McCarthy.
Design and Layout by Stu Whitten.
You can see some overused movie poster cliches here:

Pre-Prodcution / Fun Pack:
At the end of pre-production you should have the following to hand in.

  • Script, Tagline, Synopsis
  • Team/ Roles
  • Production Schedules
  • Shot Schedule
  • Model Sign-off Sheet
  • Prop Sign-off Sheet
  • Environment Sign-off Sheet
  • Character Turnarounds
  • Character Expressions
  • Character Poses
  • Character Concept Art
  • Character Lineups (with hight in metres if using Maya)
  • Environment Plan / Ariel View (with measurement)
  • Environment Concept Art
  • Prop Turnarounds (with measurements)
  • Storyboard(s)
  • Animatic(s)
  • Color Script(s)
  • Style frame (concept art demonstrating exact "look" you are aiming for.)
  • Posters in portrait & landscape (several variations).
  • DVD case (front & back with synopsis).
Production, Research & Design:
documentation; for Ptex texture workflow
rig tests with animation.
texture and lighting tests matching concept art (even if its just on spheres)
Documentation for Ptex texture workflow
simulations tests

Thank you for reading the third part. Please read "Pipeline Planning & Asset Management" here.

Friday, 19 July 2013

Advice To Animation Students: Development

This is the first in an ongoing series of posts about the production process during final year at Falmouth University. It will cover everything from concept to completion; Development, Pre-Production, Production, Post-Production, and Distribution & Marketing. The focus for this first piece is on Development.

My advice to you is the use the time you have this summer and use it to plan. 
Literally plan everything all the way to the finish from script to screen.

What Development Covers:

  • Script & Screenwriting
  • Core Team & Recruitment
  • Developing New Skills
  • Meeting Facilitation (this will come in to play during the entire year)
  • How I would run the development process
Should I Direct/ Producer my own film should I just be a crew member?
This is one of the last chances some of us will have the chance to make a film for ourselves. You will never be surrounded by talent (working for free), resources (studio, equipment), lecturers (experts in their field) and time. Outside of an institution such as University of a commercial studio you will need to be able to raise money, have a solid core team while managing freelance life. So trust me I would make use of this now.
On the other hand if you know there is a specific role/ job you are interested then perhaps being a crew member is best. For example Phoebe Herring produced concept art, colour scripts, textures,
her portfolio and showreel both look awesome and she has put herself in a very good position for entry level work.
The sooner you know where you want to go and what you want to be the better you can make a decision here. For example if you know you want to be a producer its in your best interests to produce a finished film and apply for a production assistant position at a small studio. If you want to be a character animator you may as well just animate across several different projects, graduate with a diverse showreel and apply for a job as a junior animator. Makes sense right? I'll leave the ball in your court.

Scriptwriting & Script Development:

Falmouth University has an MA in screenwriting and some of it is online for free here
Its run by a woman called Jane Pugh who was interested in helping me out for the script on Little Loud. As well as using the lecturers I would get in touch with her as your "script consultant" over the summer and try to get a few drafts written before the start of term. Don't dwell on the script for too long though, this is animation after all and most of it will be worked out visually. I think all the projects should have scripts written but spending too long during term time will cause more hassle. It need to be locked before the start of term.

Writing script is hard and you will go through several variations. I only reached five draft on Little Loud but Hook, Line & Stinker reached 19 drafts and was 9 pages in length but his is mostly due to its complexity and the amount of dialogue. Despite the length of the script, estimated at around a page a minute, our short was 3 mins 30secs without credits because of its pace.

Its easier here if you have rough team in place otherwise you will be wearing many hats at once.
If the director is writing the script then they will have an idea of what it looks like in their head which is good but will make things tricky for a script editor.

Learn to write good properly formatted scripts. Do your self a massive favour and lock the script as early as possible. Why? Animation is visual so make it work visually and don't get bogged with the script too much. If its dialogue heavy like Hook, Line & Stinker to the point it may as well be a radio play then you will have to spend a certain amount of time on dialogue.

Also keep is simple. Remember that Game of Thrones meets Blade Runner mash that you've always wanted to make? Don't. My advice is to use previous graduates projects as a benchmark. Hook, Line & Stinker being the heady heights of feasibility and Kernel being a lot more realistic in execution.

Narrative or Experimental Projects:
Another thing i'll add it avoid experimental projects like the plague. This may not sound fair but my experience of "experimental" projects this year translates to this "I don't know what i'm doing. I have no vision for this film. Lets just see what happens." This is bad for obvious reasons.

Watch Films & Read Scripts:
As soon as we knew Hook, Line & Stinker was set at sea you'd think we would have sat down to watch a few movies set at sea right? Not the case. Please don't make the same mistake this will inform your story and allow you to slip in references to old movies. For example on Hook, Line & Stinker we would watch films such as; Jaws, Titanic and The Perfect Storm as well as films which have important scenes set at sea; King Kong and the opening scene of Shutter Island. The purpose of this two fold. You need to fill your memory bank with symbolism, framing, camera moves, staging, mis-en-scene and intertextuality. Along with narrative techniques like how the setting thematically tied to the stories? character development of to people in small spaces. When you have your core team in place, which I will go into in a moment, I would give them a list of  mandatory movie to watch before they begin work on the project.

Learn about structure:
If director use the rule of thirds and the golden section to compose their images visually then screen writers use the three act structure, the inciting incident and the third act climax to structure their screenplays. So should you. Some of you may feel that you don't want to look at structure so as to avoid a "cookie cutter" film but its the same way your composition was improved by adopting rule of thirds and the golden section until you understood its purpose enough to find your own style. Its the same things with structure. Learn it. Use it.

Script Breakdowns:
The script will go through constant iterations and the story will evolve. To speed up production have someone (producer/ CG Supervisor) start making  script breakdown. It will be easier to do this with a script that has numbered scenes. I like to use coloured pens/ highlighters to categorise the following.
  • Major Characters (how many? biped or quadruped? costume changes? 
  • Minor Characters/ Crowds (how many? do they talk? can we use that auto rig off creative crash?)
  • Environments/ Backgrounds (how many? how much will we build?)
  • Major/ Minor Props ((how many? is it key to story? can we cut it?)
  • Dynamics, Simulations & VFX (water? smoke? fire? all of the above?)
  • Audio; Voice Actors, Sound Effects, Music
Screenwriting Resources:

Scripts, Screenwriting & Story:

Falmouth University MA Screenwriting Lecturers:

By the start of third year you should know who can work and who can't as well as who you get along with. Hopefully you kept an eye on talent of the 2nd years and plan to make friends with the 1st years when they arrive. Here is my recruiting advice...

Identity Talent & Build Relationships
Identify talented 1st and 2nd year student and what they are good at really at. You should already know what people are good at in your year but some will surprise you. Spend time at the start of first term building relationships with 1st and 2nd years during freshers week and the first 10 weeks at the start of the year. As an example there are some third years that would have tried to approach you to work on their films but you don't work for them because you don't know them. It was so much easier for me to recruit 2nd years because I knew them. The sooner you understand the importance of building relationships on our course the better you will be in industry.

Pool Talent from Complimentary Courses
Don't just look to animation use other courses to pool talent from. Your Production Designer could be an Illustration or Graphic Design student. Looking to the Music, Digital Media and Film course for sound effects designers, composers and musicians is a good idea too. Stick up posters and send emails but understand that the best way to get people on board is to be able to pitch your idea face to face with them and get them to believe it as much as you do.

Find Core Team and Key Roles:
Try to get the following roles in place over the summer, draw up your "dream team" of students in your year and the year below. Try to identify Writer, Director, Producer, Production Designer and CG Supervisor, Editor as a core team. This should also extend to Lead Animators, Voice Actors, Sound Effects Designer, Musicians and Composers at a later date when you know what the films is but keep these roles in the back of your mind for now. Have one producer and one only. I won't go into detail on it just trust me on that.

A Few Things You Should Think About:
  • Producer:
  • is this project feasible? if not can we simplify?
  • what resources skills do we have? do we need training/ lectures?
  • drop-box or google drive? (use google drive/ docs. Thank me later)
  • Master Schedule (daily/ weekly schedule. keep this on google drive.)
  • Baby Schedule (monthly. print this out and stick it up.)
  • Shot tracking/ sign-off template
  • Deadlines dates (set deadlines for absolutely everything!)
  • Contact sheet
  • Festival strategy (you get bonus points for this one.)
  • Director:
  • writing the script
  • what is my vision for the film? (have a solid vision throughout)
  • what existing films explore similar themes?
  • who is my editor?
  • CG Supervisor:
  • what's out pipeline? parallel? non-parallel? can we automate it? (beware overkill!!)
  • asset management? file naming conventions?
  • drop-box or google drive? (use google drive/ docs. Thank me later)
  • who are my modellers? riggers? texture artists? technical directors?
  • do we need water simulations? fire? smoke? clouds? who is testing this?
  • whats the minimum we need to be on screen? aim to meet this
  • Production Designer:
  • character, environments/ backgrounds, props, 
  • who are my storyboard artists? 'visual development' artists?
  • who is doing the colour script?
  • Editor:
  • shot and frame count on every version of edit (makes it easier to discuss shots)
  • Frequency of edit? (new animatic each week? every fews days?)

Do not bother typing up an outlining roles of these people just make sure you understand whats they will be responsible have them do the research themselves. The core teams ned to accept that for the roles will overlap.

Put Individuals into Teams:
Break team down into individual roles as well as smaller teams with team leaders such as 'Lighting & Look Development', Character Development and Dynamics & Simulations to name but a few.
Why teams? Accountability. Collaboration. Keeping teams and team leaders in charge of their "department" there will be individuals and team leaders to answer and encourages (forces) artists and technical directors to collaborate. These teams do not have to be large and many people will overlap into different teams.

Lighting & Look Development Team =
Production Designer + CG Supervisor + Texturer + Lighter + Renderer + Compositor.

Character Development Team =

Character Designer + Modeller + Texturer + Rigger + Animator + Lighter + Renderer + Compositor.

I think you get the idea. So the sooner you can recruit and assign roles the sooner you can build these team and develop. One you know who is good at post-production you must then identify who is at a high enough level to be useful to you on a production. Unfortunately not all those who have taken pre/ or post will be good enough to that useful but some may surprise you.

Develop New Skills:
One you know what your idea in the back of your mind some alarm bells will start rigging. There are going to be things you  don't know how to do yet. Make a list of these and make a plan of action for learning them. If you don't know how to model a production ready character with the correct topology then now is the time to learn. The same goes for anything else in the pipeline.  If you have a core team then they may have skills that fill your own gaps and vice versa.

Historically the skills 3rd year projects have lacked are Producers, 2D Cell Action Riggers, 3D Maya Riggers, 3D Lighting TD's (with good understanding of cinematography). If you are interested in any of theses areas or are can't identify anyone on the course you can pull in the make a note of this. Ask george to giver a "masterclass" on these topics at the start of term and encourage several others to learn during the summer. 

Meeting Facilitation:
Try to arrange meeting for early Monday morning. If you are having them on a Friday at 3pm then you have done something wrong. Here is some quick advice for meetings:
  • Regular weekly meeting. Keep meetings in the same place (studio?) at the same time (9am?). The team will into a a good rhythm and good habits. This also avoids anyone not turning up because they did not know when or where it was.
  • Only have meetings when you really need to. Other than the regular meetings anything during the week should be necessary. only invite who is needed? (do the animators need to be in the nuke compositing meeting?)
  • Set start & end times. You will be able to work this out once you have had a few meetings. This will also force people to say whats important quicker. Similarly if you have discussed and reached a decision on all the key points in the meeting and there is still time on the clock then end the meeting. No need to overcook.
  • End early. If you have 10/15mins left don't try to fill it. Let people go.
  • As few people as possible.
  • Have an good agenda. what are we discussing? what decisions need to be made? who absolutely need to be there?
  • Meeting are called to reach a decision.
  • Make sure loud people don't dominate. Give quite people chance to speak up.
  • Take Notes. One person to take meeting minutes. who was in attendance? what decisions were made? Who is doing what? by when? Upload this to a shared google doc for everyone to refer to later. Don't transcribe its faster to type it, upload it or print it.
  • End every meeting with a plan of action. Ending meetings with "Action Steps", "Goals For The Week" and most importantly deadlines is much more effective. This will give you a yardstick with witch to measure progress at the next meeting. If you leave a meeting without action steps then what is value of the meeting?
  • Start each meeting reviewing "action steps" from previous meeting. Measuring meetings with Action Steps  I would not advise deadline that allow someone a week to 
  • Producer does not need to lead the meeting. But if you are the producer then keep the meeting on track but allow some time for a laugh and a joke. You do not need to lead the meeting and often letting other talk first will give you the chance to hear their opinion unbiased by yours.
  • Use Skype/ Google+ Hangout over breaks: Over the Christmas / Easter break some of the team may go home but meeting should not not stop. In fact having consistent meeting throughout term time will pay off if/ when people go home over 4 week Christmas / Easter break.
The core team need to be united in decisions during meetings. There will be be debates as to the best way to execute something and when it needs to be done. This was most disruptive for us between myself (Producer) and Sebastian (CG Supervisor). We found ourselves disagreeing with what was most important. Story vs Feasibility. So one thing we started to do on Hook, Line & Stinker was have a "pre-meeting" with core team (writer, director, producer, CG Lead, production designer) to ensure we could agree on how things should be done and by when. Even then it was not easy. Sometimes these "pre-meetings" result in decisions being made

How I would run the 3rd Year Development Process:
  • Begin development during penultimate or final semester of 2nd year.
  • 2nd years must pitch idea at end of 2nd year with a short synopsis and movie poster.
  • No "solo" directors. Each project must have core team supporting the director.
  • Be "Director Driven". Aim to provide writers/ directors them with a solid team to support them.
  • More mandatory pitch rehearsals earlier. One per week during 1st semester or 3rd year.
  • Pitch date should be earlier in 1st semester. In week 3 of 10 at the latest.
  • Lecturers should only allow the projects and teams you believe in to go through the pitch stage. 
  • Lecturers should have final say on who goes through not external judges.
  • Lecturers should only allow 8 projects max to be developed into short films.
  • Remaining crew must join new team within 5 days of projects cut.
  • One dedicated lecturer to act as an "executive producer". 4 lecturers = 2 projects each.
  • Cut underdeveloped projects earl. Don't let them die out. This is a waste of time/ resources.
  • Beware overdevelopment. Get projects out of pre-production as fast as possible.
  • Bring in external feedback earlier and regularly in process.
  • Encourage students to comment and have an opinion on other projects.

Thank you for reading the seconds part. Please read "Pre-Production" here.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Advice To Animation Students: Introduction

This is the first in an ongoing series of posts about the production process during final year at Falmouth University. It will cover everything from concept to completion in six stages; Development, Pre-Production, Pipeline Planning & Asset Management,  Production, Post-Production, and Distribution & Marketing. The focus for this first piece is on Development.

"The mark of successful organisation [institution] isn't whether or not it has problems, it's whether it has the same problem it had last year." - John Foster Dulles.

I have written this series post because it felt necessary to carry out a deeper analysis of issues on the production process to pass on what I have learnt to the year groups below as well as notes for me on the finer details of the project so I don't make the same mistakes as last year. It will be a mix of things I experienced working across several projects but some of it will be my opinion and bits of rambling which you should take a with a pinch of salt. It will sound quite negative as I am focussing on when went wrong more so than what we right. Thats what you're really interested in.
One thing that would have been very helpful at the end of second year is project evaluations from last years third years at the end of the year. A deep assessment of the projects from beginning to end. Having been approached by several second years asking for advice I wanted to collate it all into one place this would mean I can organise my thoughts as well have a place to send them to when they ask me. The course relies heavily on the "Eureka Effect". Waiting for great student project to come along to hang the marketing of the course on and hopefully get graduate jobs.

I know the lecturers tell students again and again, year after year, but I think it is best it comes from the students to the students. Future year groups should learn from the previous ones so they don't make the same mistake again. You will make your own mistakes but there are some mistakes that consecutive your year groups make and those are the ones we need to stamp out. 2nd years could read our production reports but this would be overkill, mostly self fulfilling exhalation. I'm not talking about glorifying successful/ finished films but I think other years groups will learn more from the films that failed or did not meet deadlines that from the ones that succeed but I guess we will find out.

We would need to develop a process that should be refined as each year group that comes through the course until we have success. Then to replicate that success for each consecutive year group.