This month's Producing Animation excerpt by Catherine Winder and Zahra Dowlatabadi features a visual guide that summarizes the main steps involved in producing an animated project, be it feature, television or direct-to-video.
Given the complex nature of animation, we felt it was important to have a visual guide that summarized the main steps involved in producing an animated project for the three formats discussed: feature, television and post-production. To do this, we developed "The Producer's Thinking Map." For each topic listed in the chart, you will find a more detailed discussion in the corresponding section of the book. All three formats -- feature, television, and direct-to-video -- go through similar steps during the pre-production and post-production stages. The most significant difference is where and how the production phase itself is handled. Features are often animated in-house, while direct-to-video and television series are usually out-sourced to subcontracting studios. We have illustrated these differences by allocating separate columns under the production category for feature versus television and direct-to-video.
One way of comparing the three formats is to look at their respective production pace, which is based on the time and costs necessary to produce each product. (More details are available in Chapter 1, "Introduction.") When producing a television show, whether it is 13 episodes or 65, the speed of the project is like that of a sprinter. Knowing how to get all the elements in place, shipped out in time, and put through post-production to meet air dates is similar to running at top speed at all times. With a short schedule and limited resources, there is little time for revisions and alternate versions. The key to success in producing for television is being quick on your feet and delivering fast. Direct-to-video projects enjoy a slightly more flexible schedule than television productions do, but overall they are also fast-paced. In features, an attempt is made in just about every stage of production to refine the story further. Whether in the storyboard phase or color styling (a.k.a. selecting colors; see Chapter 9, "Production," for more information), time is spent on tweaking each scene in order to "plus" the project creatively as much as possible. Unlike episodic television, where the turnaround allows you to view the fruits of your labor in just weeks, in features, the pace is much slower and you will not see your hard work on the big screen until two or three years have elapsed. This method of filmmaking is equivalent to running a marathon. It is crucial to have stamina and to pace yourself on a project so you can hit the end line still standing. In all formats, the producer needs to be a master juggler. The Producer's Thinking Map is a visual tool to help guide you through the elements that come into play.
Catherine Winder has worked as both an executive producer in television and feature animation. Her background in development, as well as production with studios from around the world has given her a rare global expertise in the field of animation. In her present position as vice president production for Fox Feature Animation, she is overseeing production of the studio's 2D traditional and 3D CGI animated movies. She has co-written Producing Animation with Zahra Dowlatabadi.
Zahra Dowlatabadi, an award-winning producer, started her animation career in 1986. Since then, Dowlatabadi has worked in almost every major studio in Los Angeles along with many internationally acclaimed animation studios and talent. Dowlatabadi is the founder of an organization entitled Animation Team, which assists studios with production staffing needs ranging from qualified line producers to experienced production assistants. She also has co-written a book entitled Producing Animation with Catherine Winder for Focal Press.