4 Nifty Tips to Choose the Right Animation Studio

Businesses nowadays use animated videos to grab customers. Gradually but surely, animation has surfaced as a crucial marketing tool. However, the task of bringing sketched characters to life is one that requires hard work and of course, skilled hands. This is the reason why people seeking for 3D character animation services need to be careful and choosy while selecting animation studio. However, with so many studios claiming to be the best in the market, it is not easy to pick one. So, how are you going to find one? Here are few tips that will help you to get the right one.

#1 Ask for the Work

It is easy to get lured by the show that studios put up on their website. Hence, you should not take that as a complete, relying factor. Ask the prospective studio to show some of their work. You can watch a few animated videos, if they have made any, or you can also ask them to show few characters that have been animated by them. By looking at the work, you will be able to at least make out whether the concerned company will be able to comprehend your needs and can work accordingly or not. Do check on quality of the work too.

#2 Check Testimonials

Testimonials are good ways of cross-checking genuineness of any company’s work. You can check out LinkedIn profile of the company. Check its reviews, ratings and recommendations along with testimonials on its website. Reviews and ratings will help you to get credibility of your prospective studio. Verifying testimonials will help you to decide whether to go for it or not. Any good company wouldn’t be hesitating to provide you information about the studio.

#3 Get to Know the Process

3D character animation is not a child’s play. It takes skilled hands and extensive knowledge, not to mention mastery of the complex process. A good animation studio won’t mind the pain of explanation they need to give to their prospective clients. The problem is that most prospective clients do not bother to go into the process, which is a blunder. 3D character animation process involves several techniques namely character modeling, rigging, texturing, etc. You don’t have to cram yourself with all knowledge of 3D character development. But if the company is able to explain the basics, at least you can be assured that they know their thing.

#4 Check Your Wallet

At last but not the least, do not forget to settle down with the money. After all, you will be the one paying so you have every right to get all information you can about the company’s development price tags. The notion is that 3D character animation often comes at a huge cost. But, do not take anyone’s word until you find it out yourself. Comparing the tariffs would be a good way to find a good deal. However, do not go for any company simply because it is cheap. If you get quality work at a bit higher cost, then the price is worth it.

Careful analysis of the above mentioned points will prove helpful in making a good choice. However, after you’ve chosen a good 3D Animation Studio, make sure that you communicate your ideas and needs properly as that can also make a big difference in the end work.

4 Ways to Speed Up Your Animation Working Time

One of the most important things ever in any project is the ability to save time. Perfectionists need to save time, so they can improve their work. Directors need to have the project ahead of time to review the work again and again and handle any changes before the deadline. Big studios need to be ahead of schedule.

So, here comes the bummer. Who is the one with the responsibility to deliver an animation on time? Well. Bad news. You. Yes, you, the Animator. The fate of humanity rests on your shoulders, think of yourself of a Hero on a journey that needs a couple of tips to make the adventure more enjoyable and short.

I. HAVE A HIGH APM (Actions Per Minute)

To be faster at anything, you need to have a way to measure Actions Per Minute. There are two ways to copy and paste anything in the virtual world. Navigating to the EDIT Menu, and select COPY, then move your mouse again all the way to the EDIT menu, and then click on PASTE. Or! You can press and hold the CTRL key on your keyboard (CMD on Mac), and rapidly press “C” then “V”. Right? Using your keyboard can get a higher APM than navigating through menus.

Use Shortcuts! I’ve seen some professionals navigate through menus to get things done, it’s embarrassing. Believe it or not, just by using shortcuts, I’m 20% faster than other animators. So what? Well, when I do freelance projects, clients hire me because they know I deliver ahead of time, because, even though we do the same things sharing the same process, I do it faster (using shortcuts).

Customize Shortcuts. Some software like After Effects doesn’t allow you to customize your shortcuts, but if you can, DO IT! The best Keyboard Profile is the one that handles your most used shortcuts near your right hand. The less your right hand has to move from left to right on the keyboard, the better. That’s why you should try to have all the major functions close in your keyboard “mapping”. Examples could be: CTRL+F, CTRL+G, CTRL+TAB, CTRL+SHIFT+W, SHIFT+3, ALT+SHIFT+3, etc. They are all close together.

Consider using a Gaming Keyboard, Gaming Mouse or Gaming Keypad. The one I recommend the most is the Gaming Keypad (like Razer Orbweaver or Logitech G13) because when the software doesn’t support shortcut customization, you can customize your Keypad to have all the major functions next to each other, and better yet, instead of pressing 3 keys (like CTRL+SHFT+P), you only press one single key on your keypad.

Automate using Macros. You can do this if you have a Gaming Mouse, Gaming Keyboard or Gaming Keypad. A macro is a sequence of key presses that can be automated into a single press of a dedicated key on your keypad. For example. In after effects

II. OPTIMIZE YOUR ANIMATION PROCESS

Optimizing means to make the best use of the resources at your disposal for your project. So the best way to approach your animation process is by handling the 2 most important things in any project. Your Pipeline and your starting Keyframes

Optimized Pipeline. The folder structure of all your files is vital to handling the project with ease. Have folders separately for your sounds, music, pictures, video references, characters and project files (toon boom, after effects, etc.). In our studio, if we do a bit of motion graphics, we have them in a folder named AFTER EFFECTS, and the main project in a folder named TOON BOOM, then the edited animation on PREMIERE. So if any changes have to be made, we know what folder to look, and if we need an audio file, we know exactly where to find it. Every Animation school is teaching the importance of this, and is not just because it looks cleaner and more beautiful, but because it works.

Set Up Key Poses first, handle details later. Yes, yes, you want to impress your boss or your friends, with how expressive your characters can be. It’s better if you block (pose your character) the important keyframes first, the starting position, the middle of the action and the aftermath. And then add additional animation later on.

III. USE A GOOD RIG (Avoid unreliable ones)

Using a good quality rig is essential, having to modify keyframes and poses only means that the rig is not good and is making you waste time. A good rig allows you to be free and more creative, because you can make your character change it’s posing with ease, so your animation process is more dynamic. If you are unable to come up with a good rig, then outsource (have someone else do it for you) or use the rig only to get the key poses, then, forget about the rig and handle additional animation (like hands, tail, hair) manually.

One quick way to know if the Rig is good, is by understanding Inverse Kinematics, and having them in your rig. If you don’t know what inverse kinematics means, check this video: http://vimeo.com/96444901

IV. RECYCLE WHAT YOU CAN

Recycle Keyframes. Don’t waste time blocking the character again, when the pose is very similar to one previously blocked, you can copy and paste keyframes and tweak them. For example, if you have a fighter giving a low punch, and you later need a high punch, copy and paste the pose, and then modify it. You will have the correct hip rotation, foot position, and will only need to modify the height position of the fist and maybe the torso. That’s faster than having to block everything.

Recycle Animations. I’m referring to a sequence of keyframes here. The most common example is eye blinking. Instead of manually opening and closing the eyes in the timeline, you copy and paste keyframes across it. Another example would be a walk cycle: if you need to have the character walking and doing something with the hands, like giving orders to other characters, you can recycle the animation, but delete the keyframes for the torso, hands and head, and animate them. This way, half of the work is already done.

Use Older Animations as Reference. Sometimes the timing is perfect and the animation curves (for the interpolation) give you the smoothness you were looking for, but now, you are working on another project and are having problems, you just can’t figure out what you did. This is when a previous animation can help as a reference. All you do is check the number of frames between keyframes, to get the timing right, and check the animation curves.

Instead of wasting time trying to achieve the same result, you can save time by getting the correct calculations checking a previous project. Like the timing and interpolation for the keyframes of the legs in an Angry Walk Cycle, in which every step was so energetic that made kids burst into laughter

3 Mistakes to Avoid in Animation

There are three mistakes that amateur animators do, and if you spot them in videos from YouTube, then you know the animator is a beginner, so don’t be so hard on them. But be warned, people who make mistakes don’t know they are doing them, and nobody is telling them, so, how would you know if you are doing things correctly?

Only Action with no Anticipation or Aftermath

Taking the example of the amateurish animators posting videos on YouTube, have you noticed the problem has to do with the unnatural movement of the characters? That happens because there is no anticipation or aftermath

For example, a martial artist throwing a punch while training. You can think of three key poses: clenched fists in guard position, then the “punching arm” extended, then back to the original position. That’s what the amateur has in mind. A veteran imagines the guard position, then the elbow going back to prepare the punch (anticipation), then the arm extended (action), then the arm going back with the elbow up (aftermath), and finally the character returns to the guard position, breathing slowly. Do you see the natural flow happening all around?

Approach every action by thinking of its anticipation and aftermath. How do you prepare for that action and what do you do after it?

Cluttered Timeline

Let’s face it, when you see the timeline full of keyframes you feel proud of yourself, because right in front of you is all the hard work with millions of keyframes. Well, guess what? A timeline cluttered with a lot of keyframes can harm your animation.

The problem is not the cluttered timeline itself, think about it, if you need to make adjustments, you are going to go through hell and back, making little adjustments to every keyframe. A bigger problem would be that cluttered timelines usually lead to unnatural movement: Jerky knees, trembling elbows or weird vibrations of the head, to name a few.

The unnatural movement is generated when you make an adjustment to the movement of the character by adding keyframes to change the rhythm. For example, if you have a character picking up a box, maybe you need the character to take a little longer to extend the arm, then move a little faster to pick up the box. You can either use more keyframes (easy, but risky), or adjust the interpolation curves (harder but safer and more natural).

Interpolation curves are the answer to the natural flow of movement. The best timelines are the ones that have fewer keyframes and a lot of movement of the character. It takes time but it pays off, especially when you go back to make adjustments. For example, instead of trying to alter 5 keyframes, you only have to change one pose (one keyframe) and you are done.

Have this in mind at all times: A good curve can defeat an army of keyframes.

Impulsive Animation, No References

Amateurs are the best practitioners of impulsive animation. “Yeah! Finally, after all the preparation I can just go for it and bring my character to life!” Sounds familiar? I know how tempting it is to just go head and start animating, but the best way to approach it, is by having references.

What references do professional animators use when working on big projects? Short answer: Anything that moves. It can be a leaf floating in the air, a facial expression, a walk style, anything, even tiny details.

If you check any behind the scenes of any animation you will see that animators often do field work, like getting a camera to record nature, people walking or just record themselves doing silly actions.

The trick is that if you are willing to do it, references are the secret ingredient to get the perfect number of frames needed for the anticipation, the action and aftermath.

Top 11 Anime to Watch

If you’re into anime, you’ve probably already seen all these.

But if you aren’t… you MUST try it! Anime is NOT like your regular cartoons. These stories are unique, chock full of intense characters, and beautiful animation.

Action, drama, sci-fi, psychological, horror, apocalyptic, comedic, what it means to be human, humans merging with machines, the meaning of life. Anime’s got it all!

You might have seen Pok√©mon or Sailor Moon. There’s many more complex storylines and characters than that. Much of anime is a reflection of Japanese and modern society’s reaction to globalization and technological changes of the 21st century. So don’t be surprised to find intense themes in these stories. It might even be a bit difficult to completely digest the meaning of some of these anime.

So… there’s my pitch. By the way, I have only recently gotten into anime, so feel free to suggest other great anime in the comments below!

11. Tokyo Ghoul

Length: 12 episodes
Genre: Action / Drama / Horror / Psychological / Dark Fantasy

Plot: Kaneki gets into an accident and receives organ transplants from a ghoul. He struggles to maintain his humanity while living as a half-ghoul who must eat human flesh to survive.

Intense character development and symbolism included! There is a postmodern feel you can see in Kaneki’s hopelessness. The story criticizes modern society’s excessive consumption and discrimination.

10. Haikyuu!!

Length: 25 episodes
Genre: Sports / Drama

Plot: Hinata has wanted to play volleyball since junior high. He finally gets the chance in high school. This is a story of teamwork and motivation between friends.

You learn a lot about volleyball from this anime. It is a fun, light story. If you’re looking for something not too dark but with fun characters, this is the story for you!

9. Death Note

Length: 37 episodes
Genre: Psychological / Drama / Detective

Plot: Light Yagami is a genius high school student who one day picks up a Death Note. He discovers its power to kill humans and constructs a crazy elaborate plan to rule to world and eliminate corruption through strategic murders.

It gets pretty intense and complex. The number of crazy plot twists in this story will keep you on your toes. This story looks into institutional corruption. But the most interesting part is how Light keeps coming up with such intricate plans that somehow work every time.

8. Attack on Titan

Length: 25 episodes
Genre: Dark Fantasy / Post-Apocalyptic

Plot: Eren Jaeger lives in a peaceful town walled off from man-eating titans. But after a colossal titan breaks through the outer wall, chaos ensues. Eren joins the military in order to fight against the titans.

This story brings to light the pain of losing innocence and the illusion of peace. It presents issues of the current state of Japan’s military, calling for forces to be at the ready1.

7. Blood: The Last Vampire

Length: 45 minutes
Genre: Action / Horror

Plot: Saya is a vampire who kills other vampires aka chiropterans. She goes undercover as a student on a US military base in Japan to destroy the threats. Her reasons for doing so? Unknown. Where she comes from? Unknown.

Saya is an interesting character. She’s super hardcore and cool. Besides the action, this story is also a reflection of Japanese and American relations.

6. Steins Gate

Length: 24 episodes
Genre: SciFi / Mystery / Romance / Drama

Plot: Okabe is your average guy with an intense interest in time travel. He stumbles upon a conspiracy involving the use of human subjects in time travel experiments. Okabe and friends must use their wits and determination to prevent the world from descending into an authoritarian dystopia.

Time travel makes this story a bit confusing, but once you get past the first few episodes, things begin to make sense. The best part about this story is the deep and meaningful relationships between characters.

5. Spirited Away

Length: 124 minutes
Genre: Fantasy / Miyazaki

Plot: Chihiro is moving to a new home with her parents. They stumble upon a spirit world and her parents are transformed into pigs after eating the spirit food. Chihiro faces many challenges in order to save her parents.

This is a coming of age story that incorporates deep themes about disappearing traditions, environmental degradation, optimism1, and courage.

4. Grave of the Fireflies

Length: 89 minutes
Genre: Drama / Anti-war / Historical Fiction

Plot: Seita and Setsuko become orphans as a result of the war. They struggle to take care of each other and survive in desperate times.

This story talks about WWII in an incredibly humanistic way. It is intensely sad.

3. Ouran High School Host Club

Length: 26 episodes
Genre: Romantic Comedy / Drama

Plot: Haruhi gets accepted to the prestigious Ouran High School on scholarship. She befriends the host club members and shares many hilarious adventures with them.

Many of the other stories I listed were intense and deep, but this one is just funny. It rates so high on my list because I’ve seriously never seen anything this funny before.

2. Ghost in the Shell

Length: 82 minutes
Genre: SciFi / Cyberpunk

Plot: Kusanagi is a cyborg woman working for public security agency Section 9. Their mission is to find a hacker known as the Puppet Master who has been taking control of people’s minds and making them commit crimes.

This story explores technology’s potential for enhancing or degrading the human race. It addresses philosophical and social ideas about what it means to be human.

1. Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood

Length: 64 episodes
Genre: Adventure / SciFi / Action / Drama

Plot: Edward and Alphonse Elric learn alchemy at a young age. In an attempt to bring their mom back from the dead, Al loses his entire body and Ed loses his arm and leg. The two brothers travel the world searching for a way to regain what they have lost.

This story has everything. Adventure, drama, hope, courage, inspiration, a good soundtrack. Ed and Al’s story is motivating as they face hardship after hardship with strength and a genuine belief in the good of mankind.

From Pencils To Pixels – A Quick Guide Choosing A 2D Animation Program

Even though it may seem like there are more and more CG animation movies every year, there seems to be a dwindling number of 2d animated movies, adverts or short films out there. Even the Disney Studio, where it all started, has said they won’t be producing drawn animation for the foreseeable future.

Thankfully it is still going strong in Japan among the Anime community, and a growing number of independent filmmakers and artists are rediscovering traditional animation techniques as a wonderfully expressive and fantastically accessible medium.

Add to this the fact that the digital revolution has meant that you no longer need expensive, heavy equipment, and anyone can now produce animation from their bedroom using just a tablet or laptop, and upload it to the web in seconds.

However, before you rush out and grab the first piece of animation software available, there are a few things you need to think about if you want to find the right one for you. Here’s my top 5 suggestions.

Free or paid?

First of all, the important question to ask yourself is your budget. Are you willing to spend some money, and if so, how much? An animation program can cost anywhere from nothing up to a couple of thousand dollars. While there are a couple of decent free programs out there, I believe a reasonably priced paid package delivers the most features and support.

Professional or beginner?

Have you ever animated before or are you a complete beginner? Are you looking to animate professionally or just dabble a bit in your spare time? Answering this question will help determine not only your budget but also the learning curve you’ll be able or willing to tolerate when using a software, as some are more complicated than others depending on your skill level.

Age level?

Related to experience level is your age. Are you an adult looking for a piece of animation software for yourself or a parent looking to get your child involved in some cartooning? Some animation programs are specifically designed for children and teenagers so the interface is a lot “friendlier” and has an easier learning curve.

Frame-by-frame or Flash-style?

What kind of animation are you thinking of doing? Do you prefer traditional frame-by-frame drawn animation like the old Disney movies, or are you more interested in the stylized Flash-style animation found on the web and cartoons like South Park and Peppa Pig? No 2d software is the same and many are designed with a specific style in mind, or in some cases will give you the option of doing either.

External equipment?

Partly related to the style of animation you’re looking to do is the question of whether you have or will be buying any external equipment or purely looking to do it all digitally. Some animators like to work initially on paper with a lightbox in the traditional style and then scan and colour their drawings in the software program. Others prefer to draw directly in the software itself and will often do so using a tablet and pen.

Animator Reveals Complete Process of 2D Animation

The complete process of animating cartoon characters for a feature film, or just a quick 2D animation for YouTube is a process that, depending on the project, needs a lot of time and effort. A 5 min animation can take from 1 day to 2 months. Really? How do I know if my project is going to be 1 day long or 2 months long? Well, you have to answer, how good do you want your cartoon animation to look? Simple = 1 day, Amazing = 2 months.

Either one needs to go through the complete process.

1. Conception

2. Audio

3. Visualization

4. Preparation

5. Animation

CONCEPTION

It all starts with an idea. An idea turned into a script that can later be transformed into cartoon characters affecting each other in a 2D animation story. That idea is visualized in the head of the producer or director (usually the same person in NO BUDGET projects) who then decides what style is the project going to have.

The style can be cut out characters like Cartoon Network, more Classical like Disney, or maybe you want Anime style. Then you have to design the main characters and decide what best suits your project. How are your cartoon characters going to look like? How do they look from behind? Front? Above? below? How do they look in different poses?

After that, according to the budget and the style, the producer decides the software where all the animation is going to take place. If the style needs a cut out feeling, with lots of 3D and traveling cameras, maybe After Effects or Flash will be the choice, or if the series are more classical, or anime, in which cut out is not what is wanted, but a more organic look, like anime or Disney, then Toon Boom or Anime Studio can be the choice.

AUDIO

Then you bring in the voice actors to record all the dialogs, and, basically produce your story for a radio show, in which you listen to steps and sound effects. This will give the animators the correct timing to perform actions with their cartoon characters in an organic way.

VISUALIZATION

After all the necessary decisions are made, then it’s time to visualize the cartoon animation story into a series of drawings. Storyboard. In there the animator and director put their knowledge of cinematography in practice, they decide the shots and from where the cartoon characters are best depicted for what moment of the story.

Then after the storyboard is complete, then you make an animatic of the storyboard, in which you put together the storyboard and the audio together with correct timings and then, you take important decisions like, maybe change a few lines, or see the character from another angle and so on, remember, the most important thing about your 2D animation story is to make people feel something. So these decisions are KEY.

PREPARATION

After that important milestone you begin preparations. In a big studio, one team handles the cartoon character rigging and the other draws the different backgrounds and sets for the story. But in a very low-budget project, it’s usually the same person who does the character rigging and sets.

ANIMATION

Finally, after all of that, which is almost 70% of the work, comes the fun part. The animation. In which you bring the story to life, you make your cartoon characters be affected by each other, they get mad, they cry, they laugh, they fall in love, whatever your story is about, this is where you breathe life into it.

In this step, all the hard work pays back. And, of course, when the project is low-budget (less than $10,000 bucks) or even NO BUDGET, the writer, producer, director, storyboard artist, character designer, background artist and animator, is a team that consists of 3 people, or sometimes it’s the same person, one author. But even then, when your cartoon animation has your heart in it, the hard work is worth it.