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Kirk Loftin

From Research to Release

Usually, when people hear the word “animation,’ they think of cartoons. When we talk about animations, especially for businesses, we mean so much more than just cartoons. Animation can be 2D, 3D, a blend of both 2D/3D, or things like motion graphics. Animations can be used to announce products or services, explain complicated processes, tell stories, or even just to make a fun, lively showcase for whatever message you’re trying to share with the world.

The process for creating animation shares some similarities with creating other types of videos, but overall they’re actually very different processes. Animation has its own set of challenges, hurdles, and problems to overcome.

Once a studio has met with a client and it’s agreed that an animation is the right move, the first step is the proposal stage. Since the studio usually only have a vague understanding at this stage, they will pull up similar work from their portfolio, review the client’s references, and do client research to learn as much as they can. A questionnaire is sent to the client either by email or over the phone (depending on their preference) so the studio can understand more about what it is they want from their animation, like how long it should be, who the audience is, and what style the client is looking for.

Next is what we call the “kick-off,” which usually starts with an in-person meeting to get a detailed understanding of the client and the message they want to share. The studio needs to make sure they’re on the same page when it comes to the client, their business, branding, language, Key Selling Points (KSPs), and other concerns. That is followed up with a fairly hefty amount of research into the industry, competitors, and similar products. A summary is then presented to the client to verify that the client and studio are aligned in their goals. 

The next focus is on the script stage. The writer works with the designer and animator to start crafting the story. The team meets to brainstorm, make sketches, and plan out the outline, and then write the first draft of the script for the animation. The studio verifies with the client that they’re staying on mission, and go through rounds of revision (depending on what time/budget will allow for). 

Here’s a helpful hint to keep in mind: the earlier the client makes changes, the cheaper those changes are. If a client waits until the animation is 90% complete to say they want to change a scene, that’s going to be a very time-consuming and expensive change. But if the studio is giving the change when the script is first presented, it’s not a big deal at all. 

Next is the visual planning stage. This includes ‘the boards,” which can either be mood boards, styleboards, or storyboards, depending on the time allotted and the available budget for the project. Sketches continue in this stage, and also music and voice-over talent are also usually selected in this stage. For an example, when we made our OtterBox + PopSockets video, we created a mood board trying to capture the overall feeling for the animation, including images from Katy Perry’s California Gurls.

Then the animation rounds begin. The number of rounds and revisions for the project is decided early on, and depends on time and budget. This process starts with an animatic, which is a super rough preview (wireframe preview, grey preview, or non animated graphics with copy in place, music and voice-over timed out, but no final finishings, renders and fun). The animation rounds are measured in percentages, usually 50%, 75%, and 95-100% (again, depending on time/budget).

When the animation is 95% done, it’s known as the “proofing” stage. Any major changes have already been made at this point, so this stage is to make sure the small details are all 100% correct. Are the words spelled correctly? Is the website link correct? Are there any glitches or dead frames?

Finally, when the animation is 100% finished, the video files are released to the client, and may  be posted online as well (depending on the contracted agreement with the client). At this point, the animation is finished and ready to be revealed to the world. 

A little while after the release, there is  a review of the video to check with the client to see its level of success, and try to gleam what we can learn from the project. We call this the “success matrix,” and it’s a crucial step to ensure that we’re always staying on the top of our game, producing the best animations for our clients. 

Understanding the animation process can help both the studio and client work together in the most efficient way possible to give us the easiest path to success. It can seem daunting at first, but don’t worry! As a studio, we’ve done it countless times, and are here to help you through each step of the process and make it as painless as possible. In the end, it’s worth all the hard work to know you have an awesome video made just for you!

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