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The Most Efficient Animation Process for Freelance Animators

Being a freelance animator is great. You can take on projects you are passionate about and work your own hours. 

When you’re a freelance animator, you don’t have a boss constantly looking over your shoulder, and while that might seem like the best thing that could ever happen to you, it also means that all the responsibility to get a job done well and on time rests solely on your shoulders. 

This means that you have to figure out your own freelance animation process when it comes to projects. 

Having an animation process will help you to do your work more effectively and, in turn, make your clients very happy. 

Having a good animation process in place also ensures that you know what to do and when to do it. It’ll keep you accountable and help you to flow through your work seamlessly. 

In this blog post, we will take a look at the best freelance animation process that’ll help you do great work effectively while keeping clients very happy. Let’s dive in!

The Preparation Phase of the Animation Process

1) Take Time to Brainstorm

The first thing you need to do when taking on a new animation client is to brainstorm ideas. This is the first step in the process of animation and can be incredibly fun, and you should approach it as such. 

Write down all ideas that come into your head - even if they seem silly at first. They might end up becoming the cornerstone of your project. 

It’s important not to get discouraged when your brainstorming session gets off to a slow start. Sometimes it takes a few tries to get the creative juices flowing. The more ideas you write down, the more ideas will pop into your head. 

a veteran freelance animator saying "you need to trust the process"

GIF by New Amsterdam via Giphy

It’s also important to include the client in the brainstorming session - this is a great way to get an idea of what they envision for the project and the themes they have in mind. 

If you’re a freelance animator who has already established a small studio with a few team members, invite them all to collaborate on the brainstorming process as well - the more, the merrier. 

2) Do Thorough Research

Once you pick an idea from your brainstorming session, the work finally begins. You know what you have in mind, but now you need to do the necessary research to get the rest of the animation production process started. 

Research is incredibly important when it comes to working on projects for animation clients. You need to gain as much knowledge as you can about their brand, service, or product. 

This will help you to animate exactly what they’re looking for, and they’ll be impressed by how well you managed to incorporate the “voice” of their brand into your work. 

An easy way to do your research is to simply ask your client to tell you all about their business instead of trying to find all the information on the internet. 

you must do your research to improve your animation process

GIF by .gif Database via Giphy

To help you streamline this process in the future, create a questionnaire where you ask them everything you need to know about their business in order to create the best animation project. 

This will include questions about their target audience and the business’ values. Include a section that covers the goals they have for the animation project: What is the goal of the video? What should its tone be? 

This way, you will have a very comprehensive idea of the business as well as its goals for the project they assigned you, and by using a questionnaire, you literally get the answers handed to you. 

While the questionnaire is a great way to get to know everything important about the business, it will also serve you well to arrange a call with the animation client so they can tell you more about the business and what they envision for the project in person. 

Once you covered that, you will finally have a clear vision of what they’re looking for, and you can move on to the next step of the animation process. 

The Foundational Phase of the Animation Process

3) Decide on a Concept and Script

Once you know all there is to know about your animation client’s business, you’ve arrived at the next critical step in the animation process - establishing the concept and the script for the project. 

You have a good idea of what the client expects from you, and now it’s your job to create a video that meets (and hopefully exceeds) their expectations. 

The most important question you have to ask yourself during this step of the animation process is what the main message you and your animation client want to convey with your animation. This is what you’ll build the script around. 

approving the script is vital for your animation process

GIF by Emmys via Giphy

Don’t try to make it complex and impressive - focus on how you can deliver the message in a simple, fun, and exciting way. 

It’s good to set out a good chunk of time for this step of the animation process since it’s one of the most crucial. It’s the foundation of your entire animation project and if your script is lacking, so will the end result. 

Once you have a script good and ready to go, confer with your animation client to make sure they like what you came up with - you need their stamp of approval before you can continue.

This is also an opportunity for them to deliver some input. Involving the client in the process will ensure that you create the best possible project. 

4) Shoot a Reference Video

Once you know exactly what your project for your animation client is going to look like, the research is not quite done just yet. 

Now that you have an idea of the animation you’ll create and the story it's going to tell, you might want to take the time to shoot a reference video.

This is an optional step in the animation process, but one that can be very beneficial once you get to the production stage where you actually need to start animating movements. 

Going the extra mile by having a reference video could help you do work that’s extra impressive, which will ensure that your animation clients are happy and refer others to you. 

a solid reference video can help speed your animation process

GIF by Billions via Giphy

Depending on the project, you’ll need different references. Maybe you have characters that are animals or perhaps you’ll need to create an animated environment. Maybe your animation will feature characters playing sports. 

Whichever it may be, you need an example to work from, especially if you haven’t animated that specific action or environment before. You’ll need to shoot some footage of the actual action so you can properly analyze it before you start animating it. 

This is an often overlooked but incredibly important part of the animation process. Sometimes you don’t even have to shoot footage to work from - you can even consult some YouTube videos to study how athletes move or how different natural elements behave. 

5) Deciding the Visual Style

This is the step in the freelance animation process where all the fun starts. You are now going to show your client what the animated characters and environments are going to look like on-screen. This part of the process can also be implemented when you create the storyboard. 

This is your chance to show off your stunning animation designs, the color palette, and what you’re planning for some of the video’s key frames. 

a realized animation style will speed up the animation process

GIF by 3D Gif Artist via Giphy

This step in the animation process is incredibly important because it will give your client a very good visual of what the end product is going to look like. 

Schedule another meeting with them so you can discuss the work you’ve done up to this point. They can provide suggestions or inform you if there’s anything they’d like you to change before you really start driving into the project. 

This step in the animation process is your chance to show them that you truly understand the look and style of their brand, so make sure you put your best effort into it. Take notes of any changes they want as well as any suggestions they make, and incorporate that into the final designs. 

6) Create an Animation Storyboard

Once you know the story you’re going to tell and made sure that you have sufficient real-life footage to draw from once you officially start the animation process, you can create the storyboard for your script. 

This will not only help you when you finally have to animate everything, but it will also provide your client with a great visual of what you’re planning.

This is an opportunity for them to become involved with the process, and they can add suggestions or tell you if they’d like to make any changes before you put in the hard work of animating everything. 

an animation storyboard in the form of an animatic

GIF by Plot Devices via Giphy

The storyboard will consist of you illustrating the key frames you’re planning for the animation video.

Make sure you add the relevant parts of the script to the relevant frames so your client can visualize exactly what the end product will look like once you present the storyboard to them in a meeting.

This is a great tool to incorporate into the process of animation because it will ensure that your client knows exactly what to expect and prevent you from making any unnecessary mistakes. 

The Creation Phase of the Animation Process

7) Add Voice-Over Narration

This is a fun step in the animation process. You will need voice actors to help bring the script to life if you have characters that talk, or you will alternately use this step in the animation process to look for music to accompany your video if you don’t require any characters that speak.

It will all depend on the style of your video and what the client wants. 

a voice over artist is a big decision for every animation process

GIF by Apartment Guide via Giphy

This step will require you to find the perfect actors and/or the perfect song for your animation video. Once you find actors and songs you like, you can set up another meeting with the client to ensure that they are happy with the choices you made. 

This is a vital step in the animation process since the artists that voice the characters and the music you use will be responsible for setting the tone and vibe of your animation project.

It’s important to keep the client’s vision and brand in mind when making choices about the artists and the music you are going to use. 

8) Animating the Video

Congratulations, you’ve now arrived at the most crucial (and time-consuming) step of the freelance animation process - the animation itself. 

This is where you will finally dive into your work. You’ve completed all the groundwork, the client has approved the concept and the style, and now you’re going to bring it all to life with your animation skills

This is the step in the animation process where you will focus on adding life to your creations, creating realistic, lifelike characters and environments. All the research and planning you’ve done so far is about to pay off. 

Make sure to provide your client with a realistic time span for completing the task so you don’t have to rush or work against time. Make it clear that it’s a long process and that you need sufficient time to make the end result as amazing as possible. 

animating is the magic of your animation process

GIF by NickRewind via Giphy

The animation process consists of several steps, like creating the key poses for each shot and then adding breakdown poses. If you’re doing 3D animation for a client, you will also spend some time on splining to ensure that the animated movements look as smooth as possible. 

Once you finish that up, you’ll focus on smoothing and offsetting, removing any strange curves that could make the movements look uneven. 

Finally, you’ll focus on making it look as lifelike as possible by adding some tiny imperfections to the characters so as to make them appear more real. This includes blinking their eyes or having a little mouth twitch - you can let your imagination run wild. 

You can schedule another meeting with the animation client once the basic animation is done so they can deliver their input and suggest any changes they’d like you to make.

The Refinement Phase of the Animation Process

9) Add Sound Effects

Once you arrive at this step of the animation process, the biggest chunk of work is done, and you can finally focus on the audio. This is the step where you will make the visuals and audio work together seamlessly. 

You will edit the voiceovers and add them to the animated characters, ensuring that the animation and audio are in perfect sync. This is also the step where you’ll be adding music and sound effects. 

sound design and effects are crucial to the animation process of a freelancer

GIF by Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt via Giphy

It’s important that you spend adequate time on this step to ensure that the visuals and audio work together seamlessly. If it doesn’t, it won’t matter how hard you worked on making the animation great - the end product will look sloppy, so make sure you put in some extra effort with this step. 

10) Have Another Meeting with the Client

Congratulations! You have finished your animation project and have arrived at the last step of the animation process. You now have an animation video that looks and sounds great, and you’re ready to show it to your client for approval. 

If you’ve arranged frequent meetings with the client throughout the animation process, you’ve already incorporated most of their feedback into the final product and this meeting would most likely only be a formality. 

You should, however, be prepared to receive some feedback - clients are not always entirely satisfied with the first version, and you might need to go back and make some changes, which brings us to the next step. 

client meetings finalize your animation project

GIF by YoungerTV via Giphy

11) The Revision Process

Some clients might want you to make some more tweaks to the finished project. Take notes and gauge how long it will take you to make the changes.

Inform your client of the turnaround time - depending on what they’d like to change, it might take you anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. Communicate it to them accordingly. 

revising is part of every animation process

GIF by funnyjunk.com via Giphy

Once the round of changes is done, you will have one final meeting with the client. If there are more changes they’d like you to make, you would follow the same process, but if they’re happy, you can finally put the project to bed and start working on a new one. 

Having a Freelance Animation Process in Place Will Guarantee Satisfied Animation Clients

No one can get much done without having a proper plan, and that is why having a freelance animation process in place is crucial.

Knowing exactly what happens when will allow you to communicate the process to your client, who will have a clear understanding of what they can expect and when they can expect it. 

Following an animation process will also make you appear like a professional to prospective clients. They will be able to see that you know what you’re doing and that you have a system in place.

This communicates the idea that you are an organized, reliable animator who gets the job done. 

If you’d like to advance your animation business, you can check out our free masterclass and marketing handbook as well as our blog post on "how to start your own animation studio".

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