ANIMATION PROCESS 🧠

Step 1: Client onboarding 📝

After we have agreed to move forward on a animation project we send the client a client intake form, this is a questionnaire that quickly gathers information that is relevant to the project but that the client might not think of (what platforms this project will be shared on, how long it will be, what the ideal deadline is). After the client has filled out the intake form we will review the form internally with all relevant parties on the creative team.


We then have a 1 hour video chat to review the client intake form.

In this meeting we will present all of the references and have a quick summary conversation about the project that we have agreed to collaborate on. The main objective of this meeting is to make sure that everyone involved is on the same page and we are able to move forward with intention and clear communication in order to respect everyone’s time and execute the vision .


Step 2: Ideation 💡

After the one hour meeting we will make a creative brief that clearly outlines the project as well as a story/ mood board that will serve as a reference for the animators to work with but also give the client a clear idea of what the final video will look like. Once approved we begin the client intake process.

The story board is created by an illustrator, it is a simplified outline of the final video. The animator will listen through the received audio files and make a basic outline of what each scene or new frame will look like. He will then make a list of all assets that will be needed.


Step 3: Intake 🛬

From there we receive all relevant files from the client via Drive or an email.

We will then send a folder and an email with a list of all relevant assets needed for the client

(this will usually be the audio recording that the story will be built around or any pre-made assets such as logos or even a select music track, brand kit, video files or lyrics). From there the lead animator will store all files on the cloud and on their personal drive. Each asset will be organized into our company project file structure. For each project the relevant assets should be stored in the exact same folder structure in order to maintain organization across the company.

An asset list will include each character that will appear in the project and the level of animation needed on each.

Each background needed

Each asset needed (typography for words, bird flying through the air, explosion, etc.)


Step 4: Illustration and animation ✍️

The animation process will now begin. Procreate is a big part of our animation process and a large number of assets will be made in this app. But depending on the project and animator we may also use programs such as Photoshop or Toon Boom Harmony. Despite the program this part of the process is where illustrations are made. Anything that needs to be drawn will be done in this step and we will simultaneously be creating some animated assets as well. Sometimes a project will only need a character to be represented by one or two transitioning frames, sometimes, we will need to make frame-by-frame animation. That would also happen in this stage, each exact process depends heavily on the style of the final product.


Most backgrounds will be made in procreate, with correctly separated layers that make it possible for complex manipulation in the compositing phase.


If a character is being animated in Character Animator it will need to have a puppet rigged for it. A puppet is a PNG or PSD single frame illustration that can be brought into Adobe Character Animator and manipulated in real time using the webcam as a reference. Once rigged the puppet will follow your movements and speech pattern in real time.


This puppet file can be done in procreate, illustrator, photoshop or any other program that can export a PNG and then sent to our character rigger (Andrea). She will then rig the characters in Character Animator and send them back to the illustrator where they can be animated (also in Adobe Character Animator). This animation process will take place in the next step.



Simultaneously the illustrator creates all characters, assets and backgrounds and then exports them as PNG or MOV files. Depending on the project details multiple animators/illustrators will be used. Right now I use my friend Andrea to rig puppets for use in Character Animator. She can also be used for BGs and other assets depending on the job.


The files from the rigger would be put into a file to be downloaded by the animator and stored on the hard drive.


Step 5: Recording and Compositing 🔴▶️

Assets are then sent to After Effects for animation and composition. If we are using puppets this would be where the performances would be recorded live. The animator would take the rigged puppet and import it into Adobe Character animator. They would then take the relevant character audio file and import it into Adobe Character Animator as well. He will then record a clean take and make all relevant character changes. Adjusting mouth keyframes and re-recording certain movements. After the recording is complete the animator will then export a transparent video file that can be brought into after effects during the composition process.


The composition stage is where all relevant assets are brought together and assembled using an editing program, usually Adobe After Effects and sometimes in combination with Premiere. The transparent Character Animator export will be combined with the backgrounds and other supporting assets as well as any music files and vocal tracks. This is a critical stage in the process and will need a skilled animator to work in tandem with a knowledgeable creative director. Anything can be changed but it should be stressed that last minute changes are not ideal, especially given the complex nature of animation. All relevant details should be hashed out in the ideation phase. Having to change a character's shirt color or make a font switch might seem like an easy task but once the animation and composition process has begun it becomes increasingly difficult to do retroactively. The storyboard will become an integral guide for this stage of the process.


Step 6: Review

This step will likely be revisited multiple times along with the animation and composition stages in order to make hopefully small changes to the final product.

A first draft is shown to the client and the review process begins. This is the step that causes the biggest bottleneck as we’re waiting on the client to get back to us before we can proceed. It would be ideal if the client could either have a short video chat or review the video on a video review site such as frame.io. This will allow for the most efficiency in combining the client's thoughts with the animator's work. We should have an agreed upon number of changes and an efficient stream of communication in order to ensure that nothing gets lost in translation and wastes unnecessary time.


Step 7: Export and delivery📦

After approval the final video is exported in all relevant aspect ratios. The animator will refer to the client intake form so they can resize and export all deliverables and upload them to the Drive for the client.


 

Visual Smugglers is an animation and video agency. Less talk, more visuals.

Find out more information about us at https://www.visualsmugglers.com

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