Disclaimer: Warning, these blog posts are not intended to be an example of how you should run the production of an animated short. If nothing else, my hope is that you learn from my mistakes.
So I managed to gather a bunch of super talented people to help me make this short. We had a story reel (our road map), and a plan. It should have been easy sailing from here, right?
Wrong. So wrong. Oh so wrong! Let me set the record straight for everyone out there. Producing a short is a feat of sheer willpower, that and a lot hard work. In the beginning, there is a lot of excitement and you can get quite a bit of momentum from that. But the key to completion is maintaining that momentum. There are so many places along the way that conspired to steal that momentum away. Work schedule. Home schedule. Technical issues. Personal issues. Random Acts of God. All of these things can chip away at your goals. And once that forward movement is eroded, it’s very difficult to get back.
So what do you do? Honestly, I’m not 100 percent sure, but here are a few things that. I learned;
1) Don’t force it. This is a rule not only for production, but life in general. Things come in waves. If something isn’t working the way you want, figure out a way around it. Sometimes you have to make concessions. Sometimes you have to get creative, and sometimes, you really just have to wait.
2) Keep the lines of communication open. This was something I needed to work on. When you’re coordinating with a group of people and you’re the point-man, you have to be very clear with the crew. Let people know the plan. Be clear about your expectations for them, and keep everyone in the loop. When obstacles or issues pop up, let people know, and where applicable, refer to point #1.
3) Set realistic goals. I was oh so foolish in the beginning. I thought ”The short is a minute and a half, we should be able to bang this out in the few months, easy!” That might have been true… if we were all working on it full time instead of in our spare time. You have to respect the process, and you have to respect the crew. Life is complicated. People have lives, jobs, families. That’s a lot of moving parts any one of which can blip and send the best laid plains off course and out of control. Always giving yourself padding when planning deadlines. Hope for the best, plan for the worse.
4) One bite at a time.Any movement forward is good movement. Keeping your goals clear, simple and open to the crew not only keeps everyone in the know, but it communicates a sense of accomplishment. We creatives like to know that our work is being utilized and that things are progressing. Every task completed is a victory, no matter how small.
5) Compartmentalize. I’ve worked in feature film production for many many years so it’s fair to say I’m pretty familiar with how the process works (generally). My mistake was treating my short film production like a feature film production. It just didn’t work. I tried to coordinate several different departments simultaneously, projecting deadlines, and handing out multiple assignments… It was a debacle. It was fixed when the second producer, Tim Hahn came on to help out on the short. He proposed that we break the production into shorter milestones. We would only recruit from a new department when previous milestone were completed. For instance, with the story reel complete, we could focus on layout and modeling. Animation would not be recruited until the characters were finished, and the layout reel was complete. Unfortunately we couldn’t fully implement this idea, but where we did, it worked to great effect!
These are some of the biggest lessons learned that I’ll be carrying forward with me on my next venture (whatever that will be).
When it came time to gather a crew my approach was very simple. I wanted to have something to show people, something that would both get people excited and also make them feel that the project was doable. It was important for me to show them that there I had some sort of plan. I had my comics for visual reference, but I needed something more. I needed a story reel. Fortunately, when Emma convinced me to do a short she also agreed to board for me. She was looking to board something for her portfolio, so it worked out perfectly. At this point I had teamed up Lauren Montouri who agreed to be a producer on the vignette (a key person to have if you’re going to make something like this happen), and with her help we recruited Chris Zuber, our editor, right away. We showed him the boards and the source material and he (surprisingly) agreed to help. I wanted to recruit some of the principle people as soon as possible so we could start laying down some ground work. I talked Mach Kobayashi into being the Technical Lead. I needed him to start laying out the technical groundwork, but he ended up being instrumental in helping recruit people. The producer, Mach and me made a list of people who we felt might be interested in working on the short and we invited them all to a screening of the reels. This is what we showed them:
I was surprised by the number of people who agreed to work with us. I think this happened for a few reasons.
1) I really wanted people to do things they may not have had the opportunity to during their day jobs. I was trying something I was interested in (directing) and I wanted to offer that same opportunity to anyone who wanted to help out on the production.
2) The material was so unconventional. It’s a gritty urban fantasy piece, how often do you get a chance to work on something crazy like that?
And 3) The short was so…well, short. I think people felt confident in our ability to finish it. As I was to discover later though, short does not always mean simple.