What are quota’s for?

The output for most animators is measured in frames/second/feet of animation. When I started in this business I was a little dubious about quota. It seemed to me to put a lot of pressure on the artists. It also is a rather blunt tool. Not every frame is the same amount of work. On the first productions I led we had no quota. On the productions I run now we barely have a quota. The problem with the quota for most studios or productions is that it doesn’t answer the question, “what is it for?”

The reason that animators need to make a certain amount of animation is to stay on schedule. The schedules are based on assumptions like, 12 animators animating 30 seconds/week, the episode will be done in 2 weeks. This all makes sense, except when an animator can’t make 30 seconds/week. Again not all frames are equal.

While I don’t use quota in my productions. I still follow this reasoning. I make my schedules based on this rate of production. Instead of using it as a quota we use it as a benchmark. We track our rate of production to this benchmark. We track it on an episode basis. It looks something like this.

graph of estimated frames per week and actual frames per week

We like this because it gives us context. It tells us when we’re behind and when we’re ahead. We can adjust accordingly and hit the deadline. It takes the pressure off the individual and spreads it across the team. I hope other people try out this method too.

Zipf’s Law and long tails

Zipf’s law states that given some corpus of natural language utterances, the frequency of any word is inversely proportional to its rank in the frequency table. Thus the most frequent word will occur approximately twice as often as the second most frequent word, three times as often as the third most frequent word, etc.:


I was just reading an article about Patreon and how most of the people on Patreon don’t earn very much money. This is also true about Youtube, that most videos uploaded to youtube get almost no views. That most things sold on Amazon sell very few units. From what I understand this is partly Zipf’s law or something like it.

I can’t see away out of this. We can try and make these platforms more accessible and equal, and we should. But it might be the case by making them more accessible new people will join and the bottom will fill up again.

Patreon is enterprise and business software for artists and creators. It’s not a utopia, it’s not a rebellion. It’s still an amazing idea that will give money to people who never would have got that money before. But in their own words it’s software for artists. The hard part of being an artist is still building an audience and making consistent work. Patreon, Youtube, Amazon, and what ever are just tools to get in front of that audience and monetize it.

Writing everyday

This month is NANOWRIMO (National Novel Writing Month). NANOWRIMO is a great excuse to start writing. It’s great because it shows you that with a little effort you too can write a novel. All you have to do is write something every day. In the spirit of NONOWRIMO I wanted to challenge myself, for the month of November I’m writing a blog post every day from Monday to Friday. Here are some of the posts from this past week.

  1. We think of marketing starts when you’re finished when really marketing starts at the beginning
  1. Be kind to your past self and share the work you’ve done
  2. – I shared an idea for Live broadcast method to indie distribution
  3. And and I wrote about the Netflix animation division

It’s been an interesting experience switching from weekly to daily blogging. Let me know what you think on Twitter

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How Netflix bought animation

I’m a little floored by the recent Netflix announcement. I’m surprised because I didn’t think they would do it. I didn’t think what they were doing was all that interesting. They weren’t doing what they did with dramas as they were with animation. They didn’t have the creative or the team to compete with Cartoon Network or Disney.

Then Netflix came out with Hilda. Their first show that was really great. Amazing animation and unique storytelling style. Then Netflix did what only a company like Netflix can do. They built the animation team. They offered something that has been missing from animation in a long time. They found the creators and gave them the best deal. This is Netflix’s strong suit. They don’t operate like Hollywood execs they operate like Silicon Valley venture capitalists. The distinction is that they look for good projects from good creators. Then they put the trust in the creator to pull that off.

It took McCracken five years to get “The Powerpuff Girls” on cable. At Netflix, he came in with a pitch for “Kid Cosmic,” and in less than a week he had a 10-episode commitment.

 – Netflix Wants to Take Over Family Entertainment – Variety

It’s no wonder that they’ve been able to get an incredible cohort of talent. To say the least I’m excited to see what happens.

Marketing starts at the beginning

There’s an idea that marketing is a process that begins after you’ve made your thing. That there are a group of people who make advertisements and sell to the audience. If a good film fails it’s because of bad marketing. That the marketing department didn’t understand the film/show.

Marketing isn’t done at the end, it’s done from the beginning. Marketing plainly is telling the people, who want what you’re making and where to get it. It’s not about convincing the masses that you’ve made the best show. It’s about finding the right people and making something for them. Marketing starts with the decision to make something in the first place.

This gets to the interesting problem of who’s waiting for the kind of show you’re trying to make. What other shows do they watch? Where do they hang out? What do they care about? What are their values? Then what’s something specific and special that you can make for them?

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iPads Pro’s What’s Next for Animation

This Tuesday Apple announced the new iPad Pro. To be honest, I’m an Apple fanboy, but this thing is awesome. What Apple is doing with these devices is really cool. For artists the pen performance is top of the line. There is new innovative software on the platform. People do amazing and professional work on these devices. I’m dying to get one.

I think the iPad Pro is the portable studio for most artists. So I want to make animation on it. While it’s possible, with some software like Rough Animator, or even Clip Studio Paint, it’s not an animation production machine just yet. There’s nothing currently I would call professional grade software. I’m not looking for Flash or Toon Boom to come to the iPad. I’m looking for something new.

Procreate is probably one of the most popular art apps. It’s simple and intuitive, it’s stripped down interface is a far cry from Photoshop. There are a lot of artists that like that. They just want something simple. Animation interfaces are complicated. Full of menus, toolbars and windows. The same workflow won’t translate to a single monitor, multi touch device. I’m hoping what happened with Procreate happens with an animation app. That the new device creates a new workflow that is stripped down and intuitive.

The iPad is going to be a bigger thing to the art industry. These devices are priced competitively. They work great. There are generations of computing. Animation used to only happen on giant render farms, and high end workstations. It was a revelation when some artists started making films on their home computers. Now it will be a revelation when the first studio has their team using iPads.

All I can say is I’m excited.

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TCAF, and why being thoughtful counts

On a recent episode of Canadaland, guest hosted by comic artist and writer Chip Zdarsky, was interview with Chris Butcher. They talk a lot about the Toronto Comics Arts Festival. Chris is the cofounder and organizer of the TCAF. It’s a little tangential to indie animation, but it’s an interesting story. It’s about having principles and values that help you create something truly important.

“We came up with this idea that was a little bit more European Influenced. A little bit more thoughtful. Which sounds really pretentious, but we really thought about why we wanted to do the show, and what the show was supposed to be about.”

When I was in college and went to my first TCAF I fell in love. TCAF wasn’t like any other convention I had ever been to. It’s held at the Toronto Public Reference Library. It’s packed with comic book creators and publishers from across the world and every niche in the art form.  TCAF has become a world renowned show for comics.

What TCAF has really known from the beginning is who it’s for. Butcher explains that TCAF was made for creators. “I had an idea about a comic show in Toronto. With local talent, that puts the spotlight on them.” Their devotion to creators has made interesting choices. The biggest being not charging admission. “The reason we kept making it free, even after we could close doors. Was the idea if we’re taking $20 or $30 at the door, or even 5 bucks, that’s money we’re taking out of the pocket of people who are coming in to spend it on creators.” This choice can’t be easy. They could rationalize that now that the show is bigger it’s worth charging. There is every pressure to make this change. And most of the fans would pay that. But they’ve decided on the values they have. As Butcher puts it “The whole point of the show is those creators. The people who are generating the work that allows the whole industry to exist.”

In an attempt to tie this back to animation, the point about TCAF is that being thoughtful counts. There’s an attitude out there to build something or start a business you have to lay your values at the door. The world is a big place and there’s plenty of room for your values. Maybe you to speak for an underrepresented group. Or you care about how your team is treated, or productions are organized. They could be about how you interact with your fans. Your values might just be the thing that makes what your making great.

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