Do you have any advice or tips for solo animators (students, hobbyists, freelancers, etc.)? Especially when it comes to workflow and how to get things done in a timely manner when you don't have a whole team to help you animate?
Hey there! Sorry I haven’t been able to get this sooner - I’ve been very occupied in my work lately.
I totally understand where you’re coming from though. Its hard to get a lot of work done in a timely manner by yourself when you’re pretty much your own boss. I suffer from this still, and from my experience - I do have thoughts to share. I’m going to talk about both freelance work, and doing personal work.
So here are my top advices on being professionally independent!
1. Set yourself a deadline, use special events as reference
Set a day on when you want/need to finish a certain project. A lot of my friends use events, conventions, and exhibitions as deadline placeholders for their own work. My former mentor and teacher uses things like CTNx to showcase a 2D project he’s been working on so that he can garner thoughts, reviews, and get people interested to help fund future projects. Trust me, when its set on a special day, there’s more reason to finish the work you set yourself to.
2. Organize yourself workbook with a calender, a check list and notes
Now that I think about it, I would not have been able to complete my previous shorts without setting myself a calender. You can make yourself a physical book (or an online excel) with a calender, and a checklist of things needed to finish during that day/week/month. Start crossing out the days that go by, and see if you are able to manage your goals. If you don’t make the quota, then its probably time to start thinking of ways to limit the work put into the next shots. That leads to my next point.
3. Understand your limitations, prioritize important parts
In a lot of my animated work, there are shots that have high production value, and some that looked like it was clearly rushed. If your client gives you a sequence to animate, start thinking about shots that scream high quality, and then place the shots that don’t seem too important later on the list. For example, you might want to give yourself more time for a shot you feel will be highly difficult, and then less time for shots that can easily be done by you. If you’re still unsure about how to organize this, talk to your client and ask what parts of the animation do they want to have the best quality, so you can start thinking about prioritizing certain shots.
4. Do a pipeline test. Record notes and assess future problems and difficulties.
Depending on what your client asks for, you still need to do a pipeline test to see all the necessary steps you’ll be tackling in the future. Some clients will ask you to do from roughts to the final colors, or some will ask for rough animation only. The reason why pipeline tests exist is to see what future problems you’ll encounter. You should also record how long each step takes; how long it takes you to do certain footage of animation, so when you do plan your quota for the following days - you have a better idea in how to set it up.
5. Constantly check in with your client
If you’re lucky, you might get a client who is very hands on and is constantly checking up on you. This is good because its a good motivator to actually get work done! You’ll have more things work in progresses to show, and they can give feedback. It gives them a clear idea of the overall progress, so they have a better understanding on how long the work usually takes. You guys could also form some suggestions for future obstacles in the work.
6. Gather peers you trust and set up a frequent meet-up to show and share work
This mostly helps if you are doing your own personal work, but when its a project that is entirely under your control: its easy just to chill out and relax (I am highly guilty of this.) Some people can work on their own projects - and not show it to the world; whereas I constantly need to show work to my peers to keep me motivated. I’m the type of person who needs to get feedback and encouragement on continuing a project, so I’ve been showing people I really trust some things I’ve been doing on the side. This also helps keep you working on the project time to time.
7. If all still fails, hire yourself a production manager/personal producer/agent
The top advice I get when thinking about running a production is to hire a production assistant/personal producer/agent. A production assistant should be able to understand the overall process of the animation workflow, and should help you set up a schedule for it. They’ll also be able to organize meetings between your client and/or a team if you do decide to hire that extra work force - because hey; artists dealing with things like organizing conferences, time tables and budget handling is just too much. This can be highly time efficient for you, since you can just focus on the production side of things, while someone else handles the more “business” side of things.