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4 Animatic Tips from Professional Animators

ben marvazi 2020

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Animation is not the art of drawings that move but the art of movements that are drawn.”

Norman McLaren, Animator

Hypothetical: you’re the chief engineer in charge of building a new apartment building in a busy part of the city. However, the architects in charge of providing the blueprints that would lay the foundation of what the building would look like are nowhere to be seen.

Instead, you’ve been given the go-ahead to use your imagination and make it up as you go along. Doesn’t that sound entirely impossible?

In the same way, the animation production pipeline can be completed with an animatic acting as a blueprint for animators to run through the pipeline smoothly and effectively.

In this blog post, we will cover the whats, hows, and whys of animatics and provide some helpful animatic tips to keep you on the right track toward working in the animation industry. Let’s get started!

What Is An Animatic?

an example of an animatic

Gif by Reuben Armstrong via Giphy

As we’ve just mentioned, an animatic can be seen as the blueprint for an animated project, and is essential for animators to see what can and will work and of course, what doesn’t.

It’s essentially a rough preview of what’s to come and is used to sync the audio voice-over and/or music that you plan on using as well.

In some ways, an animatic can be confused for a storyboard, and in those ways, it is indeed similar. But an animatic is different in that you’re only using black-and-white rough sketches to showcase a basic visual representation of where you’re planning on going.

Finally, an animatic is NOT an animation. Following the standard animation production pipeline, your animatic forms as a part of pre-production, well before you even think about animating.

Why Do Animation Studios Use Animatics?

character questioning what the point of using animatics are

Gif by Shin Chan via Giphy

Apart from the obvious reason being that we’ve been using animatics for so long that it’s too complicated not to use them, there are several legitimate reasons as to why we as animators utilize animatics during the production pipeline, 3 of which we will be discussing now.

  1. Animatics Save Time And Money

As Benjamin Franklin so eloquently stated more than 2 centuries ago, “Time is money,” and that truly couldn’t be more true in the world of animation.

Working one’s way through the animation production pipeline can be both time-consuming and expensive, especially in an animation studio setting.

An animatic helps alleviate stress from the studio, the team, and in most cases, the clients by providing a basic visual representation of where the animation will go before animators offer both time and resources on the piece.

  1. Animatics Create a Consensus For Your Team

Putting a team of animators into a room during pre-production is a little bit like putting a bunch of hyperactive squirrels into a bag of nuts. 

Well, not really. But the important thing to remember is that we’re creatives, and when creatives are put into an environment where we’re expected to do exactly that - be creative - having no backboard off from which to spring can make life stressful and confusing.

Having an animatic during pre-production provides the initial idea of the project in motion and creates reference points for both the feel and timing of the animation itself. The last thing you want is for animators to get lost in the eternal forest of detail.

Here’s a freebie animatic tip for you. Reference points are extremely important in making sure your future animation is both appealing and believable. Utilizing your animatic as a constant reference point can assist greatly throughout the animation production pipeline.

  1. Animatics Allow Your Team To Make Changes 

Considering what we’ve mentioned about an animatic being a collection of sketches and not in any way final representations of the animation itself, it becomes a heck of a lot easier to remove frames and sometimes even entire scenes well before the actual animation process when things become exponentially more confusing in that regard.

Top 4 Animatic Tips

top 4 animatic tips every animator can use

Gif by Moot via Giphy

Now that we’re all on the same page, if you’ll excuse the pun, let’s talk about top animatic tips from professional animators and studios.

  1. Show Character Movement

Wait, isn’t an animatic just black-and-white sketches? 

Yes. Yes, it is.

While this idea may seem initially counter-intuitive to what we’ve literally been speaking about the entire blog post, showing character movement is as simple as adding arrows and other directional aids you can think of to showcase where your characters should be going. See above.

This animatic tip can also apply to any environmental movements, such as anvils falling or ducks flying, that aren’t strictly related to your main characters.

You can very easily get too excited and want to jump into animating too quickly, so using simple things like arrows allows you to have static references for your future animating endeavors.

  1. Show Camera Movement

In the same vein as utilizing directional aids to showcase how and where your characters are planning on moving, you can use arrows to indicate how and where your cameras will be moving.

There are a whole host of directional techniques for cameras that we as animators use, but another animatic tip would be to make sure to use them economically, as you don’t want to get too creative during this process. 

  1. Take Your Time To Let The Viewer See Everything In A Single Frame

As simple as this overall process may sound, you shouldn’t shy away from being practical in your sketches.

Since we’re using this as a way to share with shareholders (another pun), you can make sure to include as much information within a single frame as possible, as well as increase the duration the frame sticks if the scene in mind is to be relatively complex.

Since some frames can and almost certainly will be deleted during the process, it’s important to know why they’re not necessary, and by giving the viewer time to take in all the details within a frame, they can make a more informed decision that will benefit everyone.

  1. Add As Many Sounds As Realistically Possible

Your animatic is going to showcase your animation. And what better way to do that than by providing as much initial information as humanly possible?

For example: provide basic voice-over (VO) yourself BEFORE going to a professional VO artist. That way you can make sure to have perfect timing within your animatic before your studio spends exorbitant amounts of money on rewrites of the script and rerecords of the VO.

You should also add in as much background sound to make sure you get a basic idea of timing and pace, allow you to visualize your scenes, and make any changes well before you even enter the production phase of your production pipeline.

These simple animatic tips should help you tremendously during your pre-production phase of the animation pipeline.

4 Things To Avoid When Making An Animatic

4 animatic tips that animators should avoid

Gif by Reddit via Giphy

As with anything, offering positive insight only goes so far. Sometimes we need a realistic view of things, so here are 4 things to avoid when working on your animatic.

  1. Not Planning Your Production Pipeline

Remember the hypothetical from earlier? About not having a blueprint? Well, you should definitely have a blueprint.

Here’s another Benjamin Franklin quote for you: “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”

Making sure to work more in the initial stages of pre-production ensures that there will be less work to do later on down the production line.

Essentially, when working on your animatic, make sure you’ve done enough work thumbnailing BEFORE you begin working on your animatic. Following that animatic tip, check out this cool thumbnail example from Darvideo:

planning a thumbnail and other elements affect how you'll be able to create your animatic

Image via Darvideo

  1. Rushing Into Details In Your Animatic

Details are important, there’s no denying that. And as mentioned above, including many details within your animatic’s frames can be very helpful during the pre-prod process.

HOWEVER, details should always come after you’ve already worked on major movements of your characters and environments. Your cute little details of a character flicking their hair will mean nothing if the bulk of your baseline work isn’t up to snuff.

  1. Not Taking Breaks

We all understand the frustration of slow working and the terror of oncoming deadlines, but sometimes taking a minute to step back and reflect both on self and the project as a whole can and will do more good than harm.

The last thing you as an animator want, and the last thing an animation team needs, is for someone or everyone to be burnt out before you even leave the pre-production stage of the pipeline.

Studies have shown that taking intentional breaks to refresh both your mind and body can aid in increasing both productivity and energy levels. Your break can last anywhere from 5-60 minutes, but you need to take it. Do it.

  1. Sprint Or Saunter Through Your Animatic 

With everything that’s been mentioned throughout this post, the best way to sum it all up in a single tip would be: to be smart about the time you spend working on your animatic.

You don’t want to be spending so much time on your animatic as to make it so complicated the viewer can’t even fully appreciate it, nor do you want to be spending so little time on your animatics that they just look empty and as if you’ve forgotten to add in any information.

This sort of ties hand-in-hand with making sure you plan well, as planning your actual time is often as important as, if not more than, anything else you’re going to be spending your time on.

Animatic Tips Through Examples

animatic tips you can learn through examples

Gif by The Animal Crackers Movie via Giphy

Now that we’ve covered some animatic tips and tricks, and some things to avoid while working on your animatics, it’s time to share some brilliant examples of famous animatics for some animation inspiration.

Spongebob Squarepants is one of Nickelodeon’s most incredible examples of animated series standing the test of time. Since 1999 they’ve been putting out episodes consistently and they’re still going strong more than 20 years later.

Here’s a full example from the first season showcasing Spongebob engaging in a cook-off with King Neptune, and a sample below.

an example of how spongebob turned their animatics into actual animations for their movie

Image by Nickelodeon Cartoon Universe via YouTube

Below is an example of how Jake Bartlett from the School of Motion differentiates between an animatic sketch and a storyboard frame.

example of the difference between animatic sketch and storyboard frame

Gif by Jake Bartlett via School of Motion

Utilizing the 12 Principles of Animation, you can create some nice and simple sketches showcasing the basic forms of each element to be animated within your frames.

how the 12 principles help with creating effective and creative animatics

Image via School of Motion

For some more inspiration and animatic tips, check out Szin on YouTube for a massive collection of top-grade animatics and storyboards.

These Animatic Tips are The Blueprint To Success

Animatics are an incredibly important stage of pre-production within your animation production pipeline. You need to ensure that you’re providing as enough detail and information for your clients as possible to ensure that all the necessary parts make it through to the animation stage.

There are a lot of important do’s and don’ts within this post, and it may seem a little back and forth, but the most important thing to take away from this all is that time needs to be your friend. Plan to spend the right amount of time on the right amount of things, and you will surely succeed.

Our animatic tips and tricks will hopefully provide the necessary information you need to succeed while working through your pre-production phase.

For more top animatic tips, as well as answers to any other questions you might have, be sure to follow our blogs, check out our free masterclass and our Animation Business Accelerator Program, download a copy of our free marketing handbook, and check out our blog on “How to Start an Animation Studio”!

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