What To Do When Projects Go Wrong

ProjectsGoWrongHave you ever had a project you “knew” would be your best … and then for whatever reason it died? Would you like to know how to bring that creative death back into new life? Here’s what I did recently:

The original hand-drawn short was intended to promote a new cause at the Weber State. As you can see in the video below, I was planning to step up my game with full-color animation. I had the story and layout in place with color scripts and was planning some beautiful music to pull it all together. In my mind, it was going to be fantastic!

But after an encouraging lunch meeting with the inspiring DreamWorks director, Kevin Lima, I realized this project might be too ambitious for one little animator. I also realized I might not have much time left to finish (because of conversations with my current employer, Rainmaker Entertainment).

The last thread snapped when the marketing director told me he was not yet a fan of this project. He liked the cause, but he personally wanted a more inside-the-box, straightforward approach. Knowing he was right, I asked for a meeting with the marketing and store directors. Willing to throw out the current project, I expressed  hope that we could create something else to serve the same purpose. They agreed and so began these 4 phases toward recovery.

Phase 1. Trim The Fat, Keep The Meat : Fortunately, my project wasn’t all dead. We kept the story’s core (faculty, students, and the store working together) and some of the aspects of the character designs. There are times when an entire project must be scrapped, but I believe there are generally a few great ideas in even unsuccessful projects.

Phase 2. Where’s the sparkle? : In another meeting, we sat around a table and threw out ideas for a new, shorter commercial. I was careful to observe which ideas interested the marketing director and which I personally felt would be dynamic. When we found an idea that sparkled for all of us, we wrote them down. When we had 3 great ideas, we considered them for a few days until we narrowed them down to one.

Phase 3. Optimized Process: In animation production, we want to find a balance between efficiency and breaking new ground. Having created several shorts, I figured that simply using great video reference would inherently improve my hand-drawn animation. I knew I could finish quickly if I set the scene against a blank background and stuck to black & white line drawing. I also chose to use Photoshop, which froze less than Flash and allowed for me to throw in blur effects if needed.

Phase 4. Production:  This can be the longest phase when it comes to animation. I animated first in rough, red sketches. Next, I compiled the Photoshop files in After Effects and layered the sound and music in Premiere. Once I showed the short to several people and made changes according to their feedback (which would be great material for an entire post on how to respond to various levels of feedback), I cleaned up the animation with the black line work you’ll see in the short below. Of course, the process was more complex and less linear than I can describe here, so flexibility was necessary.

In the end, I personally feel this final short film is a much stronger project than the original would have been. And what a valuable learning experience! If we are willing to listen, communicate, and let go of our favorite ideas, we might find ourselves producing even better, creative work. Hopefully these lessons help you as you plan and navigate your next adventurous project! Let us know how it goes!

  • Britny

    I love the simplistic and practical approach that you took to recharge the project in a different direction. Especially the part about optimized process. Great tips!

    • Thanks Britny. I think it’s easy to be discouraged when projects go wrong like this, so it’s good to hear the article connected with you and hopefully it will help encourage others. 🙂

  • I LOVE LOVE LOVE this post.
    Super refreshing and informative, thank you SO much for it Scott!!

    And it’s so true! The end result came out so much better and simpler. Great job!!!

    Now I want to make something too *-*

    • Wow, Ania! Thanks for your enthusiasm. I can see you are making great things already. Keep it up! Embrace the moments of failure!

  • Jessica Doll

    Love this!!! I appreciate how the simplified art direction you chose was both more manageable and emphasized your characters and overall story. It’s really engaging! You showcased how persevering beyond an initial idea that didn’t work out can lead to something truly great. Definitely something I want to remember for upcoming projects. Awesome work, and great post 😀

    • Thanks, Jessica. Sometimes we artists can jump in way over our heads, so it is always wise to take a step back before diving in!

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