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Countdown to a Killer Animation: An Animation from Script to Screen

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Your client just dropped a bomb – they want a medical animation or MOA for a conference in four months. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, you have to produce an animation for the 2021 ASH Conference at the end of November.

ASH is still four months away, so there’s still plenty of time for that, right?

Actually, from script to screen, a comprehensive three-minute MOA video can take anywhere from three to four months to complete. But if you’ve got a deadline that coincides with an event in that timeframe, there is still time to take action and produce your perfect MOA.

Let’s take a look at the typical production process for a three-minute animation.

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Four Months from Delivery: An Engaging Script

Your script is the foundation for a successful animation. It will communicate the intricate mechanisms of a disease state and the function of the therapeutic process. But the story also needs to be engaging. A script can take an average of four weeks to research, write and refine, and enter the legal review process.

  • Tip: Take this opportunity to strike the perfect balance between storytelling and the science in a way that will keep your audience engaged.
  • Tip: The animation team can always begin development with a general story outline, so don’t rush the script-writing process. Spend this time creating a clear and appealing narrative.

Three Months to Go: Visualising Look and Feel with Style Frames

While the script is in development, the animation team will begin designing the players and environments in your story. Molecules, cellular environments, devices, and anatomical representations will be brought to life in 3D renderings, aka style frames. This process can take two to three weeks, depending on the level of complexity or number of elements needed to tell the story.

  • Tip: Take this time to advise and guide the animation team. Is the work in progress scientifically accurate? Does the artwork reflect the appropriate level of complexity OR simplicity for the target audience?
  • Tip: Determine if the imagery needs to reflect the branding guidelines, or if it needs to stand apart stylistically from the current branding.
  • Tip: Identify the preferred colour palette and mood that the artwork needs to convey. For instance, do you want your drug/product to appear bright and shiny, to visually communicate its role as the hero? Maybe you want the disease-initiating molecule to be of a darker, hotter colour so it can be easily identified as the antagonist of the story?
  • Tip: If 3D models need to be revised, it will have much less of an impact on production at this stage than when animation production has already been completed. For this reason, it’s important at this point that all the stakeholders have input on the style frames, including the end client.

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Two-and-a-Half Months to Go: Finding the Visual Flow with Storyboards

The animation team will usually need two to three weeks to produce storyboards, depending on the complexity of the science.

  • Tip: Are you easily able to follow the story visually, from frame to frame, without confusion? It’s important to ensure the boards not only capture the intricacies of the science story, but also follows a clear, linear narrative.
  • Tip: Are there any areas where the narration covers too much detail within a sentence? What works on paper may be tricky to capture visually within the animation. Audiences need enough time to absorb the action onscreen.
  • Tip: It’s okay to expand on the word count of the script where needed if it will help the pacing and flow of the animation. Animation studios want to produce the best results for you, and an increase in word count that is beneficial to the clarity of the animation shouldn’t usually affect your budget.
  • Tip: Get feedback from the animation team. Lean on their experience and creative advice to achieve a more fluid, visually flowing story – even if that may require some minor structural changes to the script.

Two Months to Go: Let’s Start Animating!

Once storyboards are refined and approved, the team will begin the animation process. A rough, unpolished animatic may be provided first for initial feedback and then further refined into a second, third and eventually a final pass. Towards the end of this stage, professional narration will be recorded and music and sound effects composed and mixed into the final video. The process of rough animatic to final approved pass can take an average of six to eight weeks.

  • Tip: Consider the expertise, experience and creativity of the animation studio. They can provide great ideas and solutions throughout the process to various creative challenges.
  • Tip: The animation stage, especially the final pass, is the most time-intensive part of the project. Communication is key at this point – any changes to the script, look or flow need to be communicated and actioned as early as possible to avoid last-minute crunches that could jeopardise deadlines.
  • Tip: Stuff happens, but do your best to keep to the agreed schedule and avoid any sudden acceleration of the timeline or addition of content.
  • Tip: Be sure to communicate the appropriate mood and style of the music/sound design.
  • Tip: Make sure you’ve identified when all deliverables need to be received, including additional ancillary assets that may need to be produced.
  • Tip: Find out when the AV team at the event will need to test and receive the animation and be sure to identify the digital formats they require. For instance, if the event stand has vertical LED screens, and the animation team have produced the animation in landscape format, remedying this situation can sometimes be a challenge later in the schedule. Be sure to communicate your format needs early in the process.
  • Remember: Your animation team has the expertise and creativity to create truly stunning effects, using cutting-edge CG tools, BUT, your input is crucial. Do you want that ‘all bells and whistles’ approach –jaw-dropping animation that rivals the most sophisticated movie effects? Or would you prefer something more calm, informative and educational in tone? It’s important you have your say throughout the process and brief the animation team on tone, look and “feel” as closely as possible.

Two Weeks to Go: Client Feedback and Legal Reviews

  • Remember: These necessary review stages can easily add an extra two to three weeks to any production schedule. The larger the review team, the more voices will need to be heard. This can sometimes cause delays when attempting to gather everyone’s feedback. Ensure reviews are factored in from the start and all science stakeholders understand the importance of sticking to the review schedule.

Your Target Date Has Arrived: Success!

Your MOA should now be in your hands and ready to go! Enjoy the accolades of producing a beautiful and effective crowd-pleasing animation in time for your event.

Help! I don't have three to four weeks!

Will your animation studio be able to deliver the MOA sooner?

Yes. Animation studios are often required to accelerate production in order to accommodate shortened timelines and can still deliver on time; however, there are a few consequences to this scenario that you may want to consider.

Getting the Job Done: More Quickly

In order to get more animation produced within a short time frame, studios may either need to put additional animators on the job, or acquire more rendering power which can increase the budget. The complexity of the animation may also need to be simplified and the length of the script reduced as well.

These decisions can potentially impact the quality and character of your MOA. A “high-end” science animation, for example, can take more time and effort to produce than an animation of a lesser visual complexity. As a solution to meeting the shortened deadline, you may be offered the simpler “Style B” animation solution which could be the most effective path to success, but not as appealing as the high-end “Style A”. This doesn't mean your product will be inferior or inaccurate in any way, but it can mean that you could have missed an opportunity to produce the MOA that elevates your brand in more dynamic and exciting ways.

Start Early: for the Best Results

When you choose to produce an MOA animation, you are investing a lot of time and budget into an effective, accurate, and aesthetically pleasing product that will help your brand make a significant impact. To get optimal results, consider giving your animation team – as well as your own marketing, creative and science teams – the time to fully work through this creative process from the start.

In conclusion, if you are planning to hire an animation partner to develop your MOA assets for the upcoming ASH show in late November, you probably should be looking to secure an animation studio very soon.

Good luck!

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