I remember leaning against a studio wall next to my friend Duane Floch. It was during the last month of an animated feature we’d been hired to work on, and the director had stopped production for a very important meeting. Few of us had slept; the only thing keeping us upright was the caffeine-enhanced anxiety of being torn away from our workstations at crunch-time.
The production had a big studio and a good bit of money behind it. The story was tried and true. But somewhere along the way . . . things had changed: The scenes coming in weren’t jibing with scenes we’d already done, and new characters were being introduced.
“It all comes together in the end,” was the director’s explanation.
“Uh . . . okay,” was the automated response from the sleepless zombie I’d become.
That afternoon (I think it was afternoon—I don’t recall any windows there, and most of the animators worked in near darkness like H. G. Wells’ Morlocks, sucking energy only from the bluish glow of our monitors) we were looking for a pep talk. We had a nagging suspicion that the big studio footing the bill for this little nugget might be pulling the plug.
The story wasn’t the only victim of poor planning. Mo-cap has its place and it can work like a charm. The technology has also come a long way, especially the science of mapping motion between characters of different proportions. But a few things hadn’t been factored in for us up front.
Not only were our human actors proportioned differently than our animated characters, but also puppets had been used for the facial motion. When those two wildly different sets of mocap information were introduced to our scenes, the characters literally flew apart— limb from limb.
But back to that very important meeting . . .
The director walked to the whiteboard and started drawing. After a few strokes from his colored markers, I looked over at Duane and asked, “Is that poo’s drawing?”
Duane nodded appreciatively, “Yes . . . I do believe that is poo.”
He was right.
Even professional productions with big money and all sorts of folks checking everyone’s work can be victimized by poor up-front planning. Don’t make the same mistake on your animation demos! Plan ahead, plan well, and stick to that plan.
On his Web site, my friend Niko Makela has some great tips for avoiding production bloat: http://www.cgmascot.com/design/character-creation/ 
Do you have a similar tip or story? Without naming names—please share!
P.S. Check out:
for info on animation technology and techniques.