How slow should you go?

Knowing how long it really takes to craft a high quality piece of animation can be invaluable information when you are starting out.

Animation, by it’s nature, is a slow process but, when you’re first starting out, it’s helpful to have an understanding of just how long it takes to produce a high quality result.

When we first start out with any creative endeavour, it’s common to compare our work with that of others. If we don’t understand how long it took to create that piece of work, we may become disheartened and give up too soon if our efforts appear to be falling short.

Since it’s common to compare our work to that which we see in film or television, it’s useful to have some idea of the speed at which an experienced film or TV animator works.

What are common animation quotas?

Whilst animation quotas will vary from studio to studio, depending upon the style and complexity of the projects being worked on, or the experience of the animator, the following figures are fairly typical.

Big budget feature animation demands the highest quality and, therefore, animators will have quotas of around 3 to 5 seconds per week.

By contrast, a TV series is produced on a far smaller budget so quotas will typically range between 5 and 10 seconds of animation per day.

Whilst it is common to hear numbers such as these in discussions about animation quotas, taken alone, they don’t tell the whole story.

Other factors to consider

Depending upon the studio and the project, there are other factors which impact the overall workload. For example:

How does the complexity of the character design or animation style impact the workload?

Does the quota relate to just one character or to all of the characters in a shot?

If the quota relates to multiple characters, what is the average number of characters per shot?

How many revisions does a shot typically go through before it is approved?

A real world example

To give you a clearer idea, this is how animation would typically be allocated for a TV series.

On a TV series with a quota of 5 seconds per day, the animator would never be expected to start the day with nothing and end with a finished, 5 second, piece of animation. Instead, quotas are an average figure for a provided sequence of shots.

For example, a sequence of shots might be allocated which is two minutes and five seconds in length. The animator would be given five weeks to work on the sequence which translates to twenty five seconds per week, or five seconds per day.

The sequence would include a wide range of different shots, from simple reactions, to multi-character action shots. All of the elements within each shot would be the responsibility of the same animator and, there would typically be an average of around two characters per shot across the sequence.

It would then be down to the animator to allocate their time appropriately between the shots. A quick and simple shot would obviously take far less time than a complex multi-character shot but, over the five weeks, the average rate of completed animation would still be five seconds per day.

The other thing to note is that the animator would not simply work sequentially, and finish each shot before moving on to the next. Instead, the animator would create a blocking pass across the entire sequence. This is where all of the key poses are created which define the performance but the in-between frames are missing.

By working in this way, shots can be reviewed at an early stage and changes made before too much time has been spent going in the wrong direction.

Throughout the five weeks, the shots would be gradually refined with a number of reviews along the way. Any changes to the animation would also need to be completed within the allotted time period of five weeks but, due to the faster pace of TV, there are likely to be far fewer revisions than with feature animation.

How slow?

When someone who knows nothing about animation asks how quickly it is made, their reaction to these numbers is invariably some variant of, “Wow, that’s slow!”.

The funny thing is, the more that you learn about animation, the more likely it is that your response to these figures becomes “Wow, that’s fast!”.

Whilst you’re learning animation, it’s really helpful to be aware of these figures but you shouldn’t rush to try to hit them.

Speed comes with time and experience.

If you try to match the speed too soon you will only fall short on quality.

Whilst you are learning, slow down. Take your time to master principles and body mechanics so that they become second nature and only try to pick up the speed once you are ready.

The important thing to realise is that if you’ve spent a day working on 10 seconds of animation, you can’t expect it to be comparable to the work of an experienced Disney or Pixar animator who would likely have 3 weeks to complete the same thing!


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