Parts of the Process — Charting the production process behind Animade’s eight-minute film for WeTransfer

Posted 26 June 2018 Interview by Marianne Hanoun

Last year, file-sharing platform WeTransfer approached animation studio Animade to make a film. Initially titled TBTITW (The Best Thing In The World) the project developed to become Tend, a captivating and atmospheric animated short that explores the idea of priority within a father-daughter relationship. From initial concepting to storyboards, character development and realisation, Tend was six months in the making, totalling eight minutes of film overall. With such an ambitious project on their hands, Animade drew on all members of staff to make it happen, alongside outside resources. And it was Animade producer Laura Darby’s job to keep the project on track and on time. She talks us through some of the practicalities involved – including why she occasionally told her team to leave the studio. 

Client

WeTransfer

Duration

November 2017 to May 2018

Team

Writing, Direction, Animation: Tom Judd and Ed Barrett
Production: Laura Darby
Animation: Ricard Badia, Michael Davies, Emma Ehrling, Frida Ek, Olivia Golding, Stewart Harvey, Dev Joshi, Scott Lockhart, Alex Lund, Alice Seatherton, Lana Simanenkova, Milo Targett
Music Composition and Sound Design: Sounds Like These 
Press and Marketing: Amy Egan

Timings

Nov 2017–Jan 2018: Storyline and storyboards

Jan–Feb 2018: Character design and animatic

Feb–May 2018: Blocking out character body and face animation; 3D grass animation on After Effects and C4D

Feb–May 2018: Scene design

Feb–May 2018: Cel animation on Animate CC; compositing and edit, and final render

Brief

Develop a short film for WeTransfer (containing no dialogue, to appeal to all regions) that is at least five minutes in length, characterful, emotive and with a humorous edge.

Project background

At the end of 2016, one of our account managers, Heather, started chatting to WeTransfer about working together, although we had been discussing the possibility for a while. We knew Rob, the editor, through mutual contacts within the industry, but this was the first time we partnered on a project together. 

Heather, Tom and Ed got on a call in June 2017 to learn that WeTransfer wanted to produce some content to coincide with the launch of their new website. The brief was left quite open as to how we wanted to approach it. We pretty much had free rein to come up with a good concept. Rob was fantastic, he let us run with our ideas, which is a rare privilege indeed.

We worked up what was then known as TBTITW (The Best Thing In The World) proposal, which we eventually pitched to Rob in August 2017. The project was awarded after the scope of work and budget was agreed with the WeTransfer team in Los Angeles. Later on, we decided to launch the film as part of our talk at OFFF Barcelona in May 2018.

Animation process video

Setting up the production process

Production in any creative industry is about being a facilitator; you are there to make sure that things get done on time and within budget. You could also be described as a ‘firefighter’ – you are the bridge between client and creative, and need to be ready to resolve any issues or conflicts that occur as part of the project process. I love people and process; seeing the wheels turning smoothly is my jam. 

On an ordinary project for Animade, I would have a set brief and defined list of deliverables to guide everyone with. But for this project, there was no script from the client, and we had to create everything from scratch, which made the process slightly unusual.

“Production is about being a facilitator; you are there to make sure that things get done on time and within budget.”

This served as our flagship passion project, so we were naturally balancing other client projects alongside it. In the end we made a business decision to invest more of our time beyond budget, to make it the best it could possibly be. Being the studio bossy boots also helped, as I was the flea in everyone’s ear reminding them of deadlines and priorities. 

Laura with Rob from WeTransfer

Scripting and shaping the story

I needed to make sure Tom and Ed had sufficient time to get the storyline perfected. I encouraged them to work offsite on the concepting, script and storyboards, as their time in the office is usually taken up with directing and managing the team here. For this we used Boords [online storyboard software created by Animade] to quickly create and edit the storyboards. I wanted Tom and Ed to have their heads fully in the game to achieve our deadlines, so I let them crack on, and became a sounding board for ideas every now and again. You don’t interfere with genius! 

Once we had the script, storyboards, character designs and animatic in a solid place, we started bringing in the other members of the Animade team to start on the After Effects character animation, so my role fell into more of what I am used to: heading up frequent catch-ups, booking resource onto the project, removing any impediments and reminding everyone of deadlines. Work on the character design and the animatic ran parallel to this. We got input from other team members on the character designs, but ultimately, this role sat firmly with Ed and Tom. 

Storyboarding in process

Storyboarding in process

Storyboarding and character design in process

Storyboarding and character design in process

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Character design in process

Character design in process

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Team meetings with WeTransfer

Team meetings with WeTransfer

Team meetings with WeTransfer

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In January we had a face-to-face progress catch-up with Rob in the studio, which proved invaluable. We printed out all of the storyboards and stuck them onto the meeting room wall, and took him through the animatic. We got Rob’s thoughts on the plot and ending, and had a really productive conversation that helped us shape the narrative and ultimately made the end result better. 

Character development

Building characters and expanding the team

I worked closely with Ed and Tom while they were setting up scenes ready for animation. This involved creating a spreadsheet with Tom against the latest animatic. This outlined the number of ‘acts’ and shots, time-codes, resources and an After Effects progress-status column. The spreadsheet was really helpful; I would encourage the use of them for anything as mammoth as Tend!

We had pretty much every permanent member of the Animade team work on this film at one time or another. Throughout the process, I stayed aware of annual leave, and made sure we were still covered on all other projects, to make sure we had everything we needed for Tend. Once the animatic was established, we had regular catch-ups.

“We created spreadsheets outlining act and shot numbers, time-codes, resource and an After Effects column.”

Spreadsheets created for the project

Spreadsheets created for the project

Spreadsheets created for the project

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Later on (about two months prior to the deadline), with more client projects to balance, we realised we needed a bit of outside help. So we brought on compositor and editor Scott Lockhart and cel animators Olivia Golding and Alice Seatherton. It would be my role to brief new team members on the project as they were added.

Getting other people on board after the project had been with Ed and Tom for so long was probably the trickiest part. Due to the deadline we had set ourselves, we were still creating scene designs and layouts, and tweaking the animatic alongside allocating character animation for the team to work on, which inevitably meant undoing some of our previous work. However, I think we managed to keep that to a minimum.

The Animade team working on ‘Tend’

The Animade team working on ‘Tend’

Mock-up layouts

Reviewing shots and introducing sound

Once the After Effects animation was underway, we used Frame.io links posted on a dedicated Slack channel, so that Ed and Tom could review and approve work as we went. This was super-smooth and a lot easier than having to get them to do a set of ‘rounds’ every morning to check on progress!

“The priority is to get as much done as possible, then go back and tweak it to perfection.”

From this stage through to delivery, Ed, Tom and I would meet up every two days so that I could update the spreadsheet and get a handle on overall progress. We got quite granular towards the end and introduced deadlines on each shot. This was necessary, as it can be easy to fall into the trap of picking away at a scene to make it 110% perfect. We were tweaking layout and colours right up to the last week. 

We also brought our audio partner, Sounds Like These, in at this stage. By drip-feeding them animatics and edits that were being worked on, they were able to chip away at the sound design as we animated. I was aware that the timings would shift, so this required clear communication on how finalised each scene was – I didn’t want them to have to redo anything from scratch. 

Work in progress for the grassland scene

The animatic

Sketches in progress

Work in progress

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Cel animation and preparing the final render

As soon as we had some After Effects animation signed off, we moved those shots into the cel animation pipeline. The team jumped into action, getting hands, boots, flames and other lovely drawn touches onto the character animation base. We utilised the mega-sheet to track progress in much the same way as the After Effects work. Once the cel work was approved, the relevant shot was labelled ‘ready for final comp’ and it was popped into the edit. 

The character animation base

Delivery

The end result was a 4K file on Vimeo – Apple ProRes HQ. We also delivered various work-in-progress elements for press and social sharing purposes, like initial scamps, artwork and GIFs. 

Timings always felt pressured, as our ambitious intentions meant we had a lot to do in a relatively short period of time. I would give people deadlines on the individual shots sooner to pace out the work a bit more towards the end. However, given the magnitude of the project I think it all turned out pretty smoothly!

“The reaction to the final outcome was astounding. The film has garnered over 60,000 views on Vimeo so far.”

The reaction to the final outcome was astounding. We’re so excited by the response we’ve had so far, and the debut at OFFF Barcelona 2018 was so exciting. We watched Ed and Tom presenting via our Instagram livestream, and to see so many people clapping and cheering at the end was amazing. It made all the hard work worth it! 

Upon its release, the film was immediately featured in Creative ReviewIt’s Nice That and Short of the Week among many others, and has garnered over 60,000 views on Vimeo so far. We’ve just begun entering it into awards and festivals as well, so fingers crossed we get some more good results in the near future!

The final film

Posted 26 June 2018 Interview by Marianne Hanoun
Collection: Parts of the Process
Disciplines: Animation
Mentions: Animade, WeTransfer
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