Not a lot is written about directing animation - especially for shorter forms like TV commercials, motion graphics, explainer videos and social media videos. Whatever the medium or duration the goal for the animation director is the same - to tell a good story.
Unlike the film director who can shoot a lot of takes, B-roll, and even invent unscripted shots on the fly, there's no such luxury in animation. The animation director gets one take, exact duration, no B-roll, no optional shots. Arguably the animation director's job is harder than the film director because she has to get it right the first time. Here's a brief look at what's involved for the short form animation director:
Script editing - what ends up on the screen is the director's responsibility, so if the director thinks the script needs adjustments, then better to make them here, before it goes any further into the production pipeline. This is not a reflection on the writer - who has already done the amazing job of creating something from nothing. All scripts are flawed - they are after all not a final work - but an unfinished film - the final draft is the one that ends up on the screen. The director might continue to make script adjustments at every step of the animation production process.
Visual Style - Sometimes the visual style may already be established in a previous film or dictated by a style guide. Other times the director in collaboration with the designer will arrive at a visual style. The director will pitch the visual style to the client, and when approved will oversee the asset build to make sure it stays on-design.
Storyboard - In animation, this is where most of the directing happens. Good storyboard artists are not just good at drawing, they understand the language of film and are really directors in their own right. However, sometimes in shorter animation forms like TV commercials and web videos, storyboard artists may not always be across film language or story. These artists might need direction to interpret the script - they may even need a thumbnail storyboard from the director. Board artists for example who mostly work on TVC's are sometimes not across narrative storyboarding as well as TV series board artists. The storyboard is where you find out what's wrong with the script - unforeseen problems usually emerge at storyboard stage and so refinement of the story is on-going as the film gets closer to the screen.
Vocal casting - the project may need to have vocal actors or voice over artists cast. The director will usually be involved in the selection of vocal talent, and will make recommendations to the client. Sometimes the project has vocal talent already assigned - perhaps from a previous film or commercial. In case you haven't already discovered this - voice over artists are usually not actors - so don't expect they will be able to perform a character, just because they have a voice. Characters need vocal actors.
Animatic - The animatic (sometimes call a leica reel or story reel) is where the director finds out what's wrong with the storyboard. Sequencing the storyboard panels on a timeline is a quick (cheap) way for the director to see if the transitions, timing, staging and continuity are all working seamlessly to tell the story in the best way possible. Skip the animatic stage at your peril - finding and fixing problems here is way, way easier than fixing them in animation.
Animation - If the pre-production process has been thorough, the animation stage is simply execution. The story heavy lifting is mostly done by this stage and the director should be mostly focussed on performance (or in the case of motion graphics - the choreography). It's not really the director's job to be looking at technical details like lip sync, turns or walk cycles - an animator should already be across these skills, or in a larger studio an animation lead will guide less experienced artists before presentation to the director. But if there are technical mistakes present, the director will find them and ask for a retake. The director will be mostly looking at the animator's interpretation of the performance - is it on-brief, on-character, optimal for the story. The director may identify some late improvements to the story as the process nears the finish line - hold a shot longer, adjust a camera angle, remove a shot, insert a new one, and so on.
Sound - the director will usually make the final calls on music choices, sound design and the sound mix, before presentation to the client.
Self-directing animators - often in a smaller studio, artists might play multiple roles - the storyboard artist might also be the animator for example, or the writer or producer might also be the director. Some animators self-direct, some don't. A self-directing animator will never say "…but I was just following the storyboard". Instead he will fix the issue or bring it to the director's attention. Animators in smaller studios are often self-directing because they might be the sole animator on a project, and may not have a director, so they have to be across the whole story. Unlike animators in a large studio, who are only focussed on the shots allocated to them, and probably don't even know the full story.
All animation projects - no matter how big or small, need a person to take creative ownership of it - to take it from script to screen, and to be responsible for making the story or message as good as it can be.
Unless you've been living under a rock, you would know that consumption of video on mobile devices is the new normal. Latest stats show that *70% of YouTube audiences and **98% of Facebook users are on mobile devices. So if you're creating video or animated content for audiences on mobile devices, you should be designing your content for the medium. Here some of the main considerations:
1. Aspect Ratio
A question that some clients are still not expecting is "What aspect ratio do you want to make your video in". Here's a few popular flavours:
But a viewer can turn their screen sideways to view 16:9 right? Wrong - by default we hold mobile devices vertically with one hand - and a *recent study found that only 17.5% of users will actually turn their device sideways to view a landscape format video.
Clearly the full 9:16 vertical occupies the most screen real estate. But the full frame vertical format can be tricky to design for, and won't suit all content. If you're on the fence 1:1 square is a good compromise. If you have a dual requirement for mobile and traditional (16:9) audiences - then ask your supplier if they can provide your content in 2 formats - say square and 16:9 - they might say yes.
Videos that appear in the newsfeed of Facebook, Linkedin and Instagram are mute by default - unless the user switches the sound on. How do we design for this?
The safest assumption is that the entire video will be viewed mute - which means your film should be designed to be understood without sound (deja vu - the silent film era - have we gone full circle?).
If your message relies on dialog, add subtitles to the mobile version. Trouble with subtitles is they're not pretty, and may cover important parts of the image. So keep the lower third empty if you know sub's are being added later. Alternatively design it as a kinetic text piece - where the text becomes a part of the design, instead of an add-on.
*Recent studies have shown that text support in videos can increase view time up to 30%. Lets face it - text plastered over the screen is the new normal in mobile video - so design for it, rather than stick it on top as an afterthought.
To make your soundtrack pop out of a crappy mobile speaker system, don't use a track that relies on bass - cuz it may not be heard. Use a track that emphasises the mid-range so that the highs and lows are not lost if viewed in a noisy environment.
Optimum duration will depend on the social media platform your content is going out on. *Facebook states that to capture attention, branded content should be only 6 to 15 seconds duration! Facebook also cites the 3-second rule - that the first three seconds is how long it takes for people to decide to continue watching or not (it wasn't that long a go this was the 10-second rule - how quickly things change!). Facebook also recommends to present your brand in the first 1-2 seconds - if you are making branded content - which is totally contrary to TV commercial mentality where your couch potato audience is presented the logo at the end.
Instagram and Snapchat audiences have similar concentration spans! Linkedin audiences on the other hand have a little more patience and are more likely to persevere for longer durations of a minute or more. YouTube audiences are the champions when it comes to viewing staying power - with *average viewing times of around 14 minutes.
One thing is for sure across all social media channels - you gotta create a killer intro with a solid hook in the first few seconds to keep people around.
The challenge is to tell a story in short duration - which done well can be awesome. With this in mind - perhaps the new story paradigm for say a 15 second social media video might look like this:
ACT 1 - 1-3 seconds - the killer intro - the most compelling part of the story. Hook the audience here or it's likely you'll lose them. Better give them a whiff of the brand here too - in case they decide not to stick around.
ACT 2 - 4-11 seconds - the body of the story - more context - reveals, twists - live up to the expectations of the killer intro. 10 seconds is the big threshold - if you can get a viewer to commit to ten seconds - it's likely they'll stay 'till the end.
ACT 3 - 12 - 15 seconds - the climax - the film leads to it's exciting conclusion, Don't disappoint - pull the rug out from under your audience - surprise them, shock them, make them laugh, or cry.
5. Camera angles
Gone are the big beautiful wide establishing shots that languish on the screen for 6 or 7 lazy seconds. Instead it’s a quick full shot or medium shot to establish. Or maybe skip the establishing shot altogether and go straight to the action. Keep your scenes uncluttered cuz the more in the shot the longer the audience needs to take it in - and time is something it seems small screen audiences don't want to commit to any more.
Sources: *Scientiamobile **Statista