General / 04 November 2015

Self Producing an Animated Web Series

You’ve decided to make your own animated web series. Viewers are already asking, “When’s the next video?”

Animating a web series can be hard work. For starters, remaining relevant is a gigantic challenge. You can easily spend months in between episodes, easily killing momentum and people will forget about you.

Obviously, you have to create more content to stay in the limelight. I hosted a Blab chat recently discussing ways how animators can produce more content around their series, but EFFICIENTLY.

Here’s a list of ideas for video marketing content that an animated series could produce from existing project files and assets.

1. Tutorials

Animation is a very involved process. You have illustration, character design and rigging, screenwriting, animating, and video editing. In addition to mainstream viewers for your animated web series, you’ll have access to artists looking at your animation, purely interested in the craft and the making of, opening up a door to making tutorials about those various art forms involved in making an animated series to get and retain more viewers.

YouTube is full of video tutorials, and they quickly gain notice by the art community. To kill two birds with one stone, get into the habit of screen recording everything you make for your episodes. Talk your way through your process and reasoning as you record, or record the dialogue later if you prefer more control and time to speak.

Going live, via streaming, may be easier for creators as it saves the trouble of post production and editing out the dead air space if you screen record making an After Effects or Photoshop file for example. Open Broadcaster Software is a free app used to live stream on Youtube and Twitch. For those saying “Twitch is for gaming”, no, it recently opened the doors for artists to broadcast at Twitch creative.

The beauty of going live is that, if you’re afraid you won’t have enough to say for a long duration of time, there’s always viewer questions to fill in the dead air time.

Open Broadcaster Software also allows for recording your webcam feed and screen to show both your face and software. It records with streaming and without streaming if you wish to do post production and then upload a more polished, edited tutorial.

As a video producer, one thing I can’t stress enough, is a lack of short form “overview” tutorials. A key aspect to video marketing is, that you take an existing archetype of a video, and make shorter and longer versions, to cater to different audiences. There are plenty of people comfortable in the software already, that just want a quick glance at something you do special or differently. They don’t want to sit through a long tutorial necessarily. You can easily grab an old project or asset you’ve already made, and just briefly show and go over what you did or just highlight something unique or hard that you did to wow an audience.

This short form “looking back” tutorial is a great method of building a content library right off the bat. Most people will have assets/projects that they’ve done in the past, before they even thought to hit the record button for longer tutorials. Those projects are NOT dead and useless for making tutorial videos. Go back, in retrospect, and give people a quick 2–3 minute glance at a character rig, your unique art style, or a brief look at a complex expression you put in your After Effects file, or how you handled materials in your Maya project.

2. Vlogs (Video Logs)

Vlogs about your series’ progress are an obvious choice, but how do you keep those Vlogs interesting? You can only say “oh the next episode is coming out…soon…ish” so many times. You could do retrospects, where you tell the story behind each episode — what inspired the idea, what you’d do differently, or do overviews of project files and what you did for the creative cloud nerds watching.

QnA from viewer mail is another option for a vlog. Answer their questions about the artistic process, technical questions, or whatever. Interactivity is always a plus.

If QnA sounds too vanilla, one idea I’d personally like to do is a variation on “Mean Tweets” by Jimmy Kimmel. The response from my animated series so far has been positive, however, trolls will post hate comments on kittens finding a cure for diabetes. So I plan on putting them to work for me, posting and outing their comments and along with responses…purely for fun I had one troll write a very nasty review as a sales pitch to get me to sign up for his animation course for instance.

While it’s not a unique idea, it’s a fun tradition on YouTube. Here’s one of my favorite Youtubers doing one:

3. Behind the scenes

How do you do ‘behind the scenes’ for animation? Easy, voiceover acting sessions. Tape them, and edit together some outtakes, perhaps with side by sides of the final animated scenes. Voice sessions are always an easy source for outtakes, on top of being fairly easy and simple to produce.

Another source of behind the scenes are table reads. Table reads, for those that may not know, are a common step in the screenplay workflow process. A group of people read your screenplay and each is assigned a part to read with one person designated as the narrator. They don’t need to be actors or even the voiceover artists, they could be friends or family that are easier to access than booking talent. The whole point of a table read is to hear your script read and to make further improvements as your readers make suggestions. This is also, as you can imagine, a good opportunity for outtakes and behind the scenes footage. Family Guy has included these in DVDs as bonus extras so why can’t independent animators.

Obviously, you wouldn’t want to release these before your animation, you would release them after the episode is released. It’s a great and fairly simple way to produce content a few weeks after you release each episode.

4. Comic Strips

Videos require a time commitment that some people may not want to give. However, illustrations and visuals are pretty much impossible to ignore. They’re instantly digested on Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, etc. You can use that instant digestion to your advantage by making a single page comic strip based on your animated series. This strategy, employed by Cyanide and Happiness (which started off as a comic strip), is unfortunately underused.

Let’s take a look at the advantages of comic strips in conjunction with an animated web series:

1. It’s EASILY shareable. Comic strips are memes that people will post as responses when your strip fits their conversation on Facebook. Just be sure to tag it with your logo/site info so they can find the animated series.

2. It avoids writer’s block. I always think of very quick, stand alone jokes and scenarios that sit on the shelf, doing nothing, NOT working for me, simply because I need to fit them in an episode idea first. Or you’d have to write a longer episode just to contain that one joke. Then you run the risk of forcing the joke. A comic strip solves that instantly — they’re built for one liners. It’s also good to test out an idea or joke with minimal investment. Then you can animated the joke or involve it in an episode with more knowledge and do a better job at the punchline or add a twist.

3. It’s great for print (flyers/business cards/post cards). It’s always nice to have INTERACTIVE advertising vs. spam when you walk into a coffee shop, university, or wherever you leave your printed strips.

4. It’s another source of making tutorial videos — except it’s illustration based. You’re targeting another demographic with online content, a very robust creative/illustration community, in addition to the tutorials for the animation/writing community. Most illustrators secretly want to be animators, so it shouldn’t be too difficult for them to find their way to the actual animated series.

5. It gives you content for the booming amount of new social media websites. Instead of just Youtube, Newgrounds, Vimeo, you can now have a presence on Tumblr, DeviantArt, Tapastic, Pinterest, and any other image based website, without the limitation of being video only.

6. Comic strips, like animations, benefit greatly from the skeleton / armature based character rigs software like Anime Studio Pro and Flash have to offer. For those that don’t know, modern animation mostly uses posable character rigs to avoid frame by frame animation. This quickens up the animation process. Not many people realize that comic strips and graphic novels can also make GREAT use of the armature/skeleton character rigs you’ve made for the animated show. While there’s no illustration / comic software that has that feature…yet…you can export PNG sequences from an animation program like Anime Studio Pro with the comic frames pre-staged then just drop them into comic software such as Manga Studio. I made a feature request for Manga Studio and Anime Studio Pro to integrate with each other, which can be viewed below.