Monday, September 12, 2011

I Have An Idea for an Animated Film. Can You Make It For Me?

Steve Bissette, a comics artist who also writes and publishes, has posted a great piece on issues surrounding collaborating on a graphic novel.

The piece is relevant because the requests that Bissette is addressing are similar to those that I regularly address as the coordinator of Sheridan College's animation program. I am constantly fielding phone calls and emails requesting that students create films for individuals and organizations. As Bissette points out, like it or not, drawing takes longer than writing. And animating most certainly takes longer than writing.

My first question when I get these requests is to ask if this is a paying project. Most times it isn't. In that case, my response is that we have a highly structured curriculum and we're not able to accommodate the request. If the job is paying, I try to connect a recent graduate with the project.

I don't doubt that many animation artists get requests like this. I remember somebody who wanted an animation done for her daughter's birthday party with a caricature of the mother as the main character. I think the fee on that was as high as $100, but when I quoted industry rates, that ended the discussion quickly.

People generally don't understand how labour intensive drawing and animating are. They also assume, as Bissette points out, that artists are devoid of ideas, just sitting around waiting for somebody to give them one. The problem is never finding an idea, it's finding the time and money to work on an idea.

Bissette raises a lot of issues concerning ownership, royalties, etc. which are food for thought for anybody who is hired to collaborate, as opposed to simply being hired to execute. While the issues surrounding graphic novels and animation don't match exactly, there are enough in common to make the piece worth reading.


chris said...

I'm a screenwriter and it's the same thing; people are constantly telling me they have an idea for me to write.

Boris M. said...

Not too long after graduating, someone in the music industry contacted me to make an animation for her and her husband's wedding. She wanted it to be six minutes. I figured out how many weeks it would take me, multiplied it by my weekly rate and they were floored at how much I was asking for. Then they said "we'll find a student that wants to do it as a portfolio piece" :P

It's sad that this happens to larger studios as well, not just students.

Grayden Laing said...

This is a great topic to post about. As someone who likes to collaborate with others I've spent a lot of time thinking about it and how to be fair to all involved while getting a product that everyone involved is happy with.

I've completed four animation projects with other creative collaborators. Those are Eggs Gone Wild, The Dolls House, Beer Goggles, and Sound of Sorrow. They've all had varying degrees of success. Beer Goggles is the clear winner at this point although EGW may give it a run for its money in time.

I think the main thing is to work with writers and musicians who understand the financial and time costs associated with the animation production process. Even when working with such people you need to make sure you outline everything, in a contract, that you plan to deliver and everything you expect them to deliver and make a contingency plan in the event that either of you are unable to fulfill your contractual obligations. For example, outline the parameters by which another animator is hired on to replace you or a writer/musician is hired on to replace them.

Ownership of the various aspects of the project is another hurdle and one that needs to be ironed out from the start as well. If anyone is unhappy going into it then you probably shouldn't go ahead as those feelings will likely increase with time and it's not worth the headaches that will cause down the road. I have a tendency to underestimate how long it will take to do things I enjoy doing so I always try to take that into account before I make any promises, because if it's a big project that can end up being countless hours of uncompensated work.

The biggest hurdle I find at the start of collaboration with a writer new to animation is trying to explain how time/resource consuming animation is in relation to writing. Going into those meetings the 50/50 split is always put on the table and, speaking from experience, it's not feasible. I've tried to make it work and it just puts too much financial strain on the production process. That's why I feel it's easier to work with writers who have animation production experience, because they'll understand that without you having to explain it.

If your potential collaborator has production experience or they're a good friend and you really want to work with them, another good idea is to work on one or two small scale projects first before jumping to something larger. Maybe a 15-30 second piece - and keep it simple. If those projects work then you'll hopefully have an idea as to how the larger project will go. I've done that on a couple projects. One was with a friend and it let us know, before we went too far, that they really weren't ready to invest themselves in the project. I was the best man at said friend’s wedding this year so I'd say it worked in our favour, and maybe one day that project will go ahead. I still have the claymation monkey house and it's one hundred claymation monkey inhabitants so it's always an option down the road when we both have more free time.

Anyway, those are my general thoughts on the topic.

Mark, how do you explain the animation process in terms of who gets what to writers who want to collaborate on their first animation project with an animator, but can't pay for it? Let's say it's a great idea, excellent script, and someone you want to work with, as opposed to someone just looking for a free handout.

Dennis S. said...

That birthday request happened to me too. To be fair the one who requested it knew nothing about how long animation takes so I had to do a little bit of explaining on animation production.

Another request came from a business executive who actually had the gall to insult me because I said 5 minutes of CG animation will take me at least 2 months if I hired additional artists. He said he'd rather hire Pixar. I told him good luck with that.

David B. Levy said...

Mark, you wrote:
"The problem is never finding an idea, it's finding the time and money to work on an idea."

My spin on this is that "time" is not such an issue (just think of the time people waste on nonsense), and the reality is that making a film now has never been cheaper. My last film cost $500.

In my opinion, the biggest factor that keeps people from making an animated film is a lack of passion, something totally needed to see you through the mundane tasks and hard work needed to get through to completion.

Steve Schnier said...

Hi Mark,
I'm constantly besieged by individuals with a "billion dollar idea" for 'the next Spongebob Squarepants'. And they want to collaborate with me on a Pitch Bible and/or script.

Naturally when I quote my rate, they lose interest. You'd think that someone who is absolutely sure that they were going to make a billion dollars could afford to pay the artist.

Richard O'Connor said...

Once a musician moaned about how much I wanted to charge to do work for them.

I asked, how big is the file of your finished music. It was something like 75MB, uncompressed.

I told him that the animation file, uncompressed, would probably be around 2.5 GB. Why? Because even in the digital world the picture is more than 25 times as complicated -and that's why it's 25 times as expensive.

Music tends to bill around 10% of what picture does, as further proof of how low animation budgets are.

milowerx said...

I get one of these requests at least once a month if not more. Most are just soccer moms with ideas that have no merit or marketability. I usually just send them a blanket quote immediately. If they keep talking I know they're serious. If they don't I know it's someone who does not have any budget. It's a sad thing that people don't seem to realize that something like a cartoon might take a while to make. Like there's some sort of 'animate' button on the computer. If there was they wouldn't need us though huh? Humans, go figure.