We're getting animated!

Justin Anderson takes us behind the scenes of an animation production.

Written by Emerald Works
Published 13 September 2016
We're getting animated!

When we set off on a programme of adding animated videos to the toolkit earlier this year, I was excited, but also a little trepidatious. I've done some scriptwriting in the past and I've done a lot of video work since I joined  four years ago, but animation was completely new to me. In this blog, I thought it would be fun to take you through the detailed creative process that went into one of our latest animations, 'Virtually Perfect Meetings'.

The outcomes

James McLuckie, our Learning and Performance Solutions Director, is always reminding us to begin any project with the outcomes - what do we want the viewer to take away?
There's no point having a great creative idea that doesn't achieve anything. So step one is to select the topic, and decide what information we want to communicate.

The concept

Once we have the outcomes, we need a concept. What theme and visual style are we going to use? I can't remember what made me think of it, but when I started on the topic of virtual meetings, I found myself picturing the old Harry Enfield spoof information films with Mr. Cholmondley Warner. I thought it could be funny, while still effectively getting the message across. Unfortunately, when I pitched the idea, it turned out to be too visually close to my colleague Ross Dickie's animation on Classic Communication Myths, so I had to think again. So I took the idea across the pond, and decided a spoof 1960's American retrofuturistic style was the way to go. It allowed me to keep a similar structure, while keeping the potential for fun, too!

The script

Writing a script is a very different experience from writing an article. For a start, you have to think visually. What's going to be happening on screen? How is the action going to interact with the voiceover? You can have a lot of fun with the visuals, adding a little comedy to really engage the audience. The possibilities are endless! Sort of...

The storyboard

Once the script is finalised, you need a storyboard: basically an annotated script, telling the animator what you want to happen onscreen. This is the stage where the reigning in happens. It's all well and good having bright ideas, but not having worked in animation before, I had no idea what would be expensive and what was simple. Luckily, in Allie Crawford I have found an animator whose work I love and with whom I have formed a great working relationship. The fact that she is also a multiple BAFTA winner is just a bonus! I basically create my ideal storyboard, and send it to Allie with the question:
"How much of this can we do, within budget?"

The answer is most of it, but not all. Allie's great at helping to suggest things that will save her a lot of time, with minimal impact on the final product. (have three characters here instead of six, stick to one backdrop, etc.)

The visuals

Once we agree a storyboard that works for us both, it's time to get some visual samples. I give Allie a description of the look and feel I'm after, along with some links to similar things online. She then comes back to me with designed stills of the background and characters, and, again, we go back and forth until we're both happy.

The voiceover

While this is happening, I'm also arranging for the voiceover to be recorded. In this particular instance, I had a very clear idea of the kind of performance I wanted, and I sent our voiceover agency some samples I found online. They came back to me with a couple of options, and I was confident very quickly that one of them could be great. But, having such a clear idea of it in my head, I actually ended up recording myself reading the script as a guide, so they could hear the emphases, pace and rhythms I wanted. Having done that, the result I got back was perfect on the first take, and I was really starting to get excited.


I sent the finished voiceover to Allie and waited for her to come back with animated samples. When they started arriving, I was even more excited. She'd nailed the visual style and feel just as much as the voiceover artist had done with his part - and added a lot of her own creative flourishes. There was, of course, some back and forth for tweaks and amends here and there, but on the whole, it was a very smooth creative process.

The music

Once I got the final visuals back, with the voiceover attached, it was time to pick some music. Again, I had a really clear idea of what I wanted , something that really evoked that old-fashioned American chirpiness about the future. I found it within an hour of looking, mostly by luck, and when I played it for the team, the feedback was unanimously 'perfect'.

The sound effects

The final touch is the sound effects. It's amazing how much depth and life sound effects bring to an animation. You might barely notice them when you watch it, but seeing the before and after versions makes it clear how important they are. It's a pretty time-consuming process, but it's totally worth it. You can really bring out certain elements, and even add to the comedy in places with just the right sound effect. So that's the process that goes into making just a short, three-minute animation. It's a hell of a lot of fun, and has quickly become my favourite kind of work. I'm now just excited about all the future projects we've got lined up - the trepidation is well and truly gone! Click the play button below to see the finished animation!

About the author

Emerald Works

Emerald Works

At Emerald Works, we’re committed to helping individuals and organizations around the world realize their full potential by using evidence-led learning solutions that work.

We work together to build learning cultures that empower people to bring about real change for real impact.

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