Have you ever tried starting an animation from scratch without planning? If so, it likely ended in disaster. When animators have an idea, they’re tempted to jump in and doodle frame by frame by hand or in animation software. Most of the time the project wanders off the beaten track without knowing where it is going. Slowing down isn’t much fun, but it will save your projects in the end. Try following these five steps before you start your next animation, and you’ll see the difference preparation can make in your projects.
know your story
Many people, especially beginners, jump into animation with an idea but no real story. Although every story starts with a concept, you need to write it all down to understand where the animation is going. You might have to make last-minute changes to the story if you run into limitations or problems, but that basic framework is still there. Write a story or screenplay, complete with direction, notes on pan, zoom, and angles. Plan every detail. You will need your plan later.
know your characters
Don’t settle for a brief sketch of your characters. Take multiple shots of the face, not just one or two. Draw them all over their bodies from different angles. Draw them at your leisure. Draw them in motion. Draw her angry and happy. Draw the way their hands move when they speak. Draw details of their piercings or tattoos, or the weird designs on their t-shirts. Color them. Create full character arcs.
If you have inanimate objects that appear in the scene, draw them as well, especially if they are moving objects like cars or spaceships. This will help you a lot later in the animation process. Creating character sheets will help you formalize this process and you can use them for reference later. You’ll be amazed at how far they go to add consistency and smoothness to your animations. Also, they help you render your characters in a minimum of lines, saving you from excessive work.
Plan your scenes
Unless you’re animating a short movie with a single scene, your animation will contain multiple different scenes. Look at your story or screenplay. Mark the end of one scene and the beginning of the next. Then sit down and identify what each scene needs — how many characters are in each scene, what sets you need, and what type of music or voiceover you need.
Create a storyboard with detailed scene actions, camera actions, effects and colors. Turn the words of your story or screenplay into images with clear instructions. Creating visual instructions for yourself is the framework that guides you through the animation process.
Calculate your calendar
Good timing is essential for animation. Not everything moves at the same speed; Running the X distance does not require the same number of frames as walking the X distance. If you animate a leaping cheetah but choose any number of X frames to fill between your keyframes, you risk having your cheetah float slowly through the air or run at deadly speeds. In addition, not all movements occur at the same speed.
Sometimes there’s an easy in and out, like the liquidation of a baseball field. You will also likely work under time pressure. How long should your animation last? What can be trimmed to meet these time constraints? Knowing this, you can create fact sheets to help you draw the frames you need.
Create a workflow and project plan
You probably already have a clear idea of the work you need to do for your animation. Pay attention to this information. Decide on the order in which you will complete each phase of the project and your methodology. Have a little discipline and stick to your plan. Set a schedule, especially if you’re working on someone else’s deadline. Calculate the time needed for each part within realistic expectations, and then spread that time out over X days.
Following these guidelines won’t make you a perfect presenter, but they will keep you on track and help you establish a professional working process.