Love me some spreadsheets.

Project Management

A huge piece of producing, especially independent producing, is seeing a project through the process from points A to Z in as efficient a manner as possible. This can be a challenge when you’re working on a project in a medium you’ve never used before such as, oh I don’t know, animation? And it can become especially stressful when a deadline is looming that you had no idea there was a snowball’s chance in Hell of you ever hitting when you committed yourself to it. You basically are facing two options: confront it head on and shoulder through the work like a linebacker or decide maybe you weren’t cut out for all this and move back home to work at Uhaul. Before you start advertising your loveseat on Craigslist, let me give you a tip: it’s not that big a deal. Do the best you can, finish the project, apologize when it’s appropriate, learn your lessons and move on.

Part of the reason we have Blogfreako is we’re hoping when we learn lessons the hard (albeit fun) way, we can pass them on to you. So here’s a breakdown of the workflow and project management of Last Days: Ante Diem. There are definitely other ways, I’m sure better ways, but this is what we did.

  • Record all the actor VOs in the best-quality place you can. We were unbelievably fortunate enough to have the opportunity to record at Big Joe Sound (thanks Joe!).
  • Chad and Denny assemble the dialog track for timing and performance.

Each scene goes through the following process (10 in all for Parts 1 and 2):

  • Chad storyboards the script.
  • Chad breaks the scene down into illustration tasklists for each of our two illustrators- Travis (characters) and John (backgrounds).
  • The illustrators start on their tasklists and deliver periodically as schedules permit (hand-drawn).
  • Chad scans the illustrations and either he or Denny clips them out in Photoshop.
  • Chad assembles each shot in Photoshop and passes them to Denny.
  • Denny animates each shot in After Effects using the dialog track as a timing guide.
  • Denny drops the finished animations into a Final Cut Pro sequence.
  • Once all the scenes have been completed and the full sequence for one Part is completed, I do the sound design in Soundtrack Pro and give the .wav file to Denny
  • Denny slaps the completed soundtrack on the video and exports the master.
And voila! We have a Part. Easy, huh? Hahahahahahaha.

As you can see, every little piece of this thing has to make about 500 pitstops before it finds it’s home on that Final Cut timeline, and if someone’s not keeping an eye on things, productivity grinds to a halt. To help, I made a little chart (spreadsheets!) for each scene taking it through the process, so I could see who had what at which time. Also, Chad was the main driver of the pace since he had the most tasks and was the starting point for each scene, so we created a tasklist for him as well so he could chug through his stuff in an order that would make it possible for the other members of the team to continue with their work. A portion of his tasklist looked like this:

Scene	Task
3	Scan JS Illustrations
5	Split Master shot list into tasks
3	Clip/Prep files
6	Master shot list
6	Split Master shot list into tasks
4	Scan JS Illustrations
4	Scan TS Illustrations
7	Master shot list
7	Split Master shot list into tasks
4	Clip/Prep files
5	Scan JS Illustrations
5	Scan TS Illustrations
8	Master shot list
8	Split Master shot list into tasks

Chad scans Scene 3 illustrations as soon as we get them (for safety), and then creates the tasklists for Scene 5 so the illustrators can get going on those. Once he’s done with that he starts prepping the Scene 3 files so Denny can get started on the animation, then moves on to the Scene 6 master shot list. With this workflow, Chad can stay on task in an orderly manner and we can keep idle time to a minimum for the rest of the team.

This was the basis for project management on LD:AD. We are still finishing Part 2, and we have a whole other idea for workflow on the other 4 Parts, but I will go into that on another post as I budget it out. The most important elements of this though are:

  • Communication- touch base with each member of your team regularly and know what they are working on at any given moment.
  • Idle Time- None. Seriously, do everything you can to make sure everyone has something to work on at all times.
  • Documentation- Tasklists, checklists, anything and everything that makes it so that your team members are never more than a few clicks away from knowing exactly what they should be working on. And do I really need to give you a reason to make more spreadsheets? Chad asked me what I wanted for Christmas the other day and I almost said spreadsheets. Then I procrastinated for 30 minutes by Googling around for the best spreadsheet-making software available. If I could go back in time and meet George Smithington Spreadsheet (the inventor) I would kiss him.
Disclaimer: This is obviously a perfect-world fantasy ideal of how the process actually went, but imperfect as it may be Part 1 is done, Part 2 is well on its way and we are all having a great time and still speaking to each other- I’d call that a success.




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  • Ambika Leigh

    I LOVE YOU KENDALL!!!!!! Like, for reals.

  • John Sandel

    Yet it worked! You are a brain after my own heart. We’ll have fewer ulcers next time.

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