Friday, May 21, 2010

Budgeting Part 2 - Scheduling

Take a step back.  In "big budget" films, there are two main types of costs: ABOVE THE LINE and BELOW THE LINE.

Animation is below.

What's the line?  Above the line costs are Story and Script, Producers, Director, Casting and Actors.  They are costs which are spent before filming begins.

In our animation budget, we don't separate the costs this way.  Apart from the script, pretty much all the money in animation is spent during production.  Sure you can't pull out development costs, maybe storyboards but that doesn't really help anyone understand the numbers.


Before getting into the line details, let's go into how to prepare to build a budget.

1) What's the schedule?  This is either determined by (a) client's deadline or (b) the amount of work which needs to be done.

Let's look at scenario (a).  An agency needs a promotional film completed in 6 weeks.  The film should be 4 minutes.

Immediately black in one week at the beginning for screwing around, waiting on clients, and general goofing off.  There's real work that needs to get done too -storyboarding and character design.  These need to be done before animation begins.

One week at the end of the schedule immediately gets crossed off for "post production".  This is editing, mixing audio, rendering finals, compressing deliveries.

That leaves four weeks in the middle.

We know we'll need to record voices.  Hopefully that can get done in the first week, but if you've got casting and approval that's not going to happen.  That should be put down for Week 2, Day 2 at the latest.  That voice will need to be edited to time with the storyboard, another day.  Animation won't begin in proper until the middle of Week 2 at the earliest.

Consider at least another couple days of client goofing around that gives us three weeks of animation and art production.

Note how we're assuming bad things will happen and things beyond our control will go slower than they should.

For our purposes the technique doesn't matter -stop motion, drawn, cut outs, CG -as long as you can honestly estimate how long it takes to create :15 of animation in the chosen style.  We'll say we're drawing the film by hand, and we'll estimate it will take one person one week to do :15.

So one animator will take 16 weeks to do the whole thing by herself.  But we only have three.  16 divided by 3 = 5.3.  That's how many animators you'll need.  Since they only come as wholes, you'll need 6 animators for 3 weeks.

That's the starting point, anyway.  You rarely use 6 animators on a short project like this.  But it gives you a quick sense of the time/costs involved.  I would take "6 animators" and turn it into "3 animators" and "3 assistants".  Already the schedule is giving an idea of work flow.

Art production and compositing follow the same guidelines.

The important thing here: we've only given ourselves 3 weeks but during this 3 week time we are in control of the variables.  We're not waiting on clients or color models or voice talent or approvals.  If something goes off here, and it might, this is the time when the animation producer can compensate.  Add another artist.  Pay overtime.  Change layouts to simplify production.

In scenario (b) the schedule is determined by the length of the film.  You've got to produce four minutes?  Two weeks at the head for goofing off/boarding/et c., one week at the end for editing/delivery.  Let's say you're one person animating, that's 16 weeks plus art production.  Bring in a second, that's down to 8.

These timeframes here are not absolute by any means.  Some things take more time, others less.  The key is to be able to estimate how long things will take.  Realistically estimate.

During our recent animation for "The Buddha", David Grubin, the documentary's director and producer, was initially concerned about schedule.  During our weekly meetings he'd say "We're behind here, here and here."  According to the schedule we were.  In this case, we devised the schedule so that the early stage milestones happened early- the beginning was compressed. 

This did several things. 

1) It built stress into the beginning instead of the end.  This gives a feeling of urgency to production so you don't have those weeks of goofing off at the beginning. 

2) It forces you to work out the pre-production efficiently, this carries over into production.

3) Most payments are triggered at delivery points, you want these to happen as early as possible.

4) It's a trick.  The way this particular schedule played out there was "breathing room" built in to every component.  While we never fell behind the written schedule by more than a week, we had calculated a week of "safety" just in case.

As a result of our scheduling, our production on the animation for "The Buddha" finished, very leisurely, a week ahead of the deadline which was moved up a week from the original schedule.

Before scribbling one cent into your budget, figure out your time parameters.  Time will dictate cost.

In a few days we'll go into our Asterisk budget Category A.  Here we'll begin to detail specifics on assigning values to work.


Jodie Hudson said...

Thank you for posting this stuff Mr Connor. Your blog always has good information in it but this series of posts is especially informative. Thanks.

roconnor said...

Thanks Jodie. Turns out they'll be more detailed than originally expected -once I get started it all sort of unravels.

If there are any specific questions, let me know.

Dustin Haynes said...

Thanks for this. Great, candid info. Keep it up!

Sally Kumwenda said...

Thanks it gives us certain insights.