Tuesday, 18 July 2017

16 Rules of Animation Freelancing

If you work in the animation industry, the chances are that at some point you will be self-employed, either running your own small business or working as a freelancer. 

Even if you do land a job as an employee of a company, our industry tends to be project-driven, and most companies tend to expand and contract according to the size of their order book. 

So what’s an animator to do to stay afloat? First, you must understand the 16 Rules of Animation Freelancing

The Animator's Survival Kit - the animation bible
Rule 1 - Be Good
Your first task is to get good at what you do. This is an obvious rule, but your life as a freelancer is a world of deadlines, and you need to be on top of your craft. 

It takes a while to get really good, so practice hard. Make your animation entertaining and fun to watch. Find colleagues and friends who you like to work with, whose skills complement your own.

Rule 2 - Have a Great Demo Reel
The most important thing that any student has in their search for work is their demo reel. A  demo reel is your shop front, your display of talent. It should be hosted online at a website or blog. A great demo reel brings in work. 

Rule 3 - Be a Problem Solver
An Invoice. Image: Wikipedia
If you want a successful freelance career, you must be a problem-solver. The more parts of the animation process you understand, the more useful you are to an employer or a client. Animators often double up as storyboard artists and character designers. You might do some 3D modeling, maybe some rigging, possibly even some texturing and lighting. 

If you are going to take on short projects for clients you will need to know a bit of everything in order to deliver a final product, or else have friends and colleagues who can. Lots of freelancers work this way, in informal teams, pooling expertise so that all parts of the project can get completed on time.

Rule 4 - Understand the Nuts and Bolts
Graduates also need to learn the nuts and bolts of freelancing. You must learn how to draw up an invoice, how to manage your taxes (freelance income is typically not taxed at source – you have to pay the taxman later), learn how to deal with clients and learn how to manage client expectations successfully.

Rule 5 - Learn to Find Work
How do you find your first freelance project? Start by working cheap, at low rates of pay, often for friends, family, or friends-of-friends. Try not to turn down a job - even if you don't know how to do it. Instead find a way to embrace new work even if you don’t have time and you’re not sure how to pull it off. Juggling projects and taking calculated risks is what freelancers do. Don’t know how to use a piece of software? Do online tutorials at YouTube or Lynda.com - you'll fgure it out. The more and varied jobs you can turn around, the better you will get and the more capable you will become.

Rule 6 - Be Your Own IT Dept
You will have to become your own IT department. You can run a small studio from your bedroom these days, as long as you have a decent laptop. Get yourself a good laptop, and find ways to get the software you need. Become a problem solver; learn that most technical problems can be Googled – someone out there has faced the same problem you have just stumbled across, and found a solution.

Learn to manage your finances
Rule 7 - Learn to Manage Money
Freelancers must learn to manage their finances. One of the challenges of starting out on your own is that clients often don’t pay on time. Many companies pay at the end of the month, or even the end of the following month. But remember that (almost) everyone pays in the end. 

Unlike employees, freelancers don’t get a steady paycheck – your income will fluctuate hugely. That means you need to save money and be financially defensive.

Rule 8 - Learn Project Management
a Schedule is vital. Image: Wikipedia
When you finally land your first freelance job, you have to manage it. Let’s assume you've pitched the idea, you've agreed a price for the job, and the client is excited about the amazing work you're going to do for them. Now all you have to do is deliver what you promised. What can possibly go wrong? Plenty! Learn to use Excel and plan your schedule.


Rule 9 - Agree a Price
The client wants to know how long the project will take, and what it will cost. You need to figure out how long it will take you to do the job, and what to charge for your time and that of your friends and colleagues. So you must agree a price, and a schedule, and stick to both
 
Rule 10 - Set out your milestones
Set out the main milestones in advance, such as Script, Storyboard & Design, Animatic, Animation and Final render. Explain to the client that meeting deadlines will depend on getting their timely approval at every stage, but that whatever happens you will do your best to deliver on time. And make sure you can deliver what you promise.

Rule 11 - Agree the Script

Get the clients' script approved as early as possible. Your client may have a script already, or they may want you to write one. Often they will never have done this before and will need a lot of help to get the story right. What is the story they want to tell? Who is it for? They may have no idea, or only the vaguest idea. Part of your job is to help guide them through this early, so you can get to work.

Rule 12 - Agree a style
Show the client samples of other films and agree a style for their project. Get them to show you stuff at YouTube in a style they like. Once you start animation it will too late to change this, so make sure you are agreed in advance.

Rule 13 - Do a storyboard animatic
If it’s a film or video, you must do a storyboard animatic, edited together with sound and music, and a style guide, so the client knows exactly what they’re going to get. If there is voice-over work to be done, you may have to do this yourself, or a get a friend to do it.

Be on time
Rule 14 - Deliver on Time
You must deliver on time. Clients don't care how busy you are with other things - they want their work done on time, when you promised it. They don't care if other clients are keeping you busy, or your dog is ill, or your broadband went down, or your hard drive died. Make sure you back up your work, and if you run out of time, work through the night to get it done. Do what it takes to deliver on time and be reliable.

Rule 15 - Learn to take Criticism

One of the hardest things about client projects is learning to take client notes with good grace. On every job, clients will give you notes which you don’t agree with. Try not to disagree openly with the client. The best response to a dumb idea is to say "that's a great idea, why don't we try this..." and try to steer them in a less silly direction. Sometimes though you just have to do what you are told and make the best of it. Make it look as good as you can.


Rule 16 - Be upbeat

Finally, be positive. Clients want to feel that you are as excited about the project as they are. Even if you've just done an all-nighter and you feel like screaming at their latest ridiculous changes that they should have told you about weeks ago, be upbeat and optimistic. Make them feel good about working with you - remember that they are taking a risk by using your services for the first time.
And try to have fun. Over time you will build up a portfolio of work that you will be proud of and that will help you find work at other studios. Every job is a learning process that helps keep you up to date on the latest techniques, and keeps you employable.

---Alex

The Escape Studios Animation Blog offers a personal view on the art of animation and visual effects. To apply for our BA/MArt (September 2017), follow this link. To apply for one of our intensive 3 month animation short courses, click here.
 

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