Friday, 5 April 2019

How to Make a Short Animated Documentary

How do you make a short animated documentary film? Our second year undergraduate animators at Escape Studios are currently working in teams on their second studio project - a short animal or creature documentary. Making a documentary is the same process as making any short film. There are many elements to consider, from concept to script through storyboard, design, 3D layout, cinematography, animation, lighting and final render. So, how do our students go about successfully making a animated documentary short?

How to make a documentary
Making your documentary is like making any short film. The most common mistake made by novice film-makers is to underestimate the amount of work involved. Everything takes longer, and is harder to achieve, than you expect. That said, it's not impossible to make a great documentary, especially if you plan the project well and hit all the deadlines. The trick is to do all the steps in the right order.

The process
Making any film, however big or small, breaks down into four main sections:
  1. Development 
  2. Pre-Production
  3. Production 
  4. Post-Production
Do them in the right order, and you won't go wrong. Start animating before you've got your story right - and you are courting disaster. We all tend towards our comfort zones, and animators are no exception - the temptation is always there to start animating before you really have your story figured out.

Start with a story
Every project starts with a great story (development). Once you have your story, you move into design and storyboards (Pre-production), cutting your boards with sound and music into a timed animatic. Once this is approved, you move into production, doing your 3D layout and then animation, lighting and final render. It's a complex process, but the best way to learn film-making is to go through all the steps, and do them in the right order. It's a lot easier the second time around.

Group work
The first task is for students to form themselves into groups, and decide among themselves who will perform what role.  Key roles include director, producer, writer, storyboard artist, art director, editor and - of course- animators. Projects will also need a CG supervisor to manage the digital pipeline and make sure the final renders work.

Most documentaries are narrated, so you'll almost certainly need some voice talent.  To see more about how to work with voice actors, read this blog post.

Planet Mars
To see an example of a documentary film made by our undergraduate students at Escape Studios, check out Planet Mars.

Planet Mars Credits
Directed by Sebastian Kuder, Katerina Zacharakis - Producer, Stephen Mealand – Storyboards, Maria Robertson – Storyboards, Nichole Gonzalez – Writer. Animation by all of the above.

Planet Mars now has its own imdb listing, as do all the students who worked on it. It has also been accepted in the official selection of a number of festivals.


The Escape Studios Animation Blog is a personal view on the art of animation and visual effects. To find out more about our BA/MArt, follow this link.  To apply, visit the offical page here

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