What You Need to Create Award-Winning Animation

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Having worked for a 3D software company for over 15 years, I've seen a huge amount of animation. Some win awards and some don't. If you're interested in winning awards, here are some great tips that will get you on the right track.

A great idea

It's one of the trickiest things to come up with, but a great idea is what most award-winning animations have in common. Your idea needs to connect with people and ideally needs to cause some form of emotional response. Before you start creating an animation based on your idea, test it out on trusted friends and colleagues. Do they like the idea as much as you? If so, great! If not, you may need to keep thinking.

If you're struggling to come up with a great idea, then be patient. It's better to spend time settling on a great idea than to form an animation around a bad idea. Check out the next two tips to help nail that great idea!

Making headspace

Different people get creative in different situations. For example, you might find that you’re at your most creative commuting on the train, inspired by the movement and the faces and features around you. Or, you might need to carve out a quiet space somewhere where you won’t be disturbed. Try different scenarios and see what works for you.

Once you know the environment in which your creativity flows best, then work to give yourself that headspace. A schedule can be good to set up, where you dedicate a set time each day to come up with ideas. Make sure you write your thoughts down as you go, no matter how silly you think they may be at first thought. Brainstorming is a great way of generating lots of ideas fast and some of the best ideas are ones that seem barmy at first.

Creative spaces

It can be useful to have a space somewhere – whether at home or in an office – that is dedicated to inspiring creativity. Mood boards, images, examples of animations you find trigger your creativity can all help to get you into the right frame of mind. Ideally, you want to have your chosen resources to be ready to go straight away, so creating a permanent space for these is great, if you can.

A noticeboard is a popular tool in your creative space, which gives you loads of space to pin and arrange ideas and imagery. They are very cheap and can be put on any wall. Nowadays, you can get huge noticeboards at very reasonable prices. For example, check out this whopping 2.4m by 1.2m notice board on Amazon for under £50

What's the story?

In terms of the component parts of award-winning animation, the storyline is up there at the top. Spend time getting yours right – what are the basics, what happens at the beginning, middle and end and what themes are you exploring?

There are many ways to generate the plan for your animation. To give you an idea of some key principles, check out this 'what is 3D' blog post as it covers some of the areas that you need to think about when creating an animation. Once you've settled on a good story, it's time to think about the tools and resources required to create it.

Funding the animation

Creating animation can be an expensive business depending on the length and level of detail. You need to ensure that you have the funds to pay for things like staff, hardware, software, somewhere to work, etc. It is key that you figure this out as soon as possible. 

There are multiple ways to fund an animation. For example:

  • Use your own money or consider a loan. Make sure you can afford this before starting though and carefully consider if you are willing to lose that money, if the animation fails to gain the income or benefits you hope it will.
  • If the animation you have planned has potential worth to another company, consider approaching them for sponsorship. 
  • Consider offering promotional spots of material on crowd funding websites like Kickstarter. Have a look at projects on there already that are raising money. Can you offer similar rewards for pledges? Remember also, that people like to see what they are investing in, so a trailer for the animation can be a huge help in attracting funders. 

Go it alone or with a team?

Whilst this can be hard to debate at the early stages, it's good to figure out early. The longer your animation and the more complex the idea or planned visuals, the more likely it is that you'll need a team to help complete the project. Also, more people can mean more ideas and more creativity. You may find others help develop your ideas in great ways that you never imagined.

Whilst more people can generate animation faster, you also need to consider that you then need to spend time managing those people and ensuring they create the animation in the way that you want them to. A team of people opens up options for having people specialise on areas of the animation. For example, you could focus solely on directing and leaving the animation to people who know how to do that already. Naturally, more people also means more cost, not only for their time but for the hardware and software that they will require to. 

The right software 

Animation software comes in many different forms and some will make it easier to craft the kind of work product you’re looking for, while others won’t. A good tip is to take a look at animation that you like and want to try and emulate. Then, try and find out what software was used and how many people were required to make it. For example, an animation such as Toy Story required lots of software, hardware and hundreds of artists working in teams. Therefore, creating something similar is going to need similar resources.

Another key point with software is to make sure that you try it first and see if it suits what you want to do. We're all individuals and what suits one person doesn't necessarily suit another. Make sure you look deeply into the software's capabilities too, as although we all love easy-to-use software, if it's limited on features, then you'll soon become trapped on the level of creative animation that you can achieve.

One of the biggest decisions you'll make is whether to make your animation using 3D or 2D software. Both have their place in animation and your choice will depend on the look you want to achieve and your own skills. If you can draw well, then both mediums are an option, but if your drawing skills suck, then look at 3D software as you can still create great results as the computer helps you create shapes. If you want to know more about 3D software, check out this blog post: You Need to add 3D Software - Here's Why

The right hardware

You have a choice of machines and devices when it comes to animating and the right one for you will be the desktop or tablet that enables you to work freely, yet is capable of achieving the task. Other factors to bear in mind include the size of the screen you want to work with and whether you’re looking for something portable.

With animation software, one of the most time consuming tasks is rendering. Investing in faster hardware can mean you get results faster, but you need to weigh that up against how much you're willing to pay to achieve those time-savings. Also, the more complicated an idea you have, the more time and resources it's likely to require. However, lots of software offers options to render to external clients, either in your office or in the cloud. This can mean that your creative machine can be a lot cheaper and more portable, if you farm rendering off to more powerful machines.

If hardware selection s sounding rather daunting, that's because there are so many choices out there. If you're not sure on what you need, then it's worth consulting with a hardware reseller or two to get some ideas on setups. Checking two or more resellers is worth doing to ensure that you're not being recommended hardware you don't really need. 

Another useful tip for hardware is to ask the software makers what they'd recommend. For example, here's my blog post on Cinema 4D recommended specs.

Online tutorials

There are thousands of sites out there that offer tutorials on pretty much any topic you can imagine. Start with the free ones, which you'll find on the likes of YouTube and also use a search engine to find possible tutorials to help you. To find the most popular options, use the search filters.

Some tutorials will cover a single feature, others an entire topic such as character animation. Generally, the more specific and advanced the tutorial, the more likely it'll be that you need to pay out something for it.

Book learning 

You’ll find all sorts of tomes out there to help you improve, from those full of professional tips to guides that start from the basics. If you’re looking to be inspired by those who have already trodden the 3D animation path then look for books with the theme along the lines of 'all the things I wish I’d known when I started out' such as this handy ebook by Bloop Animation.

Another useful area to search for books is for those on the software you've chosen or the area of animation you are interested in.

Take a course

Many skills can be learned alone, but sometimes it's faster to learn from someone face-to-face. 3D animation courses can help you learn major skillsets quickly and with the added advantage that you can ask questions and clarify areas that you don't fully understand.

If you do decide to take a course, be sure to research the company out first. Just because a company offers training on a subject, doesn't mean it's good. Check if they are authorised to train by the manufacturer of the software they are teaching. See what comments other trainees have said about the course. 

Practice, practice, practice

Practice makes perfect and the more you create, the more you’ll be able to create – and the closer to award-winning it will be. If you're working on your first animation, you'll learn an awful lot in the process and you'll find that each further animation becomes more efficient as you become used to best practices.

Very few artists manage to create something that's award-winning in their first go. So, be patient and learn from each animation that you make. 

Share Your Results

When you get to the point that you have some animation to show, then promote it. No animation will win awards if nobody knows about it. A dedicated website or social media channel can really help get your work known. Depending on your objective you may want to have the animation air for free or perhaps you only want to show a trailer. That's your choice and the promotion should be adjusted to account for that choice.

One of the fastest ways to get your animation noticed for a relatively low fee is to upload it to Facebook. Whilst that on its own won't get much viewings, if you then pay for video views through Facebook advertising, you can quickly target people who you want to view it based on a huge range of interests from age, gender, interests, location and so much more. Even better, viewers tend to react to your post with comments or reactions. That'll give you a good indication if your animation is any good.

Submit your animation for awards

If you want to win awards, then remember to submit your animation for awards. There are loads of animation festivals and award choices out there. Query a search engine for 'animation awards' or similar phrases and you'll soon find a bunch of companies you can submit work to. Be aware that some of the more prestigious companies will charge considerable fees to assess your work. It's worth researching each company to check their value to you prior to applying if there are fees to consider. 

Before you go...

There you have it! That's my brain-dump of loads of tips for creating an award-winning animation. Hopefully you've found some use from the tips and I hope it helps you on your way to creating some great animation. Do let me know on the comments below if you are working on any animation and what tips work well for you. 

One last thing is I have a free guide available below that shows you how 3D software can integrate with your current creative software. That's well worth grabbing if you're new to 3D and you want some ideas on what to consider.

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About the MAXON Blog

Welcome to the official MAXON UK Blog. This blog provides the most up-to-date official information about MAXON, its products – in particular its flagship product Cinema 4D – and the Cinema 4D community. You can expect to see posts from a wide variety of MAXON UK employees.