The animation business is just that, a business. Despite being 'animators' by trade, animation executives, studio owners and successful freelancers run into the same business-side snags time and time again.
To help our aspiring animator readers preemptively tackle these problems head on we have taken the greatest challenges (and solutions) that our Interview Series interview subjects have come across and put them in a handy list:
Richard O'Connor, Ace & Sons
The most challenging projects are ones in which the client gives you more grief than money. In nearly two decades, I've really only had two of those -one a children's series, the other a theatrical film. Both of these came down to trust. The client needs to trust that the animator will deliver a quality product and the animator needs to trust that the client won't rip them off. Only twice were both of these abrogated and it made for difficult obstacles to overcome.
Projects where clients don't have a clear understanding of their audience and outcome goals, or doesn't have an investment or hierarchy for arriving at a consensus on feedback. Also, animating subject matter that I'm not interested in.
[It is challenging] When there is some sort of barrier to being able to establish a trust-base with the client – then every review is subject to questions based on there being ulterior motives for the deliverable between client and vendor (us).
Matthew Teevan, ARC Productions
Every project is challenging. In different ways. Gnomeo & Juliet was artistically challenging – it was a huge step-forward from our prior work. The subject matter was challenging too, in that we had to figure out a way to stay true to the central idea – garden gnomes coming to life, and make them look and behave like those inanimate objects. Yet still imbue them with the necessary level of character to make the story, and the comedy work. That took a long while to find that balance creatively, then to support that endeavor practically. Dolphin Tale was challenging due to the nature of the work. Our visual effects had to be invisible as we were creating the central character and cutting our shots back to back with the real Winter.
Robert Stava, ARUP
Government projects. They tend to have shifting objectives and a lot of time and money to achieve them. Which can be good and bad depending on your POV.
Glenn Barnes, Big Sandwich Games
There are always a lot of challenges, but one that stands out in recent memory is the business and financing aspect of HOARD. We developed the game on bridge financing through RBC, based on the pledge of a completion payment by Sony's Pub Fund, and a loan guarantee by Export Development Canada. While this has apparently been the way to do it in the film industry for quite some time, we're the first Canadian developer to do it for a video game. As the trail blazers, we had to invent the process as we went, interpreting and reworking a finance model that was developed for a different industry. After stacks of agreements and much pain in getting the monoliths that are RBC and Sony to play nice with each other, we finally pulled it off.
Trevor Davies, Core Animated Effects and professor at Sheridan College Animation
They all offer unique challenges I think: TV commercials because of their tight deadlines, documentaries due to limited budgets, the sheer volume of work in television series production and feature films because of the of the longer format and the increased scope that affords.
Jon Gallo, DraftFCB
The most challenging projects, in retrospect, were the most rewarding.
There have been so many but one that comes to mind is the time we had to figure out how to generate a photo-real particle dust cloud shaking off a falling 3D title made of nacho chips on impact - complete with a spattering of powder on the surface. Round after round with particle generators got close but it still had that "plug-in" look. An editor on our team overheard our struggle and offered up this gem: "Powdered sugar. Just shoot some powdered sugar dropping onto a black card." We could do that... (sound of multiple palm-slaps to the forehead).
Sometimes you get so obsessed with making one technique work that you forget to take a step back to consider other options. Anyway, we had a great time shooting the footage. Everything and everyone on the stage was covered in a thin layer of white powder by the time we wrapped. The end result looked terrific. Thank you, Robert. Lesson learned (again).
Paul Kakert, EDP
The most challenging projects always boil down to size and scope and managing a team to produce the animation. We have done large architectural walk-throughs of airports and new buildings that involve very complex and detailed CAD drawings. The coordination of the technical engineering side and the artistic animation side is a full-time effort for projects that can last as long as a year or more.
Ron Allen, GAPC Entertainment
Back in the 90’s our company was hired by the Department of National Defence to create a series of training videos for CF-18 Hornet fighter pilots, on the operating envelopes of the plane with different fuel/weapons configurations. At the time there were no websites where you could buy a F-18 model so we had to model it from scratch using photos and some rough schematics as our references. The software we were using (Intelligent Light) had a limited graphic user interface so most of the modelling and animation were scripted-–very time consuming. Fortunately we had a good budget and were able to fine-tune things and add the extras that make a project schwing. I look back at it and the videos still hold up today almost 20 years later.
Tawd B. Dorenfeld, Polymoprh Productions
My most challenging projects are the middle-budget projects. An appropriately budgeted project will get done and generally without heart-attack 24 hour days. The greatly inappropriately barely-budgeted projects (but are too good to walk-away from) also will get done because the immense limitations force us to only do what we can but do that really good. The projects that fall in-between those are the difficult ones. Generally those jobs are not funded well enough for the visions yet the vision needs to be accomplished.
Here we have to blend our dreams with reality and there is a lot of compromise in that…Compromise in a good idea can make something sour fast and because of that, everyone from the bottom up, client, and crew alike are all walking and talking on egg shells. At the same time, most jobs fall into that middle category and we all survive because we all just love what we do.
Kathy Rocchio, Slap Happy Cartoons
We have had a show in active development for over 5 years, with three different broadcasters. It is a fantastic show with great positive feedback, but has yet to receive a production order. I guess I would actually describe that as frustrating rather than challenging.... All animation production is challenging! In the mid-nineties I worked on a CD-ROM game. I have put game production on my list of things to never ever do again.
For more pearls of wisdom from the pros check out other topics in our Interview Series, here.