Why plan in animation?

Do you enjoy planning your production? And I’m not talking about anything content related like research or animatics, I mean schedules, shotlists, cost calculations and the like. Let me guess, the actual work like writing, acting, and posing sounds a lot more fun. However, I can tell you from my own painful experiences that chaotic, unplanned productions will end in chaos, delays or even a dead end and lots of wrecked nerves. That`s why you need to plan and that`s why it`s about time that we dedicate an entire series to this complex but vital issue. Behold our first topic: Why plan?

Any work with a foreseeable structure (e.g. narrative) can and should be planned if you want to finish it one day. Yes, there might be some people that started making something just like that, and had a fun time with an awesome result, but most animators (me included) are more likely to pile up a million unfinished side projects. Another exception might be project that may not need a detailed plan because of its deliberately open nature like those One-Drawing- or One-Second-A-Day exercises, or anything “artsy” that is simply complete whenever you stop working on it.

Yet even for those you need to schedule some time or you will most likely stop working on them.

A huge disadvantage of unorganized projects is the constant uncertainty. If there is no planning you might hugely underestimate the amount of work still ahead of you and that`s reason number one why private projects don’t get finished. If you knew the workload, you could act accordingly. Sometimes it’s just good to see that the problem isn’t you being slow, but just things needing time. With a production road-map in your hands you would at least know that you are still on your way and at what rate your are reaching your goal. It’s incredible how motivating a decreasing number here and a green check mark there can be. We humans love that stuff.

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What a lot of people don’t realize is that planning is something flexible and not something that puts you in a cage. In the beginning it helps you dynamically think through different scenarios. Just by scribbling down some rough numbers you can guesstimate how more simple designs or less-realistic animation styles could reduce the work load overall. We will explore this in depth in the next article of this series. All this comes before you get yourself into working on something that is impossible to finish. In a way planning is part of the creative process.

For a more complex project it allows you to find out how many people you need to help you (and where and when) to get stuff done. Here, you really need planning… how can you collaborate with others effectively if you can’t even estimate when your part of the work will be finished?

With planning in place, during the production you can react to delays quickly and in an informed manner. If there is a problem somewhere in the workflow you can immediately see what it means for your whole production, just by shifting every subservient work task accordingly. You can also test how much time could be saved by cutting low-priority tasks.

So, as you can see planning doesn’t just make things easier, it`s the necessary, professional way to work. Unfortunately, even some Hollywood companies still burn through their workers in horrific crunch-times because of bad or non-existent planning. I have to admit those big projects are more difficult to plan because of so many factors involved, but there is no excuse to not make schedules for smaller or even personal projects. Sit down, grab a coffee, and find out with brutal honesty what`s actually ahead of you – these few hours you spend planning can save you months and years of drifting. And if you have a team, you owe it to them. They sacrifice their precious time on Earth for your project so don`t leave them hanging in Limbo.

In conclusion organizing and planning your project has the following advantages:

  • You know what you are getting yourself into right from the beginning.
  • You can decrease workload by simplifying production factors before you are in the middle of a pace that you won`t be able to keep up with.
  • You know when and that there will be a result.
  • You know your position on the timeline and that you are actually getting something done.
  • You can react to delays in an informed manner and generate a realistic Plan B just by shifting things around in your original plan.
  • You are less tempted to demand an unrealistic work speed from yourself or others.
  • You can precisely coordinate not only yourself but also helpers, employees, and co-workers to get pretty massive workloads done as effectively as possible.

Do you always have every detail planned out, or have you gotten away with little to none so far? What are your experiences with chaotic productions? Let us know in the comments below. And for everybody who is interested to put structure into your projects: Stay tuned for our next article, where we explore making an early rough-production plan.