Animation Dayjob Development MIPCOM Television The Precinct

Take me to the pilot

Happy new year! Happy Oshtraya Day!

I realised I’ve been lucky enough to work on a lot of animated TV pilots lately, so I thought I’d write a bit about how they’ve worked and what happened with them. When I don’t name names it’s because the work isn’t out in public yet and confidentiality applies.

As you can imagine, making a pilot can be quite different to working on a series, schedule-wise. On a series there’s no shortage of work to be done, and it needs to be done RIGHT NOW. On a pilot there may be no immediate deadline (since there may not be a broadcaster breathing down your neck), and everyone is generally taking things slower so as to produce the best-looking work they can (the pilot needs to impress!).

In mid-2007 I went to work at Company A as storyboard artist on a series of short adult cartoons. At the same time they were attempting to develop a kids series. Being a speedy team, we completed the job three weeks ahead of schedule. Rather than end the contract early, as some companies might have done, they wisely put us to work creating some test animation for the kids series, a few minutes’ worth. They took this to MIPCOM 2007, and in 2008 I was back at Company A working on the series, 26 episodes of which are now in production! I’d suggest things worked out well for them.

I animated just a few quick scenes on a teen/adult cartoon pilot for Square I/Bogan Entertainment Solutions, a really fun looking series with a great designer. This appears to still be in limbo, but you can see the pilot animation here! Click “Exchange Student Zero” for the clip.

I storyboarded and popped out an animatic for Company C’s two minute adult cartoon (a demo they were taking to MIPCOM 2008). This, like the previous job, was not done in-studio. I live in Melbourne and Company C work from the other side of the country, so there was lots of e-mailing and FTP. They sent a previously recorded dialogue track and I drew up and timed my boards to the sound (this is what an animatic is).

Currently I’m working on two different pilots. One is for Company C, and is another adult show, nicely designed and full of arse jokes (my forte). Again I’m storyboarding remotely (from home).

In some of my previous work for them I was provided with audio tracks to draw to. This time they’re a bit rushed so I’m drawing my panels without having heard the dialogue. I don’t mind doing it either way, although if the drawings come before the dialogue record it’s a good idea for the actors to see the board before they do their lines. Otherwise the readings may not work with the drawings and there’ll be more revisions (again, not necessarily a bad thing — unless your production is strapped for time).

The other pilot is for a kids show. I’m animating, working nine to five in Company D’s studio. I’m enjoying this very much as my weekly quota is lower than I’m used to. This means I have time to really punch the animation and make it nice, resulting in scenes I’m pretty happy with!

In August 2008 I found out I’d have my own opportunity to go to MIPCOM, so I began work on my own Precinct pilot demo to take with us. The trip was in October, so clearly we had a deadline.

I was still working at Company A nine to five, so the work was done before and after hours. I produced a storyboard/animatic in Flash and cut it up into its component shots for use by the animators. The designers and myself pumped out the backgrounds, while the animators did double duty building characters (putting them together in Flash so they can be easily animated).

Although I’m supposedly a director of my own shorts, I had not “directed” a film before in this sense (farming out large amounts of work to others) so thankfully everyone was patient and accommodating. I mostly handled fix-ups myself since they were generally my fault, not having given people enough info early on (also, it was quicker).

We finished it and took it to MIPCOM, and it definitely helped us put The Precinct over to people. This year we will hopefully start production, whether on a full pilot or the series itself.

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