The Move to Medium

We love sharing ideas and thoughts. We've got Tumblr and our blog on the site, and articles on LinkedIn and all other sites... It's a lot of ground to cover. 

In the spirit of keeping it simple, we've moved to Medium

Come check out Script to Screen now.

Making A Show Then. Making A Show Now.

“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…

“In fact, the dirty little secret of the media industry is that content aggregators, not content creators, have long been the overwhelming source of value creation.”

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…

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

The Only Difference

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.

 

KING KONG: THE ACCURATE VERSION ACCORDING TO SCIENCE

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.

Credits:
Writer - Heather Anne Campbell
Director/Producer/Animator - Esteban Valdez
Animation Assistance - Meike Groh
Backgrounds - Logan Foret

Zombie Walk: A modern day thriller

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.  

Example of our simple production schedule.

Example of our simple production schedule.

A macro look at each cut and where it stands.

A macro look at each cut and where it stands.

A look into our production breakdown and tracking.

A look into our production breakdown and tracking.

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.

A look at the main production site on our Basecamp.

A look at the main production site on our Basecamp.

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. 

Posing

Storyboard panel

Storyboard panel

Posing frame

Posing frame

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.

Animation production

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!  

Our client, Saxton of Pixel Pirate, passing his retake notes on posing before it hits animation.  

Our client, Saxton of Pixel Pirate, passing his retake notes on posing before it hits animation.  

A typical conversation on the production of this particular cut.  Even though we work together in-house, we still use Basecamp as a way of keeping track of progress and keeping each other accountable during the project.

A typical conversation on the production of this particular cut.  Even though we work together in-house, we still use Basecamp as a way of keeping track of progress and keeping each other accountable during the project.

retakes

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.

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.  

Final Product

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.

PHOTOS

Credits

Animation Produced by Echo Bridge Pictures, LLC

  • Director/Producer - Esteban Valdez
  • Assistant to Producer - Meike Groh
  • Coordinator - Jyeesha Wilson
  • Animators
    • 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!