Trends and Insight in association withSynapse Virtual Production

How to Brief an Illustrator / Animator

London, UK
Jelly chats to illustration agent Sarah Morris and creative producer Kavita Daggar to find out just what information they need when approached with an illustration or animation brief
As an illustration agency and animation production company, we’re constantly sent all sorts of briefs from potential clients from super detailed to, er… not so detailed.

Cue Sarah and Kavita, who will be talking us through the process of receiving an animation and illustration brief. From deadlines to deliverables, style references to script, they’ll explain exactly what they need to know upfront from the client and how a good initial brief brings about the best experience with both client and artist.

Q> First up, we want to know what you want out of a project. The all-important deliverables. Kavita and Sarah, tell us the initial questions on your minds at the beginning of any brief.

Kavita> If you know how many deliverables you need, it’s really helpful for us to know this in the initial communication. For animation, this can be the number of scripts, or if there are going to be cutdowns, it can be the versions of a master asset. It’s always good to know this ahead of time so we can schedule accordingly to make sure you don’t miss your deadlines!

Sarah> The same goes for illustration, it’s really important to know how many assets are needed, for example is this one large illustration or multiple ones? Where will it end up (i.e. is this print or social? What are you trying to convey?)? We tend to ask a lot of questions in the beginning to really get an understanding of the client’s needs. Providing some context on the company/brand, the type of work needed and what it is needed for, really goes a long way in making sure we are all on the same page and so we can find the right solution.

Q> Why do we need to know about deadlines straightaway? And tell us about the battle of deliverables v. deadlines.

Kavita> If you’re working to a deadline, it’s essential that we know this up front; this can sometimes have an effect on what can be produced within the time specified. Different animation styles can take varying amounts of time to create artwork or assets which then need to be animated, so knowing the deadline helps us present the best options to the agency or the client.

Sarah> This is much the same with illustration. In terms of the working process, the illustrator will always supply a rough, which displays how they intend the final illustration to be and what is possible within the given time-frame. This helps address any style and composition issues in the first instance so the client can get a clear sense of what to expect within the final artwork. As illustrators’ styles and working processes vary, we’ll always try to gauge complexity of what you’re after to understand the workload and we’ll be honest upfront of what’s realistic within an expected timeline. We handle the project management including the scheduling and delivery of projects from start to finish, supporting our artists and allowing them to do what they do best and concentrate on the creative.

Kavita> Every artist works in a different way. Some artists’ styles are speedy and prolific, enabling them to create numerous illustrations or animations quickly. Others might take longer, requiring more detail or more assets to make the final piece. Sometimes the number of deliverables dictate the deadline, and sometimes the deadline dictates the deliverables, it varies from project to project, but here at Jelly we pride ourselves on being adaptable. We don’t shy away from a challenge!

Q> Do clients usually come to us with a clear vision of the style needed, or do we often work with the client to offer recommendations?

Kavita> If you’re in between styles and want some options it’s great to have some references to hand so we can get a feel for the route you have in mind – these can be static or animated. We can also offer some steer on potential routes if you haven’t worked with animation before or have a limited knowledge. If you know exactly what you want that’s great! We can put examples together from our roster of Directors who we think would best lend themselves to the creative/script alongside style references.

Sarah> We sometimes have clients that come to us with a clear idea of the illustrator they’d like to work with for a particular project, and other times we’re approached with an idea/brief and we help give artist recommendations. To make sure we’re really hitting the mark, it’s often super helpful to see some visual references of the kind of style you may be thinking or even a rough scamp if possible, we can help do the rest. It’s worth noting to drop us a line even if you don’t see what you need within our roster, we have a wide network we can pull in on projects and are used to building bespoke teams.

If you do know the particular illustrator you’d like to work with it’s also so valuable to get an understanding of what it is you like about their work. Is there a particular image that is stand-out in their portfolio? Just so we know exactly what resonates about their work and what you feel makes them best suited to the project.

Having seen many a brief, we can also help construct these – so we’re always happy to be involved as early on in a process as you need us. Often we work with enquiries where there is not yet a robust creative brief – in these instances and especially working directly with brands, we can offer creative direction and consultancy in an initial early phase.

Q> What about scripts? How finished does a script have to be before sending out a brief?

Kavita> Scripts are fairly essential to any production, even if it’s a work in progress and still needs a little tweaking here and there. We can use this information, no matter how big or small, as a basis for working out budgets and schedules, and get an overall feel for the narrative. However, if there is an idea but no script, we’re always happy to offer our script writing services and work with the creative team to help grow and develop the idea.

Q> Next up, we get down to the nitty gritty of usage – how the work will be used, where it will be seen and for how long.

Kavita> Will your animation be aired on TV / DOOH / online / social / cinema? These are all things that we need to know before we begin production in order to ensure we are creating assets to the correct technical specifications for the respective platform. This also goes for different territories, if your ad is being aired abroad we need to make sure that the deliverables comply with international technical specifications as they can vary from country to country.

If there are social cuts (e.g. Instagram which are usually square 1:1 format), we’ll need to know this as soon as possible to ensure that the master asset has been built/animated in a way that allows for us to adapt it seamlessly; some animation styles, like 3D, can take more time to adapt as the model may need adjusting to fit the new spec.

Sarah> A few things to bear in mind from an illustration perspective: 
Are the illustrations to be used for print, digital or both? 
What are the dimensions/resolutions the illustrator would need to work to? 
Are there any other compositional elements to consider such as placement of text/logos, and do you have an example of the layout if so? 
This information is essential to know from the beginning in order to not waste any time. If we’re talking branding – are there specific brand guidelines/colour palettes to adhere to?

We’re living in a really exciting time where we’re seeing more and more that illustration and animation are merging. For example, an illustration may be commissioned for print, however this might then also be transformed into a gif or animation for social use, which is something that our in-house team KITCHEN are experts at! In this instance, we’d need to bear this in mind during the production and allow the illustration to be prepped for animation and delivered in layers.

And with usage if this isn’t something you’re familiar with, don’t worry we are experts. When it comes to commissioning illustration you will also need to purchase a license to use the artwork, which we always factor into an estimate. In order to help provide a quote we’d need to understand where the illustration(s) are going to be used, including the type of media, the territories, and how long you will be using the work for, as this will be a consideration of the final costs. It’s important to note that the copyright of the artwork almost always remains the property of the artist. The best approach to usage is agreeing something that you and your client feel flexibility within but that isn’t widely beyond where you intend to use the work – it’s a balancing act between the real need and budget.
Once we know we have the answers to the three T’s, Type (of media), Territories (where) and (length of) Time, it’s smooth sailing! 😉

Q> Once we know all this, it’s time to talk budget.

Kavita> The ‘B’ word! We understand that there are cases in which the client/agency may not know what the budget is if it’s a style/route that might be new to them. We can cost up an animation brief based on the level of information supplied, the more information we have the more accurate the cost. If a budget has been provided, we will ensure that we provide the best creative solutions within the specified budget.

Sarah> If you have a particular budget in mind this is always helpful to know from the off as this will quickly help us determine how we can best make that work. As with animation we always strive to provide the best creative solution within the budget. We often quote by breaking this down into a production fee for the creation of the illustrations and a usage fee depending on how/where you’ll be using the illustrations.

Q> And your final top tips on putting together a really strong brief?

Kavita> The more they can tell us and the more they can share with us from the off, will put us in good stead to put together a cohesive deck of examples / cost / approach that meets what the client or the agency is looking for.

Sarah> I think the best briefs are usually the ones that give just the right amount of art direction and steer on the constraints to the artist (i.e. brand colours, sometimes what not to include) – and understand they are bringing on board an artist for a particular reason, and embrace their creative style to fully elevate the final product. There’s always a good outcome when there’s a lot of trust and respect involved.
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