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Out of all the projects I’ve ever created, I think that I’ve always had the most fun and fulfilment out of working on the ones that feature a heavy animation element. There’s something about the otherworldly places that it can take the story, as well as the technical attention to physics and movement that get me really excited.

When I heard JP’s mix of my song “Criminal” I had a vision of a motion-comic style video to accompany it. Making an animated video however, is a helluva lot of work to do in one’s spare time, so in order to achieve it I needed to approach it in as organized as a way as possible. Over the next few videos, I will tell you all about my process of making the video, compare the process to bigger animated projects, and hopefully answer a lot of the questions that I get about it when people watch it.

Animation vs. Live Action Pre-Production

Creatively speaking, the first stages of making an animated video are very similar to the first stages in making a live-action one. If it’s scripted, you’ll write up a script and draw up a storyboard to know what shots would best tell the story.

The biggest creative difference with starting to produce an animation, especially drawn animation, is that the storyboards in a live action piece usually just remain as storyboards and aren’t necessarily followed exactly as drawn, while the storyboards in the animated world end up being the detailed blueprint which is very close to what ends up in the final. Generally in animation, as the board artists draw their script beats, the editor will start cutting them together and time them out with detailed sound design, dialogue, and music. This makes what’s called an animatic.

That’s not to say that there isn’t a place for animatics in live-action movie-making, too! Take for example the movie “Baby Driver” where much of the action was timed specifically to particular songs. The creative team actually timed out a full animatic and brought it with them on set to film and cut to in real time, which is a pretty amazing feat! But this allowed them to maximize their time on set and make sure everything was working as expected. If you want to learn more about the editing process on “Baby Driver”, then check out this incredible interview with the editor here.

The Importance of the Animatic

The animatic is the lynchpin in the production of an animated piece for both creative and practical reasons. Creatively, you need to see if the pictures, dialogue, and sound are actually working together to tell the story that you want to tell. Practically, you need to know what the shot needs in order to execute it efficiently.

In bigger animation productions, you could potentially have a whole team of people working on a whole bunch of different things in just one shot, so it’s imperative to know exactly what it will take to make the shot in terms of resources, assets, and manpower. People and resources cost money and time – you gotta know what you’re spending so you don’t take advantage of people or come out with a badly done product.

Is the animatic a true failsafe? Well, no – the reality is that if something just isn’t working in the bigger picture of the story, even if it’s in the final stages of being created, then you should probably go in to fix it if you have the ability to. But at least by taking the time to do an animatic way before you do any of the polished final stuff, the probability of you needing to go in and redo work is hugely reduced.

For this particular video, I did not have a team of animators – I just had me. But I don’t ever want to have to go back and completely redraw a shot from scratch if it’s not working, if I can help it. So, I thumbnailed out the entire video, and proceeded to cut it into an animatic timed out to the music. I could see what was and what wasn’t working easily, and fix it right there.

In next week’s sessions episode, I’ll talk about my process of using those thumbnail sketches and animatic to actually break down each shot. Once I know what the shot needs, I can start drawing the final frames!