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Blog

Filtering by Category: Production

How to make your own cartoon series - Part 1 - The Creative Process

Erik Ravaglia

Following the article on how a bunch of friends made Wellpark for Tennent’s Lager, I thought a more in depth look into the process could help anyone who might fancy embarking on such adventure have an easier sail. Part 1 is all about the creative process.

 ILLUSTRATIONS EVERYWHERE!!

ILLUSTRATIONS EVERYWHERE!!

Ready..steady..GO!
Step one was to get ahead on the creative process. Most of the work was to figure out the characters look and decide on backgrounds, colours and line style, taking into account the type of software we were going to use to produce the assets and animate. We knew that After Effects* was the way to go in terms of animation and we needed vector artwork to go with it to allow scalability without losing quality. It took a couple of episodes to settle in with the tools, but after these important calls were made and we had a few simple rules to follow, we could move on pretty swiftly.

*It might seem strange to few but AE is improved during the years on character animation but you need a plug-in like DUIK for this kind of work. If you don’t know how to use it, take a week off before the project and start experimenting with it. I guarantee that you won’t be disappointed. Flash is your next best thing, BUT if you don’t have time to go frame by frame, forget it. There are other alternatives to experiment with, however AE is my to go software. The way you decide to use DUIK would also dictate the type of artwork you need; more on this in part 2.

Client where art thou?
If you are thinking on making a project like this for yourself you are fine to go, although it’s important to note that for us having the client on board with most of the decisions was key. We pretty much worked together as a team and invested some time at the beginning to make sure we were all on the same page to avoid any time wasted on multiple amends. Once we nailed these details everybody’s life got a hell of a lot easier.

MOAR IDEAS!
As many as possible, jot them down, write a small synopsis, move on. Only after collecting a bunch of them could we sniff out the best ones. Having external feedback helped us realise what sucked and what didn’t. I’m the first one to say that if you have an idea you believe in, you should just go for it and learn as you go, however external perspective can save you more than an headache. As a group we talked about the ideas a lot, if it made us laugh, good, otherwise, onto the next one. But seriously, put down a huge bunch before you start writing any script. This was our first dumping ground, if the client didn’t like the idea we would pitch the next one and so on. Many didn’t make it past this stage, I mean MANY.
 
Write’em up!
As soon as we had a bunch of good ideas approved it was time to start scriptwriting. Jo and Ian are pure golddust. They can write a script out of everything AND make it funny. Not all of it came out great but an incredible number just worked. This stage was challenging as more time was needed to refine and write scripts, some of which, turned out to be worse than originally envisioned. Needless to say, to move forward we needed a bit of restlessness and if something didn’t sound right we needed to put it to rest. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes polishing ideas can unlock a whole new level of funny and there are instances in which a good script can rescue a less funny idea but there is no need to fall in love with a concept, a better one will usually come.

After having the script ready, one of the best ways to get it approved was a good voice over, which meant that having a sound guy always available made our life A LOT better and we could figure out how good a sketch was by the recording; it just helps. If you’re embarking on this thing I’d suggest you buy a decent microphone, it’ll help to write the script and act it out, and your recordings will sound much better. 

 Bobby and Paul, now and then.

Bobby and Paul, now and then.

Make it pretty.
After the script was approved Pablo would get into gear. The overall look of the cartoon was already decided at pitch week, hence at this stage we had time to refine it. The look was as important as the feasibility of the artwork for the animation given the time constraints. First of all we needed to be able to break up the artwork pretty easily into different pieces that could then be rigged in After Effects. We needed the artwork to be clear and relatively detailed. Once we became more confident with it we spot a progression. In fact from Bobby and Paul to The Try Hards or The Good Count, for instance, you can see an augmented number of details on the characters and more elements being animated.

Pablo would pick up the idea and start working on the chara design as soon as the script was approved. He only had a little bit of time to come up with a design, and seeing it happen was a delight, he is one talented fella. After sketching up a few alternatives he would then send it for approval, which would generally come in a really short time. Again, if you are working on this by yourself you need none of that, BUT sketching helps you weed out the bad ideas and improve your final artwork dramatically. After one of the sketches was approved by the client we could finally move forward with the final artwork…

 The preliminary sketches for Bobby and Paul

The preliminary sketches for Bobby and Paul

Lesson learned
After a couple of episodes we realised that producing a bunch of ideas altogether instead of scattering the process throughout the weeks would improve our workflow dramatically, allowing us to try new things and polish the animation. We originally wanted to be more reactive and fluid BUT we realised that the jokes tailored to one big event don’t make much sense long term and these videos would have to sit on Facebook and YouTube for a while.  We had to learn that on the job.


Righty-oh! We are done with Part 1, and like every good cliffhanger PART 2 will be coming soon.

Welcome to Wellpark

Erik Ravaglia

  Wellpark team (minus pablo)

Wellpark team (minus pablo)

Recently I worked on one of the longest projects I've ever been involved with. 4 solid months of long days and I had a BLAST!

Grab a cup of tea/coffee and prepare for the incoming wall of text.

Once upon a time

Jo, Ian and I worked together at the Leith Agency, here in Edinburgh, from 2012. in 2014 we all left pretty much at the same time. While Jo and Ian started that bundle of awesome that is Something Something I went off doing my thing. At the agency we worked on a bunch of projects together and we always knew that one day we were going to do something bigger together. We had no idea what, but we meant it.

  Something Something HQ

Something Something HQ

Wellwhat?!

One of the things I love the most about us working together is the feeling that we can do anything we fancy, and if we don’t know how to do it we’ll figure it out. If you can think it, you can do it, or whatever that famous quote reads.

At the very beginning the chat went more or less like this: “can we make an animation, like a bunch of episodes in a couple of months?” they asked. “Sure, what do you have in mind?” I said. About a month later, there we were, preparing the pitch.

The idea behind Wellpark was to produce a ton of entertaining content, instead of making just one big and expensive ad. The fundamental difference these days is that one ad is simply not enough. The amount of content flowing in and out the internet is so overwhelming that one big shot just doesn’t cut it anymore, IMHO. It works the same as a creative; you need to keep making, you need to be present, no matter what you do.. The same applies to brands. Saying one thing very loudly  won’t capture people’s attention for longer than the second you are saying it. We wanted to start a conversation and keep it going for as long as possible.

Stairway to Wellpark

Once Ian/Jordan knew they had a shot at pitching the animation to Tennent’s together with the help of Bright Signals (a digital agency in Glasgow) we got our heads down. Pablo Clark, one of the best Scottish illustrators; living in Spain at that time, joined us. We were on fire by day one. All 4 of us clicked, it was great to see it happening; we are all weird in the best possible ways which meant that we just got each other straight away. We were IN. After a week of hustle, with the continuous feedback of both Tennent’s and Bright Signals we had 3 episodes plus the original Guide Dogs video Ian and Jordan made prior to start the project.

Here is a rarity, the video we used for the pitch. Note how similar Bobby and Paul are to the final artwork we eventually used.

Pitch week was a great way to make mistakes and figure out best practices, we learned LOADS about the project we envisioned and we were a lot more aware of it. We thought we could pull it off, now we knew it.

  Us, broken, at the end of pitch week.

Us, broken, at the end of pitch week.

Welcome to Wellpark   

After a long wait, the kind of wait which leads you through a whole set of emotions, we finally heard the news. WE GOT IT. After a couple of months of thinking about Wellpark, and what it could become, shit was now real. 35 to 40 episodes to make (then settled for 35) in 4 months.

WTF?!

Besides the initial disbelief and excitement, we got ready for mayhem: Pablo moved back to Scotland for good, the Something Something offices got a revamp and I bought a Nintendo 3DS to challenge Pablo at Super Smash Brothers. We were now ready.

  The moment the 3DS arrived, happy times!

The moment the 3DS arrived, happy times!

 

Making Wellpark

One thing was sure since the beginning, making 35 episodes in 4 months was a challenge. 35 episodes divided by 16 weeks is 2.2 episodes a week, as simple as that. Each episode length had to be between 30 and 60 seconds long and they were targeted for digital, TV and for cinema. We had a few cardinal points, the client had to be on board with the style and the approval process had to be as fast as possible; one simply can’t make 2+ episodes a week while waiting around for feedback. The process HAD to be simple and understood by everyone. Jo and Ian had to run the thing while constantly delivering new ideas, script after script (we could make at least another 50 episodes with all the ideas that never made it, - remember the Lobsters, guys?!) and record the V/O once the script was approved, while everyone else had to keep on top of their own shit. Pablo had to design a character, sketch it and send it for approval in pretty much a morning, once approved he then had to work on the final artwork which would be then broken apart by Skelfie and ultimately passed onto me. At that point I had to rig it up and animate it while Skelfie worked  on the lip syncing. From that moment onward I had about 1½ days to deliver the final render. After the final render was done Callum would deal with the audio which will take us to the final stage. NEEEEEEEXT.

About 1½ months into the project  we decided to expand. Things got a touch tricky when I found myself juggling 10 episodes through amends, intros, outros and final renders; ASSETS, ASSETS EVERYWHERE. Every episode needed a bespoke intro/outro and we were still tweaking bits and pieces here and there. Andrew got on board and life got a lot easier. 2 animators made it a lot more manageable to keep the pace while tweaking and amending.

Wellpark and surrounding

Wellpark would have never happened without the agencies that helped us with delivery, PR and the other million things needed. Bright Signals was involved since pitch week, and collaborated with us to make sure that everything ran smoothly from presenting the creative ideas to delivering the files (- Oh, Hi Emma, which render do we need next?). Wire Media were masterfully on top of PR and Republic of Media made sure that the ads would be present in as many platforms as possible. We all worked around the clock especially when delivering responsive content. Sometimes we would get started early in the morning and finish early in the afternoon. Our record is with the Fly on the wall, from writing to PR launch in 5.5 hours.

Out of our control

The first 2 months saw us fighting our way through, episode after episode, to hit all our deadlines. It’s so easy to lose perspective after you spend day after day head down working as much as you can. The day the campaign launched we all felt physically sick and I think it was due to the amount of love and effort we all put in. It was going out of our control, it was now out there, it hurt. We saw the views, likes, shares and comments rolling in and we read every single one of them.

  Bobby and Paul art in Edinburgh

Bobby and Paul art in Edinburgh

The response was super positive; we felt great. About 5 episodes in, people were loving it and Bobby and Paul got a great response with Girlfriend Voice becoming an instant hit. We all secretly (and less secretly) hoped for one of the episodes to go viral (boy I hate this word), and we got the pleasure with the Binder app, which hit the media jackpot. Peach is a fictional tech company based in Wellpark and after making the most scottish of smartwatches, the Aye Watch, created an app to dump your boyfriend/girlfriend, Binder. The app got HUGE national and international coverage, some people got the joke, other hated it with a passion BUT that allowed us to start a big online discussion on digital and human relationships.

We hit the emotional jackpot ourselves with two crazy days culminating with Jordan and Ian getting interviewed by the New Yorker. Fuck me, seriously.

What now, yo?

We’ve just delivered our last episode and I’d like to say I’m outside writing this in the sun, but this is Scotland after all; sun is no more. There is A LOT more to say about Wellpark. I’ll probably write a more in depth article, or a series of, about the tech behind it and a step by step guide on how to make your own cartoon series. For the moment I’m getting ready for my next (smaller) project and I’m looking for something else. If you need some motion graphic work, drop me an email.