“No one has ever bet enough on a winning horse."
Content is king… Until it isn’t…
More and more people are watching online media every single day. The biggest contenders at this moment happen to be YouTube and Netflix with the average user watching between 8 to 12 hours per week according to Defy Media’s research. Somehow, I feel it’s much more… Regardless…
“YouTube remains the most-viewed video platform among the demo: 85% of respondents said they regularly watch the Google-owned video service. Netflix came in at 66%, followed by TV (62%), Facebook (53%), Instagram (37%), Snapchat (33%), Vine (27%), Hulu (22%) and Amazon Video (19%) and Twitter (19%).”
The demand for media is ever growing, unsatisfiable and bottomless at this point. There are more than 1.5 billion users on YouTube and over 300 hours of content uploaded per minute… And you’d think with all the content uploaded every day, month and year; the need would be fulfilled with all the over abundance.
Oddly, with all the content creators out on the high seas of the internet, media companies would be having an all out shopping spree…
Content as creative currency.
What’s even stranger, is now a days, in order for you to get your show on a channel or network… You’ll have to already have your own show on a channel or network! Creative content is currency. You want to play the content creation game? You need to have content cash in the form of properties. Properties with a fan base. You’ll need to have, in some way, shape or form, a provable track record of your abilities. A track record showcasing you know how to create, manage and execute a show. Just because you have a few sketches, a script… Maybe some designs… It’s not enough.
You have to remember the world we live in now. An insecure economy. Job instability. The average lifespan of a creative executive is between 1 to 2 years. Every executive out there is afraid of taking a chance on a no-named-nobody.
You can’t come to the table empty handed. Having your own show in hand, or proof you know how to make and execute one is the currency. It’s pay to play.
Back in the day…
In the golden age of Hollywood, you’d get a job as a staff writer or director or producer and work your way up the ranks. Or you’d source material, put together a plan, and get the studio to buy in. When it came to animation, sometimes just doing a short film was enough to warrant a pilot. But with the gatekeepers gone, and everyone having studios in a box, the valley is flooded with content and it’s harder and harder to get a show picked up out of the storm.
If making your own show is too expensive, but you want to get your idea out nevertheless, here’s a few other ideas you can approach…
Make a your own webcomic or comic book series. It’s more time than money, but you’ll have something in your hand. Something tangible and real with numbers to match.
Start your own online series. If you’re going to go with live action, you’ll need to spend some cash on talent, spend a little more time on the shoots and edits. If you’re going the animation route, you’ll definitely need to think more economical with both your time and money. The real standout isn’t just beginning it. It’s consistently. Delivering. Content.
Become famous. Seriously. You can make your shows or comic books or songs, but until you have your own audience… and let’s up the ante… an audience who pays… Your biggest enemy when creating your show is obscurity. If know one knows you, no one knows you.
Climb the ladder. Get a job at a company you wish to work for. Work there for a few years. Find the ins and out. Adopt the company’s thinking and philosophy. Then, once you’ve been there for 5 years, pitch a show using your inside connections. It’s all about who you know now.
Finance your own project. Some of your most beloved shows were self financed - by people with deep pockets - and then bought and distributed to the world. It’s the way most films are done, now it applies to television and online streaming media. Part of the reason is, again, network executives being held hostage to earnings and revenue demands. Too big of a risk and they’ll be out of job. Know your audience. And… Interestingly enough, it’s not the audience you’re looking to know.
Bottom line... People want to know who's the man/woman behind the mask. People want to trust before jumping in the entrepreneurial bed with them to make a show. Getting a show made now a days requires you to have a following, to have an audience already built in. Though I find it funny how in order to do business, people and companies want to see another business which is already successful... Innovation and creativity dies in imitation.
If we’re going to create, let’s create with real intent.
There’s enough content out in the world now more than ever. Most of the work is garbage at worst, forgettable at best.
The Emoji Movie is a clear case study with what's wrong in our media today. A lot of good people worked on it, but it's a shallow, vapid and spineless product. It says nothing. It offers nothing. It helps no one. If we're going to create, let's create with real intent. A real purpose. Art is suppose to help us understand ourselves, our lives, our world. Stories are a tool for living.
There's a bigger issue at play here, too. Culturally, we're all sick and tired of empty and hallow products and services. People are rejecting big chain restaurants and shit beer. People are embracing smaller niche cafes and restaurants, craft beer and spirits... People want to feel connected to the person and people behind the product or service. There's a deeper social need. Art helps to fill it. Applebee's can do all the market research and focus groups it wants. It can toss on a new logo, revamp their interiors and hire more willing servers and hosts... But if they sell you the same shit food, the place will still suck.
You can only polish the turd so much. After that, your hands just get icky.
I had a very insightful chat with a very dear friend - who happens to also be a playwright - and we were talking about her latest up and coming play. The director is between having a table reading or having a stage reading of the script, and to my own ignorance, I asked what difference would it make between having actors sitting around reading from the script and then having actors read from a script and moving about an imaginary stage. I know the latter from my brief moment in theater, but my friend explained to me how it the difference between just sitting and reading versus physically acting has a huge impact in the way people get into character and deliver the message of the story.
As we continued to talk, a thought about another conversation I had with a filmmaker at the Sunscreen Film Festival crossed my mind. The moment I mention animation to just about anyone not involved with animation, the first thing they’ll mention is how they have an idea for a movie or a show or a short and said project will - by default - often tend to fall into the kids or comedy. Their approach to animation is abundantly foreign and many people really do not see animation is a simply another medium of filmmaking.
When I explained our position on animation production, I simply asked him a question about how he goes about producing the films he makes. With absolute confidence and certainty, he outlines his process going from script to screen. How he also gathers his actors around for a table read of the script and get a solid feel for the story plot. “It’s no different with animation,” I inform him excitedly. His eyes light up as he comes to a moment of clarity.
So why do we treat animation production so differently? Why don’t we have more table or stage readings? Why don’t we create and write stories which are simply good stories? Part of the reasoning behind animations stigma has to do with our lack of knowledge and history and also how the industry - the people and places who make animation - treat making an animated project. Imagine someone writing a script much like The Godfather, Lawrence of Arabia, Jaws, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest or The Graduate and then saying how they wanted it animated? Can you see it? Can you imagine it? A dark and gritty, well lit with incredible performance and narrative unlike anything you’ve seen before. In my own involvement of writing and producing more “cinematic” animated productions, my description - or pitch - of the project often leave people in wonderment and start thinking about actors and genre. Animation never crossed their mind until I tell them. And when I do tell them, they do a double take and scratch their heads.
Yes folks. The only difference between filmmaking and animation is the part where you have to draw or paint or model your imagery instead of photographing it.
It’s been a while. A little too long in fact, but there is good reason for it. Part of the reason is because I took a month off to recharge and get some new perspective. A mini sabbatical as it were.
Getting away from it all really helped. And when I mean get away from it all, I mean leaving work completely behind and taking a leap of faith the studio doesn’t burn down. In fact, three of our films won "Official Selection" titles at a local film festival called Silver Screen for Short Films and we'll be in attendance on May 10th. The studio didn't burn down, but it was on fire! (Yes, it's a lame joke and I'm totally standing by it.)
Much like when you’re getting too close to a painting (or pixel) and you’re simply staring at one particular area for too long, you have to set back to see what’s been going on and with the distance comes some much needed perspective.
I haven’t really been to happy with the way our studio has been going over the last year. We’ve spent a lot of time trying to be like everyone else when it comes to messages and social media and also taking on projects - while keeping the lights on - are not projects we’re all to excited about. So, we’re going to make some changes.
One of the first changes on the chopping block will be our social media marketing efforts. We’re going to focus our efforts mostly to our blog here, Twitter, and our newsletter. So long Facebook, Tumblr and other outlets. It’s just to much and we’re spread to thin to make anything of quality and value.
Second, we’re writing a book! A book on running an animation studio and how to produce your films (short or feature) without breaking the bank.
Third, we’ll be focusing more on our internal projects. We’re in a place where we can, so we will.
Lastly, and here’s the important one, we’re looking more into how we can build our community of artists. Let’s be honest, our industry needs more animation training. We’re in the process of designing a small online series of educational videos for our artists and animators, and we’re designing an apprenticeship program for those looking to produce work in an Echo Bridge manner. These two areas are longer term projects, but we’re putting the memo out now.
So there you have it. Four important notices of change which we believe will have signficant impact, boost quality, and add more value to the work we do and our artistic community at large.
Of course, some things will be more successful than others and some ideas will need changing along the way. And that’s OK. We hope you’ll stick with us and see how it all develops.
“Animation is about creating the illusion of life. And you can't create it if you don't have one.”
The illusion of life. It’s the meaning of animation plainly put. So, what then is an animator? The technical definition is as follows:
“An animator is an artist who creates multiple images, known as frames, which give an illusion of movement called animation when displayed in rapid sequence.”
We can go down the rabbit hole of defining terms of what is an artist, and then what is art, but at the end of it all is that we, as ARTISTS, are creating the illusion of life on the screen. If we compare animated films to live action films, animators are actors. Actors with pencils. Actors who draw their emotional and physical actions on a page rather than in front of a camera.
Somewhere in the digital revolution, we lost that idea. We lost it because we’re too busy thinking about the tools we use, the setup of our office, the alluring excuse of eccentric behaviour. Schools don’t teach artists to portray their emotions. Schools teach students how to use their tools. Some schools teach students how to YouTube. We’re so caught up in what the tech we forgot what it means to breathe life into an object whether a lamp, or a person, or a dog.
Being an animator is more than just a job title. It’s more than pushing pixels and nodes, bezier curve bending, or scribbling action sequences that look cool. As an “Actor With a Pencil,” your job is to act. And act well. Make me - the audience watching your performance - believe.
“First, for me, an actor is good if he makes me believe he's actually going through whatever his character is going through. I'm talking somewhat about physical stuff (“He really is getting shot!” “He really is jumping off a moving train!”) but mostly about psychological stuff (“He really is scared!” “He really is in love!”). If an actor seems to be faking it, he's not doing his job.”
- Marcus Geduld (Slate. This is a fantastic read by-the-way.)
While I understand that it can be fun to squash and stretch or choreograph a fight sequences (I love seeing a great action scene just like the next dude); more often than not, this is done with poor execution of basic cinema, story structure and animation principles. Overacting, or as I call it, “Glenn Keaning,” does not an animator make.
How do we remedy the lethargic state of animation? How do we make our acting in animation better? There are two ways we can make a change. Neither of them are exclusive from one another, and in fact, would be best when combined together.
Change in Perception
When you think animator, what comes to mind? A Hawaiian shirt and a desk littered with action figures? What about hard work? We don’t think about the years of dedication behind each new drawing, do we... The idea of the animator is a cartoon representation of an eclectic and eccentric artist with non-existent social skills. Being eccentric isn’t always a bad thing. In fact, it’s part-and-parcel of being an artist. What we should be focusing on is celebrating the effort and strain it takes to become one. To bring an air of respect and reverence to the title.
Being an animator is more than just a job. It’s a way of life. It’s a way of being. We study the world, break life down into small components, experiment and reflect. It’s more than watching our favorite anime or cartoon show. It’s more than simply sitting in a dark room with a glowing screen. It’s a way of observing the world and expressing. Can’t create life without having one.
And stop worrying about the damn tech.
Take an improv or acting workshop, volunteer for community theater or just go to a live performance. Get involved. Learn how to give a performance. Sure you’ve gone to school - or YouTube - to learn about the 12 principles, to learn how to use the tools. But as stated, being an animator is essentially being an actor. Learn what it means to act in front of people, what it means to make them believe your emotional action. Learn to be comfortable with being emotionally naked.
While I think the state of animation as a whole has come to a peak of mediocrity, it doesn’t have to stay there. There’s loads of animators worldwide who are breaking the stigma daily.
We need to change the way we think about animators. A motion-graphics artist, a pixel pusher, a node nudger… Those are more suitable titles than “Animator.”
The title of “Animator” for those who deserve it.
We had the pleasure of working with our friends at the Jackal Group to kick off the new "THE ACCURATE VERSION ACCORDING TO SCIENCE" short on their YouTube Channel. Check it out!
Oh... Heads up... Lots of dicks in this short.
Writer - Heather Anne Campbell
Director/Producer/Animator - Esteban Valdez
Animation Assistance - Meike Groh
Backgrounds - Logan Foret
Last night we had the pleasure of attending Gasparilla International Film Festival’s Cinema Soiree. Esteban was invited as a guest due to his participation in the festival as a judge.
Sadly we did not know about this until a phone call last Friday night after the Festival already started.
Nevertheless GIFF extended an invitation to us to attend a pleasant evening among other Cinema-philes, Sponsors, Judges and Event Coordinators. Esteban and I were just expecting to pop in say our “Hello’s” stay for a drink and then pop back out. But the company and atmosphere and the same passion for film and cinema kept us till the end.
We met some very interesting locals that we were not aware of their contribution to the film community in the Tampa/Hillsborough St. Pete/Pinellas area.
It’s always great to meet such inspiring and inspired people. Looking forward to seeing more at GIFF’s Closing Night tomorrow!
With over 1,100 submissions from 30 countries throughout the world, we won a Centauri and 2 Arcturus recognition in the 2016 Vega Digital Awards competition!
Categories that we won were in Animation, Education and Nonprofit.
We're super proud of the hard work the team has done. Well earned!
The studio is quiet. The afternoon sun pours in from the window behind me as I reminisce about the time that’s flown by. “Spanish Bombs” by The Clash plays through my headphones and it’s reminds me of a time back in 2010… Time flies as they say. The first year of the studio, I worked around the clock building a future project by project. Fast forward a year and I hire on my first employee, and a year later, acquire my first studio space.
There’s been a lot of ups and downs. There’s been a lot of good times and there’s been some bad times. Lots of people have come and gone, but the community that’s grown over the years has been one of candidness, loyalty, hard work and passion.
I’ve made my mistakes and I’ve also made some very smart moves. All of it teaches me a lesson that helps me grow and move forward. Here’s what I’ve learned over the last 7 years…
- Profit on day 1. Our entrepreneurial culture likes to gloat about finding investors, series A and B rounds of fundraising and their exit strategy. What that teaches them is how to spend money, not make it. When you’re in startup mode, you should be making profit - not revenue - day one. It doesn’t need to be money in the bank, but a signed contract is good enough. When a bakery opens its door, it needs to produce profit on the goods sold in order to keep the doors open. Some mistake a passion or hobby for a business. If you don’t implement business practices on start, then you know which one you have.
- Work with what you got. Some think in order to open or start a studio you need lots of desks, chairs and computers and beer on tap… But, if you don’t have deep pockets (I don’t), then you must think creatively on how to move your product or service. There are many online services that can help supplement in areas that you lack such as server space, project management and communication. You can find your team online and host voice and/or video conferences with clients. The tools are just about endless. And with a smart system for how to use these tools and resources, the more valuable these tools become.
- Culture is grown, not designed. The “experts” of big business like to chant how they’ve created and designed company culture into their business plan. But having valet parking and on-site masseuse with daycare and pizza Friday does not culture make. They’re perks - nice ones at that - but culture are the values and habits that come from how we work on a day to day, and it starts on day one. Not to mention, it starts from the person at the top on down.
- Be transparent. With everyone. As part of our culture here at Echo Bridge, transparency isn’t limited to a few who need to know. Even before we start a project, we’re as up front as we can be with potential clients and crew members. Especially when the situation has taken a southward turn; when people are informed they can make informed decisions that not only affect the project, but their lives too.
- Promote. Promote. Promote! I learned this the hard way… When you are at your busiest moment… Promote! Promote like hell. Get on social media. Submit to film festivals. Write blogs, record vlogs, throw parties, host events, go to conventions and reach out. Don’t wait until the day you’re out of work. Stay ever active. I read this quote… “There’s no such thing as shameless self-promotion, unless you’re ashamed of what you’re promoting.”
- Dedication counts. It’s not enough in this industry - in my studio more specifically - to just punch in and punch out. When we take on a project, we must all commit 100% to ensure that the production does its best. From coordinator to cleanup artist; when there is dedication to the work, it shows. And when we do commit on a consistent basis, the quality of the work increases tenfold. It’s this dedication to excellence which separates the wheat from the chaff.
- Grow slow. My idea for this studio is to have a legacy business. A business that I can pass down to my kid(s), or at least surpass me when I’m not able to work. To make quality productions that have a long shelf life and impact. But you can’t do that if when all you think about is your exit strategy. Our post-modern entrepreneurial world is obsessed with fast growth. You fatten your calf so you can sell at the market for a hefty sum and cash out. If that’s what you want, fine. But if you want to make a business that will be around for some time, then the metaphor most relative to the topic at hand is to plant a tree. Curate, cultivate and care for the tree. It might take a while, but it’ll provide shade and oxygen for years to come.
There is one other lesson I learned, I mentioned it briefly before, but it’s noteworthy: People come and people go. Understandably, my studio is not a final destination for those on route to places like Los Angeles or Toronto. When they have to move on, they have to move on. When I find people of value, who contribute and dedicate themselves day in, day out; I try to keep them around as long as possible. Plus… I hate change. A good team who knows and understands you is - to me anyways - critical.
Some situations are in your control, but many aren’t. You’ve got to burn to learn, and I am crispy.
Hope you found some of what I’ve had to share useful.
Connect with me on Twitter @echobridge.
2016… It came and it went. Faster for some, all to painful for others. Regardless of the experience, you have to admit, it was one hell of a ride.
- Finished producing 2 TED Talk videos
- We had our first studio layoff, ever
- Restructured the way the studio operates
- Had to endure through some nasty slandering
- Got some much needed face time with our friends and clients in Los Angeles
- Made the switch from Flash to Harmony
- Got a job working on Harmonquest
- Rebuilt the team from the ground up
- Became more active in our local film community
- Gave more talks at colleges and clubs
- Opened a small Los Angeles wing of Echo Bridge
- Started working with acclaimed producer, Carl Jones (Black Dynamite)
- Legendary animator Bill Plympton came to visit the studio
- Produced animation for Desiigner’s music video “Zombie Walk”
- Started working on our space odyssey short film “ALONE”
- Produced animation for a soon to be released Batman VR game
- Teamed up with the former gang of ADHD to kickstart their new online series “AOK”
- Attended the 40th anniversary of the Ottawa International Animation Festival
- Started and finished our first ever online mini-series called “Crimson Carrot”
- Began development of a couple of new studio projects
- Went back to Los Angeles to get more face time with friends and clients
- Produced animation for national brand titan, Toyota
- Produced animation for “Minions” with our friends at 6PH
- Produced animation for HBO’s “Animals” with Big Jump
- And we finished the year by producing animation for NetFlix’s “F is For Family season 2” with Big Jump as well
Looking back at all that we’ve accomplished this year, you wouldn’t have thought that there was so much heartache in the beginning.
I took a risk in 2015. A risk at growing the studio when it wasn’t ready to grow. The books and gurus will tell you that you either get busy growing or you get busy dying. That if you’re too still, if you’re not dominating your space, that you will lose relevancy. It’s also followed by “fail fast, fail often.” And when you follow conventional advice, you get conventional results.
But then there’s age old wisdom that says too, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” It's common sense, but in the pursuit of business, we often lose sight of that. I know I did. And when failure came, it came big. And it came mean…
That risk cost me a team that I respected and had loyalty to. It cost me reputation, self esteem and confidence, and it almost cost me my business when it didn’t have too. At the same time, the failure that I experienced showed me a few lessons…
Tough times don’t last. Tough people do.
When we experienced turmoil at the studio, the options were to pack it all up and call it a day or put our shoulder to the wheel and push forward. Despite the slander, despite the financial worries, despite the hardships; we believe in our cause and our abilities. That core belief heads to lead us forward. Acts of confidence come before confidence. While times are tough, it’s only tough for a moment.
Surround yourself with solid people.
Not like minded people or “yes men.” Surround yourself with people who are just as hardworking as you, who are better than you, who share in a similar vision as you. Those are the people who you want on your team, the ones in your corner. They will help you go far and help you realize your own potential when times get rough.
No one knows what they’re doing. No one.
From all the conferences and festivals that I’ve attended over the years - from KidScreen to Ottawa - no one has a clue what they’re doing. Especially in this high-risk industry, it’s hard to know what’s going to be a “hit.” Some have a formula to how they approach their work and projects and partnerships, but in the grand scheme of it all, everyone is feeling around in the dark like everyone else.
New challenges mean new problems.
When someone finds success, often time they want to have a repeat of that success. It’s only natural. In order to recreate that success, we’ll come up with formulas for how we got there and try to follow suit. The problem is that when we start doing that, we get into routine and rather that innovate, we replicate. Replicating then leads to stagnation and at that point the winds of passion die down and the fire is out.
When we’re doing something different, when we embark in new ventures and territories, we’ll find new challenges and problems. And you’ll know that they’re new because the problems become much more challenging and you question whether or not your can handle them. Those new problems are a sign of progress. Don’t be afraid of them, embrace them.
Let things take their course.
We have no control. No matter how much marketing we do, no matter how much data we drive, no matter how much schmoozing we do; when it comes to someone making a decision on whether to work with you or buy from you, that is out of your hands. The most you can do is your best. Do the best you can to represent yourself, your ideas and your studio. Do your best when you interact with people and how you share your experiences. Do that which interests you the most, and be proud of the work you do. The more your try to force or bully or push someone who isn’t ready, the more resistance you’ll be met with. Especially in this artistic world of ours.
For what it’s worth, I wouldn’t trade the experience that is 2016. In fact, I’m very grateful for the moments, the opportunities, the places I’ve gone and the people I’ve met throughout the year.
We don’t need to follow conventions. There really are no rules, no guidelines, to how you do your work because no two people are alike.
Just do your best and be authentic.
That’s all you can ask of yourself.
WHAT WE'RE DOING:
We're working on a project for the rest of November to mid December and looking for ambitious animators interested in working together on a fun project.
WHAT YOU'LL BE DOING:
While this position would be preferable for in-house work, we are always open to remote artists/animators. In order for you to be considered for remote work:
- You’ll need to have 3-4 hours of overlapping hours during our 9AM-6PM EST schedule -
- Have your own copy of Harmony 12, Photoshop -
- Have excellent communication skills -
- Be comfortable working with Basecamp
If this sounds like you and think you can keep up and deliver work on time; click here to apply.
This project has been one of the funnest projects we've done at the studio this year. Mostly because it's a project that is made purely out of artistic expression with little-to-no censorship on what kind of story the team wanted to make and then we had a launch party to celebrate!
How we found the time to work on this show... In between jobs and notes. When someone didn't have anything to work on at the time, they'd sit down and storyboard an episode. We laugh, it gets made. Pretty simple. It's a great break from the heavy commercial projects and it gives us all a chance to express and really some steam.
More than that... This project that celebrates the artists. It's a show created by an artist and made by artists. And I think we need more content like that.
So I hope you'll subscribe to the Crimson Carrot. If you dig it, give us a Thumbs Up or say something nice in the comments.
Crimson Carrot is a first of its kind project for Echo Bridge. Kim, shares her thoughts on the adorable superhero.
Working in an animation studio is a very exciting experience because we have the opportunity to be exposed to various styles and challenges as we move from project to project. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to work on projects that you really like. If you’re really lucky, you’ll be able to work on projects you love. We recently had the opportunity to produce our own short series based on a character that was created by Esteban Valdez when he was in fifth grade for a contest(which he won). I think many of us dream of having the characters in our imagination come to life, but very few get to see it become a reality.
Crimson Carrot is an adorable and somewhat heroic Carrot as his name implies. These ten second shorts may have a violent twist to them that strays away from the adorable looks of the characters, but they reflect the kind of ironic humor that is often thrown around the studio. Everyone in the studio was welcome to offer ideas and create storyboards to help create the fifteen episodes that will be viewable on YouTube starting next week. A huge part of what makes Crimson Carrot so special to us, is that this is completely our work and our viewers will be able to get a glimpse into the minds that create the work you all love to watch. As much as we enjoy the awesome opportunities we receive from clients, it’s always refreshing to have something to call our own and have the freedom to simply create.
Crimson Carrot’s official release date is Monday, November 14th. However, if you wait to watch him online, you will only be able to see two a week until January. If this article intrigued you in any way, we encourage you to join us on Monday, November 14th for our very special launch party below our studio in Studio 620 on 1st Ave S. St. Petersburg, FL. Not only will you get to meet the studio behind this new short series, but you will also be able to view all fifteen episodes and attend a special Q&A with us after the premiere of Crimson Carrot. We really hope to see you there and are excited to be able to finally share Crimson Carrot with the Echo Bridge Community!
Over the summer, our friends from Pixel Pirate asked us to help them out animating a music video - produced by the ever-awesome Carl Jones (Black Dynamite, The Boondocks) - for the one of the hottest rappers on the market to-date: Desiigner! The music video thusly titled "Zombie Walk" - is an homage of sorts to "Thriller." And we all know that "Thriller" to this day as a monument of pop music videography.
I love making music [videos]. Unlike television and web series projects were because of the "turn-and-burn" schedule where getting it done is more important than artistry; commercials and music videos - and not to forgot short and feature films - are all about impact. Meaning, you need to push the creative boundaries and the quality of the work more than you usually would. Impact projects take into account all the little details such as the performance of the "actors" on stage, to lighting and mood changes, color design and more into account. The devil is in the details after all.
how the soup is made
Storyboards & Animatic
For this project, the storyboards and animatic was produced by our client. It's not uncommon for another animation studio to provide designs (character and background designing along with art direction) and storyboards and/or animatic(s) to us for two reasons. The first reason is to ensure that the director's vision comes through clearly in the boards and two, in order to help speed along production. In many cases for us here at the studio, we'll do storyboards, animatics and design in-house.
In-house, we use a Storyboard Pro/Harmony pipeline as it's been proven to be the most accurate and most efficient way of handling productions. We'll do storyboard panels and build the animatic reel at the same time in Storyboard Pro and export a Premiere file of the reel along with Harmony files all set for production. However, if we're receiving animatics from another studio or client, it'll go through an additional pre-production process...
Pre-Production & Planning
When the storyboard/animatic is given to us, or when we've completed and gotten approval on our animatic; we go through the process of breaking the entire production down to the smallest detail. The animatic is brought into Premiere and chopped up into individual cuts and then those individual cuts are exported and then imported in Harmony for file preparation.
Unlike live-action where the story is edited together after all footage has been shot; animation starts with the edit first and then goes back to get all of the footage.
During the pre-production part of the process, schedules will be created based on the output the studio can produce on a daily or weekly basis. We then take the animatic and break it down into individual cuts (or shots), and I will personally sit with the production team to talk about what is happening - or going to happen - in each and every cut. We'll measure or count how many characters will be on screen, how many props need to be designed, the type of camera setup that will be needed, are there any special effects needed and any compositional hookups in order to maintain continuity of the reel.
I'll also work closely with the director of the project to make sure that I understand his vision and that we're both in sync creatively.
Once all the macros and micros of the project have been inventoried, we then take the project over to Basecamp, our online project management and collaboration app. From here, the production team will set the entire project up, invite our team into the project, set due dates, reference files and any other necessary resource the team will need.
As soon as Basecamp is setup, we gather the entire team around to watch the animatic, talk procedure and then get right into it.
Pre-Production often an overlooked and unsung part of the process because it's not as glamorous as the artists working, but being able to organize your project in a way that can help you track and measure progress is vital to successfully completing a project on time and on budget.
When we get storyboards/animatics, more often than not the designs are not on model - meaning they are not drawn according to the final approved design. This happens mainly due to timing issues, but we consider this part of the pre-production and planning process because it's important that our team is able to keep the artwork on model during animation. The more info the team has at their disposal, the more success they will be in delivering the client's vision.
It's very important to understand that when the pre-production phase of the project has been complete and enters into animation production, you have officially reached the point of no return. From here on out, the plane has taken off into the stratosphere. Making any additional adjustments while the production plane is in mid-flight will result in a loss of fuel and the plan may not make it back to it's original landing strip. It's only until AFTER the plane has landed at it's destination can adjustments (retakes) be applied.
From our process video (above), you can see how a cut will go from storyboards to pose to animation. With a solid production pipeline - a linear process of completing tasks - the animation team takes hold of their cuts and do what they do best: animate!
Once animation production has been complete, if there are any changes which need to be made - whether because of hook up issues, narrative changes, color issues, etc, we enter into the retakes (or revision) process. We use this as the time to add the polish to chrome and make the work look as pretty as we can make it within the time (and budget) allotted. After this, we get animation locked and it's onto compositing.
After animation has gone through it's process of rough animation and cleanup and approvals, we'll take the backgrounds (for Zombie Walk, Pixel Pirate was responsible for art production) and merge them together with the animation frames into After Effects. With in After Effects, we'll do a color treatment pass to bring additional mood, punch up lighting schemes and include any additional effects which we could not create by hand - such as rack focusing on a character or adding in additional lighting transitions.
Lastly, when all cuts have gone through the pipeline, they're put into a reel via Premiere to see the entire picture as a whole. The reel is rendered out in HD format - watermarked for insurance purposes - and send to the client for final approval.
In the case of Zombie Walk, seeing as it's apart of a much larger project, we send the client individual cuts so the end-client's editor can place them into live-action film reel.
You can see the final result here.
Even though the animated bits of the reel go on for about 90 seconds of screen time, the overall time spent on production was a blistering 2,640 hours over a 5 week period. A lot of late nights and weekends went into the production of just 90 seconds of on screen imagination and we couldn't be any more happy and proud of the work we've done. And while the video may garner some online recognition, I would hope that we can all celebrate the hard work that also goes into the making of it all.
Animation Produced by Echo Bridge Pictures, LLC
- Director/Producer - Esteban Valdez
- Assistant to Producer - Meike Groh
- Coordinator - Jyeesha Wilson
- Christian Cooper
- Leonardo Bencosme
- Silas Caldwell
- Assistant Animators
- Audrey Elizabeth
- Jordan Navarro
- Krstina Mastilovic
- Ryland Carlin
- Compositor - Jon Woodard
Produced by Pixel Pirate Studios
- Director - Saxton Moore
- Producer - Carl Jones
- Producer - Obi Onyejekwe
- Storyboards - Shawna Mills
- Backgrounds - Phillip Johnson
If you like what you're seeing and reading and want to say "hi," if you've got a project that you'd like to see come to life; contact us!
Hope you are having a wonderfully SPOOKY Halloween this year! Everyone in the studio showed up in costume. We have penguins, sumo wrestlers, and quite some characters oh my! Halloween is among the favorite holidays here at the studio. It's a festive holiday where everyone gets to go all out and come up with creative costumes, and get candy, lots and lots of candy. So grab your tricks, empty your bags for treats and get your scare on!