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Excerpts

The intended audience for Producing Animation is broad, ranging from film students to industry professionals. Keeping in mind that each situation is unique, in this book we have attempted to define and clarify the process and procedures of producing animated projects with the focus on large-scale projects, with the assumption that the information can be applied with different levels of complexity according to a production’s budget and plan. Our primary goal has been to create a basis from which a producer can springboard and structure a production based on its individual needs. This book takes the reader through all the steps necessary to set up a project, including selling an idea, then developing and preparing a concept for production, as well as the actual production process. For the entrepreneur producer who is trying to sell his or her project, this book will describe the role of and identify the types of industry professionals to contact. For the student or line producer who may be strictly interested in the production phase, we offer detailed information on how to budget, schedule, and track a project, as well as actual charts that can be used for such tasks. For professionals needing a basic knowledge of the animation business, this book provides answers to commonly asked questions, along with an overview of animation methodologies.

We sincerely hope that by sharing our experiences, as well as those of others, we can help pave an easier path for future animation producers. Additionally, it is our goal that the information in this book will entice new producers to enter the industry, and along with professionals already in the business, together they will continue to push the frontiers of animation to more exciting and unforeseen territories.

To give you sneak peak into the world of Producing Animation, here are a few excerpts from the book:

                 
Chapter 1: Introduction

What exactly does an animation producer do? Are all artists called animators? I want to develop an animated movie; where do I start? How do you put a production plan together? What is the most important element to ensure the success of an animated project?

Questions such as these initially inspired us to write Producing Animation. When we started our careers in the animation industry, there were few resources available that provided guidance to anyone interested in this highly creative and complex business. When searching for books to recommend to people interested in the topic, we quickly realized there wasn’t a suitable title out there. Although there were many well-written and useful books that discussed the technical process and art of animation, there was relatively nothing available that outlined the actual nuts and bolts of producing commercially focused content for major animation studios and/or distributors. As this was a significant missing piece of the picture, we decided to use our combined knowledge and experience and take on the challenge of providing it.

In our opinion, the producer is the one person with the full overview and responsibility for a project from a creative, financial, and scheduling perspective. Based on the creative expectations and fiscal parameters of the project, the producer pulls together a team of artists, technical directors, production management, and all other types of talent in between. Partnering with the director, the producer has the role of keeping everyone inspired and on track with regards to the project’s overarching vision. While balancing and understanding the creative needs of the story being told, the producer sets up and manages both a production schedule and a budget, aiming to deliver the product at the agreed-upon level of quality. The producer is also in charge of keeping both the executives (or buyers) and the production team enthused and motivated. As this role is all-encompassing, the knowledge base and skill set required to become a producer is quite extensive, thereby keeping the job both exciting and enticing because it is never the same…

 

Chapter 2: The Animation Producer

What Is an Animation Producer?

The Producer’s Guild of America defines the role of the producer as follows:

A producer initiates, coordinates, supervises and controls, either on his or her own authority [entrepreneur producer] or subject to the authority of an employer [employee producer], all aspects of the motion-picture and/or television production process, including creative, financial, technological and administrative. A producer is involved throughout all phases of production from inception to completion, including coordination, supervision and control of all other talents and crafts, subject to the provisions of their collective bargaining agreements and personal service contracts.

Although much of this definition is applicable to an animation producer, the scope of responsibility varies based on his or her area of expertise and place of employment. At the major studios, most producers are “employee producers.” Under this production structure, the studio’s core executive group usually sets up and oversees all projects. They may, for example, hire a producer after a project has been developed and budgeted and is ready to go into production. Oftentimes, an employee producer may not be responsible for all aspects of the production as outlined by the Producer’s Guild of America’s definition. A producer may not necessarily need to create a budget, but he or she should have the skill required to manage it. In contrast to employee producers, smaller independent studios tend to be headed by the “entrepreneur producers.” Due to lack of financial resources, these producers have to wear many hats. As a result, they often have to put together a budget themselves as well as oversee it.

There are multiple titles associated with the producer credit. The most commonly used are: executive producer, producer, co-producer, line producer, and associate producer. Of course, there are many variations to this list, including creative producer, consulting producer, supervising producer, and assistant producer, to name a few. Theoretically, titles are based on an individual’s background and experience level. In some cases, however, they are based on what an agent or a representative is able to negotiate for his or her clients, wholly independent of their actual ability. Oftentimes, a producing credit may be based on the format of the show. An example of this approach can be found in the area of credits accorded to television writers. For prime-time series, most staff writers are credited as producer and writer; on a feature, they would be given a writer credit only.

Although there are numerous variations of the producer credit, for the purposes of this book, the job description will be described as one of three basic categories according to the role or function they play on a production. The first type of producer is the “deal-maker.” These producers help gather the financial resources and potentially key players, including talent and/or a production studio, for a project. They generally have little or no creative input. Deal-maker producers are usually nonexclusive, meaning that they can work for other studios and have multiple projects in progress. It is highly unlikely that they would focus all their time on a single production. Instead, deal-maker producers hire a line producer to handle the actual production of a show.

The second type of producer is a person who facilitates pulling the entire production together. This “facilitator” producer generally does not draw or write, but has an overall creative understanding of both the drawing and the writing, and therefore has some artistic input. These producers are very hands-on during production, but their involvement in the level of production detail often depends on whom they have working for them. Their main focus tends to be the budget and schedule, with the overall goal of meeting the creative demands of the project.

The third type of producer can be called the “creative” producer. These producers have the ability to draw and/or write, or they have an in-depth knowledge of story development. They are heavily involved in the creative decision-making process. Although they do have responsibility for the budget and schedule, their emphasis is on the creative side. In this configuration, a line producer most often handles time and money management.

Whether it’s television or feature animation, the producer needs to be a master juggler, and the following diagram will help you keep all those balls in the air. The purpose of the Producer’s Thinking Map is to provide you with a visual guide for the main steps involved in producing an animated project…

 

Chapter 3: How to Identify and Sell Projects
                 
This is where the adventure begins: identifying a concept. Imagine yourself as a U.S. Navy SEAL. You are on a reconnaissance mission. You need extensive preparation and training for the process. Every step that you take can potentially have larger repercussions, so you must be mindful of every action. Equally as important, you must pace yourself through all kinds of obstacles in a labyrinth. Before embarking on this mission, you need to have a thorough understanding of the landscape and mindscape ahead, which involve these key stages:

  • Spotting the idea
  • Defining the format and target audience
  • Identifying the buyer
  • Developing pitch material
  • Hiring representation
  • Entering negotiations
The selling journey of every project is unique depending on who you are, what you are pitching, and to whom you are pitching it. There is no one distinct path to follow, nor is there a specified timeframe in which you should expect results. This fluidity may seem frustrating to navigate at times, but it provides you with the ability to tailor your pitch to best suit your individual situation and project. One thing is consistent, however: at each step along this journey you need to be open to feedback and possible changes that will inevitably arise—and you need to be ready to respond quickly and intelligently…

 

Chapter 4: The Core Team
                 
An Overview of the Core Team

When you are taking the first steps to start an animated project, a select number of staff members need to be in place prior to the start of production. This skeletal group is what we call the core team. In most cases, the producer is the central person, pulling this team together based on the fiscal and creative needs of the project. The formation of the core team typically starts during the development phase with the initial creative group, which includes:

  • Producer(s)
  • Writer
  • Creator/originator of the concept
  • As the project gets ready for further development into the story and the visual realm, it is necessary to add the following members to the core team:
  • Director(s)
  • Visual effects supervisor (if applicable)
  • Production designer/art director
  • Visual development artists
  • Stereoscopic supervisor (if applicable)

Pending the size and scale of your production, it is also important to loop in personnel handling recruiting, legal and business affairs, human resources, accounting, training, and technology. In larger studios, some of these individuals may already be on staff, in which case the producer brings them into the mix as necessary. Based the scope of the project, budget limitations, and the expertise of the producer, he or she can personally take on some of these roles while delegating others.

Each individual on the core team plays a significant role in getting a production up and running. On a feature production with a larger budget, a typical example of this process is as follows: the project has become solidified in terms of script and the overall art direction concept. It is greenlit to proceed further into the pre-production stage. Next a director, if he or she is not already attached, needs to be hired to guide its visual development and to collaborate on the story with the producer, buyer/executive, and writer. The recruiter helps identify potential directors. The producer interviews all candidates and, in partnership with the buyer/executive, makes a final selection. The legal and business affairs departments negotiate the director’s deal. Once on board, human resources coordinates the director’s orientation and fills out the start-up paperwork. The production accountant processes his or her payment. The director works with the recruiters to cast and hire the visual development and storyboard artists. If necessary to bolster the artistic team when there’s a shortage of artists, the recruiting department scouts fresh talent and the training group starts organizing classes for the new hires.  The technology group is instrumental in developing the production strategy and pipeline as well as researching and developing the tools to create the look of the project. All of these steps are overseen and managed by the producer.

And here is a sample sidebar excerpt from one of the most respected animation producers of our time for further insight into the building of your core team:

Working with the Game Changers in an Ever-Changing Game
Don Hahn, Producer and Director, The Walt Disney Studios

In the game of animation, the producer’s number-one priority is to assemble and maintain a world-class team that will create a movie of lasting quality. When people ask me what a producer does to successfully manage an animated film, the answer is deceptively simple: I hire the best people that I can find and then do exactly what they tell me to do. This group of experts covers the gamut of administration (human resources, legal, finance, recruiting, training), production (management on the project), and creative (director, production designer, other artists), and here are some thoughts on making the most of your team.

Clearly, the work of building a crew into a team is the most important job in managing a project, so start things off with your administrative partners by acknowledging the simple fact that the success of a production is based purely on the team of people cast to create the film. You are not casting a party: everyone doesn’t have to get along all the time, but there does need to be respect between the team players. What is crucial is the expertise of the player, the management skill of the player, the candor of the player, and the ability of the player to push the team to a higher level. Recognize that the team is only as good as the weakest member, and you should be casting the film with the best you can afford: this is not a place to save money. You can certainly hire a “B”- or “C”-list editor, for example, but you will suffer that choice for years to come and the cost of recruiting a better talent will fade from memory as you spend your way out of a mediocre situation.

As you line up your production management, a great philosophy to instill in these key players is: “Animation is not a traditional assembly line activity; it is much more like sports.” You can prepare, train, and recruit the best team and set a game plan, but you have no control over the variables of the game. What you do have control over is how quickly you react to changes in the game and how prepared and conditioned you are to adjust to the new conditions and still play at your top level. Expect chaos and moments of indecision, and then train the management team how to react to the change; how to access, listen, plan, and refocus attention is the goal. If you want to set out a foolproof plan on paper and execute it perfectly, I can tell you right now: don’t go into the animation business.

On the creative side, the director is the first crucial hire. He or she has three responsibilities: to articulate the vision and the story clearly to the crew, to give candid critiques, and to build morale around that vision. The storytelling and critiquing aspects of directing are obvious, but you might find it surprising that I included morale in the director’s duties. The core team—and eventually the entire production crew—has to sustain the vision of the director over a period of years and has to believe where the director is taking them. There will always be frustration, debate, and disagreement on any film, but if the team can agree on supporting the director’s vision of the film, the process will be easier and the result inevitably stronger. I’ve seen the opposite happen: the director has a creative vision that is completely out of sync with the team and the studio and no one can agree on what the film was. The crew showed up because it was a job, but it wasn’t a passion. The project became more of a negotiated truce between director and studio than a good movie.

And here’s a bit of advice for you…

 

Chapter 5: The Development Process

The Role of the Producer During Development

Even if the producer is not the driving force behind a project from its inception (such as when a studio hires a producer to work on a project it already owns), it is important for him or her to be involved in the development phase as early as possible. How a project is shaped and launched is entirely dependent on its producer. Factors that directly influence this process are the story content and the project’s intended budget and schedule. During the script writing process, one of the producer’s primary duties is to ensure that the project is suitable for animation. Collaborating closely with a writer, the producer’s goal is to flesh out as much of the story as possible so that the script can be considered “locked” prior to start of production. Partnered with the director and working with a select group of conceptual artists, the producer helps guide the creative efforts to establish an appropriate style and quality of animation.

In addition to overseeing the writing and visual development process, it is important to keep the buyer satisfied. Just because a property is in development, there are no guarantees that it will get produced. It is the producer’s job to keep the buyer completely confident that his or her investment is a sound business decision so that the funds can be put in place and production can be launched.

In exploring the possible paths to developing a project, the producer needs to assess its strengths and weaknesses. If the property is based on written material, the text may be used to create the visuals. On the other hand, it could be the reverse, whereby the visuals drive the script and a writer needs to be identified. It may be, however, that the project is based on a property that already has both elements in place, such as a comic book. In this case, the person attached to the property and/or its creator may act solely as a consultant or may be responsible for either the visual or written material, depending on his or her expertise. In all of the possible scenarios, the producer works with the creative executive, who is typically the representative of the buyer and the seller, to find and interview the appropriate candidates to help develop the project.

It falls on the producer’s shoulders to pace development appropriately, allowing creativity to thrive and at the same time meeting long-term objectives. Although it is essential to adhere to schedules in production, applying strict deadlines to development can at times hinder the creative process. The producer has the balancing act of ensuring that the creative team has enough time and money to achieve their artistic goals and that the quality of artwork generated is suitable for production. As a result, the producer has to use his or her intuition to know when to push and when not to push. An artist’s worst fear is working with a producer who has an assembly line approach towards artistic endeavors. Yet how can network or studio delivery deadlines be met if there is no schedule?

Case Study: Luna

In order to best explain the various stages of animation from development to pre-production to production, the progression of Luna —an original short-form film that was created, developed, and produced by Rainmaker Entertainment—will serve as a case study. Luna is a CG project produced for final delivery in both 3D and 3D stereoscopic. This case study illustrates how a story can be produced for animation by outlining the various stages of its progress from its earliest conception to final output. Imagery outlining the progression of the film is provided throughout the book. Actual production materials are available for viewing on a case study website…

 

Chapter 6: The Production Plan

Production Plan Overview

This complex undertaking is a highly collaborative effort that involves the core creative and technical team. Ultimately, the production plan should function as a roadmap that ensures everyone is fully invested and walking on the same production path.

Devising a production plan is a methodical yet creative process. In this step, the producer has to commit his or her vision to paper. If this vision is deficient, as in any creative process, the producer must be flexible and open to questioning and changing his or her parameters in order to come up with alternative scenarios. Devising the plan entails consulting with the core team and department heads, drawing on their expertise in order to develop an educated approach to the project. Each production step will require a certain number of presuppositions. The end goal is to create a plan made up of four key items including the budget, schedule, crew plan, and list of assumptions.

Whatever is determined to be the best balance of resources for the project, the producer needs to see that all areas are addressed and accounted for in the budget so that there are minimal surprises mid-production. The schedule then needs to be shaped as a realistic reflection of the options available with the assumptions written to make certain that all critical points can be accommodated. Once approved, the production plan becomes a baseline tool should there be significant changes requiring overages and therefore additional funds.

The chart of accounts is used as a base template for building a budget. The following figure shows an all-encompassing chart of accounts that can be utilized for CG and 2D (including traditional and digital) projects, plus costs associated with creating stereoscopic production…

 

Chapter 7: The Production Team

The Role of the Producer in Structuring the Production Team

As an animation producer, building the crew is an opportunity to put together the ideal combination of people to create something spectacular. Hiring a team for an animated project does not happen all at once because not everyone is needed at the same time. As a result, start dates and end dates are staggered in concert with the production plan. Unlike live action filmmaking, there is no one moment at which cast and crew work on the same scene simultaneously. The staff’s work is typically segmented, as each asset and/or shot proceeds from one department to the next.

The producer paces the production in terms of the number of artists and production staff needed, which is more easily said than done because projects are always in a state of flux. Initially, he or she has to handpick a core creative team to develop and launch the project. At the same time, a production crew is needed to support the artistic vision and to keep the show on track. As important as it is to provide ample resources for exploratory conceptual work, the producer must balance the budget so that the project's production quality is never compromised because of overages in the development stage.  The following figure offers a hierarchical explanation of the production crew that might be assembled for an animated project…

One major difference between feature production and television series is their staffing needs. Budget, creative process, delivery date, and final format all greatly influence the number of staff and particular roles required to complete a project.  The following figure offers a suggestion for how a television production might be staffed.

 

Chapter 8: Pre-Production

The Role of the Producer During the Pre-Production Phase

As a producer, if you have reached this phase in the process, you should be patting yourself on the back. It is a huge achievement to get a project green-lit, meaning that all the funds are in place and you have the go-ahead from the buyer to produce the show. You have made it through some of the toughest hurdles and now the fun begins with pre-production.

Pre-production is the phase in which the elements that lay down the foundation for the production are assembled. This configuration can differ greatly from project to project due to wide variation in pipelines and software capabilities. Whether a production goes smoothly depends on how the producer procures the key ingredients at this juncture. The following is a list of the items necessary in order to begin pre-production:

  • A production-ready script
  • The series bible (and at least three final scripts for a series)
  • Conceptual artwork
  • A list of assumptions
  • An approved budget and schedule
  • The crew plan
  • Asset management and tracking system

As the development phase wraps up, the production manager (under the producer’s guidance) devises a master schedule using the production-ready script and the conceptual artwork. By breaking down all the tasks that need to be accomplished into detailed department “micro schedules,” the management team, in collaboration with the department supervisors, begins to set up assignments and due dates, thereby officially starting the pre-production phase.

At this point, the producer’s main task is to recruit a crew and build a team, staggering the start dates to match the timing and needs of the various production goals to be accomplished. As the project is geared up for new employees, the producer begins to delegate duties to his or her administrative staff.

The work that takes place during pre-production varies based on format and medium.  The following figure is an example of the pre-production process for a traditional 2D television series…

 

                 
Chapter 9: Production
                 
The Role of the Producer During the Production Phase

Production is the stage of the process in which the producer’s multitasking skills are truly tested. The producer is the glue that holds everything together. He or she has to work a significant number of hours in order to successfully juggle the many responsibilities. On most projects, when production ramps up, portions of the show are still in pre-production. The producer needs to be on top of all steps from a budgetary, creative, and technical standpoint in addition to taking care of all of the project’s external needs, such as marketing and consumer products.

The following is the list of elements that should be completed in pre-production that are integral to starting the production phase:

  • Character and prop designs, also known as model sheets
  • Environmental/location designs
  • Finalized art direction
  • Final assets with completed test animation (CG)
  • Textured and surfaced environments (CG)
  • Look development (CG)*
  • Color-styled, symbolized, and rigged asset library (digital 2D)
  • Voice track*
  • Storyboards*
  • Pre-visualization reel (CG) or story reel/animatic (traditional 2D and digital 2D)*
  • Timing information/exposure sheets*

In television series or lower budget projects, all of these elements are considered locked at the start of production. On features, all items marked with an asterisk (*) are considered works-in-progress with sequences moving forward into the production pipeline as the necessary assets and storyboards are approved. Once sequences have been through story reel/animatic and/or pre-visualization and shots have been prepared for production, each one proceeds through the pipeline at a different pace and is often altered in order to enhance the storytelling.

For the majority of television series and subcontracted projects, once pre-production elements are completed, the project is outsourced for the production phase.  The producer receives a weekly production report from the subcontractor in order to monitor the project’s status. It is generally not the producer’s job to solve the day-to-day problems unless the delivery of the show is threatened. At this stage, it is the subcontractor’s responsibility to meet the project’s delivery dates at the agreed-upon level of quality. During production, the producer also continues to oversee the various other episodes/sequences being pre-produced, usually at the pace of one a week or one every other week pending the show’s budget and timeline.

On features, the producer relies on the associate producer and the production manager to handle the actual day-to-day details of the production (facilitating the workflow, managing the inventory, tracking shots, meeting quotas, and so on).  The feature producer’s areas of focus typically involve...

For an overview of the production pipeline on a CG project, please see the following figure:

 

Chapter 10: Post-Production

The Role of the Producer During the Post-Production Phase

Reaching the post-production stage is a huge milestone for the producer. At this point in the process, what remains to be assembled are the final visual and audio elements needed to create and deliver the finished product. The project’s schedule, variety of delivery formats for the final version, and its audio requirements determine the post-production steps ahead.

The role of the producer during post-production is diverse. Activities that take center stage during this phase include overseeing the tracking and the completion of all retakes and acquiring notes and approvals from the buyer/executive in order to lock the picture. The producer works in close collaboration with the post-production supervisor, who sets up post-production sessions and monitors their progress. If the project has an acquisition arrangement with a buyer, the producer has the sole responsibility to complete all of the “deliverable” items in the contract. If the arrangement is a partnership with the buyer, the buyer or studio typically has its own post-production department that will be very involved and supportive of this stage. In the case of an independent film, the deliverables must be finished off in the specific format(s) specified or the producer could be in breach of contract.

In all of these scenarios, there are a variety of items to be completed during post-production...

The following flow chart shows in the steps in the post-production of a feature project.

 

Chapter 11: Tracking Production

The Importance of Tracking

Tracking a project in animation can be a colossal challenge unless it is handled with forethought, diligence, and consistency. An animated production typically has tens of thousands of complex interdependent elements to track—not only when they are initially created, but also as they undergo multiple iterations. Combining the need to know the location and status of each of these elements while managing a crew of as many as a hundred plus artists and technicians, often in multiple locations, makes the development of a robust, well-organized tracking system imperative. Successful production tracking is therefore one of the key ingredients to ensure that a project is completed on time and on budget, potentially even exceeding the expected production quality.

The ultimate purpose of the tracking system is to connect all of the many facets of a project, including the budget, schedule, assets created, and footage produced in order to reflect their inter-dependencies and status, thereby enabling the producer to have an accurate and succinct “live” overview of the pace of production on both a macro and micro level. Using the data generated by the tracking system, the producer is equipped to guide and manage the project efficiently from its inception through delivery.

If you are lucky, you work at a production studio where there is already a tested and reliable tracking system in place. If you have such a jump start, creating new charts or templates to suit your style of working and/or the unique requirements of the project should be expected. If, on the other hand, you don’t have a fully developed system in place, you will have to determine the best approach to getting one set up for your show. When prepping for a project, make sure to…

The following figures are examples of tracking charts that serve varying purposes:

                                   
Chapter 12: Distribution, Marketing, Licensing and More
                 
It’s difficult enough to have to juggle everything from schedule to budget to talent, but the animation producer has the added challenge of doing all that while trying to answer these questions in the middle of the production process as well:

Who is the ideal distribution partner, if there isn't one already in place?
What is the best exhibition roll-out strategy?
What kind of marketing plans should be devised to build brand awareness?
What are possible ancillary revenue streams?
What promotional opportunities are there?

These questions will have different answers depending upon many factors including the target audience, the release date, and talent attached. Although dedicating time and resources to some of these elements may seem like a distraction to reaching the end goal of having a finished feature film or television show, it is critical that a producer plan for and accommodate these efforts, as they are vital to a project’s financial success and its longevity in the marketplace…