The digital surge – pipelines in animation

The other day I was having a discussion with a friend of mine, she’s a journalist, and we were re-living the old days of typesetting with the subsequent conversion to computer based publishing and how technology had moved on in only 18 years. Attitudes to technology are so ‘matter of fact’ these days,  it has to be ready here and now. It is especially prevalent in photography, digital photography has stormed the scene with everyman and his dog claiming their place. I can buy a relatively cheap DSLR camera, take ‘quality’ pictures upload them to my site (and revenue generating stock photography sites) and get professional print runs sent straight to my door. But in the same instance, just because I can use Maya, does that make me an animator?

Indeed server side encoding is the way forward with YouTube, Vimeo etc., especially now that YouTube are offering a download service (by public demand). Being able to to universally distribute content should be a given, not a challenge. Media encoders like Squeeze or Cleaner XL make the job of us filmmakers very simple to use, create your ‘video’ piece in whatever format and away you go; mobile, Flash, QuickTime, iPhone its all there for the taking. Just drag and drop, sometimes you have to fiddle with the data rate but that’s about it.

In animation, rendering times need to be quicker, the production pipelines need to be slick and the output, universal. When we were commissioned by Sony for Trona in 2004, top of the list was ensuring that we could maintain delivery of a 30-second episode every week for 24 weeks. We developed a pipeline that ensured it could happen, recognising also that we also needed to build bespoke tools to help us. Also, when Sony requested assets for print and plasma screens etc., we couldn’t afford to fold under the pressure. Fortunately it was all available for use within the campaign, assets for print, assets for plasma screens, assets for banners, screen-savers, you name it it was ready and available without any disruption to the production process.

In the present day, audiences demand access to much more content with much more choice, gone are the days when you could roll out an episode once a week, to launch an animated product you need a batch of episodes, especially if you are launching online. Even 5 years ago when we first launched Trona, the campaign didn’t start well as there weren’t any other episodes to view, however when had a batch of about 6 or 7.. viewers started hanging around longer, averaging 6-minutes, that’s 6-minutes in front of Sony product – you don’t get that in TV advertising!

Recently Sliced Bread worked on a (soon to be released) game for Channel 4. To give the game depth and maintain audience engagement we had to produce nearly 300 sequences of animated scenarios  in 2-weeks for the agency who developed and designed the game. With early planning we looked at the pipeline to ensure we could deliver on-time whilst also meeting client expectations creatively.

When we consider any project now moving forward, we always look at what value can we bring and how can we reduce the pressure on the production. Working in digital marketing needs swift and very forward thinking. There is an incredible demand in our sector to produce high-quality content in a very short space of time. It is also important to let the client know what extras they can get out of the content you create.

Social media marketing is fast becoming a defining area, in Dan Light’s blog he talks about the development of the Watchmen widget and the ultimate requirement of creating a component that needed a sufficient rotation of content to make it work as a ‘social media’ piece.

The bottom line is this – if you’re going to ask somebody to place what is essentially a free advertisement for your product on their homepage, blog, fan-site, social networking profile or whatever other digital smallholding it is they call their own, you better make sure it does something.  In the case of WATCHMEN, content-wise, we really went for the mother lode.

Coming into 2009, we took the widget and turned it into the centrepiece of what we can find no better words to describe than ’social media toolkit’.

Digital marketing is a very exciting space right now, with ‘social media marketing’ being this years watch-word. The global change is also relevant our industry as it now requires collaboration, accountability and transparency. However understanding production workflows, so that you can ensure the creative process becomes unhindered, is also very important in delivering engaging content to target markets who demand choice.